The premise of this contribution is that some of the observations regarding the indigenous peoples of the Bahama archipelago (“Lucayans”) recorded in the diario of Christopher Columbus's first voyage to America provide the opportunity to infer precontact practices. Important observations in the diario for the Bahamas are descriptions of exchanges between the Lucayans and the Spanish. These descriptions indicate that cotton, parrots, and wood javelins were considered by the Lucayans to be appropriate “gifts.” This article explores the possibility that Lucayan/Spanish exchanges refract traditional precontact exchange practices. In addition, Columbus observed wounds on the bodies of the first men he met. He interpreted these wounds as resulting from incursions by a superior civilization that sought to subjugate and enslave the “simple” and “naked” Lucayans. Throughout the diario, Columbus maintains the belief that he had reached Asia, and the land of the Grand Can (“Caniba”). These names and associated behaviors (anthropophagy) do not represent or portray the native peoples of the Caribbean Islands. In contrast, the wounds observed are interpreted as emblematic of the potential for hostilities that permeate tribal exchange relations.
William F. Keegan; Mobility and Disdain: Columbus and Cannibals in the Land of Cotton. Ethnohistory 1 January 2015; 62 (1): 1–15. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00141801-2821644
Download citation file: