- Where to Go
- The Best of the Dominican Republic
- A Nature Lover’s Dominican Trek
- The Sexiest Dominican Beaches
- Historical Dominican Road Trip
- A Dominican Culture Tour
- Carnaval and Its Masks
- Planning Your Dominican Wedding
- Dominican Adventures
- Golfing the Dominican Republic
- Dominican Music and Dance
- La Ruta del Mango
- Day-Tripping in Monte Plata
- The Best Small Resorts
Christopher Columbus, sailing for the Spanish throne, was expecting to reach Japan and instead stumbled across modern-day Cuba and the Bahamas. But when gold was not to be found on the Bahamian island of Guanahaní, he redirected and found what he dubbed “La Isla Española.” After he ran the Santa María into a coral reef, it was the Taíno who helped the Spanish salvage every last board and nail so that they could build their fort, named for the day they landed: Christmas Village, or Villa La Navidad. The Taíno generosity and hospitality didn’t stop there. They gave the sailors gold as gifts and helped them to build their new home. Columbus wrote to the Spanish crown about the glorious world he’d “discovered,” exclaiming that there was gold to be had practically for nothing and remarking how gentle and wonderful the “Indians” were.
Soon after he arrived and set up camp at La Navidad, Columbus felt so confident that he left the settlement to go back to Spain with the understanding that some of his men would hold down the fort. What happened when he left was the bloody beginning to a long story of genocide and slavery. When Columbus returned two years later, he found La Navidad burned to the ground; his men had either died or abandoned their posts, setting sail again in their insatiable hunger for the gold they had been promised. Columbus grew bitter and moved his fort 110 kilometers east, where he built a settlement and named it La Isabela, after the queen of Spain. But this was an unlucky venue as well. Plagued with disease and death, it was abandoned five years later and moved south to the east side of the Río Ozama and eventually to the west bank of the river, where it is now called the Ciudad Colonial, or Santo Domingo.
Genocide of the Taínos
With the establishment of the first settlements of the New World came the establishment of the genocide of the Taíno people. They were forced to work in mines, were horribly mistreated, and died of disease or accidents; many committed suicide rather than continue their new lives at the hands of the Spanish.
In addition to being overworked in the mines, they were murdered. Governor Nicolás de Ovando, who came to Santo Domingo and began building it up with stately buildings and homes, pampering the colonists with beautiful surroundings, took the exploitation of the Taínos to a whole new level. He instituted a system of slavery called encomienda, in which entire Taíno villages along with their caciques were forced into a type of feudal serfdom. Determined to squash the Taínos, de Ovando devised a horrible plan. In 1503, he invited the female cacique, Anacaona (the widow of the revered cacique Caonabo who died while in Spanish captivity), to a “meeting” along with 80 other caciques. As Anacaona looked on, de Ovando ordered that all the tribal leaders be burned alive because he suspected them of conspiracy. A horrified Anacaona fled but was eventually captured by de Ovando and hung.
Diego Columbus (Christopher’s oldest son) arrived with a sense of entitlement; he was appointed governor (1508–1515) of Santo Domingo and then viceroy of the Indies (1520–1524). He set up his friends and supporters with the best digs and slaves, and started one of the first sugar plantations on the island. Like de Ovando, he beautified the city even more and laid the foundation for the first cathedral in the New World. This was the era of the “firsts”—the first cathedral, the first hospital, and even the first mint. It seemed that Santo Domingo was to be a place of great wealth and power.
But outside the walls of the rich gem, Santo Domingo, lay the outback of Hispaniola, completely ignored by Diego and his cronies, as they let smallpox nearly wipe out the entire Taíno population. That resulted in a severe shortage of slaves.
© Ana Chavier Caamaño from Moon Dominican Republic, 4th edition