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Here barely two hundred men faced the combined forces of the principal caciques of Hispaniola, numbering tens of thousands of warriors. However, the military technology and organization of the Europeans, which included armored cavalry, steel weapons, guns, and attack dogs, devastated the native warriors, whose leaders were captured and tortured to death.

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Out of this destruction the cacique Guarionex emerged to mediate European demands for food, labor, and, above all, gold. Guarionex himself was allowed to live, but functioned essentially as a tool of the Columbus family until his death by shipwreck en route to Spain in The few native survivors of this first decade or so of European occupation were incorporated into the burgeoning colonial settlements of the region, and the need for labor was answered by the importation of black Africans as slaves.

What percentage of the aboriginal population either fled the Greater Antilles or died there is open to question, but the overall consequence, as the colonial processes that had unfolded on Hispaniola repeated themselves in Cuba, Jamaica, the Lucayas, and Puerto Rico, was the near-complete disappearance of indigenous societies from the islands. Few records have been left concerning the occupation of Jamaica, which was initiated by Diego Columbus and completed by Juan de Esquivel in Apparently the natives were not evangelized but were put to hard labor in the production of foodstuffs, cloth, and hammocks Las Casas , bk 2, chap.

When the new governor, Francisco de Garay, took over from Esquivel in , the royal factor, Pedro de Mazuelo, complained of the tiny number of natives left on the island, and confidently predicted their total disappearance within a couple of years CDI 1, Rumors of gold quickly followed CDI 31, With brutal efficiency the two parties of invaders had overrun the island completely by March of the following year CDI 32, — During the hiatus, the native populations of the Lesser Antilles were able to take advantage of their position on the main shipping lanes between Europe and America to practice a profitable trade with the European vessels that stopped to replenish their drinking water and supplies after the Atlantic crossing Hulme and Whitehead , 45— Relations with the Spanish were invariably hostile, and the farms and ranches of Puerto Rico were frequently raided by the caribes, who, it was suspected, held not just African and European captives including the son of the governor of Puerto Rico but also a vast treasure of gold and silver taken from wrecked and plundered shipping.

But Spanish imperial ambition had turned its attention to the wonders of the Incan and Aztec empires, as well as the rich plunder to be had all along the Central American isthmus.

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The struggle of the Puerto Rican colonists with the caribes little troubled metropolitan Spain until the caribes made alliance with the French, English, and Dutch in the seventeenth century. The available gold deposits in the Greater Antilles quickly made them the epicenter of an ever-expanding economic core within the larger Caribbean region. Gold became the driving force behind a dynamic and diversified economic zone that traded in slaves, foodstuffs, pearls, imported goods, cattle, salt, and exotic woods. The significance of Caribbean gold shipments must be appreciated from the perspective of a European economy that had almost exhausted its supplies of that strategic metal.

By the three islands of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, in that order of importance, were shipping gold to Spain on a regular basis and so stimulating the peopling and exploration of the wider region. Hispaniola was responsible for half of the total of these shipments. These mining economies typically had only basic technologies and an intermittent food supply with very little capital investment. But because they were supported by abundant, cheap slave labor, which could be replenished by raiding native settlements, and because gold was so important to the Spanish Crown, the supply kept flowing.

Amerindian slavery had begun with Columbus himself as a means to finance his own voyages and the costs of administering the first colony of Hispaniola. In time Columbus was responsible for the enslavement and exportation of some two thousand Amerindians to Spain as war captives.

His son Diego was appointed as governor of the Indies just as a serious labor shortage became evident in Hispaniola; as a result, Diego Columbus was responsible for the shaping of the slave policy to be followed. The slaving was at its most intense between the years and Alonso Suazo, writing from Hispaniola in , reported that some fifteen thousand slaves had been captured from the Caribbean islands, producing a chaotic situation with consequences for the whole region.

In the government of Hispaniola admitted to the existence of five thousand Amerindian slaves. Given that Hispaniola and Puerto Rico were the main sugar exporters from America, maintaining this ascendancy for many years, the actual numbers would have been considerably higher Sued Badillo Las Casas cited the coastal regions of Venezuela and Trinidad as the principal source of the slave traffic to Hispaniola and to Cuba. The pearl islands, Margarita, Coche, and Cubagua, lying just off the coast of Venezuela, were the main staging ports for this traffic, underlining the significance of the interactions of aruacas native allies with the colonists on Margarita, as described by Rodrigo de Navarrete see Document 5.

