October 12th, early in the morning, Christopher Columbus, accompanied by the Pinzon brothers and other representatives of the crown, landed, where they proceeded to perform the following ceremony: "Having all given thanks to Our Lord, kneeling on the earth, and kissing it with tears of joy for the immense mercy that he had done, the Admiral arose and named the island San Salvador (Holy Savior). Afterwards, with the solemnity and appropriate words, took possession of it in the name of the Catholic Monarch, with the presence of many native people that had gathered. Following the act, they accepted him as Admiral and viceroy and swore obedience as someone who represented their highness".5
This scene observed by a few local settlers that were totally entranced by the Europeans and probably didn't understand why these people had knelt to kiss their land, and even less could they imagine that in this moment were taking possession of them, as well as their own destiny. At the end of the ceremony, the Admiral of the Ocean Sea came across them and "seeing that they were tame, tranquil and of great simplicity, gave them some red bonnets and glass beads which they wore on their necks, and other things of little value, that were appreciated by them as if they were very valuable precious stones".6
In this simple way, the official discovery of the American Continent by the Europeans took place. Christopher Columbus, without the help of an army, without knowing where he was, and apparently convinced that he had been chosen by the Lord for this mission, easily began to take possession and baptizing all the lands that he would visit (as well as their inhabitants), as if they had never had owners or names.
At that moment he was, actually, 3,000 miles from the Canaries, in an island of the now Bahamas Archipelago, named Guarahani by it's inhabitants.
The "Indians" would visit the ships daily seeking to trade parrots, woven cotton, edibles and other articles for anything European, regularly glass beads, hawks bells, or pieces of ceramics.
On the thirteenth day, they saw some natives wearing gold nose rings. When asked about their origin, the natives indicated that southwest of the island, there was a "king with many gold vases." The following day, the ships sailed with a few "Indians" on board, and after sailing to and baptizing a few other small islands, they arrived on the northwest coast of Cuba, which Columbus named Juana.
At this moment, and for a very long time after, the Admiral thought he was in an Archipelago near Cipango, where he was to reach and meet with the monarch in order to establish a relationship between his kingdom and Castile. To this end he had brought an official passport that assured his authorization to travel to the Indian region, as well as letters from the Monarchs and addressed to the monarchs from these lands. On October 21st, he writes the Monarchs saying, "I will stay in this island until I can speak to the king to see the gold he brings, then sail to the other larger island, which I believe to be Cipango, based on the signs of the Indians I bring"... "I am determined to proceed on to the continent, and visit the city of Guisay, where I shall deliver the letters of your Highnesses to the Great Can, and demand an answer, with which I shall return".7
In Cuba they asked about gold, pearls and spices, to which the natives answered that they would find them in other islands to the east. This information seems to have provoked a race to the actual island of Santo Domingo for the Admiral change course that same day. The 13th of November, Martin Alonzo, with the fastest ship, the Pinta, left Columbus behind with only two vessels.
Photo: Columbus Taking Possesion of the New World
Copyright: Prang. Library of Congress.