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European Colonisation of Cuba. 1492 – c. 1550. Before 1492. Cuba was inhabited by Native Americas called the Tianos (Arawaks). Christopher Columbus discovered Cuba in 1492 He claimed the island for the new Kingdom of Spain During this period many European countries were seeking to colonise

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European Colonisation of Cuba

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before 1492
Before 1492

Cuba was inhabited by Native Americas called the Tianos (Arawaks)


Christopher Columbus discovered Cuba in 1492

  • He claimed the island for the new Kingdom of Spain
  • During this period many European countries were seeking to colonise
  • Why colonise?
  • Wealth was seen to equal power
  • Wealth, and therefore power, was measured by “bullion” – precious metals sent back to the mother country

The main powers who expanded and colonised were:

South and Central Americas, Caribbean

Caribbean and North America



  • The more bullion you produced, the more power you had
  • You could also claim that your empire was bigger, had more people, was worth more, and so on, if you had colonies
  • Colonies provided markets for goods
  • They provided dockyards and training areas
  • They gave bases for attacking other empires
  • In short, colonies = glory!

As early as 1493, the Pope took an interest in the ‘New World’

  • The Pope was Spanish, so favoured Spain
  • He divided the ‘New World’ between Portugal and Spain
  • Later, Spain was given the right to all land in the Americas that was discovered or ‘to be discovered’
  • Britain, as a Protestant country, didn’t listen to the Pope
  • But Spain still grew immensely powerful in the Americas

In 1538 there were only a few towns in Cuba.

Havana had 60 to 70 houses. Santiago was the largest city but only had 80 houses.

Bayamo had 30-40 homes

The Spanish settlers needed Cubans to work on the crops or in the mines.

There were very few black slaves at this point, but as Cubans died, Africans were brought in.


Goods were exchanged from the New World and the Old World.

This exchange was called the Columbian exchange


The Exchange

New World

Old World

Slaves, Christianity, syphilis, smallpox, tobacco, coffee, colonisation, education, bullion, sugar


1. Why did slaves need to be brought into Cuba?

2. What was the name given to the journey from Africa to the Americas that slaves took?

3. Why were the crops produced in Cuba so profitable?

4. Explain the most important reasons for European expansion. Mention at least two.

social and economic impact of colonisation on cuba
Social and economic impact of colonisation on Cuba
  • Christianity
  • Plantation system
  • Small pox, syphilis
  • Slaves from Africa
slavery and racism
Slavery and Racism
  • 1557: Only 2,000 native Cubans left alive (from 3,000,000 in 1492)
  • Same year: blacks banned from owning pubs, inns and taverns, and from selling wine or tobacco. The punishment was 50 lashes
  • 1586: Tobacco sales are regulated. The punishment for breaking it is 50 lashes if white, 100 if black, plus 200 lashes in public in both cases
  • 1603: Cuban government is prohibited from including blacks or “mulattos” – mixed race people
  • 1708: Slaves can buy their freedom

1774: 55% of inhabitants are whites, 18% are free blacks, and 27% are slaves

  • 1789: owners must feed and clothe their slaves and work them for ‘only’ 290 days per year.
  • 1795: A slave rebellion
  • 1838: At least 400,000 slaves have arrived in Cuba by this point
the causes of racial issues
The Causes of Racial Issues
  • The racial issues that came to exist in Cuba were caused by several factors:
  • Rigid class / legal system
  • Africans being transported forcibly
  • Colonial imitation of their motherlands
  • European immigration
  • Disease



Rigid Class /

Legal System

By the 1830s, Cuban society looked like this in terms of population.

However, people of mixed race were treated as black. There were only two real categories – “white” and “non white” – which affected laws and perceptions.

This structure remained for many years, even after the abolition of slavery

africans being transported
Africans Being Transported
  • The slave trade became large-scale from c. 1550 as the lack of native Americans became acute
  • Black Africans were captured, transported, and sold into slavery
  • They tended to die rather quickly
  • Children of slaves – or mixed race children – were considered slaves
  • This led to a large slave population who did the menial jobs
  • They were therefore considered inferior
colonial imitation
Colonial Imitation



colonial imitation1
Colonial Imitation
  • Colonies copied their home countries in several respects:
    • Language
    • Architecture
    • Social Structure
    • Laws
    • Ethics
  • This meant that those from the mother country tended to fare better and be treated better than either slaves or free blacks
european immigration
European Immigration
  • Success of colonies led to immigration from Europe
  • Similarity of colonies to mother country also helped
  • Colonies offered opportunities to poor Europeans, who were superior in the colonies due to their skin colour
  • This increased immigration and division in colonies
  • The main killer was smallpox,
  • There was, in the eighteenth century, some work towards a vaccination as well.
  • Neither immunity nor vaccination were available to native Americans.
  • Millions died.
  • Africans, who had some immunity to smallpox, were brought in to make up the numbers.
  • Picture of smallpox victim about to appear.

Rigid Class system

  • Africans brought to the Americas as slaves
  • Colonies imitate culture of parent country
  • Europeans immigrate to the Americas
  • Diseases kill native Americans