Ray: As a youth in the United States public school system, I was taught to view Christopher Columbus as the great Spanish explorer who boldly set out to prove that the world was round. I was even given a neat little phrase to help me remember this fact about Christopher Columbus should any questions about him appear on a pop quiz: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” And that was it. That’s all I knew about Christopher Columbus. Well, that and the fact that every second Monday of October, we as a nation celebrate Columbus Day. The kids love it.
As as adult and one who is passionate about the truth in history, I have to come to understand a completely different Christopher Columbus than the guy I thought I knew all my life. As it turns out, Christopher Columbus wasn’t even close to being the first person to proclaim that the world was round. That credit probably belongs to the Greek philosopher Pythagoras who came to that conclusion almost 2,000 years before Columbus. So now that that’s out of the way, what’s next?
Well, Columbus didn’t exactly set out to prove the world was round. Like most people who are inspired to do great things, Columbus needed money. He convinced King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella of Spain to finance his trip so that he could bring back gold and spices from Asia. In return, he was to receive 10% of all that he found, governorship over any uncharted islands he discovered, and the prestigious title of Admiral of the Ocean Sea. How’s that for incentive? So with Spain’s backing, he set off into the sunset with the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria.
Here’s where things really get messy and made me question the quality of our education of history in the United States.
When Columbus reached the Americas (expecting Asia), he was greeted by the Arawaks of the Bahama Islands. Without going into detail of the Arawak people, I think this excerpt from Columbus’ log paints a great picture of his reception and his thoughts:
They… brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawk’s bells. They willingly traded everything they owned.. They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features… 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 have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… They would make fine servants… With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
I don’t know about you, but that was NOT the Christopher Columbus I learned about and celebrated since I was a child. But these are his own words! As soon as he discovers that these are peaceful and welcoming people, he plots to overtake them and enslave them.
With that said, in just a few years, the Spaniards killed hundreds of thousands of Indians on Haiti, the Dominican Republic (both of which were once refereed to as the island of Hispaniola in those days), Cuba, and the Bahamas. In fact, during the Columbus conquest, a young priest from Spain who was present at the time named Bartolome de las Casas, gives a very unique report on what happened. His account is so chilling that I will give you a few passages to consider:
… Two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys…
… mountains are stripped from top to bottom and bottom to top a thousand times; they dig, split rocks, move stones, and carry dirt on their backs to wash it in rivers, while those who was gold stay in the water all the time with their backs bent so constantly it breaks them; and when water invades the mines, the most arduous task of all is to dry the mines by scooping up pansful of water and throwing it up outside…
After each six or eight month’s work in the mines, which was the time required of each crew to dig enough gold for melting, up to a third of the men died. While the men were sent many miles away to the mines, the wives remained to work the soil, forced into the excruciating job of digging and making thousands of hills for cassava plants.
Thus husbands and wives were together only once every eight or ten months and when they met they were so exhausted and depressed on both sides… they ceased to procreate. As for the newly born, they died early because their mothers, overworked and famished, had no milk to nurse them, and for this reason, while I was in Cuba, 7,000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation… In this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk… .and in a short time this land which was great, so powerful, so fertile… was depopulated… My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write…
Funny how they never mentioned that in 3rd grade when I was making stupid Thanksgiving ornaments.
Of course the story continues, millions of indigenous people die in the Americas, and today we have McDonalds and the Super Bowl. Don’t get me wrong, I love the United States and all its flaws very much. But it breaks my heart to think of the atrocities against mankind and the environment that we have been committing on this great land since the Europeans settled here. For a “civilized” people, those Europeans were a bunch of money hungry, blood thirsty, Godless savages and it is unfortunate that many of their severe character flaws still linger on in society today.
You can’t change history but at least it should be fairly represented. Knowing what I know now, I cannot let my son grow up thinking that Christopher Columbus was some noble adventurer who discovered America. The truth is, he was none of that. He was Hitler with a sail boat. I just thought you should know.