THE TRIAL OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS
A Drama by John
A recreation of events that took place
on the island of Haiti (Hispaniola)
in the year 1500.
CAONABO, chief of Haiti
COMMANDER BOBADILLA, Royal Inquisitor
ANACAONA, an Indian woman, spiritual leader
HATUEY, a young Indian man
LIEUTENANT OJEDA, a career officer
FRIAR BUIL, a worldly monk
FRIAR MONTESINOS a young idealist
ESPINOZA, Columbus' cook and valet
Produced as a staged reading
(abridged version) by
The PEN Oakland Writers’ Theater
at Live Oak Theatre, Berkeley, CA
September 17 & 18, 2009
Directed by Kim McMillon
of the 2009 Production
Christopher Columbus……………..…Paul Abbott
Contact John Curl
Caonabo ………………………….…..Tony Rocha
Commander Bobadilla…………......……...Mark G.
Lieutenant Ojeda……………………Randall Wright
Friar Buil……………………..Montgomery Paulsen
Friar Montesinos………..……………Pablo Rosales
THE TRIAL OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS
SCENE: A dungeon.
(Enter FRIAR MONTESINOS, an old
man, in a monk’s robe.)
(Enter OJEDA, carrying a metal
plate with food.
A dungeon, dirty and foul. A shaft of light through a small barred
window above. To one side is a figure collapsed against the wall,
shackles on his wrists and ankles, on a chain about eight feet long
attached to a ring on the floor. It is Christopher Columbus. He is
dressed in the rags of what were once fine garments. He lies there
Columbus, Columbus, Christopher Columbus. Cristóbal Colón
in Spanish. Cristoforo Colombo in his mama’s Italian. Admiral of the
Ocean Sea, baptized for the patron of travelers, Saint Christopher, the
Christ Bearer. Today everybody thinks they know who that man was. But
how many know that he not only claimed all of America for our King
Fernando and Queen Isabella of Spain, but that they, in exchange,
appointed him Governor over it, hereditary Governor, to be passed down
to his descendants, and that Columbus ruled America like a feudal
baron—or at least as much of it as he'd conquered—until he was charged
with many serious crimes and, in the year of Our Lord 1500, deposed by
Commander Bobadilla. These things really happened, many years ago.
Although nobody seems to want to believe them any more. I know, because
I was there when I was young, in Santo Domingo, Columbus' capital, on
the Caribbean island of Española, called Haiti by the natives.
At the time, it was the only European town in all America—only then we
didn't call it 'America', but 'The Indies', since we still thought we
were in some far frontier of Asia, only a stone's throw from the River
Ganges. And what I saw there, I can never forget.
Ah! Footsteps! Columbus stirs.
Good evening, Admiral Columbus.
(COLUMBUS just looks at him.)
Hope you're not too sick to eat tonight. I snuck you a little something
Is there any word yet about the charges?
Don't you worry none, Admiral.
But have they issued the charges?
They're getting it worked out nice and legal.
I've been in this black hole almost a month and nobody's told me yet
what I'm accused of!
Now it ain't nearly as bad down here as in some of them other cells.
Whatever they done or ain't done, they've told me none of it, that's
for sure. Here, take your plate, Admiral.
(Tries to hand him the plate, but
COLUMBUS does not take it).
How can they imprison a man like this and not charge him?
I reckon they can do whatever they
choose to, seeing as they're the ones giving the orders and we're the
ones taking them, don't you think, Admiral?
Why aren't I allowed to face my accusers?
I'll set your plate down right here. Sorry about the mold.
(sets it on the floor)
Why doesn't the Inquisitor even interrogate me?
Don't leave it too long or else the rats'll get it.
(Shakes his head; to himself)
Just this blankness!
(Voice Over groans.)
Diego! Bartolome! That's their voices! Ojeda, my brothers are being
Are you hearing voices again, Admiral? Eat your dinner, you'll
Don't you hear them? Ojeda, don't do this to me!
Your brothers are in fine shape, Admiral.
Why aren't I allowed to see them or communicate with them?
Rules is rules, you know that better than me, Admiral.
I tell you, Ojeda, as soon as the King
and Queen hear of these outrages, all will be back as it was. If you'll
only take a note to my brothers...
I hope you don't mistake me for a dishonest man, Admiral.
I'll be in your infinite debt, I'll remember it always.
Tell you what: I can take off your
fetters for a brief while, with the excuse that the blood's gone bad in
your legs. A brisk walk about the cell would do you a world of good.
(hesitates, then pompously)
That I cannot accept. Bobadilla ordered
these chains on my ankles in Their Majesties' name, and a person of
your rank cannot choose to remove them.
Come now, Admiral, you ain't at Sunday mass, there's nobody here to see.
(Voice Over groans.)
There they are again, those moans. Who is being tortured?
It must be the fever, Admiral.
Ojeda, tell me!
What's that? The rats are scratching
they must sniff your food.
(looks at his plate with
A month ago I wouldn't have fed this to the swine.
(eats with his hand)
The belly's a whore.
Better eat up.
(begins to leave)
Don't go yet!
I'll be back.
sets the plate down and sobs, but without tears. He
straightens, head thrown back, breathing deeply, pathetic,
(Voice Over, from the
A rat approaches your food.
(Bolts upright, sobered. As if
seeing the rat, he waves one hand at it
and with the other hand grabs his plate.)
Back to Hell with you!
(looks around frightened)
Who said that?
Who said that?
(A figure on the floor not far
away appears from the shadows. It is
CAONABO, an aged Indian man, also in chains.)
It is only me.
Caonabo! You can't be here, you're dead!
I am not dead, Admiral Lord of the Christians. Your memory
(unsure of himself)
No, it was like yesterday. The storm, the ships. I saw you sink into
It was not me who sank but the gold.
Oh, the gold, the treasure!
On the sea bottom, where it belongs.
No! You still don't understand. Our troubles started when the
King didn't get that gold.
That was not your King's gold, but my people's!
How dare you speak to me like that!
How dare you rape my land! How dare you kill my people!
(moves toward COLUMBUS)
(At the end of his chain,
looming over COLUMBUS menacingly.)
No one will help you now, Lord Admiral of the Christians.
I always treated you well.
You kept me chained on your porch.
I did it for your own good. So you could learn Christian ways.
So every Christian who walked by could spit on me.
Now you too know the feel of chains.
I always tried to help your people.
By making them slaves?
By making them Christians! So they can die into Eternal Life.
Your people and mine do not die the same.
You are a savage! Get away from me! Ojeda!
(Enter BOBADILLA, a tall, austere Spaniard, in black judge's robes, in
his mid-60s, always carrying himself stiffly.)
Who are you? Where did you come from? How did you get in?
(BOBADILLA walks to the judge's
podium, which appears out of the
shadows at extreme stage right.)
Are you an apparition or are you real?
You dream, Lord Admiral of the Christians, no one is here.
(The shadows swallow him up again.)
Their Majesties' Court is now in session. All rise and repeat after me
"I swear to testify..."
VOICES OF LIEUTENANT OJEDA,
FRIAR BUIL, AND ESPINOZA
I swear to testify...
"...only the truth..."
...only the truth...
"...by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ..."
...by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ...
"...and the Holy Crown of Their Most Catholic Majesties Fernando
...and the Holy Crown of Their Most Catholic Majesties Fernando
You are Bobadilla! My eyes must be going bad from being in this
filthy black hole all this time. Welcome to the island, sir! At last I
am allowed to speak my case!
Extraordinary session, eighth October,
year of Our Lord fifteen hundred, city of Santo Domingo, island of
Española, Crown Colony of the Indies. Public inquiry into the
conduct and actions of Don Christopher Columbus, in his capacity as
Governor of the Indies and Viceroy of the King and Queen. Let the
accusers step forward.
(Enter Lieutenant OJEDA, FRIAR
BUIL, and ESPINOZA.)
Friar Buil, have you joined these traitors Ojeda and Espinoza
Let us begin with Lieutenant Ojeda. Describe the conditions that
led to the first revolt.
There was nothing to eat, and what there was, Columbus was
Speak when you're spoken to.
Everybody was so sick with the
fever there was nobody tending the
gardens. The Indians ran away and we didn't have the men to catch them.
COLUMBUS wasn't giving out enough food to keep a body alive.