Indeed, the strength of this alliance in the second half of the sixteenth century may have been a primary reason why most slaves taken to the Caribbean islands in this period came from the Venezuelan littoral and the Atlantic coast south of the Orinoco River. Caribe opposition to both the Spaniards and aruacas needs to be understood in that light, since it made alliance with the aruacas, particularly the Lokono of the Guyanese Atlantic coast region, critical for the slavers.

Origins of Cultures

Only in the context of the emergence of the ethnopolitical groupings of caribes and aruacas can the writings of this period, and its historical outcomes, be properly understood Whitehead The caribes were initially found throughout the Lesser Antillean islands, like Dominica, and they were always viewed as a source of slaves for the colonial economies. The map text indicates that it was an aruaca, a chief called Jaime, who had communicated this knowledge and led a Spanish expedition into the interior to show them the route.

The testimony given to the Englishman Lawrence Keymis by one displaced native ruler indicates that the political choice of being aruaca also had its consequences. On the arrival of his fleet off the coast at the Caw River French Guiana , Keymis writes, at first he could get no one to come aboard, since they thought them to be Spanish. The pattern of caribe resistance to the Spanish and their allies the aruaca should be interpreted against this backdrop of legal provision and economic interests.


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The politics of raiding and slaving among the other native groups, all of whom were faced with rapid and dynamic change, was likewise founded on the way in which the categories of colonial ethnology were being deployed politically. Modern anthropology and history have been slow to appreciate this crucial aspect of primal anthropology in the Caribbean. Together they effectively disseminated throughout Europe the notion that cannibal caribes inhabited the Caribbean, as the very place-name suggests. Although this early imagery little benefited Columbus himself, it was eagerly deployed by the colonizers who followed.

As a result, the conquistadores Cristobal Guerra, Alonso de Ojeda, and Amerigo Vespucci, who had lobbied for the reinstatement of slavery, all became involved in commercial expeditions to the Caribbean and Orinoco region. In the cacique Agueybana led a native uprising in which over half of the two hundred Spaniards on Puerto Rico were killed. Following reports of caribes being involved, the Crown issued a new decree ordering general war on the caribes and allowing for their unrestricted enslavement.

However, his suggestion was eventually rejected by the Spanish Crown, possibly conscious of the hidden agenda behind it. This underlines the extent to which Spanish royal policy was itself severely constrained by the practical ethnologies that the colonists in the field of conquest generated. In subsequent years the mining economies plunged the eastern Caribbean and costal Venezuela into near chaos.

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Slave armadas were organized and sent against different islands, sometimes nearly depopulating them. Nonetheless, this process produced intellectual debate and political unrest in elite circles of the Spanish Court and church, as did awareness of the growing death rate of the Amerindians in the New World.

In response, in the Crown appointed Francisco de Vallejo to investigate and classify the Amerindians of the mainland to determine who were caribes and who were not, but slavers blocked the inquiry Otte , In Judge Antonio de la Gama in Puerto Rico was commissioned to determine the extent of caribe territory, but without result. Las Casas thus rejected the project that was finally carried out by Rodrigo de Figueroa, at the time a newly appointed justice of Hispaniola and the proud owner of a brand new sugar mill.

Put simply, his report meant that almost a quarter of a century after the conquest had begun, the fate of native peoples still hung on the ethnic distinctions founded on behavior favoring or resisting the Spanish conquest. However, local slavers, often supported by local politicians, easily got around the legalities, and in caribes were again declared subject to slaving Sued Badillo In this way the Spanish continued to adopt native categories into their distorted ethnologies in order to service the needs of colonial conquest, and Amerindians continued to be actively involved in this process, practically and intellectually.

As with Christopher Columbus, identification of caribes always involved information claimed to have been supplied by Amerindians. Certainly the European presence polarized many political allegiances amongst Amerindians, and, as elsewhere in the Caribbean and South America see also Sued Badillo , —62 , the conquest could not have proceeded without the active alliance of native armies and political leaders.

Amerindians allied to the Spanish were initially termed guatiao. Like caribe, aruaca implied a political and social orientation, ranging from alliance to submissiveness. Guatiaos, and later those termed aruacas, actively participated in ethnic soldiering for the Spanish conquest. The filter of caribe and guatiao or aruaca therefore dominates the cultural politics of primal anthropology in the vast majority of early materials, beginning with Columbus.

Ethnological information was thus crucial to the colonial project. The writings collected in this volume reflect precisely this role of providing anthropological intelligence on populations for purposes of their governance or conquest, and the relationship between such intelligence and military-political ambition has remained fraught right up to the present day.

