The transatlantic voyage of Christopher Columbus in the year 1492 was the first of four epic crossings from Spain to the Caribbean. Columbus convinced himself and the court of the king and queen of Spain that he had arrived in the East and was close to reaching India. On his second voyage he saw Jamaica for the first time and made landfall on May 5, 1494, at a place on the north coast of the island which he named Santa Gloria (now St Ann’s Bay). Driven by his search for gold, in his tried and trusted caravel, the Nina, which was now his flagship, he sailed north to Cuba, accompanied by two other caravels, the San Juan and the Cardera. Here in Cuba he stayed until mid July when he returned to the north coast of Jamaica and from Montego Bay sailed farther west along its coast, past the beautiful horseshoe harbour of Lucea, and then Green Island harbour. Veering south, he passed Negril’s long white sand beach and then skirting around Negril Point, he took an easterly course, sailing past two harbours, about a league apart.
Columbus had mistaken this well-populated island for yet another island of the Indies and in spite of the Tainos’ protestations, he insisted on calling them “Indians” – a misnomer which has remained with the peoples of the Caribbean until this day. There were large settlements of these “indios” along its south coast and unlike the north coast, where the inhabitants had been hostile, the Tainos on the south coast were friendly. Rowing out in their large canoes, they escorted the Spaniards on their way, giving them gifts of food and fruit which the foreigners found tastier than what they had eaten in the islands previously visited. Columbus reported that the gardens of Valencia were nothing in comparison to the gardens on the south coast of Jamaica. As the easterly trade winds grew stronger, Columbus held his course sailing eastwards against them, the three caravels pressing forward, homeward bound to Spain.
Columbus, the Admiral of the Ocean Sea, would go on two more voyages to the Indies before his death in Spain in 1506. During fourteen incredible years he had known fame and fortune, intrigue and ignominy but from his patrons, Los Reyes Catolicos, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, he had managed to secure for himself and his heirs, the island of Jamaica, the island which he had described as “the most lovely that eyes have seen – la mas hermosa que los ojos vieron.” This unusual arrangement made between Columbus and the Spanish monarchs, by which Jamaica would become the fiefdom of the Columbus family, would later cause considerable confusion. It would result in two rival groups, both attempting to establish control of Jamaica: officials appointed by the Crown, and loyal supporters of the Columbus family. Thus, within the island, an atmosphere of suspicion and dissimulation would be engendered.
In 1509, three years after the death of Columbus, the settlement of Jamaica had started in earnest by the Crown and the island was given the official name of Santiago (St James being the patron saint of Spain). This process of settlement which Professor Sylvia Wynter, eminent Jamaican scholar, refers to as “the intrusion of Europeans into the culture of the Tainos,” was characterized by brutality resulting in terrible atrocities as the original Taino inhabitants were displaced to make room for Spanish settlers (pobladores). Under the Encomienda system, the Tainos became serfs labouring on Spanish farms. In some cases, their former caciques were placed in charge of these farms. A large number of Tainos, therefore, fled to the mountains; there were also those who committed suicide. Juan Esquivel, Jamaica’s first governor, is said to have ill-treated many of them; Las Casas, the priest who became known as Defender of the Indians, is recorded as referring to Esquivel as the “despoblador” of Jamaica.
In the meantime, the introduction of new plants brought by the Spaniards, was resulting in gradual changes in the island’s landscape. “Naranjos dulces y agiros” are said by Oviedo to have been brought to Jamaica by them. The old orange walks were still in evidence when the young doctor, Hans Sloane, arrived in the island in 1688. He said that there “were now forests of them, the Fruit rotting, the seed growing and being carried down the Rivers are very much propagated.” Lemons, too, were introduced by the Spanish; they were planted in rows and walks. Limes, like the other types of citrus, came with the Spaniards; originally they grew wild in Africa. Other Mediterranean plants such as pomegranates, grapes and dates also adapted readily to Jamaica’s tropical climate. The beautiful guango, now a familiar shade tree in Westmoreland pastures, was introduced during this period. “Its seeds were brought over from the [Spanish American] mainland by Spanish cattle”.
Cocoa had been introduced from the South American mainland by the Spaniards who planted cocoa walks and the tradition of drinking chocolate “tea” goes back to Spanish times. Sugar cane was also introduced from North Africa and a few small mills turned by animals are known to have been constructed. Pigs, sheep, cattle, horses, donkeys,4 dogs, goats and poultry also adapted easily to the Jamaican climate and began to multiply. Rats, also, are likely to have come to the island on board ships 2.6 Cocao pod growing on cocao tree from Europe.
