Five hundred and eighteen years ago, today 12 October, a momentous event happened. The supposed “discovery” by one Cristóbal Colón—also known as Christopher Columbus, landed on the Bahamian island of San Salvador and subsequently was labeled the “first” European to take notice of the Americas. Let us consider the supposed discovery. Can one be called a discoverer of a land, which was already populated by most anthropological estimates by at least one hundred million persons? It was not a primitive wilderness this man “discovered.” Rather, it was the work of a people who had no idea exactly how large the Earth was. The Americas in 1492 were already populated and had very large and developed civilizations—the Aztecs, Incas and Iroquois to name a few. They already had hundreds of nations spread across the continent. Rather than enriching these natives as one is lead to believe by Euro-centric history, Columbus and those who followed the trail he blazed have visited upon these peoples nothing but misery, from slavery and disease to outright genocide.
Contrary to the lies most Americans are told about this so-called great discoverer:
- Columbus is responsible for the murder of millions of Indigenous people.
- Columbus was a slave trader in Africa before invading America. He began the slave trade in the Americas. One of his first acts was to enslave the Arawak nation, which now extinct. He deserves no holiday, no parades and no statues.
- Columbus Day celebrates the doctrine of “discovery” – the “legal” process that stole Indigenous peoples’ territories and continues today.
- Columbus brought a philosophy of domination to the Americas that persists today in the domination of other peoples, domination of the environment, domination of other belief systems and the domination of women by men. Christopher Columbus is responsible for the Spanish colonization of the Western Hemisphere, which foreshadowed a general European colonization of the “New World.”
Columbus Summed Up
His first act of colonization sprang from his desire to establish a settlement on the island of Hispaniola, funded by Isabella I, Queen of Castile and Leon. Containing the modern-day nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, he founded the settlement of La Navidad (Christmas) on the north east coast of the island in 1492. The following year, Columbus quickly founded a second settlement further east in present day Dominican Republic, La Isabela, which became the first permanent European settlement in the Americas. The island was inhabited by the Taínos, one of the indigenous Arawak peoples. They were tolerant of Columbus and welcomed his crew as guests. They even helped him construct La Navidad.
From Columbus’ own log, he recorded the following:
“They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned… . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. 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 have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… . They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want” (1).
“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” (1).
Colonization of the settlement began the following year, with 1,300 Spaniards arriving under the watch of Christopher Columbus’s younger brother, Bartholomew Columbus. The Spanish began to import African slaves, believing them to be better equipped for manual labor. The Taino population was hastily obliterated from a combination of disease and harsh treatment by their colonial masters. The natives lacked immunity to small pox and entire tribes were wiped out. From an estimated initial population of 250,000 in 1492, the Arawaks had dropped to 14,000 by 1517. From Howard Zinn:
“In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were ‘naked as the day they were born,’ they showed ‘no more embarrassment than animals.’ Columbus later wrote: ‘Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.’
But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death.
Trying to put together an army of resistance, the Arawaks faced Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords, horses. When the Spaniards took prisoners they hanged them or burned them to death. Among the Arawaks, mass suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead” (1).
The day celebrating Columbus was created in 1907. One hundred and three years later, it is time to remove this day celebrating violence, bloodshed and the dispossession and extermination of Indigenous peoples from our calendar. We must actively reject the celebration of Christopher Columbus and his legacy. We must also reject historical misconceptions regarding Columbus and his “discovery” of the Americas.