The selection in this volume of passages from his Letter and extracts from the Journal of his first voyage to America is crucial to appreciating this process of ethnological codification.

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It will be apparent that in fact the distinction between the caribes and others is far from certain in these writings but continues to gain significance as the Spanish occupation of the Caribbean islands takes hold. When Christopher Columbus — sailed east from Spain in the late summer of , he hoped to find Asia. Instead his fleet arrived in the Caribbean. It ran to nine editions before the end of and was published in many cities outside Spain.

The emphasis in the Letter is on the charm of the islands and the variety of their natural resources, especially precious metals. The people are described as naked and timid, lacking weapons, almost infantile. Columbus wrote his Journal Document 1b on most evenings of that first voyage. He probably intended it for the Spanish monarchs, to whom a copy was later given.

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Apparent contradictions of fact and interpretation are evident in the Journal, suggesting a text that had not been extensively rewritten. Chanca was quick to identify human remains, perhaps of funerary origin, as firm evidence of the cannibal propensities of the caribes. The resulting document, newly translated for this volume Document 3 , has had a very complex history, but is the most extensive eyewitness account we have of the people of Hispaniola, who would disappear soon after the Spanish occupation of the island, either killed by war and disease, absorbed into the emerging colonial society, or fleeing from the epicenter of contact.


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The term guatiao, although still used by Figueroa, was increasingly restricted to the Caribbean islands alone, and disappeared altogether as the alliance with the aruacas came to dominate Spanish regional policy. Neither term really designates a distinct ethnic population. Rather, they were characterizations based on how such populations were seen in relation to Spanish ambitions. In fact, unlike the population of Hispaniola, which although nominally guatiao had fiercely resisted Spanish colonization, the aruacas emerged in the sixteenth century as firm supporters of the Spanish, even accepting black slaves from them to work aruaca tobacco plantations at the mouth of the Orinoco.

In this way there was a rewriting of both the political history of the initial occupation through downplaying resistance on Hispaniola, as well as a continuing policy of political discrimination, deriving from the ethnological frameworks created by Figueroa and Navarrete.

The result has been that those initial observations by Europeans of the native population have become enshrined in the literature concerning the Caribbean region. Unfortunately, much recent scholarship has continued to reproduce these ideas. Part of the purpose of this volume, therefore, is to make evident the way in which early European writing and policy in the Caribbean was a way of re-forming the political and cultural realities of the indigenous population.

This fallacious distinction was generalized ultimately across the whole of the northern part of the South American continent, with continuing implications for contemporary anthropology Whitehead a. Recent scholarship on the native population of the Caribbean has begun to make good that deficiency, but the tenacity of this ethnological dualism partly stems from the historical reason that it was directly adopted into Spanish colonial law, which defined caribes as any and all natives who opposed Spanish occupation in the Caribbean Hulme and Whitehead ; Sued-Badillo ; Whitehead The result was that caribes were discovered on the continent as well as the islands, and the policy of directly enslaving those who could not be brought within the colonial system of repartimiento a forced redistribution of native lands and peoples was applied widely.


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  • The political orientation of native societies over such issues thus strongly conditioned their political responses to all Europeans. The diplomacy initially exercised toward the caciques of Hispaniola strongly contrasts with the summary military invasions of Puerto Rico, Trinidad, and the Venezuelan littoral, the early hunting grounds for slavers seeking labor to replace the wasted population of the Greater Antilles.

    These ethnological definitions were also responsive to the unfolding needs of the emergent colonial system. For example, in the case of the caribes it was finally necessary for the Spanish Crown to dispatch a special legal mission, under the licenciado magistrate Rodrigo de Figueroa, to make an evaluation as to the caribe nature of the native populations of the Caribbean islands and Venezuelan littoral.

    Not only were the ethnological judgments of the colonists often self-serving, but the colonial impact itself resulted in the emergence of new political groupings among the native population, reflecting these new political realties of ethnic and ethnological profiling. Preeminent among these new potential allies, and culturally and linguistically related to the peoples of the islands, were the Lokono.

    Probably the first direct contact between Europeans and the Lokono did not come until the s, when a Spanish fleet under the command of Diego de Ordaz, with orders to explore and settle the Orinoco region, lost one of its vessels off the Atlantic coast south of the Orinoco. Many tales circulated in subsequent years as to what had become of the crew and colonists, including suggestions that they had largely survived the shipwreck and were still living among indigenous groups.

    Sometime in the s this notion was dramatically confirmed by the appearance of an unnamed morisco in the Spanish settlement of Margarita, center of the Spanish pearl-diving industry off the coast of Venezuela.