Measles, a common illness in Europe, but
new to the Tainos, wiped out many of them. In turn, syphilis, which the Tainos knew in a mild form, contracted by the Spaniards, became a virulent new disease which would become a scourge in sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe.
The valuable research done by Sylvia Wynter in Seville, Spain in 1980, throws considerable light on the identity of the people who came to settle Jamaica and who were each given a caballeria consisting of thirty-three and one third acres of land. Officially, only Spanish Christians were to be allowed to go to the Indies as the enterprise was to be purely Catholic and Spanish in composition. Jews and Moors, who were Muslim, were excluded by royal edict; they were prohibidos. Marranos, that is, Jews, who had converted to Christianity, and their descendants, were also excluded, as were Moriscos – Moors who had been forcibly converted. Both Marranos and Moriscos were called “New Christians.” By 1492, the Inquisition, which dealt with all forms of heresy, had become a powerful arm of the Catholic Church in Spain, with the full backing of the Crown. What this now meant was that all Jews were to be expelled from Spain. A century later, in 1609 -1614, the final expulsion of the Moors would also take place.
In reality many more persons went to the Indies than those whose names were found on the official lists; several were of Jewish or Moorish origin and went clandestinely, some even sailing out on ships from Spanish ports, other than Seville. It is not surprising that no record ever existed of their departure. Professor Wynter also points out that a number of the emigrants were from Andalusia, the birthplace of many Moors.
Realizing that a work force was the indispensible ingredient in colonization, King Ferdinand, who is thought to have been the inspiration for Machiavelli’s prince, was prepared to turn a blind eye on the religious persuasions of Jews and Moors, even if Isabella, his Queen was not. He recognized that their contribution to the work force could not be discounted if settlement of the Indies was to succeed. Hardworking people with skills in agriculture were indeed needed, and Don Diego Colon was told not to inquire too deeply into the origins of people wishing to go to the Americas. Both in Spain and Portugal agriculturalists of Moorish origin were numerous. Later, the name Portugals was to become synonymous with Jews or Marranos in Jamaica.
Professor Wynter says that there is evidence that people of Jewish and Moorish origin came to Jamaica to work on His Majesty’s fief or realengo under royal protection. Wynter also suggests that rebellious Moorish sheep-herders, like those of Alpujarras in Granada, may have been granted their freedom in exchange for working on the King’s farms in Jamaica. Both Moors and Jews who came to Jamaica, therefore, found it necessary to remain as anonymous as possible, obscuring any signs that would identity their origin. Changing their names often helped them in re-inventing themselves in their new world.
People from the continent of Africa were another group associated with early Spanish settlement in the island. Some Africans came as settlers, pobladores, while others came as slaves. Royal instructions permitted emigration to the Indies of “negro slaves and other Christians who are our subjects and natives of Spain.” As early as 1514 a licence was granted for six Africans to be imported but entrance was controlled by the Crown. It was said that “one negro could do the work of four or even eight indios.” Slaves from Guinea, West Africa were sold in Portugal, through the Casa de Esclaves in Lisbon, and in Seville in Spain; from these European depots, they were re-exported to the Americas.5
Africans in Jamaica during the Spanish era had their roots in Wolof or Mandingo cultures; this encompassed the area around the Senegal River and present day Sierra Leone, and Guinea Bissau to Cape Verde. Writing much later, in 1793, the English historian, Bryan Edwards mentioned that Mandingos were Muslim and were familiar with the Koran; some were literate. There were also slaves of African origin who were born in Portugal. Black slaves were mainly artisans, apprentices to craftsmen, and ship’s boys. Ladino6 slaves were creole and worked in Spanish households, whereas bozel or “salt-water Negroes” were from across the seas, and in Jamaica worked in the fields.
Richard Hart, the historian, points out that during the closing years of the Spanish occupation, that is, the 1650s, there were believed to have been about 1,500 persons of African descent in Jamaica.7 In 1611, when there were 523 Spaniards and 558 slaves, there were 107 free blacks. Indeed, there were self-supporting villages in the remote areas populated by escaped black slaves, some of whom had probably mated with Amerindian women. Hart makes mention of Julian de Castilla, a Spanish captain, who spoke of slaves who had withdrawn from their Spanish owners and resided “in strong places which they call palenques.” As Hart points out, the beginnings of black resistance began in Spanish times.
