CARIBBEAN / Conquest and Colonization: The Creation of Caribbean Societies
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African Slavery

Africans first came to the Caribbean on Columbus’ second voyage, when the process of conquest and colonization of the "New World" began, and with it came slavery imposed by the Spaniards. Slavery was a known and accepted institution in the "Old World." There were efforts to combat it, however. For example, the Catholic Church prohibited members of its congregation from enslaving other Christians. Therefore, when Queen Isabel designated the native Americans as subjects of her realm, and therefore Catholics, they could not be enslaved, at least not in a legal sense. In Europe there were Arab, African and Slavic slaves, most of them working as servants, but not as forced laborers in mining or farming.

Not all Africans arrived as slaves, and some participated in the colonization and conquest. Such was the case with Juan Garrido, who at 15 years of age went to Lisbon from western Africa, became Catholic and learned European manners. He later moved to Seville, and from there he left for Hispaniola as a servant for Pedro Garrido, from whom he took his surname. In the colony, he rose to a military post by participating in the war against the Tainos on the island. Alongside Juan Ponce de Leon, he took part in the conquest of Puerto Rico and Florida. Years later, he moved to Cuba, and from there he went to Mexico as part of Hernan Cortes’ expedition. He established a residence in New Spain, married and had three children and lived there until he was 67 years old. For his participation in the conquest of the new territories for Spain, Garrido was compensated with lower-ranking positions in the colonial administration. There were also other blacks who participated in the conquest, such as Sebastian Toral in the Yucatan or Antonio Perez and Juan Portugues in Venezuela.

The vast majority of the black Africans who came to the Caribbean were brought forcibly as slaves, however. At first, only "ladinos" —those who had been Christianized and spoke Spanish — were brought, as domestic staff for the high-ranking Spaniards and to control the indigenous people. With the reduction in the Taino population, however, the Spaniards began to bring in "bozales," or recently captured slaves, to take on the exhausting work of mining gold or, later, working in the sugar mills. The exploitation of the New World brought a radical change to the lives of many African cultures, as they were the main source of labor for the Caribbean enterprises over the next four centuries.

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