Columbus Day is a national holiday observed on the second Monday of October and commemorated by inconvenient closing of banks and post offices, paid holidays for lucky employees, and appliance sales at Sears. Children learn that Christopher Columbus was a great explorer who sailed all the way across the ocean from Spain and heroically “discovered” America, a place that incidentally:
A. Was already “discovered” by the indigenous people who’d been there for generations.
B. Wasn’t even the place he intended to sail to. He meant to reach India, which is why Native Americans used to be known as “Indians” (i.e., The dude wasn’t even a good navigator.)
Those are just a couple of the less-damaging misconceptions. Here are a few brutal inconvenient truths about this great “discoverer” whom we still celebrate.
Christopher Columbus on taking advantage of the kindness and naivete of the indigenous people:
“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 soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, 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 … [The Indians] 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’ treatment of Native American women and girls:
“Columbus and his men … used the Taino as sex slaves: it was a common reward for Columbus’ men for him to present them with local women to rape. As he began exporting Taino as slaves to other parts of the world, the sex-slave trade became an important part of the business, as Columbus wrote to a friend in 1500: ‘A hundred castellanoes (a Spanish coin) 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 (years old) are now in demand.’ …
“[Columbus’ crewmember, Miguel] Cuneo further notes that he himself took a beautiful teenage Carib girl as his personal slave, a gift from Columbus himself, but that when he attempted to have sex with her, she ‘resisted with all her strength.’ So, in his own words, he ‘thrashed her mercilessly and raped her.'”
Columbus’ way of disciplining those who disobeyed:
“… [T]he Taino turned out not to be particularly good workers in the plantations … they resented their lands and children being taken, and attempted to fight back against the invaders. Since the Taino where obviously standing in the way of Spain’s progress, Columbus sought to impose discipline on them. For even a minor offense, an Indian’s nose or ear was cut off, [so] he could go back to his village to impress the people with the brutality the Spanish were capable of. Columbus attacked them with dogs, skewered them with pikes, and shot them.
“Eventually, life for the Taino became so unbearable that, as Pedro de Cordoba wrote to King Ferdinand in a 1517 letter, ‘As a result of the sufferings and hard labor they endured, the Indians choose and have chosen suicide. Occasionally a hundred have committed mass suicide. The women, exhausted by labor, have shunned conception and childbirth. Many, when pregnant, have taken something to abort and have aborted. Others after delivery have killed their children with their own hands, so as not to leave them in such oppressive slavery.’Eventually, Columbus and later his brother Bartholomew Columbus who he left in charge of the island, simply resorted to wiping out the Taino altogether.”
The question is, if Columbus was such a cruel bastard, why do we continue to honor him with a national holiday? Here’s a likely explanation that could be applied to any form of oppression:
“… [T]he effort to caste his legacy as one of bravery and glory rather than brutality, rape, and murder is no accident. … [T]hose in power (read most often as those who are white and male) can only live with our privilege if we create a ‘culture of make believe,’ whereby we invent imaginary narratives of the brutality of our past to justify the position of power and privilege which we enjoy today. Without such narratives, we could not justify our current system!”
Happy Columbus Day! I heard that Best Buy has a great sale on white washing machines.