Except to himself and his brothers, who ate like kings.
Liars, ungrateful liars!
This is a court of law! You will not shout out!
He forced everybody, even officers, to work at hard labor, dawn
Even the well-born.
Even the clergy.
Even the sick, whom he accused of malingering. Those who refused
got the whip.
You all just wanted to take it easy and let the Indians work for
He withheld salaries, claiming insufficient funds.
Whatever went wrong, he blamed others and punished them.
Every ship he's ever commanded has been near mutiny.
He's got a mean streak as wide as the ocean.
He placed his two brothers right up under him, above others much
They hold the Spanish race in much contempt.
One brother's a fool and the other's a killer.
They claim to descend from a Roman consul, but they're really
sons of a weaver.
That's a lie!
Some claim they are grandsons of a Jew.
Twist the knife, go ahead, twist it again!
It is well known that his first expedition was financed by Jewish
I am aware of that.
By money confiscated when the King expelled them from Spain!
He got to hanging people out of hand...
...for small offenses, such as stealing a cup of wheat.
I could not help myself, I had to do it, for the greater good.
There was hardly a man in the colony who wouldn't have jumped at
the first ship back to Spain.
But the Governor wouldn't permit it.
Not enough supplies.
He didn't want the king and queen to find out what a disaster
things had come to.
He'd promised Their Majesties vast riches, but had not gathered
enough gold to cover half the expenses.
Or so he claimed.
So to raise funds he rounded up Indians by the thousands to sell
in Europe as slaves.
He did this against the wishes of the Crown.
It was risky to
sail to the
islands of the Caribs to get slaves because they knew how to fight, so
he decided to round up the docile Taínos instead.
To do this properly—and COLUMBUS
always liked to do things properly—he had to prevent them from being
baptized first, so he could declare them rebel infidels and heretics,
and therefore legally enslavable.
I will defend my policy as the only one feasible!
Any more outbursts and you will be gagged!
He hampered our missionary work
terribly. Many thousands were enslaved without ever being given the
choice of conversion.
(Enter FRIAR MONTESINOS, as a
Inquisitor, I must speak!
State your name.
I don't see your name on this list.
I can't hold my peace, I must be heard.
Very well, young friar. But you
will wait till you are called. Ojeda, speak to the charge that the
former Governor also hampered the gathering of gold.
Many wanted to go off and gather
gold on their own, but he forbade it, and tried to keep a personal
A government monopoly.
Most believe he did it to save the riches for himself, or for
some other king he's in league with.
Let me remind you that he, an
Italian, originally offered his 'plan of discovery' to three other
kings, namely those of Portugal...
That man is a scoundrel!
... England and France, and would
have gladly sold himself to the highest bidder, had those other
monarchs had the foresight to make bids.
Commander, my loyalty to the Crown
is beyond question! The gathering of gold has been delayed by these
satanic rebellions, encouraged by none other than that well-known liar!
(shakes a finger at OJEDA)
It is he who should be on trial, not me!
I warned you, Columbus, to hold your peace! Ojeda, gag him!
Please! I won't speak out! Commander!
That should do you.
Let's get on with it. How did the rebellion break out?
After years of abuse, he pushed
the colony past the breaking point. One by one people fled his tyranny
and began gathering in the far province of Zharagua. There they tried
to live in peace, undisturbed by the Governor's illegal ways. Until he
sent the army to destroy them. But they were too many and the army
wouldn't fight. He pretended to make peace, then broke the treaty as
soon as their backs were turned.
Who are you to talk, Ojeda,? You're a traitor to your own cause.
I'm a military man. A man of principles.
As long as they're to your advantage. You played both sides.
You were Columbus’ spy.
You get your jollies cutting off noses.
You murdered your best friend.
That was self defense, a stupid
misunderstanding over a gambling debt! Everybody knows that! He’s a
Enough! You are not here to fight among yourselves. I have here
(holds up paper)
the deposition of findings by the Royal Treasurer.
"The Royal books have been kept sloppily
and inaccurately. There are easily sufficient funds to pay all salaries
due in the Royal Colonial Service, which have been withheld unlawfully
and under false pretenses. The most important discrepancy I have
discovered involves a strongbox found among his personal effects, which
contains approximately a quarter million ducats worth of pearls, gems,
and gold nuggets, for which there is no account at all in the Royal
books." Now, let's see what the Admiral has to say to that. Ojeda,
remove his gag.
(OJEDA unties the gag.)
I planned to make a special offering of them to the Queen for her
birthday. Inquisitor, I swear it!
(Everyone smiles and laughs.)
One last question. Ojeda, you said
that when he heard the news of my arrival, he ordered preparations for
an attack on the capital, but then changed his mind. Why?
He knew the men wouldn't fight. He didn't have their loyalty. He
thought they'd turn on him instead.
No, no, no.
That is all the testimony we will take today.
Let me speak!
Are you prepared to pass sentence, Commander?
I too must speak!
I will retire to my chamber and study the evidence.
Inquisitor, don't go!
You've got to hear my side!
Very well, Columbus, speak your piece, but be brief.
COLUMBUS speaks, the rest of the stage darkens. BOBADILLA and
the others fade into the shadows. COLUMBUS speaks to the audience,
gaining confidence and enthusiasm.)
It was a glorious day when we
first arrived in the Indies. I was in the very first boat; the banner
of Castile and León flapping proudly in the wind!
(He looks around, grabs a flag on
a cross that is on the floor nearby.
He lifts it and enacts the landing.)
A group of Indians watched us from the shore. They thought we were gods
come down from Heaven.
(ANACAONA and HATUEY, a young
Indian woman and man, leap out of the
shadows, appear awe-struck.)
As we approached, they ran away and hid.
FRIAR BUIL, and Espinoza line up behind COLUMBUS. ESPINOZA is
carrying a small wooden trunk. HATUEY and ANACAONA hide.)
We climbed out of the boat and up the beach.
(They enact this.)
I planted the flag.
(As he does, he slips into his
In the name of God I take possession of this land for Jesus Christ and
the King and Queen of Spain.
(He falls to one knee; the others
(ANACAONA and HATUEY peek out of
their hiding places; COLUMBUS sees
(to ESPINOZA, without
Bring me the box. Hurry up, Espinoza, you idiot. Now open it.
(Espinoza opens it. COLUMBUS reaches in and pulls out a string of
little bells. He holds them up and shakes them at ANACAONA and HATUEY.
They are startled for an instant, then smile.)
Gifts from your Sovereigns, Fernando and Isabella.
(to FRIAR BUIL)
Buil, translate that into Arabic.
(speaks in pidgin gibberish,
since he doesn’t really know Arabic
and is faking it)
(HATUEY and ANACAONA hesitantly approach. HATUEY takes a bell and
shakes it quizzically. He holds it up for ANACAONA to see. Then he
lifts a pendant off his neck, and hands it to COLUMBUS.)
(to HATUEY and ANACAONA)
Bring me all of this stone that you have.
Translate. This time try Hebrew.
(He speaks in pidgin Hebrew,
but they make no indication of
They don't seem to understand.
What's the name of this island? Is this
Japan? Ja-pan? We're on our way to Chi-na, Ca-thay, to the Emperor
Kublai Khan with a message from the King and Queen of Spain.
We're not getting through.
(holds up gold pendant)
The gold, where did you get it? Where?
Cibao. Bohío Haiti Cibao.
"Ci-bao" might mean "Japan".
(turns around and points)
Caona nozay Cibao. Haiti.
I think they're saying the gold comes from that mountain.
(to OJEDA, with enthusiasm)
Then we're there!
That means the mainland's only a jump away.
Now, back to the ship. We'll
explore more tomorrow. Ojeda, bring those two on board, I want to talk
to them some more.
(turns and begins to go)
(grabs HATUEY's arm)
You come with me.
Grab the girl.
(Espinoza lunges at her, but she dodges. He chases her offstage, as
OJEDA pulls the startled and resisting Hatuey offstage.)
(faces in opposite
direction, goes to one knee)
Thank you, Mother Mary, for protecting me on my journey thus far; guide
me safely on, so I may fulfill my vows.
