Christopher Columbus did in fact sail the ocean blue in 1492. The children’s rhyme is a bit vague however, and fails to mention exactly which ocean and for what reason. With further research, one would find that Columbus was commissioned by Spain to discover a quicker route towards the Indies(Asia). Strangely, Columbus was documented as an intensely religious man. He also aspired to spread Christianity throughout the world, under the religious Doctrine of Discovery. Under this papal document issued by Pope Nicholas V in 1452, all Christian countries claimed the right to declare war against non-Christians throughout the world, particularly approving and promoting the conquest, colonization, and exploitation of non-Christian societies and their land. In the words of Pope Nicholas V himself, this doctrine was implemented to “put them [non-Christians] into perpetual slavery” and to “take all their possessions and property,”(Newcomb). We can assume that these Christian roots partially drove Columbus towards this expedition; the other being to acquire wealth of course. Columbus’ egotistical mindset regarding religion and the accruement of wealth was at best, an ominous catalyst for expedition.
In December of 1492, Columbus and his crew landed on what is present-day Haiti, although he believed it to be Cathay, a medieval name for China. He named it Hispaniola, which translates to “Little Spain”. Already established on the island were the Taino, the native Indians of the land. Their culture was at its height by the time Europeans made contact. These people were resourceful and intelligent, having learned to “strain cyanide from life-giving yucca,”(Poole) and developed an array of medicine derived from nature. As soon as Columbus was greeted by the Taino, he was calculating how he could exploit these people and their homeland. A passage from his journal explains: “They do not carry arms or know them…They should be good servants,”(Poole).
For about a year, the two very different worlds lived in “harmony”. The Spaniards had set up a colony, and the Taino would trade with them, even for bits of crockery, according to Columbus’ journal. The Taino found importance for everything that was bestowed upon them, while the Spaniards were more selective about their materials. That being said, the next move that Columbus would make while in Hispaniola would be one of greed. Under Columbus’ direction, Taino men were forced to toil in gold mines and colonial plantations.
This started a chain reaction; without the Taino men to plant the crops that had sustained them since time immemorial, thousands begin to starve to death. Starvation wasn’t the only misfortune brought to them; many “fell prey to smallpox, measles, and other European diseases for which they had no immunity”,(Poole). Those who worked in the gold mines were worked until they died of fatigue. The Indians didn’t even get a fraction of decency or compassion from the Spanish soldiers. If they didn’t reach their quota of gold that Columbus had demanded, their hands would be cut off and tied around their necks, to send a message to the other Taino. Even more tragic were those who committed suicide. For one to take hers or his own life to escape coercion is devastating, and must have left a resounding impact on those who still lived.
But wait, it gets worse. Columbus had the audacity to demand a fixed “allowance” for he and his soldiers, which consisted of food, gold, cotton and raping of the native women. According to Columbus’ journal, “those from nine to ten” were most in “demand”,(Kamus).Rape is deplorable enough for adults to endure, but for children? For Columbus being a Christian, it’s quite hypocritical of him to condone an atrocity like rape. Anyone who chose to speak out, or did not adhere to these wishes were “given an attitude adjustment, that consisted of removal of their nose, ear, hand or foot”,(Rivera). The funny thing is, I’m not sure if I remember learning any of this in school. And I’m not sure if people knew the truth about Columbus Day that they would want the day off anymore.
