Opinion: Christopher Columbus was No Hero

Hdogar

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Christopher ColombusWikimedia Commons

Columbus Day is one of the most contested American holidays, and for a good reason. It is celebrated as a federal holiday and is meant to rejoice in Christopher Columbus’ arrival on the American coast on October 12, 1492. However, what many forget is that the year marked unforeseen tragedy. What it contains is a gory tale of genocide. American is built on the bodies of Native Americans sacrificed to make room for Caucasians. It does well to dig into the atrocities that Christopher bought with himself in 1492.

Arrival of Columbus

An otherwise average man out to explore the unknown land beyond Europe, Columbus’ first voyage proved successful. He landed on an unknown Caribbean island in 1492 after traveling for three months. Terming it as the “New World”, the island was inhabited by Taino Native Americans. This land is nowadays part of the Caribbean country of the Dominican Republic.

He Captured Native Americans and Sent them Back Home as Slaves

Columbus’ dehumanization of the Native Americans can be gauged by him ordering six of the locals to be seized on the very first day. He wrote in his journal that they’d make good slaves. He never thought them equal to himself. He took advantage of the peaceful and welcoming Taino people by making them mine for gold, forcing them into work. He sent thousands back home, separating them from their family, to sell as slaves. Many died on the way, unused to the strange journey by sea. This man truly knew no bounds and wreaked havoc on the island.

The scope of his terror can be estimated from the fact that of the 250,000 Taino, only a few hundred were left sixty years later. He was granted the title of the Viceroy by the Queen of England, a title that she had no right to grant. To begin with, the land was never theirs, for her to grant him sovereignty over it. Christopher responded with an iron hand when the Taino Native Americans predictably revolted. He killed many and ordered the dismembered bodies paraded in the streets to teach others a lesson. The lesson is learned now, and it doesn’t paint Columbus as any hero.

The Massacre Continues

Commonly referred to as the Arawak people, a term that Christopher used to distinguish friendly Native Americans, the Taino suffered greatly under Christopher. Christopher rounded up the Arawak men, women, and children during his second voyage and immediately captured around 550 of them to be sold as slaves. He wrote in his diary:

“Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

When Christopher ordered the Native Americans to mine up gold, he did so in a crueler manner than can be humanely imagined. First, he decreed that anyone above 14 years old had to dig up a certain amount of gold, conveniently forgetting that this amount might never exist in the first place. Then, he ordered that any Native American who failed to do so, would have his hands cut off. It was torture — nothing more, and nothing less.

Bartolome de las Casas, a young priest who greatly admired Christopher at one point and followed him on the voyage, wrote:

“I saw here cruelty on a scale no living being has ever seen or expects to see. 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, 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…”

The Lives of Native Americans Didn’t Matter

Bartolome documented that Indians were ruthlessly used to sharpen their knives, and no European thought twice about killing the Native Americans. It is as if their lives never mattered.

Christopher wrote a few days after landing on the island:

“… they are very meek and without knowledge of evil nor do they kill others or steal … and they are without weapons and so timid that one of our people can put a hundred of them to flight.”

Christopher Loses Popularity

Christopher’s friends soon started to recognize the atrocity of his way. The priest Bartolome was one of the first to do. It all started with Christopher having the families of seven slaves killed to make it easier for them to assimilate better in their new, forced role. He wrote in his diary:

“Afterwards, I sent to a house which is in the area of the river to the west,” Columbus says in his journal, “and they brought back seven head of women, small and large and three children. I did this because the men would comport themselves better in Spain having women from their land than without them.”

Bartolome later penned his frustration and outrage at Christopher’s actions. He wrote:

“A pretty excuse he has given to explain or justify such a nefarious deed,” wrote the indignant priest. “One might ask whether it was not a most grievous sin to pillage with violence women who had their own husbands. … Who was to give an accounting to God for the sins of adultery committed by the Indians whom he took with him, to whom he gave those wives as sexual partners? For this injustice alone, it could well be that he merited before God the tribulations and afflictions which he was to suffer throughout his life. …”

Columbus Sent Back for His Atrocities

Many of Christopher’s friends and others who settled lobbied against him to the Queen. In 1500, she finally took action. Christopher was sent back home, and his authority as Viceroy was rescinded. Even though he made a fourth voyage later, he had no control over the lands.

Even though the atrocity against the Native Americans spans beyond Christopher, there is little doubt about him being one of its worst by-products. The fact that he is celebrated to this day is highly concerning.

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