(stands, and resumes as narrator,
speaking to audience)
But that night our flagship drifted onto
a reef and broke up. The Indians rescued most of our supplies and, with
their help, we began a settlement near the beach, here on the island I
named Española and the Indians called Haiti. They called
themselves Taínos, which in their language means something like
"the Good People". They gladly gave us
all the gold they had for a few trinkets. They loved pieces of mirror
and glass beads; but best of all they loved little copper bells, the
kind we tie to the feet of trained hawks, and they would trade anything
(jingles a little bell)
Their greatest weapons were spears with
fishbones for tips, and they hardly knew how to use them for fighting.
Their only enemies were a tribe they called Caribs, who raided
occasionally from other far-away islands, looking mainly to steal
women. They weren’t totally stupid. They even knew navigation,
and took to sea in long canoes made from hollowed trees. They made maps
of the ocean sea by placing stones of different sizes into a bed of
sand, and had all the Indies islands completely mapped. They freely
shared that precious knowledge with me. I realized there was no need to
push on to the mainland on this first voyage. With only two ships left,
I decided to leave a colony here, and return to Spain for
reinforcements. I gave the colonists orders to explore the river banks,
and everywhere the sand glitters, mark it on a map. Trade for all the
gold you can, bury it under one of the houses. I will be back. And
return I did, ten months later, with a great fleet of seventeen ships,
twelve hundred men, and my brothers Bartolome and Diego. But when we
reached the settlement, we found it burned to the ground, and all the
I can't believe this. They seemed so peaceful.
I can barely believe it myself. It
couldn’t have been those local Indians. They were all friendly and
docile. It must have been their enemies the Caribs. Fierce cannibals.
Savage butchers. They won’t get away with this.
Give them to me. They’ll all burn at the stake.
They won’t go unpunished.
I don't like that monk. He makes fun of
my Italian accent. I really try, but I just can’t seem to get rid of
it. They all make fun of it.
How’s the digging coming?
We searched every inch of the fort
area, including the well, and dug up the ground beneath every house. No
None at all?
Dig them up again. By the way, now
that we're on shore, Ojeda, address me as Governor, not Admiral. Also,
I'm making my brothers Bartolome and Diego second and third in command.
With all due respect, sir, you can't do that. The King made me
second in command.
of the Indies, and you
will obey. Get used to it, Ojeda. I'm placing my brothers in charge
when I launch off to explore the continent. I'm only staying here on
this island long enough to stabilize the colony.
(glares at him)
This is not the end of that.
Get back to digging.
I kept telling myself to be firm. I
couldn’t show any signs of weakness. All those Spaniards were just
waiting for me to make a false step.
And what are these new orders?
Short food rations and manual labor for the sons of noblemen? For the
This is an emergency, Friar. I
thought we'd have food and shelter waiting for us. Now we have to start
Half the men are down with fever. There's no medicine. This has
been planned very badly.
(swats the air around his face)
These mosquitoes are driving me crazy!
(Enter OJEDA, pushing Soldier in
front of him.)
We caught him stealing wheat.
What's your name?
Why are you starving us?
I'm not starving you.
Give him the whip.
(OJEDA throws Soldier to the
ground and raises a whip.)
(grasps OJEDA’s wrist)
His a noble’s son. You can't whip Spanish nobility as if they were
There's no room for playboys in this army.
Why are you starving our soldiers?
I'm responsible for these men, Friar, not you.
I'm responsible for their souls!
As long as there is a mouthful of food, we will not accept short
rations. And if another noble's son is whipped, I will put you under
interdict and withhold the Holy Sacraments from you and your brothers.
(He wheels and Exits.)
Give him twenty lashes.
I'm going to enjoy this.
(raises the whip again)
Not here! In the plaza, where everyone can watch. Then follow the
friar, see if he's stirring up trouble.
(Enter HATUEY, furtively.)
There’s one now!
(to SOLDIER, who has been
(He jumps to his feet and grabs
Why are you sneaking around?
My cacique, my chief, has sent me.
He can speak Spanish!
Where is your cacique?
He says to tell you he tried to
save the Christians, but Caonabo came down from the mountains Cibao,
and killed them.
Cibao: that's where they said the gold came from.
Your cacique was supposed to be guarding these men!
My cacique is peaceful, but Caonabo is very angry.
I can make this devil talk! Let me torture him!
Who is this Caonabo?
My cacique could not stop him.
This Caonabo, he's king of the mountain of gold?
He is cacique of Cibao.
Let him go.
Go back to your cacique. Tell him to
send five hundred men and three hundred women here every day to work.
We don't want those murderers around our camp.
We can control them. We need labor. Also tell him to send food,
as much as he can lay his hands on.
(HATUEY starts to go.)
Don’t let him go! He won’t be back.
One more thing. Tell your chief to send me all his gold. All of it!
All…of…it! Now go.
(SOLDIER shoves HATUEY off stage.)
He’ll be back. Or he’ll soon learn the consequences.
We have to take the offensive against this Caonabo. We should
march up to his village and hang him.
Right, we can't get bogged down here in this snake pit. Get the
army ready to march.
(The stage darkens around COLUMBUS and lightens around CAONABO,
ANACAONA, and HATUEY. CAONABO and ANACAONA are in splendid dress.
CAONABO looks much younger than when we saw him in prison, and ANACAONA
is more mature than when we saw her at COLUMBUS’first landing.)
Why do you involve yourself with these demons again?
My father has told me to.
Tell your father to move his village into the mountains, near
He will not do that.
His people are running toward death.
The Christians will protect us from our enemies, the Caribs.
They are worse than the Caribs. All they want is power, gold and
women. We must push them off the island.
My father says they are the sky
people from Turey, those who came to visit us many generations past,
and have come again. They just want gifts of our gold and in exchange
they will teach us many things, just like last time, and then they will
The Christians are not the sky
people returned. They have nothing to teach us. They will not leave
until we drive them to the sea. What do they do with this gold they
always want? Do they dance before it? Do they pray to it? What does
your cacique say, Hatuey?
He says the Christians have
powerful dangerous gods. There are many more of them this time. Even
more may come. My cacique says we must do what they demand for now.
And what do you say?
I say we must take to the mountains, set snares for them, and
trap them one by one.
(A large church bell rings.)
What is that sound?
It is a magic box they use to talk with their god.
(The bell rings again.)
(The stage darkens around them and
lightens around COLUMBUS.)
And so we marched to the mountains to
find Caonabo. It was glorious! An army of three hundred crossbowmen,
cavalry, arquebusses, hounds, footsoldiers in armor with lances and
swords. Accompanying us were five hundred Indians from the village near
our camp, sent by their headman, the cacique Gua Canagari, who
was always our closest friend and ally. Up from the camp we marched,
through the Great Meadow to the foothills of Mount Cibao, stopping at
villages along the way, where we collected food and gold. Most villages
came out to greet us joyfully, and were gald to give us everything they
had. Some others, however, frightened no doubt by rumors, took flight
and were empty when we arrived. However, they always left plenty of
food behind. At the foot of Mount Cibao we set up a fort. From
there I sent a delegation, led by Lieutenant OJEDA, to Caonabo.
(As he speaks, OJEDA and CAONABO
In his village high on the mountain they
met. Caonabo wore a crown with wings on its sides like a shield and
golden eyes as large as silver cups. Following my instructions, Ojeda
brought gifts and an offer.
HATUEY and CAONABO in the Indian village.)
Tell him that we come to make peace.
The Christian Guamiquina has sent these men to ask for peace.
I am Guamiquina of this land, not the Christian chief. Tell him
he will have peace when he leaves the island.
Governor Columbus sends you these gifts.
(hands him some strings of beads
(tinkles a string of bells)
He means to insult me with these toys.
Caonabo is not pleased.
Then choose your gift. Governor Columbus will give you anything
that is his.
(Speaks in Taíno)
Down in the Christian village there
is an object like this
(holds up one of the little bell)
only much bigger, and when it rings the
earth and sky tremble. If your headman wants peace, he must bring me
this as a gift.
Caonabo wants the great bell, the one in your temple.
Can you imagine? He wanted the church
bell! The Indians had never heard anything like it, and were all
awe-struck by its magical sound.
Tell him the bell is his. But he’s got to come get it.
(Speaks in Taíno)
(Answers in Taíno,
with a laugh.)
What did he say?
He will come, and bring his warriors.
So they started down, accompanied by
Caonabo's Indian army, to fetch the church bell. At the first river
bank, Ojeda held up a set of chains, manacles and shackles to Caonabo,
and said, as I told him to...
