There is a great debate as to just how many Arawak/Taíno inhabited Hispaniola when Columbus landed in 1492. Some of the early Spanish historian/observers claimed there were as many as 3,000,000 to 4,000,000. These numbers seem to be based on very little reliable evidence and are thought to be gross exaggerations. However, since nothing like a census was done, the methods for estimating the numbers are extremely shaky, whether by these early historians or later critics.

One long technical article on the population comes in the with the low estimate of 100,000. Several other modern scholars seem to lean more forcefully in the area of 300,000 to 400,000. Whatever the number, what happened to them is extremely tragic. They were not immune to European diseases, especially smallpox, and the Spanish worked them unmercifully in the mines and fields. By 1507 the Spanish were settled and able to do a more reliable job of counting the Arawak/Taíno. It is generally agreed that by 1507 their numbers had shrunk to 60,000. By 1531 the number was down to 600. Today there are no easily discerned traces of the Arawak/Taíno at all except for some of the archaeological remains that have been found. Not only on Hispaniola, but also across the Windward Passage in Cuba, complete genocide was practiced on these natives.

Disease was a major cause of their demise. However, on Columbus’ 2nd voyage he began to require a tribute from the Arawak/Taíno. They were expected to yield a certain quantity of gold per capita. Failing that each adult of 14 was required to submit 25lbs. of cotton. For those who could not produce the cotton either, there was a service requirement for them to work for the Spanish. This set the stage for a system of assigning the Arawak/Taíno to Spanish settlers as effective slave labor. This system contributed significantly to their genocide.