Columbus' First Encounter with the Indians (1492)


"This panel depicts the Spaniards taking possession by erecting a cross on the island of Hispaniola. One of the sailors is carrying an Indian girl he has taken prisoner on his shoulders, as Columbus shows his disapproval. The panel is flanked by statuettes of Pope Alexander VI, who supported Spain's claim to the new land, and explorer Francisco Pizarro."

The true story of the colonization of the New World, as with most aspects of the Columbus story, is lost in the mists of legend. Columbus and his crew did in fact take possession of Hispaniola, but the circumstances were less than heroic. After having gone ashore a number of times, Columbus found a more populous and economically diverse population, the Tainos. In order to make contact with the leaders of this group, Columbus allowed his crew to capture a young woman, who then brought them to her village and leaders (Irving took a different view of this episode, as evidenced in the panel). The leaders agreed to meet with Columbus on Christmas Day, and so the ships dropped anchor in Acul Bay and waited for the meeting.

Late on Christmas Eve, with calm seas and a sleepy watchman, the Santa Maria ran onto a shallow coral reef; she was no longer seaworthy, and Columbus determined that since all the men could not return on the two remaining caravels, he must establish a garrison and leave 40 men behind. So began the story of colonization in the New World.

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