Governor Columbus is preparing a great feast in your honor.
(Holds up handcuffs, shackles and
These are ceremonial bracelets of
supreme power, only worn by great leaders on horseback. Lord Columbus
has sent them for you to wear on this festive occasion and, for the
highest honor of all, he has asked me to take you down to the feast
riding with me on the back of my magnificent horse.
Caonabo was thrilled at the offer of
getting to ride a horse, which we had never let an Indian do before.
They thought they were some kind of supernatural deer.
(CAONABO takes the chains. OJEDA
snaps the handcuffs on his wrists and
the shackles on his ankles. CAONABO puts his arms into the air and
walks in a small circle triumphantly, for all to see.)
Ojeda mounted Caonabo behind him, the
chains on his wrists and ankles, then told him they had to tie them
both together so he wouldn’t fall off. As soon as Ojeda had
Caonabo tied up, he galloped off across the stream, followed by the
rest of our delegation. The startled Indians were frozen in their
tracks. Ojeda hardly stopped until they reached our camp, where Ojeda
threw the greatest chief of Haiti at my feet.
(They enact this as he speaks.)
The Indian warriors of course followed,
but we met them with cannon, cavalry, and ferocious dogs. The
battlefield was littered with dead Indians. Before long the survivors
came suing for peace. One of them, to our surprise, was the wife of
Caonabo, a woman named Anacaona, a chief in her own right.
(Enter ANACAONA, followed by
HATUEY. They kneel before COLUMBUS.
COLUMBUS holds up a small bell, tinkles it then turns it upside down so
it forms a little bowl.)
From now on every Indian will have
to pay a bell full of gold dust
every three months, as tribute.
(hands the bell to HATUEY)
Caciques will pay a calabash full.
(holds up a gourd)
That much gold is not possible.
When you bring in your gold, you will get a copper coin with a
hole in the middle,
(holds up a coin)
which you will wear on a string around
your neck at all times. This will be proof that your payments are
Our gold has been collected over
many generations. You will have it all very quickly, then where will we
There's gold in the river banks. Dig it out.
The rivers are our nation's blood; we must not abuse them.
Failure to meet your payments will
be strictly punished. First offense, cut off an ear; second offense,
slice the nose; third offense, chop off the hands.
My village has always helped you, and been your friend. Must we
pay too? Will this be our reward?
Everyone must pay.
(HATUEY and ANACAONA walk off.
COLUMBUS turns to the audience.)
I had to do it; we needed the gold. We
went from village to village, asserting our authority and collecting
gold. With Caonabo their hero defeated, the rest were cowed. We
collected a huge pile of gold. I decided not to hang Caonabo. I
realized that the Indians had great affection for him, and would do
anything I asked while he was held hostage. I decided to chain him on
the front porch of my residence, overlooking the main plaza, so the
Indians could see he was not dead. I planned eventually to send him to
the king and queen. He was quite an interesting fellow, actually. Only
part Taíno. A half breed. The other part Carib, their enemies.
They say his mother was kidnapped by Caribs, escaped and came back with
a full belly. It didn’t appear to be a handcap to Caonabo, though, or
at least it didn’t stop him from becoming their king. Of course all
heathens are morally loose by our standards. Anyway, I assigned
my cook and valet Espinoza,
although he was a fool and never once
cooked me an edible meal, I
assigned him to teach Caonabo our language, and in no time he was
(Turns to CAONABO, who is sitting
chained by one leg. OJEDA is nearby
with his arms folded.)
Tell me, Caonabo, who are your Sovereigns?
King Fernando and Queen Isabella.
He's learned his lesson well enough.
Now, tell the Admiral
who is Jesus Christ?
Jesus Christ gold.
God. Repeat after me
Jesus Christ is God. God.
(to Espinoza. Shakes his head.)
These people have memories like sieves.
When they choose to.
They say that somewhere in your mountains there is a river that runs
with gold. Where is this river?
River die. My people die.
Don’t play dumb with me!
What is he talking about?
The gathering of tribute, I think, sir.
What's the problem?
Surely you've heard, sir, that many Indians have died in the
rivers collecting gold.
These are rumors.
I saw it with my own eyes, sir.
When was this?
When you sent me with your brother Don Diego to visit the
villages on the Great Meadow.
Oh yes, Don Diego reported some
problem, but those stories are much exaggerated. My brother an
The quotas are too high.
The quotas are just.
They cannot meet them. And the friars are out of hand.
What do you mean?
(Glances at CAONABO, who appears
to be paying no attention. Espinoza
draws COLUMBUS away. In a lower voice.)
These are Indians, not Moors or Jews, sir. It is not right for the
friars to burn them at the stake.
Maybe they should have been
hanged, not burned. That is no business of yours, Espinoza. In any
event, those Indians broke into the Chapel and desecrated the shrine.
The punishment was just.
(louder, to CAONABO)
I don't know where you're hearing this
nonsense, Caonabo, but none of your people are dying. And if they are
and if they're Christians, they'll go to Heaven.
If you hear any more of these murmurings, I want you to report them to
(to audience, continuing
That was a mistake, putting Espinoza and
Caonabo together. At the time I thought Espinoza was loyal to me. I
should have realized he was unreliable when he kept coming to me with
all those complaints from the soldiers and the colonists. But I never
dreamed he had sympathies with the Indians.
I still think it’s not right to burn them at the stake.
(slaps ESPINOZA in the face)
Don’t talk back to me, moron! Get out of my sight!
(ESPINOZA angrily slinks off.)
None of your people are dying. And if they’re Christians, they're in
(turns to audience)
In any case, over the next several
months, we gathered enough gold to make the king and queen happy five
times over. Finally I boarded it on my five best ships. I knew my
moment of triumph was near. When the king and queen received their
gold, nothing my detractors could say would mean a pin.
Caonabo, I have decided to send you with
the fleet to Spain. To meet the King and Queen. Always call them Your
Majesties. And always bow when you see them. Like this.
Go ahead, practice your bow.
I will not go.
Oh, you'll go alright.
The zemis will not let me go. Hurrican will not let me leave the
Forget your idols—they're nothing. Where I'm sending you you'll
see wonders beyond your wildest dreams.
There is nothing there I will see; I will not go.
(Unlocks his chain from the
wall and hands the end of chain to
Take him down to the dock.
He's old, Governor. He might not stand the trip across.
Do as you're told. Caonabo, may Christ be with you!
(He leads him out.)
I told you not to bother me.
Please let me sail with the fleet,
sir. I can't stand it here, sir. I want to go home to Andalusia,
see my family again before I die.
I need you here! You’re going to die here, Espinoza, you better get
used to it. Now get out of my sight!
(Exit Espinoza hurriedly)
(to the audience)
But as soon as all was loaded a
forbidding darkness appeared on the horizon. A sudden wind! Clouds
hurtled across the sky. The trees whipped and swayed. It was suddenly
dark. All the Indians ran for higher ground. Gales thrashed the sea,
whitecaps churning around the fleet. Sheets of rain drenching us. We
stood transfixed, watching the ships rise and fall in the swirling
waves. The air was so dark and thick we could barely see. Great waves
crashed fiercely against the hulls, sailors scattered about in panic.
Tremendous whitecaps lashed out of nowhere, a huge surge of water
shattered over the ships, smashing one against another. On the deck of
the flagship I could see Caonabo, just sitting there calmly in his
chains, impassive, as if lost in another world, while bedlam pounded
all around him. Suddenly the hull caved in. The waters pulled the great
ship down into the maelstrom and it was gone! The flagship was gone!
Caonabo was gone! Then another ship! Another! All five ships sucked to
the bottom! Everything lost! Everything gone! The gold! My treasure at
the bottom of the sea! What are we going to do? We have nothing now,
nothing to send back. The king will be furious.
(Enter OJEDA and FRIAR BUIL.)
We have a few ships in drydock. We can gather more gold.
We don't have time. I promised the King it would arrive by now.
We have to send something immediately.
There's a different kind of gold we can gather, that will be
What are you talking about?
The rebel Indians. Round them up. They can be sold in the slave
market in Seville.
That’s not the mission we got from the King.
That’s not for you to determine.
It's perfectly legal. They're rebels if they refuse to convert.
