Christopher columbus and the tainos: What Became of the Taíno? | Travel

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Timeline / Colonizers and Resistance / AD 1492: Taíno meet Columbus; “New World” gets new diseases

In the Bahamas, the Taíno are 125,000 strong in 1492 when they encounter the crew and the Italian captain of three Spanish ships. Christopher Columbus seeks a shorter sea route to India to help Spain get a foothold in the profitable spice trade. Instead, he lands in what Europeans will call the “New World.” His arrival sets off a fierce rivalry among European powers for colonies and riches, which lasts for centuries and unleashes deadly epidemics on the 30 million Native peoples living in the Americas, who lack any immunity to “Old World” diseases.


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European artist’s depiction of Taíno fishermen. Woodcut from Girolamo Benzoni’s Historia del Mondo Nuovo, Venice, 1563.

Courtesy Granger Collection, New York


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European artist’s depiction of Taíno fishermen. Woodcut from Girolamo Benzoni’s Historia del Mondo Nuovo, Venice, 1563.

Courtesy Granger Collection, New York


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Depiction of Taíno encountering Christopher Columbus, engraving, ca. 1594, by Theodor de Bry. Some of de Bry’s illustrations may have been based on first-hand observations by European explorers, but de Bry himself never visited the Americas, and the accuracy of many of the illustrations is questionable.

Courtesy Granger Collection, New York


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European artist’s depiction of Christopher Columbus trading with the Taíno on his first voyage to the “New World,» from the illustrated edition of Columbus’ 1493 letter to Gabriel Sanchez, treasurer general of the kingdom of Aragon.

Courtesy Granger Collection, New York


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Map illustrating the voyages of Christopher Columbus, by Lorenzo Gambara, 1500s

Courtesy John Carter Brown Library at Brown University


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Taíno vase with figure, AD 14th–16th century, Dominican Republic.

Courtesy Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY


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Large cult object of the Taíno, AD 13th–15th century. The significance of this stone necklace is still unknown.

Courtesy Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY


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European depiction of Lucayan Taínos, who inhabited what is now known as the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands when Columbus arrived in 1492. Such representations were typically not accurate recordings of native peoples and their cultures.

Courtesy Ships of Discovery, Illustration by Orlando J. Castro

From the Shadows of History: Taino at the Vatican

In a cleaning of frescoes at the Vatican, from the clouding dust of centuries, emerge naked figures – five, maybe six men. Amidst horses and helmeted soldiers, wearing feathered headdresses, the men seem to dance. One man, naked, leg raised in movement, faces out prominently; another one, seen from behind, buttocks bare, bends a knee forward, right arm raised, perhaps holding a feather, as if in dance.

Authorities at the Vatican, perplexed at first, have surmised over seven years since this drawing began to emerge that the figures represent American Indians – specifically the Arawak-speaking Caribbean island people, Taino – who greeted Christopher Columbus. The Vatican authorities also announced their conclusion that these are indeed the first images drawn of American Indians in Europe. Perhaps it is so. We can, with some certainty, even give a name to one of the figures, Diego Colon, the adopted Taino son of Columbus, the central figure in my historical novel Taino (Fulcrum, 2012) and a constant presence to me over several years of writing.

The scene is but a sketch, almost ghostly, etched in a small space of the large fresco called Resurrection of the Christ by Renaissance painter Bernardino di Betto (Pinturicchio). The Vatican fresco is located in the Apartamento Borgia, the space once occupied by Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo, the “Borgia Pope,” as his name indicates, from the prominent Spanish family whose reign at the Vatican was one of paramount intrigue, corruption and mayhem. Pinturicchio, the “little painter,” worked on the monumental fresco – an artistic act intended to celebrate the sanctity of the Borgia Pope – starting in 1492 and finished at the end of 1494. The decoration of the Pope’s quarters was in active execution as news of Columbus’ “descubrimiento” spread rapidly throughout Europe.

