Biography of Nicolás de Obando u Ovando (ca. 1451-1511)

Governor and statesman Extremadura, considered the initiator of the work settlement of Spain in America, born in the Extremaduran town of Brozas. There is no agreement about the date of his birth, but his biographers think that he should be born around 1451. After the title of Comendador of Lares, on award for his work as Governor of the Islands and Tierra Firme between 1502 and 1509, the Crown granted him the highest title of largest Commander of Alcántara.

It belonged to a lofty Extremadura family; He was raised in Cáceres and educated in an environment of intense religiosity. He entered the military order of Alcántara to devote himself to the service of the Church and the Crown, held by Isabella, who was a loyal and fervent supporter. In 1478 he was the encomienda de Lares, one of the most important granted to the order of Alcántara. He was one of ten men appointed by the Catholic Kings to accompany the Prince Don Juan at the Court of Almazán. This office would retain it until 1497, date of the death of the Prince. Thereafter, Obando was concentrated in the supervision of all internal matters relating to the order of Alcántara, whose Mastership was definitely in 1494 pilgrimmage of the Crown of Castile. As a close associate of the Catholic monarchs was named you twice visitor of the order to which belonged, and subsequently charged with the reconstruction of the town of Alcantara, semi-destruida by the war of the Castilian succession.

Nicolás de Obando was named Governor of the Islands and Tierra Firme September 3, 1501, in substitution of the pesquisador judge Francisco de Bobadilla, who shortly before had deposed such cargo to Columbus. With the arrival of Obando to Hispaniola began the period of real settlement and colonization of the Spaniards in the West Indies. The fleet that led him to the new world sailed from Sanlúcar de Barrameda on February 13, 1502. This powerful squad commanded by Antonio de Torres was composed of thirty-two ships and on Board had 2,500 people, including fray Bartolomé de las Casas. The fleet arrived at Santo Domingo on April 5.

Soon as he took office, Obando made the judgment of residence Bobadilla and ordered its shipment to Spain in the same fleet that he had arrived. Obando-Cristóbal Colón differences became manifest when the first ignored warnings of a second over the possibility that a hurricane surprised at these ships. The catastrophe occurred and among the missing are the head of the Navy, Antonio de Torres, and former Governor Bobadilla. Despite this setback, hereinafter, Obando made public their opposition open to the advice of Admiral Columbus and intensified the enmity between the two.

Obando had to contend with the custom of the Spanish settlers who found on the island of living scattered among the indigenous populations, and immediately ordered these from moving their residences to any new cities that were founded. Those who were most reluctant to become neighbors was sent them back to Spain. Thus beat successfully centralizing policy the conquistadores and Spanish settlers.

One of the first measures dictated by Obando was oriented to contain the Indians who had rebelled in the region of Higuey in the era in which ruled Bobadilla. Obando to the zone of the conflict sent a military expedition consisting of four hundred soldiers who, according to fray Bartolomé de las Casas, killed large numbers of Indians and destroyed their villages. To ensure the domination of that region, the Governor ordered in Higuey, is founded the cities of Salvaleón and Santa Cruz de Aycayagua. Shortly afterwards, suspecting a possible uprising in the southeast of the Spanish led by the cacica Anacaona, commanded to seize it, and subsequently ordered his hanging. Both made of blood island was fully pacified.

The next objective of Obando was to speed up the process of urban settlements that were expected to secure a settlement according to centralizing guidelines of the Crown. To achieve this, adopted the Spanish model of the late Middle Ages to wide, straight and perpendicular streets. So was rebuilt the city of Santo Domingo, which after being destroyed by a hurricane was moved to the right bank of the Ozama River. Then, in the region of Jaragua, Southwest, were the cities of Santa María la Vera Paz, Salvatierra de la Sabana, Santa María de la Yaguana, San Juan de la Maguana and Compostela Arzúa. At the same time, the towns of Puerto Real and Lares de Guahaba were erected in the North of the island.

Towards 1508, completed the time of founding of cities, Obando was oriented towards the exploration of the rest of the West Indies. This initiative allowed the issuance of Sebastián de Ocampo to definitely confirm the insularity of Cuba. At the same time, travel of Alonso de Ojeda and the brothers Camacho turned to more lucrative as the search for gold and the arrest of Indians, who did go through the Caribbean to sell them as slaves in Santo Domingo.

The massive influx of Spaniards to the Antilles and the need for a workforce which work permanently and intense in agriculture was not to the liking of the natives and many of them preferred to flee to the mountains. This attitude, the settlers raised to the Crown that the Indians they were distributed. December 20, 1503, Queen Elizabeth signed a Royal Provision legalizing the divisions of Indians for the Spaniards. This document was born the institution of the encomienda, which was called at first "Division". Crown was confident a number of indigenous Spanish settlers, turning them this way in encomenderos. This Committee gave right to the Spaniards demanded of the Indians a labor allowance or a tribute. On the other hand, the Trustees were required to instruct them in the Catholic religion and to protect them. Between 1503 and 1505, Governor Obando generalized deals of Indians on the island Hispaniola, which allowed to develop large scale not only agriculture, but the gold mining at the expense of the exploitation of labour.

The immediate result of the repartimiento of Indians in the West Indies was not their Christianization, as fray Bartolomé de las Casas, but their progressive extermination denounced him. Indians died en masse not only by exhaustion at work, but by new diseases transmitted them the Spaniards. The decline of the native population of Santo Domingo led to increased value of the company and that, on the pretext of the lack of arms for agriculture, Obando authorized in its governorate traffic of Indians captured by the expedition members on other nearby islands. It should also be noted that you introduced the peninsula since European crops and cattle swine, horses, and mules.

The work Obando colonizing was evaluated at the time as innovative and positive, despite the criticisms of Bartolomé de las Casas, accusing the Governor of having promoted the destruction of the Indies. 9 July 1509 Nicolás de Obando was replaced by Diego Colón in the governorate of the Indies. The Spanish already had more than 3,000 residents in some fifteen populated villages. It returned to Spain and was awarded by the Catholic Kings with the award of the title of largest Comendador of the order of Alcántara. He died May 29, 1511 in the middle of a Chapter Board of the aforementioned order. He was buried in the Church of San Benito de Alcantara. Obando, of prudent and equitable nature, left a map of the island of Hispaniola and a memoir that did not publish.


NAVARRO GARCÍA, Luis (coord.): history of the Americas I, Madrid, 1991.

THE Castle, Guillermo Cespedes: Hispanic America (1492-1898), Barcelona, 1986.

LAMB, Ursula: Frey Nicolás de Ovando, Seville, 1958.