I realized Buil was right, and it would
be to their benefit. As slaves in Spain they would more quickly become
Christians and learn the skills of civilization than if they stayed
here. At first Buil and Ojeda were 100 percent for it, they were
even the ones who proposed it. Only later when things started turning
sour, they both did a self-righteous about face and blamed me. So while
the new ships were being fitted, I sent the army to the nearest
rebellious village and rounded up about a thousand Indians. I had them
put in a stockade near the docks. There I selected out five hundred of
the best-looking ones. The rest I was going to let go, but there was
such a hue and cry from the colonists, that I had to let each one
choose a few Indians for personal servants. Anyway, we boarded about
five hundred Indians in that first shipment, and sent them off. It
turned out very profitable for everyone involved. That's how we started
the slave trade.
(COLUMBUS’s study. COLUMBUS at his
desk. Enter OJEDA riding piggyback
Ojeda! What are you doing?
Going for supplies, sir! Do you need anything?
Get off that Indian.
Why, sir? He's my Indian. You gave him to me.
He's not a horse!
I don’t need a horse. I’m not going far.
Get off that Indian immediately!
(Pulls on HATUEY's hair. HATUEY
lets him down.)
If you injure them, they won't be able to work.
There's plenty of Indians; if one gets
injured you can just take another. You've been spending too much time
in your study, Governor. All the men are riding their Indians now.
They’re much better than horses for short distances, and there aren’t
enough steeds to go around. Anyway the Indians like it. Try it,
Governor, it's fun.
(He pokes HATUEY, and HATUEY
(He climbs onto HATUEY.)
Walk me around.
Pull on his hair. On the center
means go. Pull on the left side he turns left. Right side he goes
right. Pull the center again, he stops. It couldn’t be simpler.
(HATUEY walks COLUMBUS around the
stage, then stops.)
Let me down.
What’s the command?
Tap the top of his head.
(COLUMBUS does and HATUEY squats
and lets his off.)
See, it’s easy, pleasant, and good exercise.
(OJEDA climbs back on HATUEY, and
The slave trade was quite profitable at
first. We sent fleet after fleet to Spain packed to the gills with
Indians. Everything looked up. That hypocrite Friar Buil only started
complaining when, for reasons of efficiency, we postponed their
conversion to Christianity until after they were transported and sold
in Spain. The reason for this is because many of them just pretended to
be converted in order to not be made slaves. They were really secretly
still pagans, and stole off to secret places to pray to their false
gods. We caught them at it many times.
Ships just docked. Bad news, sir. Those
last batches of Indians, over half died on the trip across, and many of
the rest died soon after landing. The price for Indians has collapsed
and the price for Africans has soared.
This is serious! Next time we'll have to pack them even tighter
in the holds, so we have extras to absorb the losses.
Pay up! Pay up!
What the devil is that?
There’s been some murmuring among the men.
Murmuring? Of what?
We want our pay! We want passage home!
Is this a rebellion? How on has this been going on? Damn it,
Espinoza, why am I the last to know?
Go back to work! That's an order!
We've served our time, we want to go home!
Every man will get what's coming to him, just be patient.
We want it now! We can't wait!
All of you, back to your jobs, or you'll get nothing.
If you won't let us go home, then we want land! Give us land! And
Indians to work it!
Break up this mob and give them all the lash.
The men won't calm down until they feel they've gotten justice.
I decide justice here.
They want somebody to take their complaints to. Appoint somebody
Do you think that will calm them?
I’ll appoint one of my brothers.
That would just incite them even more. It has got to be somebody
Then I appoint you, Espinoza, Chief Justice of the Indies.
You don’t really have to do
anything. A rebellion may be at hand. Be my eyes and ears. Go around
and talk to them, play dumb. If they bring you any dispute to decide,
let me know immediately, and I’ll tell you what to say.
(turns to audience)
That was the worst decision I ever made.
Espinoza, who I trusted as a
son, who owed so much to me, began betraying me immediately.
(Scene darkens; another part of
the stage lights. OJEDA and ESPINOZA.)
Some of us are meeting tonight to discuss the problems.
Can you get me off this devilish island? Can you get me passage
If there's enough of us, we don't have to leave the island to get
what we want.
And what do you want?
When Orion's belt rises over the hill, we'll meet by the great
rocks on the shore. Join us.
(Stage lightens around COLUMBUS.)
(Looks at a map on the wall, then
goes to his desk. He rummages around,
pulls out a paper and quill pen and reads.)
“To the King and Queen, concerning my
amazing — my astounding —
disclosures of my second successful voyage of discovery.”
(Enter ANACAONA. She stands
silently until COLUMBUS notices her.)
(COLUMBUS clears his throat and
"The philosophers of old have described
the world as spherical and I have no doubt that this is the shape of
the part known to them. But all my observations and calculations of
this newly discovered part of the world, lead me to believe that the
earth is not shaped as a sphere, for this part is far more elevated
than the rest, both water and land, and reaches its peak far inland,
under the equator. I believe that here at the highest spot will be
found the Earthly Paradise, as revealed in the Bible, inaccessible to
mortal feet but by divine permission..."
(He notices ANACAONA.)
What is it?
Your dinner is ready, master.
It's my soul that hungers, not my gut.
Bring it in.
bows and exits. He paces, goes to wall map, studies it. She
returns with food, sets it on a table. He sits, tastes the food and
spits it out.)
(hesitates, then louder)
This tastes like shit.
I made it just the way you like it, sir.
It's tasteless and overcooked.
Beg your pardon, sir. I'll make you something else. What's your
I have no pleasure; I don’t remember the last time you cooked an
Sir, you complimented me just last night on how excellent you
Don't tell me what I said. Just have the girl take it away. I'll
Your excellency needs to keep up his strength.
You have your orders. Just follow them.
Clear the table
Sometimes I think that man's trying to poison me. I bet he spits
in my food. He won’t get away with that!
(walks to wall map again,
muttering to himself)
There's no talking to these Spaniards,
they're in a different world. It was hard enough when I only had those
pampered sons of Castillian gentlemen to deal with, but now with all
this riff-raff! I should never have asked the King to empty the prisons
and send me all his jailbirds, I would have done better with no workers
(He notices ANACAONA is still
Who is your chief?
(She hesitates, then does.)
(She does. He walks in a circle
How did you get assigned to the kitchen?
They tell me to come and I come.
What happened to the girl who was here before?
I do not know.
Come now, tell me what you know.
Her husband is hurt, I think, and cannot go to gather gold, so
she gathers gold in his place.
Why do you Indians deny half of what you know? Getting
information from you is like pulling teeth.
I do not know.
Are you afraid of me?
(No response from her.)
You don't have to be... if you do your work honestly and faithfully.
Have you been baptized?
Then you have nothing at all to fear. Is that clear?
(goes to window, looks out,
Now, let me see your breasts.
Master orders us to wear clothes, I thought.
Do what you're told. The last girl knew how to obey.
I do not want to, master.
Take off your blouse.
Take off all your clothes. That is an order.
(He starts to reach into her
blouse, she resists. Knock at the door. In
an annoyed tone.)
Who is it?
(HATUEY enters, carrying a
large flask of water on his back.)
And what do you want?
I come with water, master.
Don't you think I can't see that? Stop.
(HATUEY stops. COLUMBUS walks up
to him and counts pennies hanging from
a string tied about his neck.)
Eight: very good. Your tribute payments
are entirely up to date. Sometimes I think you Indians are ten times
more reliable than the average Spaniard in this colony, and a hundred
times more trustworthy. Well, go ahead, fill the pitcher, you might as
(to ANACAONA, annoyed)
You stay here and clean up. We’ll continue our discussion later.
(COLUMBUS exits, leaving them
Why did you come?
Speak in the Christian language. If they catch us speaking
Taíno here, they'll whip us.
I can't speak truth in a language of killers and liars. Why did
To help you.
I don't need your help.
They will kill you.
I'm going to stick a knife in his face.
(pulls a knife out of her bodice)
Our mothers and fathers are hungry. If you're dead who will feed
(She puts the knife back.
Wraps some food from the table in a
Take this, put it under your shirt, bring it to them.
(refuses to take it)
If you die today, I will die with you.
His life is not worth both of ours. I do not need help.
We can both live.