Antonio Paolucci, Vatican Museums director, associates the newly revealed fresco figures with “the Indians” described by Columbus – most obviously in drafts of his First Letter to the Spanish Monarchs, written during his return voyage and posted to the Spanish Court and his other investors immediately upon his Iberian landfall in mid-March 1493. Not only the letters, but also legendary public ceremonies celebrating Columbus’ triumphal return provided visual representations of Caribbean Indigenous people for European imaginations. The Taino captives he brought back with him – estimated initially at 10 but reduced by disease to six – were put on display at these events along with his other curiosities.

Paolucci makes a strong argument that by mid-1493, in Rome, Pope Alexander VI must have had access to Columbus’ Letter and thus had read the descriptions of “the Indians” he had ostensibly encountered, suggesting the prototype for the recovered figures in the Resurrection fresco. This is a respectable scenario explaining that the images are in fact of those first Taino captives – invented curiosities of the first contact, but who, as we shall see, achieved some early historical identity and gained their place in legendary narrative. 

The return of Columbus from his first voyage and the news of his “discovery” had massive dissemination throughout European countries. A marvel of calculated self-promotion, Columbus’ first letter to the Spanish sovereigns (actual title, Letter of Columbus, on the islands of India beyond the Ganges recently discovered) contained a genial narrative for the emergent Renaissance. In fortuitous timing, the world-changing story rode the newly established power of the printing press – thus the Letter was republished widely and quickly, over 50 times, in more than a dozen European capitals.

By mid-1493, a poem praising Columbus’ deed based on the Letter was being recited and sung in street corners of Rome and Florence. No doubt, the momentous news was fully noted in Vatican discussions. The Columbus missive spoke of fabulous potential for wealth, major gains to be made in gold, natural resources and cheap indigenous labor. The promise was of power to set in motion a major colonization of lands, peoples and goods without measure. In the language of the church, this was a grand opportunity for “harvesting souls” via the evangelization of whole new peoples.

A major scene, quickly legendary, was publicly enacted at Barcelona on May 15, 1493: the Spanish monarchs, King Fernando of Aragon and Queen Isabel of Castilla, grandly feasted the returning hero Admiral. The whole city attended, and many foreign dignitaries and potential new investors spread word of the momentous occasion. The six captive Tainos brought to Spain by Columbus were prominently featured and a young man from Guanahani, the first island claimed by Columbus, caught the queen’s eye. Columbus would adopt the Taino adolescent, and he would become known to history as Diego Colon, the adopted son and interpreter for the Admiral in his second voyage. (Diego or “Dieguillo” is the first-person narrator of my novel Taino.)

The Pope, particularly the geo-politically ambitious Borgia, was immediately deep in the thicket created by the news from Spain. Two major powers, Portugal and Spain, nearly at war over claims of colonial discovery, first in Africa and now in the “Orbo Novo,” or “New World,” required a theological and political framework to define their increasingly global dispute. In the very rooms of the Apartamento Borgia, perhaps even as Pinturicchio and his underlings were painting the now famous fresco, the Borgia Pope, Alexander VI, settled the question. He issued Inter caetera, his Papal bull of 1493, which, in a sequence of such papal bulls, once again reclaimed the “pagan” world for Christian dominion. It divided the bulk of the “New World” – partly for Portugal and mostly for Spain. Alexander’s bull would become the basis for the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, which further detailed the division of the world for Christian nations. The thinking inherent in the treaty gave rise to the infamous Doctrine of Discovery, the legal construct that justified the dispossession of American Indigenous nations by European powers.

The scene of dancing Tainos is depicted in but a small frame within the huge topic of the Christian Resurrection. Painted in white, colorless in a sea of color, “the Indians” are framed behind the right shoulder of a Roman soldier and the edge of his red tunic. The soldier gazes up in astonishment at the rising body of Jesus. The Borgia Pope himself appears kneeling in prayer at the left side of the mural, observing not only the resurrected body of Jesus, but also the dancing figures. It makes sense; in the waning of his own papal influence, Alexander VI is instrumental in the division of this new world – either paradise or inferno – from which come these strange, certainly distinct, new human beings. Revealed during his pontificate, the grand “discovery” of a “new world” and a new type of human being, generated the immediate question: Who are these new people? What do they represent?

