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The People Who Discovered Christopher Columbus

What did the indigenous people of the Americas think of Columbus?

Christopher Columbus landing on the island of Hispaniola, etching, 1728. Courtesy Library of CongressChristopher Columbus and his crew arrived on the shores of Guanahani, an island in the Bahamas, on 12 October 1492. While Columbus was convinced that he had made landfall in Asia, he had unwittingly ‘discovered’ the New World. Carrying the royal standard, he took possession of the island in the name of the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, renaming it San Salvador. 

Landfall was soon followed by Columbus’ first encounter with the indigenous people of the Caribbean, known collectively as the Taínos. After approaching the Christians on the shore, the Taínos swam out to the ships and traded parrots, balls of cotton and javelins for European glass beads and bells. This first, relatively friendly, encounter is recorded by Columbus in his Diario, the daily journal of his first voyage. In it, he writes how the indigenous people he met were ‘very well formed, with handsome bodies and good faces’ and had short, coarse hair, ‘almost like the tail of a horse’.  He continued: ‘They should be good and intelligent servants [and] I believe that they would become Christians very easily.’ 

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