We're not alive as long as these
savages keep us as slaves. If we cannot live as Taínos,
according to the Taíno way, we cannot live at all. Each day now
is a death. The final one can't be any worse. We should all take
cassava poison, as many have done.
If we survive and wait, something
will change. We can find a way to kill him and both live. Then we can
go to the far side of the island, to Zharagua. Some rebel Christians
have begun to gather there, and say they'll protect us.
They are as bad as the others.
Let's escape to Cuba, then.
We have to stop them here, on Haiti.
Promise me you'll wait one more day. Just to say goodbye to our
Alright. Just one day. But take this food to them.
(hands him the food)
(takes the food and slips it under
Here comes somebody.
(HATUEY quickly begins filling two
pitchers from his jug. ANACAONA
begins to sweep the floor.)
Why does it take so long to fill two water jugs...? Well...? Oh, just
get out of here.
(COLUMBUS goes to his desk.)
Where's that letter I started to the king?
(Shuffles papers. Behind his
back, ANACAONA reaches inside her
blouse and pulls out the knife.)
(A sudden commotion outside.
ANACAONA quickly puts away the knife.
COLUMBUS goes to the widow and looks out.)
What's going on out there? Bring that man in to me.
(Enter OJEDA pushing Hatuey in
front of him, followed by FRIAR BUIL and
FRIAR MONTESINOS. OJEDA throws HATUEY at COLUMBUS' feet.)
He had food beneath his shirt, stolen for sure.
So, this is what you're up to as soon as my back is turned! And
You were in on this!
We are innocent.
The Lieutenant was about to cut off his hand, sir, without
inquest or trial.
That's the penalty for stealing.
For Christ's sake, it's a matter of a scrap of meat and a few
crusts of bread.
How are you friars connected with this?
We were merely passing by. My
young brother, hardly wet behind the ears, threw himself between the
lieutenant and the Indian.
Stealing cannot go unpunished.
Certainly! It undercuts our conversion program if these people
don't think we mean business.
These people have no idea of
what's yours or mine; they give freely of all they have. Their souls
can be saved through gentleness.
The young friar, as you can see, is not yet well versed in Church
I've no time or inclination to
argue doctrine, friars. The law is the law. Nonetheless we must make
fine distinctions. Since it is but a matter of some garbage, and since
this seems to be his first offense, we will lighten the sentence. Cut
off one ear.
Governor, have mercy.
Why not both ears? Or at least the nose. We must set examples.
I've made my decision. Then send him to the mines. Have the girl
whipped: fifteen lashes.
They should both be burned at the stake!
(pulls out a short sword)
Left ear or right?
Don't shed blood on my floor, idiot! Take him outside.
(ANACAONA pulls out her knife.
COLUMBUS jumps back, falling over OJEDA.
HATUEY scrambles to his feet and he and ANACAONA run out. OJEDA
starts after them but trips over BUIL and they both go sprawling.)
Stop those Indians! Don't let them escape!
(OJEDA, BUIL and MONTESINOS exit
Sir! Emergency! Half the colonists are gone!
I don't know where, but they're gone and they've stolen supplies.
This is rebellion! Espinoza,
that’s why I made you judge, to prevent these kinds of things from
happening. I’m holding you responsible. Where's Ojeda? Get me Ojeda!
(Espinoza hurriedly exits.)
We gathered the remnants of the army and
followed the rebel colonists inland. They had fled into the mountains
and to the other side of the island, where the Indians helped them and
hid them. I left my brothers in charge in Santo Domingo, and I
proceeded to set up a base camp seventy miles inland, at Fort
Concepción. I remained there with half the army to round up
rebels in that area while Ojeda continued on to catch those who had
fled to the other side of the island in the far place they called
Zharagua. What I didn’t know at the time but I know now, is that Ojeda
was playing both sides. Encouraging the rebels while pretending to
attack them. And the Indians didn’t just give up, like I thought they
would, but retaliated against us in the most diabolical ways, led by a
man they called Hatuey. They hid in the forest, set traps for us.
darkens around COLUMBUS and
lightens around ANACAONA and HATUEY crouching by a small fire. On a low
platform before them are three zemi icons. ANACAONA stands. She is
draped in wreathes of red and white flowers, with bracelets of bells,
holding a palm frond. A group of women can he heard singing in a high
pitched wail, while a group of men use their voices like drones, over
drums and shell tambourines. ANACAONA dances, waving the
palm frond. HATUEY sprinkles a substance into the flames and a
cloud of colored smoke rises. She kneels in front of the zemis. HATUEY
sprinkles red powder on the center zemi’s head. ANACAONÁ and
HATUEY chant. ANACAONA sniffs the smoke and falls over backward. HATUEY
places a stone bowl with a handle onto the flames, and tosses gold
nuggets one by one into the bowl.
(rises and looks into the
It is ready.
(HATUEY gets up, goes into the
darkness and pulls over a Spanish
soldier. He is tied up. The soldier is terrified.)
What are you going to do?
You Christians want gold. We will give it to you.
(ANACAONA takes the pot from the
fire and sets it down near the
soldier. HATUEY takes the soldier's hair in one hand, and with the
other he lifts the pot.)
Let me go! You murdering savages!
(HATUEY pulls his hair back,
opening his mouth.)
Here is your gold.
(In the darkness he screams.)
(Stage lightens around COLUMBUS.)
It was barbaric. When they caught
somebody, they’d pour molten gold down his throat. The worst part was
retrieving the precious metal from the corpse. What a disgusting mess!
But we had to do it. And then to make matters even worse, large numbers
of Indians — thousands — were killing themselves. Mass suicides. Whole
villages jumping off cliffs rather than just agreeing to work for us.
It was madness!
(Stage darkens around COLUMBUS,
and lightens in COLUMBUS’s house. Enter
BOBADILLA, followed by OJEDA.)
So this is the Admiral's house. Quite luxurious compared to those
barracks and shacks.
Built by forced labor of many
starving Christians. If you could have seen the neglect for months and
years on end that their Majesties' works suffered so labor could be
directed into extravagances for Columbus and his brothers!
All three brothers share this mansion?
Hardly. The two large houses on
either side are residences of the younger ones—both built at public
expense. This downstairs serves as Columbus' offices, while the
upstairs is his private quarters.
Who were those seven men hanging on the gallows?
Rebels to Columbus. Patriots to
the Crown. There are five more in prison, scheduled to be hanged
tomorrow at dawn.
Release them. There's a story in
Spain that he keeps an Indian chief chained on his porch? I didn't see
him when we came in.
Dead, I'm afraid, like so many others.
It is distressing to see that the
Indians are dying over here too. I thought it was just that they did
not take to the Spanish climate.
They are very prone to sickness. They say this never happened before we
It is the will of God.
How many of the thousands that Columbus sent to Spain died?
All except the two
hundred we brought back with us, and they're half-dead too. There are
no more Indians in Spain, and no more will be sent back. The Queen has
banned the slave trade.
Banned the slave trade?
Only the trade to Europe, not here in
the Indies. Better they remain here. We have plenty of African slaves.
We don't need them.
But they'll all die very soon here too,
unless we abandon this horrible tribute system. Columbus requires the
impossible: a million hands cut off will still not ensure that every
Indian can fulfill his monthly quota. In the liberated province—in
Zharaguá—emissaries have come to the rebel colonists from half
the villages on the island asking for protection from the tribute
But what would you replace this system with?
In Zharagua we give each settler a
rancho and assign all the Indians living on it to his care. He puts
them to work, usually farming. We could establish that system
generally. The Crown would get a cut of the profits.
There is hardly profit in farming.
It could also apply to gold mining,
which Columbus has kept as his personal monopoly until now, with the
result that little gold has been mined and the island's resources are
still not fully explored.
Gold mining is a royal monopoly. You're
not accusing Columbus of keeping more than his ten percent of the take,
He is very... ambitious.
I know, even without stealing, the man
could have become richer than the Pope. Their Majesties permitted him
to keep, over my objections, a tenth — a full tenth — of all gold he
My point is that hundreds of private
mines could produce far more revenue for the Crown. And it would be
very popular with the colonists.
The Crown could issue a mining license
to any settler who wishes one. The local Indians in each area could be
assigned to each miner as workers. Everyone would profit.
And this is the system you suggest we use to settle the Indies...
Call it the system of freedom.
Enterprise. It certainly would be a step toward settling this place.