Spanish place names, or their corruptions, still exist today in Jamaica and are a reminder that the island was a Spanish colony for more than a century and a half – 161 years to be exact. Today, in Westmoreland, there are those names that come readily to mind like Savanna-la-Mar (the Plain by the Sea) and Punto Negrillo (Negril Point) but there are other names of places that are more obscure like Pozo de Ayron (Aaron’s Well).8 References not only to the Cabaritta River but also to Cabarotto’s show that places and their names may have changed or have been forgotten. “Cabarotto’s” appears to have been a wide area encompassing mountains and woodlands of Caborotto’s, as well as two other rivers, the New Savanna River and Perkin’s River. Writing in 1774, Edward Long refers to the east branch of the “Cabarito River” as the Bonito River.
On an early English plat9 (1703/4) there is an interesting reference to 600 acres of land near “Spanish Garden Cove” – a site that is now forgotten. In his Annals of Jamaica, G.W. Bridges mentions that “the hato Cabonico was near Oristan.” Also close to Oristan was a property with the name, “Lindores”. This Spanish name survived well into the nineteenth century.
Chebuctoo House, above the fishing village of Cave in Westmoreland, is believed to be on an Amerindian site on which the Spanish built a villa. The great clay jars known in the old days as “panya jars” are also a reminder of the Spanish past – “panya,” being a corruption of “Spanish”; stories persist of jars being found with Spanish coins in them. One of these stories tells of a jar of silver coins being found at White House, Westmoreland, when an old tree fell down in stormy weather.
In Westmoreland the traditional building technique referred to as “Spanish walling” which calls for the use of quicklime as the cementing material and which is of great strength is Spanish in origin. In his account of his boyhood in Porter’s Mountain, Westmoreland, Lennie Ruddock describes the type of low stone wall, which properties used to establish their boundaries. He writes, “So, to the numerous sugar estates in Westmoreland quick lime was indispensable.
Existing as it did in large quantities, it lent itself not only to much versatility but also to very common use.”
Of all known Spanish sites in Jamaica, the three most important are: Sevilla la Nueva (1509) in St Ann which was the first capital of the island but was abandoned after being in existence for only fifteen years; Villa de la Vega (San Jago de la Vega) ca. 1534 the second Spanish capital for 121 years, and which today is the busy commercial centre of
Spanish Town; Oristano ca. 1510, somewhere in the vicinity of Bluefields, Westmoreland. Frequently, the conqueror tends to settle on the site of the conquered and in the case of these three sites, this was so. Spaniards settled on sites which had originally been Taino and where there was a good source of fresh water.
Oristano was the site with the longest Spanish occupation 145 years or more. And yet it is the site about which the least is known; the actual site and its extent, still await archaeological verification. The fact that Oristano was a very early Spanish settlement, thought by some to be as old as Sevilla la Nueva, is substantiated by its name. Oristano in Jamaica was named after the town of that name in Sardinia and the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, were Duke and Duchess of Oristano.
Documents in the archives of Seville, researched by Sylvia Wynter, lead us to believe that Oristano in Jamaica encompassed a considerable area which included the royal sheep farm and the estancia of Guaycex – a Taino name – where maize was grown. An audit which was done for Charles I of Spain (the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) in 1536 deals with the loss of sheep at the king’s farm and the theft of maize from Guaycex. In a commission of inquiry, Moors, who were working for wages at His Majesty’s sheep farm, gave evidence; on this occasion, poultry and a number of hammocks were also discovered missing.
During the period of Spanish colonization, only very small quantities of gold were ever found in Jamaica and quite early, royal instructions were given that Jamaica should become the main supplier of provisions for the expeditions going to conquer the American mainland, since it had no gold. As these expeditions increased in number, Oristano grew in importance. For the last leg of the journey westward, the galleons not only took on board pure fresh water from the river at Oristano but also bread made from cassava and maize. Important items for export were also beef, mutton and pork. Cottage industries developed around the making of butter, cheese, lard, bacon, salt fish and tallow, and hammocks, cotton, woollen cloaks14 and leather for saddle bags et cetra became valuable items of export.15 In addition, tropical produce such as tobacco, pimento, ginger, and sugar fetched a good price in Europe, as did fine timber for ship-building. Horses also were exported to the Spanish American mainland.
In its heyday the wharves at Oristano were very busy in the quiet island of Santiago but when the great wave of conquistadors ceased, Oristano would become a forgotten backwater of the growing Spanish Empire. Indeed, Sylvia Wynter reminds us that the island slipped into a soledad – a remote backwater and “became even more so as the “historical axis” of discovery and settlement shifted entirely to the mainland.