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First Wave, Pre-Columbian Arrivants

The dominant discourse in the Caribbean for years has been that Christopher Columbus on October 12, 1492 DISCOVERED the Americas by landing on San Salvador in the Bahamas, called Guanahani by the Tainos who resided there. This discourse presumes is that the people who occupied the Caribbean at the time did not 'discover' the land upon which they resided and that there were no explorers prior to Columbus. Recent scholarship challenges this discourse and argues that besides the native people who resided in the islands, Vikings, Africans and the Chinese came to the Caribbean before Columbus.

The very first wave of migration into the Americas occurred about 25,000 years ago when the Beringia ice-bridge or land-bridge facilitated Asian migration into the Americas. These early migrants, it is alleged, crossed the land/ice-bridge in search of food, entering Alaska from which they spread over the course of many centuries to the rest of the Americas. After the Ice Age and the disappearance of the ice/land-bridge, the Americas would become isolated from the rest of the world, developing independently and forming various civilisations spread throughout the American continent and the Caribbean islands. 

The earliest of these people to enter the Caribbean were the Paleolithic-Indians, a hunter-gather people who arrived circa 5000 BCE. Between 1000 BCE and 500 BCE, the slightly more advanced Mesolithic-Indians called the Ciboneys or the Guanahacabibe arrived in the Caribbean and settled Jamaica, the Bahamas, Cuba and Haiti. Around 300 BCE, they were followed by the Neolithic-Indians who broadly consisted of the Tainos and the Kalinagos. The Tainos were divided into the Tainos of the Greater Antilles, the Lucayans of the Bahamas, the Ignerians of Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados and the Borequinos of Puerto Rico. The Kalinagos who arrived after the Tainos settled the Leeward and Windward Islands as well as North Eastern Trinidad. The Paleo-, Meso- and Neo-Indians originated in South and Central America and using canoes capable of holding up to fifty people travelled the short distance from Venezuela on the South American mainland into Trinidad and traced the Lesser Antilles archipelago into the Greater Antilles. There is however the view that the Ciboneys may have arrived in the Caribbean from Florida, rather than Venezuela by way of the Lesser Antilles.

Besides these early groups of Indians, there are arguments that Africans, Vikings and Chinese arrived in the Americas prior to Columbus. Around the 10th century the Vikings from the area of Scandinavia in Western Europe led by Eric the Red were the first Europeans to visit the Americas. While they settled Greenland, their visit to the Americas was ephemeral and had little cultural impact on the peoples residing there. Evidence of the Viking visit to North America includes folkloric accounts and the remnants of stone outposts built to accommodate them during their brief stay, along with related archaeological findings.

Ivan Van Sertima has suggested that north-western Africans had made their way to the Americas much earlier than Columbus and unlike the Vikings, left a lasting cultural impact. Van Sertima argues that there were two migrations of Africans into the Americas. The first arrival consisted of Egyptians of Nubian or Ethiopian ancestry, travelling in boats called dhows, who ruled Egypt and Kush or Nubia between 800 and 650 BCE. The second arrival of Africans from Mali may have occurred occurred around the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Van Sertima based his evidence on African cultural retentions amongst Central American groups such as the Olmec and Tolmec. Egyptian presence he linked to the worship of the sun and cited African facial features in Olmec statues and suggested that religious cults centred on rain making were of African origin. However, Van Sertima's evidence has been rejected by many prominent scholars who argue that much of the developments in the Americas occurred independently and internally.

More recent is the 1421 theory presented by Gavin Menzies in his book 1421: The Year China Discovered America. The 1421 theory espouses the view that the Chinese were consistently and directly involved in the civilisations of the Americas – even aiding their development and participating in trade with them. According to Menzies, during the Ming Dynasty, Admiral Zhang He and a fleet of up to 28,000 men left China to explore the world under the direction of Emperor Zhu Di. The evidence used by Menzies is varied and includes a map of the legendary Fu Sang which was supposedly located in North America and demonstrates many American landmarks. Another map Menzies cites was published circa 1418 and illustrates the world's oceans and continents, including a fairly accurate drawing of North America. Menzies alleges that evidence of Chinese presence can be seen in the art, customs and lore of the indigenous people of the Americas. This includes early drawings of horses – believed to be nonexistent before Columbus' arrival – as evidence of Chinese presence and a 300 year old garment from a North American based people which Menzies interpreted as having been woven with Chinese beads. One argument against the 1421 theory is the lack of lasting and concrete physical evidence, considering he claimed the Chinese had sustained contact with the peoples of the Americas. Furthermore, there is little evidence that goods entered China from the Americas. The authenticity of the 1418 map has been called into question based on anachronistic ideas and a poor depiction of China, which should not be since the map's authors were supposedly Chinese.

Catégorie : Waves of Colonization

Pour citer l'article : (2013). "First Wave, Pre-Columbian Arrivants" in Cruse & Rhiney (Eds.), Caribbean Atlas, http://www.caribbean-atlas.com/en/themes/waves-of-colonization-and-control-in-the-caribbean/waves-of-colonization/first-wave-pre-columbian-arrivants.html.


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