A Pre-Columbian Travel Destination
Updated: Jan 26
Have you ever wondered where the people who were living in the Caribbean islands when Christopher Columbus arrived came from? Long before the Spanish ships sailed into Caribbean waters, the islands had been a popular travel destination.
Columbus arrived in 1492, but the first people to settle the islands came much earlier. They came at different times and from different locations. Some of the first arrivals came from the coastal areas of South America traveled up the island chains through what we now call the Lesser Antilles. Others sailed from the Central American regions and began settling in the larger Caribbean islands of Cuba and Hispaniola. For some strange reason the island of Jamaica - so close to both Cuba and Hispaniola - was not settled until much, much later than the other islands.
The first arrivals to the islands must have been very brave. When they paddled their canoes away from their homes they often had no sight of where they were going. Even though the islands look close on a map, many of them are not visible from one island to the next.
These first travelers were hunter/gatherers. This meant that when they needed to find food for themselves and their families, they went into the forests or combed the beaches to find fruit or roots that they could eat. They also used clubs and other weapons to hunt for animals like turtles, which provided them with meat to eat. And of course, they fished in the oceans. Gradually, as they became more settled and when other people with knowledge of how to actually grow food to eat arrived on their islands, their menus changed and so did their lifestyles.
One of the most important food crops for these early Caribbean people was cassava. Not only did this provide a guaranteed source of food, cassava made it possible for groups of people to create permanent communities and they no longer had to roam around from place to place looking for food.
When the Spanish arrived, the island people already had their own forms of village life, religions, and customs that were as alien to the Europeans as the Christian religion would be to the island people.