A CC reader,EM, who sent in this article writes,
My country is “nuts” to have a Christopher Columbus holiday today. It’s like having a holiday for Josef Mengele, Angel of Death.
Didn’t the native American serve as the first people, who discovered America? What about the Vikings and other groups, who preceded Columbus? …
People need to wake up to the “truth” instead of blinding going along with cultural conventions. How could anyone celebrate a human like this deplorably unethical one?
“In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue….
Today, Christopher Columbus is celebrated as a mythical hero
by some – complete with songs, poems, and fictional tales about
his great adventure across the Atlantic to explore the majestic land
that would eventually be known as the Americas. There are fifty
four communities named after the explorer in the United States,
including the District of Columbia. “Hail, Columbia” was the
United States’ unofficial national anthem until 1931.
A federal holiday, “Columbus Day,” is celebrated every
second Monday in October.
Despite all of this, historians have begun to tear down the
Columbus myth: That he discovered America. That he proved
the world wasn’t flat. (That had been well-known for more than
a millennium in Columbus’ time. In fact, scholars had a
pretty good idea of what the circumference of the Earth
was, which was part of the dissent against Columbus making
his trip- Columbus thought Asia was bigger than it is and
the world much smaller, leading one of the scholars commissioned
by the monarchy to investigate the plausibility of Columbus’
journey succeeding to say, it was “impossible to any
educated person”). That he came to America in the name of
exploration. And, finally, that he came in peace.
Quite simply, most of these “facts” are unequivocally false or
half-truths. Columbus sailed the ocean blue to look for
wealth and, officially, in the name of Christianity.
What he mostly did, though, was enslave and rape
the natives he met, sold girls (as young as nine by
his own account) into prostitution, and committed
numerous acts so heinous that he was forcibly
removed from power and sent back to Spain in
chains. Christopher Columbus was brutal,
even by the standards of his age, leading
Bartolome de las Casa, who accompanied
Columbus on one of his voyages, to write in his
The History of the Indies, “Such inhumanities
and barbarisms were committed in my sight
as no age can parallel… My eyes have seen
these acts so foreign to human nature that
now I tremble as I write.”
In August 1492, Columbus departed Spain with
three ships – the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and
the Santa Clara (nicknamed “the Nina”).
After two months on the high seas, land was
spotted. Now, before they had left, King Ferdinand
and Queen Isabella had promised to whoever
spotted land first a reward of a silken jacket and an
annuity of ten thousand maravedis. The lookout
on the Pinta was Rodrigo de Triana and he was
the first to spot land. He shouted to the rest of
the crew down below, and the Pinta’s captain
announced the discovery with cannon fire.
When it came time to receive the reward though,
Columbus claimed he actually saw a light in the
distance several hours prior to Triana’s shout,
“but it was so indistinct that I did not dare to
affirm it was land.” The reward reportedly
went to Columbus.
Upon landing on the island, which he would call
San Salvador (present-day Bahamas), Columbus
immediately went to work finding gold and
enslaving the native populations. Specifically,
Columbus, upon seeing the Arawaks
(the peoples of the region) come out of
the forests frightened of the men with
swords, but bearing gifts, wrote in his journal,
They do not bear arms, and do not know them,
for I showed them a sword, they took it by the
edge and cut themselves out of ignorance.
They would make fine servants . . . with fifty
men we could subjugate them all and
make them do whatever we want.
As other European visitors would observe, the Arawaks
were legendary for their hospitality and their desire to share.
Again saying Columbus about the Arawaks, “are so naive
and so free with their possessions that no one who has not
witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for
something they have, they never say no.
To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone.”
Columbus quickly took advantage of this. Seeing
that they wore gold studs in their ears, he rounded up
of a number of Arawaks and had them lead him to
where gold was. The journey took them to present day
Cuba and Haiti (but Columbus thought it was Asia),
where they found specks of gold in the river,
but not the enormous “fields” Columbus was
expecting. Nonetheless, he wrote back to Spain
saying that, “There are many spices, and great
mines of gold and other metals.” This report
earned him financing for a second voyage,
this time with 13 ships and twelve hundred men.