Columbus seemed content that this remain an armed camp in a foreign
The thing that worries me is that half
the men here now have been sentenced here for some crime. That includes
your people, Ojeda. Many of them are hardened criminals. I fear what
they might do if given free reign.
Could it be any worse than what is now?
And I have heard disquieting stories
that these Indians cannot stand up to the toil of mining and that many
Private mining may be different, as each
miner must take care of his workers, while Columbus acted like he had
an endless supply. It is true that these people do not have nearly the
strength of an African, and I have heard it suggested, as a long range
solution, that Africans be introduced here for the hardest labor.
An interesting and humane proposal.
Alright, I'll support your system. I'll issue the mining licenses, and
give the land grants.
(goes to desk)
This is Columbus' desk?
That's right, Commander.
(tries to open it)
It’s locked. Pry it open.
(OJEDA pries it open with a knife.)
(rummages around, pulls out
Listen to this. It is a letter, as yet
unfinished, to the King and Queen, concerning his last so-called
'voyage of discovery'.
"I believe that here at the highest spot
will be found the Earthly Paradise, as revealed in the Bible,
inaccessible to mortal feet but by divine permission. I believe that
the great river I discovered is one of the four said to flow from the
fountain springing from the foot of the Biblical Tree of Life, feeding
the oceans of the world. In short, I now believe the Earth shaped not
as a perfect sphere, but as a pear or a woman's breast, with the
Terrestrial Paradise situated here on the nipple."
(They both laugh.)
What fancies this man has!
A mind possessed. This
corroborates what I said before, that he's
obsessed with bizarre dreams and visions, putting himself far above the
rest of humanity.
(lifts another paper)
Here in another letter he refers to some
vow to the Virgin Mary, that if she would guide him across the ocean to
the Indies, within seven years he would raise an army of fifty thousand
foot soldiers and fifty thousand horsemen—that's a serious army—to
launch a new Crusade and seize the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem from the
(sets paper down)
He thinks he's chosen by God.
Their Majesties should never have agreed to make him hereditary
Governor of all lands he conquered.
He wants to crown himself King of Asia.
Some of us tried to warn the the
King and Queen. Asia is vast, I cautioned them, like an elephant; while
Spain is like the tip of the elephant's tail. If Columbus conquers the
Indies, I said, he'll be the one riding the head, and Spain will be the
one to follow. That's how Julius Caesar came to power in Rome, by
first conquering Gaul.
He’s very dangerous. As a measure
of the man, let me remind you how, even in the triumph of his first
voyage, he was not above stealing from a common sailor.
I don't think I've heard that story.
Their Majesties had offered a
reward of fifty thousand maravedis to the first man who sighted land. A
fortune to a poor man, but a trifle to the rich. Well it was a simple
seaman named Rodrigo who sighted it and cried, "Land," but when
Columbus later got the ear of the Sovereigns, he told them an absurd
tale of some mysterious beckoning light that he had seen the night
before. So although he never even cried, "Land," he claimed and got the
reward, leaving the poor sailor with nothing.
Grasping for crumbs! The man has the integrity of an Englishman!
I tell you his personal greed
knows no earthly bounds. They say the poor sailor was so disillusioned
he went and joined the Moors.
Enough. I want to look at the account books.
Let me warn you, Commander, he always
bragged about how clever he was to keep two sets of logs on his first
voyage, preventing mutiny by fooling the crew into thinking they'd come
less far than they actually had, and I have heard from an impeccable
source that Columbus keeps two sets of account books, one to show the
Royal Auditor and one with the true figures.
Who told you that?
His valet. Unfortunately he’s with Columbus out on the Great Meadow.
Where does he store the books?
He kept that secret from me.
Who would know?
His brothers. With your excellency’s
pardon, I have already taken the initiative to extract that information
from them. The younger one Don Diego is deathly afraid of
anything physical, and would betray his mother if you threatened
to cut off his nose.
I hope you didn’t take any excessive measures. I need them in good
condition so they can answer to the King.
They’re in perfect shape. According to
Don Diego, there should be a key on a ring hanging inside the
kneespace of Columbus’s desk on the right side. It opens a compartment
in the window seat.
(looks under desk, takes out
Very good. Now let's see what's hidden here.
(Goes to window seat, takes off
cloth cover, revealing lid and keyhole.
He opens it.)
Ah, a strongbox. Ojeda, help me lift this out.
It is heavy, Excellency.
(They lift the box out; BOBADILLA
opens it. They step back as if in
Pearls, jewels, gold! Look at the size of those nuggets!
Do you want me to inventory these contents, Commander?
No. I'll have the Royal Treasurer,
who came along with me, do it. I think I'm finally ready to send a
message off to Columbus, and command him to report. I want your most
reliable courier. He's two days ride into the interior, you say?
Good. That will give me time to
have his welcome well prepared. I'm not through questioning you on your
role in the revolt. You will report to me on that matter first thing in
Yes sir. One other thing, sir. Many townspeople have gathered
outside, waiting to give testimony.
Have them wait in an orderly fashion. I will be holding sessions
later in the day.
(Fade to dark.)
(SCENE: Another part of the stage
lights up. COLUMBUS alone.)
Sir, Commander Bobadilla, just stepped off the boat!
(shakes him by the neck)
Don’t trifle with me!
It's true, sir.
Bobadilla… Commander Bobadilla... here? What’s Bobadilla doing
The king sent him as the Royal Inquisitor. He placed your
brothers under arrest!
(hesitates as it slowly hits him,
There's been a coup! Ojeda!
Find Ojeda. Tell him to put every man on ready alert. Tell him to have
all our Indians prepare for battle. Now!
The Royal Inquisitor sent this.
(hands him a scroll)
(reads it, suddenly tense)
My whole being is shuddering: have I lost my nerve? The Royal
Inquisitor come to investigate me?
I was well acquainted with Bobadilla
back in Spain. King’s advisor. Old family. Very proper. Old school.
Always gave the king the worst advice. He hated me. Tried to turn the
queen against me, even though I always treated him with the greatest
respect. He didn’t like that I was friends his niece. Inés.
Lovely girl. She had these great spiritual pools of eyes, you couldn’t
stop gazing into them. I was quite taken with her for a while. She was
in love with me. I think somebody told Bobadilla I was boning her. OK
that was kind of true, but it was still all very innocent. I was not in
a position to marry. I had my vision to follow. This was all before my
first voyage of discovery. Then while I was gone exploring this side of
the world, the king took a liking to her too, which made the queen
jealous, so they married her off to a certain fool. Bobadilla didn’t
like it because he thought the groom was beneath her station. The man
had plenty of money, he was a merchant, he just didn’t have the right
title. Bobadilla took it as an insult to his family, and somehow
in his twisted thinking he blamed me for it. Maybe I shouldn’t attack
him. Too late now. What choice have I? With my own eyes I saw the seals
and signatures of the King and Queen on his orders. To oppose them
would mean rebellion. Oh God, give me a grasp on myself. This all seems
so unreal. Only yesterday I was conqueror of all land this side of the
great ocean sea, and today I’m alone and unarmed, about to surrender to
a man I know is a tool of my enemies.
I'll prepare a bit of lunch, sir.
Do not disturb my meditation with foolishness.
A meal will give you strength.
Lord, why didn't you create man more perfectly in your image?
You need to rest, sir.
For me there is no rest, and I will not sit until I have looked
into the Inquisitor's eyes.
I’ll spread out a blanket for you, sir.
(He bends and starts to spread a
blanket, but COLUMBUS boots him to the
What did you do that for, sir?
Overcoming fleshly weakness is
good for the soul. Idiot, speak to me no more of these lowly passions.
I must keep my mind on what lies ahead.
(looks past COLUMBUS)
Fetch my Sash of Office. I need to fit the role.
Fetch my Sash of Office!
(Espinoza reaches into a sack and
pulls out the sash.)
Fasten it around me.
(Espinoza fastens it over
COLUMBUS' left shoulder and under his right
(Enter OJEDA, followed by Soldier.)
(hesitates and falters)
I have orders for your arrest.
Orders from whom?
From the Royal Inquisitor Governor Bobadilla.
Bobadilla is not Governor! I am Governor! Bobadilla is an usurper!
(suddenly changes his tone to
There is no need for such orders, Ojeda.