Columbus had written, in the Letter: “…they are so guileless and so generous with all that they possess, that no one would believe it who has not seen it. They refuse nothing that they possess, if it be asked of them; on the contrary, they invite any one to share it and display as much love as if they would give their hearts…”

Dismissing the expectation that these characteristics denote lesser intelligence, Columbus adds, “to the contrary…they are…of a very acute intelligence and they are men who navigate all those seas, so that it is amazing how good an account they give of everything…”

Columbus did not hesitate, however, in “capturing…Indians,” and would from the onset consider their peaceful nature an asset toward their potential enslavement. He was likely referring to the specific people later depicted in the Borgia fresco when he wrote, “in the first island…I took some of the natives by force, in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.

Alexander VI died in 1503, just as a Spanish governor friar, Nicolas de Ovando, was hanging the Taino queen Anacaona and burning ni-taino caciques by the dozen-plus-one, to signify Jesus and the twelve apostles. With the Pope’s death, the rooms of the Borgia Apartamento were closed untouched for nearly 400 years, shunned because of his bad reputation. Only late in the 20th century was restoration work fully engaged. As a people, the Taino, too, were relegated to the obscurity of declared extinction, shut behind closed doors by subsequent histories of the Caribbean.

From the group of mostly unidentified captive dancers in the Borgia apartment, we have one with clear, variously documented name and narrative – Diego Colon, Lucayan Taino interpreter from the Bahamian cays northeast of Cuba, specifically Guanahani, the first island sighted by Columbus. Diego would become the Admiral’s adopted Taino son, and his primary interpreter during the second voyage and other explorations. A good list of writers, including this one, have touched or been touched by this character from documented history who was transitional and dialectical at the Taino’s principal historical moment, at the pivotal beginning of the modern world. He is a historical character and dream-mind with whom I once shared long writing evenings over several years working on my novel.

One important witness in the novel is Father Bartolome de las Casas, the historical “defender of the Indians,” whose chronicle, History of the Indies, led me to find Diego Colon’s final trails. Las Casas, the “good friar,” was the most vigorous lifelong advocate for the humanity of American Indians in all colonial history.

The Indian Diego – I like to think he is perhaps the one facing front, or the one holding the feather – lived to the 1530s in a convent in Santo Domingo, where las Casas places him, and where the mind’s eye of my novel finds him, an old man full of the memory of his momentous times and, in the novel at least, also full of admonitions to the coming generations of his people who even today, after centuries of ghostly absence and much like the dancers at the Vatican, make a reappearance, a Caribbean Indigenous resurgence, in this new era, this post-modern world.

Krechetnikov’s blog. Who was Columbus who discovered America?

  • Artem Krechetnikov
  • BBC Russian Service, Moscow

Photo copyright, Getty Images

Photo caption,

Christopher Columbus (portrait by an unknown artist, 1500)

Last Thursday was a day of mourning for Russian sovereigns: 525 years ago Columbus discovered America. I’m kidding, I’m kidding, don’t be offended! nine0020

The first expedition of Columbus, by all accounts, marked the beginning of the Age of Discovery. There are differences about its ending. In the West, James Cook is considered to be the last great explorer of new lands. The Russians recall that half a century after him, Thaddeus Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev discovered the last previously unknown continent — Antarctica.

Colombo is Italian and columbus is Latin for dove. In Rus’, the discoverer of the New World would be Golubev. nine0011

The life of the famous navigator is woven of secrets and paradoxes. He is one of the most famous characters in world history, there is hardly a person in the world who has not heard the name of Columbus. But we do not know either the date and place of his birth, or nationality, or, which does not fit into any gate at all, the last refuge.

The grandiose discovery that turned the world upside down was not considered particularly important in the life of its author and gave him little.

Man without a past

About the biography of Columbus until 1476, when he came to Portugal to promote the general idea of ​​his life, there is almost no reliable data.

Fluent in several languages. Apparently, he lived in Genoa, but «Genoese» is not a nationality, but citizenship. Only in Italy the honor of being the birthplace of Columbus is contested by six cities.