While he never ended up filling up these ships
with gold, he filled them with another “currency”
and one that would have a horrendous effect
on the world going forward – slaves.
In 1495, Columbus arrived back in the New World
and immediately took 1500 Arawaks as prisoners.
Of those 1500, he picked 500 to be shipped back to Spain
as slaves (about two hundred died on the journey back),
starting the transatlantic slave trade. The rest were
forced to find what little gold existed in the region.
According to noted historian Howard Zinn,
anyone over 14 had to meet a gold quota.
If they didn’t find enough gold, they would have
their hands cut off.
Eventually, when it was realized there wasn’t much
gold in the region, Columbus and his men just took
the rest as slaves and put them to work on their newly
established estates in the region. Many natives died
and their numbers dwindled. In the 15th century,
modern historians believe there were about
300,000 Arawaks. By 1515, there were only
50,000 left. By 1531, 600 and by 1650,
there were no longer any full-blooded
Arawaks left on the islands.
The way Columbus and his men treated the women
and children of these populations was even worse.
Columbus routinely used the raping of women as
a “reward” for his lieutenants. For example,
here’s an account from one of Columbus’ friends
and compatriots, Michele de Cuneo, who
accompanied Columbus on his second journey
to the New World, on what Michele did to
a native “Carb woman.” Michele wrote that,
While I was in the boat I captured a very beautiful
Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral [Columbus]
gave to me, and with whom, having taken her into my cabin,
she being naked according to their custom, I conceived
desire to take pleasure. I wanted to put my desire
into execution but she did not want it and treated
me with her finger nails in such a manner that
I wished I had never begun. But seeing that
(to tell you the end of it all), I took a rope and
thrashed her well, for which she raised such
unheard of screams that you would not have
believed your ears. Finally we came to an
agreement in such manner that I can tell you
that she seemed to have been brought up in a
school of whores…
Going further, Columbus wrote in a letter from 1500,
A hundred castellanos are as easily obtained for
a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and
there are plenty of dealers who go about looking
for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.
As illustrated in a recently discovered 48 page report
found in the Spanish archives written by
Francisco De Bobadilla (charged with investigating
Columbus’ rule at the behest of Queen Isabella
and King Ferdinand, who were troubled by
allegations of some of Columbus’ acts),
a woman who verbally insulted Columbus’ family
was stripped naked and made to ride around the
colony on a mule. After the trip was done, her tongue
was cut out by the order of Columbus’ brother,
Bartolomé, who Columbus then congratulated
for successfully defending the family’s honor.
Needless to say, these and numerous other
such acts ultimately resulted in De Bobadilla
having Columbus removed from power
and sent back to Spain in chains.
After Columbus came, and was forced out,
the Spaniards continued his policy of
enslavement and violence. In 1552,
the Spanish historian and friar
Bartolome de las Casas published
multiple volumes under the title
The History of Indies. In it, he described
the collapse of the non-European population.
Casas writes that when the men were captured
and forced to work in mines looking for gold,
rarely if ever returning home, it significantly
impacted the birth rate. If a woman did
give birth, she would be so overworked
herself and malnourished, that she often
could not produce enough milk for the baby.
He even reported that some of the women
“drowned their babies from sheer desperation.”
There are lot more examples, writings,
and research that points to one fact
– Christopher Columbus was a lamentable
individual. Nobody’s perfect- if we restricted
celebrated individuals to those who didn’t
have any major flaws, we’d have few humans
to celebrate- and it’s extremely important
to view things in the context of the time
individuals lived in. But even in his age,
many of his acts were considered deplorable
by his peers, which is in no small part why
Columbus was arrested for his conduct
in the New World. Combined with his
truly historic and widespread impact being
incidental to what he was actually trying to do
(so a little hard to celebrate him for even
that side of his life), maybe it is time that
we let go of the myths we learned about
Christopher Columbus in elementary school
and stop celebrating Columbus, the man.
First published in Todayifoundout.com