Death of a Nation

Death of a Nation


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



 Indians who tried to flee  into the mountains were systematically hunted down

with dogs and killed, to set an example for the others to keep trying.

By that time there was no longer a possibility of mass resistance.



Books on the Caribbean

Hubert Cole. Christophe: King of Haiti. New York: The Viking Press, 1967.

C.L.R. James. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938)

Edourad Gissant. Caribbean Doscourse (2004)  /  Barbara Harlow. Resistance Literature (1987)

Josaphat B. Kubayanda. The Poet’s Africa: Africanness in the Poetry of Nicolas Guillen and Aime Cesaire (1990)


Paul Laraque and Jack Hirschman.  Open Gate An Anthology of Haitian Creole Poetry (2001)

David P. Geggus, ed. The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World.  University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

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The First Holocaust in the Western World

Death of a Nation

By Hans Koning

To fill the empty ships going back to Castile, to stop his detractors from talking, to prove his success Columbus needed gold. And the following system was adopted for this end.

Every man and woman, every boy or girl of fourteen or older, in the province of Cibao (of the imaginary gold fields) had to collect gold for the Spaniards. As their measure, the Spaniards used those same miserable hawks’ bells, the little trinkets they had given away so freely when they first came “as if from Heaven.”

Every three months, every Indian had to bring to one of the forts a hawks’ bell filled with gold dust. The chiefs had to bring in about ten times that amount. In the other provinces of Hispaniola, twenty-five pounds of spun cotton took the place of gold.

Copper tokens were manufactured, and when an Indian had brought his or her tribute to an armed post, he or she received such a token, stamped with the month, to be hung around the neck. With that they were safe for another three months while collecting more gold.

Whoever was caught without a token was killed by having his or her hands cut off.  There are old Spanish prints (I saw them in the collection of Bishop Voegeli of Haiti) that show this being done: the Indians stumble away, staring with surprise at their arms stumps pulsing out blood.

There were no gold fields, and thus, once the Indians had handed in whatever they still had in gold ornaments, their only hope was to work all day in the streams, washing out gold dust from the pebbles. It was an impossible task, but those Indians who tried to flee  into the mountains were systematically hunted down with dogs and killed, to set an example for the others to keep trying.

By that time there was no longer a possibility of mass resistance. the Admiral, his brother Bartholomé, and Hojeda had crushingly defeated the only army the Indians ever managed to bring together. Armor, muskets, swords, horses, and dogs had made the Spaniards invincible.

All prisoners had been hanged or burned to death. The island was so well pacified that a Spaniard could go anywhere, take any woman or girl, take anything, and have the Indians carry him on their backs as if they were mules.

Thus it was at this time that the mass suicides began: the Arawaks killed themselves with cassava poison.

During those two years of the administration of the brothers Columbus, an estimated one half of the entire population of Hispaniola was killed or killed themselves. The estimates run from 125,000 to one half million.

Then, in 1496, when there was obviously not one grain of gold left, the gold tribute system was changed to that of the repartimientos, later known as the encomiendas.

The Spaniards cut out estates for themselves; the Indians still living on this land became their property.

They could be sued to work the land for the owner or could be hired out indefinitely as labor gangs anywhere else. These gangs “were marched all over the island, from one end to the other.” The same setup was later introduced in all the new Spanish possessions in the Americas.

The killings continued at no less speed. In 1515 there were not more than ten thousand Indians left alive; twenty-five years later, the entire nation had vanished from the earth. Not one Indian on the island had ever been converted to what Columbus called “our Holy Faith.”

The harder black slaves from Africa were brought in to take their place. They would, at the end of the eighteenth century, stage the first and perhaps only successful slave revolt in Western history. It made Haiti, the western half of the island, the second independent republic of this hemisphere.

The death toll among the blacks had been frightful too, but they had been brought in such numbers that enough of them survived to form a nation. The statistics (not very precise, obviously) in the archives of Port-au-Prince (now Haiti’s capital) show that two million slaves were imported in the century before independence. Of these, and all their children, six hundred thousand survived when their revolution began.

Source: Hans Koning. Columbus: His Enterprise–Exploding the Myth. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1991

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 28 April 2009



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