As you can see I am coming unaccompanied by any force of arms, to speak
peacefully with the Inquisitor.
I'm sorry, sir, I have to carry out my orders.
Can this be possible, he means to arrest me? What is the charge?
No charges have been formally made, sir, at least not in public.
Then this procedure is not legal.
I cannot speak to that, sir. I only have my orders.
Would you treat the wearer of the
Sash of Office of Viceroy of the King and Queen of Spain, Admiral of
the Ocean Sea, Royal Governor of the Indies, as a common criminal?
I'm sorry, sir. I have orders to arrest you and put you in chains.
In the name of Their Most Catholic Majesties, you are under
(SOLDIER steps forward. He is
carrying handcuffs and fetters.)
You will chain the prisoner. Admiral, put out your wrists, please.
Do you prepare me for crucifixion? Well then,
(sticks out his wrists)
drive in the nails.
Private, chain the prisoner.
(hesitates with fear)
Chain the prisoner; that's an order.
I can't, sir.
What's the matter? Are you afraid of him?
Yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir. I'm afraid.
Do I have to do it myself?
takes the chains from Soldier and turns to COLUMBUS but is suddenly
taken with fear himself, and hesitates for a long moment...)
I'm not afraid of him.
(He takes the chains from the
Espinoza, not you!
Glad to do the master a last service... sir!
(He fastens on the chains.)
Lead the prisoner off.
You will come along for questioning.
(They all exit. Blackout.)
(Enter FRIAR MONTESINOS.)
We are back in the filthy dungeon where
Columbus is held prisoner, chained to the wall. In his morose brooding
mind, he stands giving testimony before Commander Bobadilla, while the
great chief Caonabo crouches in the shadows.
So they threw me in this black hole,
Inquisitor, and I've rotted here ever since. Surely you can see
this is a travesty of justice! Surely you can see that the King and
Queen will be incensed when they hear of this! These accusers are all
just jealous malcontents, motivated by only the grossest self-interest.
While I swear by the Living God my own inspiration is pure and
Christian. What do you say, Inquisitor? We can negotiate this problem,
consider it merely a mistake, and forget it ever happened?
Let's just say you were misled by these liars and criminals.
(turns to the Accusers, who
are nowhere to be seen)
Jury, the accused asks if we can negotiate.
Jury? They are the jury?
(to the Accusers)
What do you say?
(steps out of shadows)
Nobody's fooled by his pretenses of piety.
(steps back into shadows)
(steps out of shadows)
Negotiating with a prisoner is improper.
(steps back into shadows)
(steps out of shadows)
Unless he's pleading 'guilty'.
(steps back into shadows)
(steps out of shadows)
The last wish of the condemned is always to trade places with the
(steps back into shadows)
So you see, Columbus, this trial is not entirely in my hands.
That is all the testimony we will take today.
Their Majesties' Royal Court is now...
(steps out of shadows)
You promised I could speak!
Friar Montesinos. Very well.
They're all so ready to accuse
Columbus of a hundred crimes, but they say nothing about his central
crime. Friar Buil condemns the slave trade but supports forced
conversion of Indians. Ojeda condemns the tribute system but wants to
replace it with servitude.
(steps out of shadows)
(steps back into shadows)
Let him speak.
Our very presence here is
maintained by force. In only eight years we've caused the deaths of
tens of thousands of Indians. How many will we kill in the next eight
or eighty years? We claim to be here to Christianize, but this is
really a war of conquest, an unholy aggressive war for empire.
(All except MONTESINOS, including
Friar Buil, what do you say of your brother monk's interpretation
of Papal doctrine?
(steps out of shadows)
He confuses conquest with spreading
civilization. He is young. Let us not waste our time further with this.
The day has been long.
(steps back into shadows)
Yes, I've heard enough and more than enough.
(angrily, to BOBADILLA)
You don't want to stop this devastation!
You've had your chance to speak, Montesinos.
You support this conquest!
You are out of order!
You don't want to end it! you want to do it more efficiently!
Friar Buil, take this boy away before I'm forced to declare him a rebel.
I'm going to the King about this, and I'm going to the Pope!
Go, little lamb, run into the lions' den.
(steps out of shadows)
Are we prepared to pass sentence now, Commander?
The jury will retire to my chamber to study the evidence. The
court is now in recess.
(gavels, rises, and begins to go)
Inquisitor, don't go! I have more evidence! I'll answer all the
charges one by one, if you'll only listen!
(BOBADILLA exits, followed by the
You must understand my side before you pass judgment! Where have you
(begins to sob)
(CAONABO appears from the shadows.)
Do not cry, Lord Admiral of the Christians. No one is here but me
to hear your cries.
Caonabo. If no one else, then
maybe you can understand. All I have done, I have done not for myself,
but in service to the Holy Church.
Tell me no more about your church.
You will see when you die, there
is only the eternal peace of Christian Heaven or the endless torture of
Hell, you'll thank me!
If all dead Christians are in this place called Heaven, my people
will gladly go to Hell.
But you are Christian too, you were baptized.
I am Taíno.
You do not understand. Why is it
my curse to always be misunderstood? Well, so be it: I must bear my
cross. But I feel suddenly close to you. We were both great chiefs, and
now we're both in chains. There's a bond between us.
There is nothing between us. These
things are nothing to me. My people do not make chains; my people do
not build prisons. These are Christian ways.
Caonabo, why do you hate me?
I do not hate you, but, for what you have done, maybe I will kill
Stay away from me! Ojeda!
(They struggle on the floor, entangling their chains. CAONABO easily
Don't kill me.
(Lets him go, with a snicker
I would not shorten your suffering.
You've got to listen. I am
blameless, blameless. My discovery of the Indies was prophesied many
times in the Bible. I have been destined to play a role in these great
events. And you can help me! I am going to launch a new Crusade to
regain the Holy Sepulchre of Jesus! I have calculated that the fall of
Jerusalem and the recapture of the Holy Land from the Infidels will be
the signal for the Second Coming!
I do not know this Jerusalem. If
it is where you were born, then return there. If not, leave it alone.
Return to where you were born; that is your holy land, and you are
caretaker of it, just as this is our holy land, and we are caretakers
of it. Leave our holy land alone.
They've come to take you, Admiral.
Then is this the end? Will they hang me with no trial, no chance
to clear my name?
Quiet now, Admiral, no need to
worry about the rope this morning. They're just taking you to the ship,
then it'll be back to Spain; if there's any hanging it won't be till
Oh God, why have you cast me down like this?
Don't worry, they never hang
people like you. Most likely there won't even be a trial. They'll just
take away some of your money and titles and let you off. They might
even let you play sailor again.
They’re not going to hang me?
(It slowly dawns on him)
They’re not going to hang me!
(Pulls himself up, straightens)
Of course! The King and Queen will take care of me! There won't even be
(Feeling suddenly strong again.)
Then I am ready to go. Thank you Lord
for protecting me in my darkness. My journey is not over yet. I swear
by all the saints in Heaven, that I will be back, I will return to
power and fulfill my vows. To my enemies I will show no
mercy! There is a continent to conquer! My sons will yet inherit this
land! Caonabo, may Christ save you yet!
(They exit. CAONABO is alone for a
few moments. Then Anacaona enters,
dressed in a beautiful feathered robe.)
My sister, my friend!
Do not despair. We have come to set you free.
No one can free me without the key to these chains.
Stand and you will see. Your chains are nothing, they fall away.
I am too old to stand, too tired.
Put your sufferings behind you, do not cling to them. The moon changes
How can I rise while my people are
dying? Our ancestors have deserted us. For the Taíno people
there in no place to go, nowhere to hide from these savage Christians
who have come to kill us all.
You are right, old man, and yet you are
wrong. We are stronger than they, because in the beginning the spirit
who made the world gave this land to the Taínos, and, no matter
what, it will always be ours and we will survive.
Then will things return to the way they were before these demons
approached our shores?
Nothing will be the same. But from the
earth will spring a new Taíno nation, different beyond our
conception, but the same as our ancestors' ancestors, and these will
once again prosper in this land.
Then we will defeat the invaders!
They will defeat themselves. But it is
not for us to know how or when. Come, rise! We must each play the roles
that we can! There is a great dance in preparation.
(She removes her feathered robe.)
Here is your ceremonial robe.
(She wraps it over his shoulders.)