Monday was Columbus Day. I wonder why recognition of the day has not been completely eradicated from the calendar or why we have not officially changed it to Indigenous People Day; it is overwhelmingly obvious that Christopher Columbus is despised and hated.
After all, Christopher Columbus brought destruction, disease, rape, and slavery to the peaceful natives living in the Caribbean Islands. Had he not made his voyages, the Europeans would have stayed on their continent and the natives would have remained on their islands, unbothered by those wicked, evil white men. Right?
A couple of years ago I read Christopher Columbus' Four Voyages, and my whole understanding of Columbus and the native people changed. Columbus was mad - in the sense that he had a vision and believed it to be true, that he must set out and prove it. He persevered for years to convince others of his ideas, until someone would listen.
Eventually, the king and queen of Spain did listen, and they believed. At this time, only the Portuguese were daring enough to sail the unknown, so long as they could see the coast, sailing south alongside Africa, to find that new route to the Indian Ocean. But Columbus was confident he could go west. Yes, they thought he was crazy.
But imagine the riches and lands he would find, and he would claim them all for Spain. The Queen liked that very much because: divine right of Kings (and Queens).
On the first voyage, they gave Columbus three ships, and a hand full of very reluctant sailors. When Columbus arrived, he claimed land for Spain because: divine right of kings, right? which is odd because if Columbus believed he was going to China, or Japan, why would he claim land for Spain when the island already had a king? It was a sign of the times.
The natives Columbus met believed the white men to be gods, but he persuaded them to give glory to the royals of Spain, and the Christian God, which they did. The natives were extremely friendly and willing. They also asked Columbus and his men to help them fight their enemies, a tribe from another island, who made war with them, murdered their men and ate them, captured their women and raped them (made them sex slaves), and made their children slaves, too. But Columbus said he did not come to make war, and he did not want to help. The subject was put aside for the time being.
Columbus left some of his men behind to build a fort and mine for gold, when he returned to Spain to share what he found, which did not include much gold or riches. He did bring five natives to show the queen (unfortunately, they died on the return voyage to the islands).
This second voyage was the largest because the monarchy was encouraged that Columbus found land and a new route to the East, as they did not know it was a new continent. Spain sent 17 ships and over 1000 men, as more were willing to go. But from here, the tides turned for Columbus. All of the men he left behind were gone. The natives communicated that some died of sickness, and some said they died because they fought with them; but mostly they did not know what happened. Columbus could do nothing about it.
Most of the time Columbus sailed from island to island, seeking the mainland of China, the Kubli Khan, and gold, with obvious disappointment. He always believed he was in Japan, and always tried to find a way to the mainland of China. He didn't find much gold or spice.
Meanwhile, the men who thought they were going to find gold and riches turned on Columbus when that did not happen. Some were convicts who would earn their freedom if they went on the voyage. They were difficult to work with, and Columbus was not a very good people manager either. Furthermore, Portugal began sending explorers east, now that Columbus had returned unscathed, and they were going back and forth to South America, even stopping by the Caribbean Islands to taunt Columbus.
On Columbus' third voyage, relations with the natives became worse, and the Europeans got into battles with them, though it was against Columbus' wishes. He always knew the people to be kind and helpful, even curious about going onto the ships; but now he was losing their trust, and they would have nothing to do with Columbus. In addition, the King sent another ship with an overseer to check on Columbus. (Men from the second voyage had returned to Spain to complain that Columbus was mistreating them.) This overseer took command and had Columbus sent back to Spain in chains.
Columbus pleaded his case, and the Queen had pity on him. She gave him one more chance and permitted him a fourth voyage to the islands. It was such a disaster because of storms, that it was all he could do to survive and return to Spain alive again. Nothing came of his voyages, except this: that he opened the way for exploration; he broke down the superstitious barrier that prevented men from sailing the unknown waters; he made new maps of the ocean and islands and improved ways of navigation; and he was perseverant, courageous, and adventurous. But overall, he was a product of his times.
Slavery has been practiced since the beginning of civilization. During Columbus' time, Portugal was already taking advantage of the slave trade in Africa, which was in part ruled by the Muslims tribes. The Inquisition was also taking place in Spain. These were brutal times. But notice that when Columbus met the natives for the first time, they were already familiar with war, murder, cannibalism, rape, and slavery. That is because man is inherently wicked in his heart, and he doesn't need to be taught or introduced to these evils. That is why when the Spaniards arrived in South America, the Mayan civilization was ripe for conquest. The native people were no different than their European counterparts.
Anyway, my point is this: the native people were not sweet, innocent angels living peacefully. That is not to say that what happened* to them was right, but it is not a surprise, as this is the history of man: stronger civilizations conquer weaker ones. Nonetheless, it is not right to use Columbus as a scapegoat. The native civilizations are long gone now, and God permitted history to happen the way it did for a reason.
* As for these other things that happened, I have yet to find primary sources to support the claims, but according to some of what we have read, Columbus brought back thousands of native people to be sold into slavery, or Columbus wiped out whole civilizations of native people with disease, rape, and war. Of course, Columbus did not write about doing this, but he did write in his log (The Four Voyages) about how easy it would be to use the people for slaves because they were so willing and ignorant. So I am still in search for these sources.
For further opinions on Christopher Columbus, go to my book review and analysis of him and his book, The Four Voyages.
But if you prefer a more intelligent, historical explanation of Columbus, here is an article by Russell Kirk: Columbus the Exemplar. It was excellent!
My point to all this is that we have been studying Columbus this week, and since Columbus Day happened Monday, I wanted to have a little Columbus Day party; but I ended up going to a Dodger game (which took up 12 hours of my day) so we had our party the next day, which was not much of a party. Instead I made Cuban sandwiches because Columbus landed on Cuba a few times. I was going to make some Spanish-style potatoes, but I was too tired. Instead I served Neapolitan ice cream (Italian) and made cupcakes with ships on top. That was it.
Maybe next year. Happy Columbus Day.