Saturday, October 12, 2013

In Fourteen Hundred Ninety-Two…

Christopher Columbus made a big boo-boo.

Columbus, who was as confused as anybody who has been seen for a long time, called the first people he saw “Indians.” It is not known what they call Columbus.
~ It All Started with Columbus by Richard Willard Armour 

About 50 years ago or so I read a marvelous little book entitled It All Started with Columbus. The author, Richard Willard Armour (July 15, 1906 – February 28, 1989) was an American poet and author who wrote over sixty-five books. Armour’s history is unlike any other history I had ever read—except, perhaps, William Gilkerson’s From Rocks to Rockets: Gilkerson on War Arms and Armies Through the Ages (about which I shall write in some future blog post). It is a tongue-in-cheek satire of American history: a delightful read for anyone knowledgeable enough about the subject not take take his words seriously.

Although I may be putting myself at risk of retribution from the Italian-American Anti-defamation League or perhaps the Mafia, I want to make it plain that I do not subscribe to the notion that Christopher Columbus discovered America or even that he was a "good" human being.

To begin with, what we call North and South America were never lost. Nor was the New World new. The Americas (also, misnamed) were inhabited by many peoples with advanced and divergent cultures, including for a short period visitors from Northern Europe who came to North America at least 400 years before Columbus is arrival in the Caribbean.

Second, there is much about Columbus and Columbus Day that is not known to most Americans. For example:

  • Most educated Europeans in 1492 were aware that the world was round, but did not know that the Pacific Ocean existed. Thus Columbus and his contemporaries assumed that only the Atlantic lay between Europe and the riches of the East Indies
  • The first Columbus Day was celebrated in 1792, when New York's Tammany Hall sponsored a celebration of the 300th Anniversary of Columbus' landing in the Bahamas.
  • It was not until 1937 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday, primarily due to intense lobbying by the Knights of Columbus.
  • Prior to that, Italian and Catholic communities in various parts of the country held annual religious ceremonies and parades in the honor of Columbus.
  • The first major Opposition to Columbus Day began in 19th century by anti-immigrant groups who rejected the Columbus Day celebrations due to their association with Italians and especially Roman Catholicism.
  • In recent years, Native Americans and other groups have protested the celebration of Columbus Day as an event that indirectly resulted in the colonization of the Americas and the death of millions of indigenous peoples. 

Today I am not celebrating Columbus Day. Not necessarily because of any of the above; rather, because I do not picture old Chris as a likable or moral historical figure.

  • Endless testimonies...prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives... But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then... The admiral (Columbus), it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians. de las Casas, Bartolome (1971). History of the Indies. New York: Harper & Row.
  • ...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, 7000 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 so great, so powerful and fertile ... was depopulated.... My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write. ~ de las Casas, Bartolome (1971). History of the Indies. New York: Harper & Row.
  • October 12, 1492, Columbus discovered that the islands were inhabited by friendly, peaceful people called the Lucayans, Taínos and Arawaks...Columbus was so impressed with the hard work of these gentle islanders, that he immediately seized their land for Spain and enslaved them to work in his brutal gold mines. Within only two years, 125,000 (half of the population) of the original natives on the island were dead. ~ Eric Kasum

In fourteen hundred ninety-two,
Columbus sailed the oceans blue.
In fourteen and hundred and ninety-three, 
Columbus stole all that he could see.

A few of many Internet references:

For further reading:

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1 comment:

  1. I did learn a lot, Rev Saint, both about Columbus and Columbus Day. Well done.