Now there are those who don’t think there’s anything wrong with Columbus Day, and that those who oppose it are being too sensitive. These people also claim that Columbus “brought America to the attention of the civilized world(Europe)”,(Berliner). However, these arguments are simply fallacies. Columbus never stepped foot on North America. On the contrary, he and his crew became the first Europeans to see the continent of South America. And as was explained earlier, the Bahamas was the only other area Columbus landed on. To assume that Columbus put North America on the map would be quite misleading to anyone with access to a history book. Some also believe that before Columbus and his Western Culture, the inhabitants on North America had innumerable, bloody wars and that the Western Culture made them more “civilized” once they arrived. However this notion is entirely egotistical and deceptive. Europe has been at war with each other since they first figured out how to wield weaponry. Who hasn’t heard of the Crusades, or the Hundred Years War between England and France? Claiming that Columbus inadvertently brought Europe’s attention to America and then “saved” Indians from killing each other is beyond hypocritical when Europe has been involved in warfare indefinitely. Those proponents of Columbus Day also seem to forget how Columbus and his soldiers were responsible for the extermination of over one-third of the indian population. It seems that almost all arguments favoring Columbus prove invalid, and rightfully so.
Columbus was never convicted of any of the crimes against humanity he instigated. However, there are some ways today’s society can go about deciding Columbus’ fate. To begin with, celebrating Columbus Day can be abolished altogether. Why celebrate greed, murder, rape and slavery? For that is all Christopher Columbus achieved in his journeys. This is a man who elementary school children learn about, and for what reason? Why instill this horrid man’s legacy in young, impressionable minds? And how offensive to any native people, especially those that are still in Haiti, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. It’s like saying that it’s acceptable that Columbus murdered and took advantage of their ancestors, seeing as the United States even made a holiday for it.
If abolishment seems too extreme for some people, there are other alternatives. Replacing Columbus Day with a more positive holiday is what many communities are doing. For example, the city of Berkeley, California changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in 1992. Now once a year in October people celebrate this day with a Pow Wow and Indian Market held in Civic Center Park. Their website claims that now people can help celebrate in “honor of [their] ancestors, the people continuing the struggle today, and future generations”. Around the world, people seem to be getting the picture as well. In many nations, Dia de la Raza (“Day of the Race”) is celebrated on the day that Columbus landed. This is to celebrate people in Latin America’s various roots. In Venezuela, the same day is named Dia de la Resistencia(“Day of the Resistance”), a measure to identify and empower native people.
So why value a man who would value a human life by subjecting it to slavery? Christopher Columbus proved his worthlessness as an individual by devaluing and exploiting the lives of others, which is why we shouldn’t celebrate him any longer. Children at school shouldn’t have to be lied to anymore through their education about him. It would bring more dignity to Native people globally by assuring them that America will not tolerate and celebrate the man that brought shame to their ancestors. And when we honor one group of peoples’ dignity, we honor ours as well, for there is nobility to be gained by treating others with regard. That is how respect is given and gained simultaneously. When we end Columbus Day, we are on the road to end a legacy of disrespect.
1. Badertscher, Eric. “Christopher Columbus.” Christopher Columbus (2009): 1-3. History Reference Center. Web. 27 Nov. 2012.
2. Berliner, Michael S. Ph.D. “Columbus Day: A Time To Celebrate.” Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand Institute. 11/26/2012 <http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=objectivism_columbus>
3. Carnaval.2006.11/27/2012.< http://www.carnaval.com/columbus/4voyages.htm>
4. “Columbus Day.” 2012. The History Channel website. Nov 27 2012, 4:06 http://www.history.com/topics/columbus-day.
5. Ipdpowwow.org. Indigenous Peoples Committee. 11/25/2012. http://ipdpowwow.org/IPD%20History.html
6. Kasum, Eric. “Columbus Day? True Legacy: Cruelty and Slavery.” Huffington Post.2010. 11/25/2012.<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-kasum/columbus-
7. Poole, Robert M. “What Became Of The Taíno?.” Smithsonian 42.6 (2011): 58-70. History Reference Center. Web. 27 Nov. 2012.
8. Rivera, Ramon. “Your Heroes Are Not Our Heroes: A Matter of Perspective, A Matter of Experience.” Hartford-Hwp. 2001. 11/24/2012.< http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/40/183.html>
9. Doctrine of Discovery/Christian Nations. Steven Newcomb in Shaman’s Drum, Fall 1992, pp. 18-20