Some researchers argue that Columbus was a German, Pole or Croat. It is clear which historians of which countries especially like each of these hypotheses. nine0011

  • In the footsteps of Columbus: which route did Santa Maria actually take?
  • US researcher believes that he found Columbus’ ship
  • Christopher Columbus in America is not easy, but interesting

Genoa, became a sailor there, the rest is clear.

Obscurity proves one thing: Columbus’ parents were not noble and especially rich. At the same time, in addition to languages, he knew mathematics, astronomy and navigation, worked as a cartographer, which was considered one of the most intellectual professions in the 15th century. nine0011

Main project

It is not known where and how Columbus met the Florentine geographer Paolo Toscanelli, who in 1474 sent a letter to the Portuguese king, in which he claimed that the Earth was round, and offered to reach the cherished Spice Islands, moving not to the east, and to the west. But a copy of the document was in the hands of Columbus.

True, Toscanelli made a mistake in his calculations. He did not know about the existence of the vast Pacific Ocean and believed the Earth to be smaller than it really is. The Florentine estimated the distance from Europe to Japan at five thousand kilometers. nine0011

Today it is called «the greatest mistake in history, leading to the greatest discovery.»

Treasured prize

20 years earlier, the Turks took Constantinople. Overland trade between Europe and the Far East was temporarily suspended.

Spices have become a fetish. A rich man was not called a «bag of gold», but a «bag of pepper».

I had to move and look for new opportunities. The idea of ​​Toscanelli and Columbus came at the right time.

The Alexandrian scientist Eratosthenes proved that the Earth is round in the 3rd century BC.

Contrary to popular belief these days, this thought has never been forgotten. It’s just that the overwhelming majority of people of that time were indifferent to things that had no practical significance for them. But sailors have always known that the Earth is a ball, because they constantly saw how the coast rises from the horizon.

Again, the Catholic Church did not insist that the Earth is flat, and did not persecute anyone for expressing the opposite point of view. Rather, the notion that the earth revolves around the sun, that is, is not the center of the universe, was heretical. nine0011

So there was no culture shock for high-ranking listeners of Columbus.

Push and open

Columbus spent 15 years looking for sponsors.

First, quite naturally, he went to Portugal — the first maritime power of that time. But the Portuguese had already successfully mastered the route around Africa, and King Juan II did not want to engage in some unreliable undertaking.

Then he tried his luck in England. Henry VII honored him with a personal favorable answer, but did not give money, and thus missed the chance to make his country the mistress of the seas and colonies two hundred years earlier than it actually happened. nine0011

Calling Charles VIII of France was useless. Apart from women and northern Italy, the conquest of which was his idee fixe, this monarch was not interested in anything.

Spain remained. The Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella were young, ambitious, had just completed the unification of the country and desired new great deeds.

«Vertical» and competition

China embarked on the path of long-distance sea voyages and geographical discoveries half a century earlier than Europe. The huge fleet of admiral-eunuch Zheng He reached East Africa and Arabia. nine0011

  • China praises the brave explorer Zheng He
  • Did the Chinese discover America?

A little more, and the Chinese would have discovered America, only from the opposite side, and would have appeared in Britain at the height of the Wars of the Roses. That would be a commotion!

But then Yun Le died. His successor had other priorities. The ships rotted away at a layup, maps and ship’s logs were buried in the archives for centuries, the great admiral died in depression.

China was a huge centralized empire, and the tiny European states in comparison spent a lot of energy fighting each other. But there was pluralism and diversity. There were enough narrow-minded rulers in the West, but no one had so much power to ruin everything. nine0011

Public and private

In Spain, Columbus was also not immediately recognized.

Although the church is considered the main enemy of everything new, the bold idea was supported by clergy at court: the archbishop of Toledo and the primate of Spain, Pedro de Mendoza, and the confessor of the queen, Hernando de Talavera. Under their influence, Isabella even declared that she was ready to pawn her jewelry for the sake of swimming.

