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Conquistadors: The Rise and Fall, April 11, 2024, Nat Geo, “The Caribbean Conquest”

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Conquistadors

In “The Caribbean Conquest,” Conquistadors: The Rise and Fall explores Christopher Columbus’s return voyage to the Americas, beginning with bloodshed and marking a pivotal moment in the colonization of the New World.

The episode focuses on Columbus’s fourth and final voyage, which took place from 1502 to 1504. By this time, Columbus was ill and faced opposition from both the native populations and rival explorers. He set sail from Spain with four ships, aiming to find a westward passage to the Indian Ocean mainland.

Columbus’s previous voyages had already established a Spanish presence in the Caribbean, with the first voyage in 1492 resulting in the “`discovery of the Americas” and the beginning of European colonization. On that first voyage, Columbus landed on an island he named San Salvador, encountering the native Taíno, Arawak, and Lucayan people. He established a settlement, La Navidad, on the island of Hispaniola (present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic), leaving 39 men behind.

Columbus’s subsequent voyages were marked by increasing tensions, violent encounters, and a focus on extracting gold and other riches. On his second voyage, he returned to find La Navidad destroyed and the native population angered by the actions of the men he had left behind. Columbus sided with a rival native chief, Guacanagarí, and captured and enslaved many of the people.

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The third voyage saw Columbus explore Trinidad and the South American mainland before returning to the ill-fated Hispaniola settlement, where conditions had deteriorated due to conflict with the native Taino population and Spanish settlers. Columbus and his brothers were accused of poor administration and were returned to Spain in chains.

On his fourth voyage, Columbus, still seeking a passage to India, explored Jamaica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. He failed to find the desired route and was eventually rescued from shipwreck, returning to Spain embittered and stripped of his titles.

“The Caribbean Conquest” delves into the violent and complex history of Columbus’s return voyages, shedding light on the devastating impact of European colonization on indigenous populations and the legacy of exploitation that followed.

Conquistadors: The Rise and Fall airs on National Geographic at 10.00 pm on Thursday, April 11, 2024.

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