They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles. Fuku americanus, or more colloquially, fuku—generally a curse or a doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World. Also called the fuku of the Admiral because the Admiral was both its midwife and one of its great European victims; despite “discovering” the New World the Admiral died miserable and syphilitic, hearing (dique) divine voices. In Santo Domingo, the Land He Loved Best, the Admiral’s very name has become synonymous with both kinds of fuku, little and large; to say his name aloud or even to hear it is to invite calamity on the heads of you and yours.
No matter what its name or provenance, it is believed that the arrival of Europeans on Hispaniola unleashed the fuku on the world, and we’ve all been in the shit ever since. Santo Domingo might be fuku’s Kilometer Zero, its port of entry, but we are all of us its children, whether we know it or not . . . .
—Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Much about the Admiral is not known. Where he was born, and when: these are not known. The arc of his early years, when and what he studied at the University of Pavia: these, too, are not known. Where he obtained his ideas of geography, this is not known. The Admiral, it developed, did not know geography: he believed, to the end of his days, that where he landed in 1492 marked the far eastern fringe of Asia.
What is known is that when the Admiral stepped ashore on Hispaniola, he brought Original Sin to the New World. The policies he pursued there exterminated that island’s people, the Taino. Every one.
“All the Indians of these islands were allotted by the Admiral . . . to all the settlers who came to live in these parts; and in the opinion of many who saw what happened and speak of it as eyewitnesses, the Admiral, when he discovered these islands, passed sentence of death on a million or more Indians, men and women, of all ages, adults and children. Of this number and of those since born, it is believed that there do not survive today, in this year 1548, 500 Indians, adults and children, who are natives and who are offspring of the stock of those he found on arrival.”
Today, “the Taino survive in the shape of one’s eyes, the outline of one’s face, the idiom of one’s language.” All the rest, is gone.
From Hispaniola, the Admiral and his works brought destruction too to all the native peoples of all the rest of the Americas—north, central, and south.
And to replace the falling bodies of the Taino, who died extracting gold and silver for him, the Admiral birthed the transatlantic slave trade, bringing to the New World in bondage people from the place where human beings were born.
Wrote the Admiral to his sponsors, Ferdinand and Isabella:
“We can send from here, in the name of the Holy Trinity, all the slaves and brazil-wood which could be sold. If the information I have is correct, we can sell 4000 slaves, who will be worth, at least, 20 millions, and 4000 hundred-weight of brazil-wood, which will be worth just as much . . . I went recently to the Cape Verde Islands where the people have a large slave trade, and they are constantly sending ships to barter for slaves, and ships are always in harbor . . . Although they die now, they will not always die. The Negroes and the Canary Islanders died at first[.]“
The Admiral also loved him some pope, another of his sponsors. And wanted to help him flog their god to other parts of the globe, there to kill and convert people. In his journal of December 26, 1492, the Admiral writes that he hopes to gather up from the New World gold “in so great quantity that the Sovereigns within three years would undertake and prepare to go and conquer the Holy Places.” In a letter sent directly to the pope, the Admiral offered to himself lead a crusading force of some 110,000 men.
But that was not to be. The Admiral was eventually returned in chains to Spain, accused of misgoverning his New World. Fallen from favor, he spent his declining years in litigation against the king, seeking to regain lost wealth and titles. Further, he thought he should receive 10% of all profits Spain derived from the New World, and demanded same; the king told him to bugger right off. In combating the crown, the Admiral became a nonperson. And when he died, the official chronicle of the inland northern town where he expired, Valladolid, did not acknowledge his passing. It was not until several weeks later that a town document noted simply: “the said Admiral is dead.”