Jewelry, of course, was spoken about for the sake of a red word. According to an agreement between Columbus and the Spanish court, the government contributed only a small amount, and the navigator had to find the rest wherever he wanted. nine0011

Image copyright, Getty Images

Image caption,

In 2006, the 500th anniversary of the death of Columbus, a shipyard in Huelva, Spain, produced a replica of the Santa Maria flagship

reality, of course, with state support, but mainly thanks to private initiative.

A great contribution was made by the Duke of Medina Sidonia, at the same time the largest merchant, owner of more than 100 merchant ships. nine0011

Entrepreneurs Juan de la Cosa and Martin Pinzon outfitted two of the three caravels at their own expense and sailed on them as captains. How Columbus managed to lead such subordinates is hard to imagine.

The largest caravel, or rather caracca, «Santa Maria», was only 21. 4 meters long. We must take off our hats to the courage of people who set off into the unknown ocean, in fact, on large boats with one compass.

There were about 100 members of the expedition. nine0011

In the New World

Actually, Columbus did not discover America. This was done about 15 thousand years ago by the ancestors of its indigenous inhabitants, who crossed the Bering Strait either on ice or on land (during the Ice Age, the level of the World Ocean was lower).

Today, repeated visits by the Vikings to Newfoundland in the 10th-11th centuries are considered proven.

Image copyright, Getty Images

Columbus lived in an era when information began to spread quickly and securely stored, and European civilization was ripe for expansion, so his discovery had historical consequences. nine0011

On October 7, after more than two months of sailing, the crews began to murmur, demanding to return. If Columbus had listened to them, the project in Spain would have been considered a failure and would have been remembered after, God knows how many years.

Five days later Rodrigo de Triana, looking forward, shouted: «Earth!»

Where the foot of a European first set foot on American soil is, again, a mystery. The honor of being an island, which the locals called Guanahani, and Columbus dubbed San Salvador, is disputed by Watling and Samana Key from the Bahamas. nine0011

The great mistake

Columbus went to America four times, spent a total of about four years in it, but did not understand what he had discovered. Until the end of his life, he was sure that he visited some especially backward southern provinces of China and grieved that every time he missed the rich and cultured Japan in the sea.

History, perhaps, does not know a more grandiose delusion.

With the light hand of Columbus, the islands of the Caribbean are still called the West Indies, and the indigenous inhabitants of the continent are called Indians. nine0011

It’s interesting: if they were called Americans from the very beginning, what would the citizens of the USA be? «Staff»?

The fact that America is not Asia was announced a year after the death of Columbus by his companion Amerigo Vespucci. As a result, his name was given to the entire continent, and the discoverer «received» only the Latin American state, known for the cocaine mafia, the capital federal district of the United States and the city in Panama.


Columbus did not get fame or wealth during his lifetime. nine0011

From expeditions, he brought tobacco, sugar cane, bird feathers, wicker hammocks invented by the Guarani Indians, which subsequently served faithfully for 300 years in the sailors’ cockpits of all the fleets of the world, but not a grain of pepper, for the sake of which everything was started.

On the eve of the first expedition, Columbus secured for himself the title of Grand Admiral and the hereditary position of Viceroy of all the lands he discovered. It was rumored at court that the rootless stranger wanted too much, and we still had to see what would come of his fable about India and the country of Ophir. nine0011

And here in 1498 Vasco da Gama, a representative of rival Portugal, reached the real India and the Moluccas and obtained so many spices that the voyage paid off many times over!

The patience of the Spanish government has run out. In 1500, a new plenipotentiary governor, Alonso Ojeda, arrived in Cuba, who sent Columbus home as a prisoner.

Image copyright, Getty Images

Image caption,

Columbus expedition routes

The Royal Council reasoned that Ojeda went too far, but there was nothing to honor Columbus for. He did not receive the promised titles, made another voyage to America and died in 1506 in Seville, not in poverty, but not in a halo of glory either. nine0011

In 1520, Montezuma’s gold fell into the hands of the Spaniards. In 1547, the world’s largest silver mines were opened in Potosí (Peru). Until now, in Spanish there is an expression: «to cost Potosi.»

Even 100 years later it became clear that in order to prosper, a country should not rejoice in the gifts of nature, but develop. But in the middle of the 16th century, Spain experienced euphoria.

The grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella Charles V raised the son of Columbus Diego to the Duke of Veragua (the area where Panama is now located) and the Marquise of Jamaica. He returned the lands to the crown for an impressive monetary compensation with the preservation of titles. nine0011

The last secret

Columbus bequeathed to bury himself in the lands he discovered, but no one took the coffin across the ocean. In 1540, Charles V attended to the execution of the last will of the great man, and the ashes of Columbus were solemnly reburied in the cathedral of the capital of Hispaniola, Santo Domingo.

Image copyright, Getty Images

Image caption

Bas-relief of Christopher Columbus on Union Station in Washington, DC

from Cuba to Seville. nine0011

However, during the restoration of the cathedral in Santo Domingo at the end of the century before last, a coffin with bones was discovered, the inscription on which said that they allegedly belonged to Columbus. The resting place of the discoverer of America, like the place of his birth, has become a subject of dispute.

  • Where is Columbus buried?

In 2003, José Lorente, professor of forensic medicine at the University of Granada, determined that the remains buried in Seville belonged to a man of about 45 years of age and of a slight build, while Columbus was broad-shouldered and died at the age of 55 to 60 years. nine0011

A «Haitian» skeleton is waiting for its turn. If the result turns out to be the same, it will be necessary to admit that the ashes of Columbus were lost during the crossings.

Columbus Christopher

portrait by an unknown artist, 16th century
IGDA/G. Dagli Orti

Columbus Christopher (lat. —
Columbus, Italian — Colombo) (1451-1506). Navigator.
Born in Genoa. In 1492-1493 led the Spanish
expedition to search for the shortest sea
way to India, crossed the Atlantic Ocean and 12
October 1492 years reached Fr. San Salvador (official
date of discovery of America).

+ + +

Christopher Columbus (1451-1506). Genoese sailor, Christopher Columbus lived in
Portugal in 1473-1482, he married in Lisbon and visited Madeira and
the island of La Gomera. The stories of the Portuguese sailors gave him the idea
invite the king of Portugal to make an expedition to the west, but from this
nothing happened. In 1485 Columbus moved to Castile and began looking for
support of the Catholic kings. Although scientists from Salamanca stated that
such a project is not feasible, he nevertheless received in April 1492 years
royal permission and was able to find the necessary funds. Going to
journey August 3, 1492, his three ships reached the Bahamas 12
October next year. Having received the title of admiral and
viceroy he
organized three more expeditions, but his ambitious intentions were quickly
put an end to the kings, who took away all his privileges, leaving him
only the rank of admiral. He died in Valladolid without having achieved
the restoration of all their titles.

nine0008 Ryukua A. Medieval Spain / Adeline Ryukua. — M., Veche, 2014, p.

Other biographical material

Spanish Navigator ( Modern
illustrated encyclopedia. Geography. Rosman-Press, M., 2006

Mazen O. At the age of fourteen he went to sea
( Mazen O. Spanish America of the 16th — 18th centuries / Oscar Mazen. — M., Veche,

Light Ya.M. The discoveries of Columbus were of world-historical significance
( nine0221 Soviet Historical Encyclopedia. In 16 volumes. — M .: Soviet
encyclopedia. 1973-1982. Volume 7. KARAKEEV — KOSHAKER. 1965 ).

Admiral of the Spanish Navy ( Soviet military
encyclopedia in 8 volumes, volume 4: K-22 — Battlecruiser. 656 p., 1977

From the point of view of ethnology ( Lev Gumilyov.
Encyclopedia. / Ch. ed. E.B. Sadykov, comp. T.K. Shanbay, — M., 2013

Great navigator ( Encyclopedia World around
). nine0011

Columbus caravel «Sanat Maria»

Continue reading:

Major events of the 16th century
(chronological table).

Cortes Hernando (1485-1547),
spanish conquistador

Francisco Pizarro
(between 1470 and 1475-1541), Spanish conquistador.


Winter G. The Court of Columbus. Per. with him. L., 1975;

nine0008 Light Ya.M. Columbus. M., 1973

Lange P.

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