Saturday, October 10, 2009
THE REAL COLUMBUS DAY
“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or to feel remorse for this shameful episode.” --The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal examines the holiday honoring Columbus in a piece titled: "Is Columbus Day Sailing Off the Calendar?"(Click in this text to read it.)
Columbus Day weekend is upon us, and here in Boston’s North End, where many Italian-Americans live and own businesses, the celebration will begin with a parade on Sunday, October 11th, at 1 pm, which will start at City Hall plaza, proceed around the North End’s Hanover and Endicott Streets, ending at the Waterfront’s Christopher Columbus Park. Columbus Day is a big event for the Italians of New York as well, ususally featuring a well-known Italian celebrity to lead their parade.
For me, it means a three-day weekend of relaxation and maybe some leaf-peeping. For other Americans with an Italian heritage, it is a day of pride and a chance to remind all Americans of the unique contribution by the navigator, Cristoforo Columbo, from Genoa, discoverer of America.
In his book, “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” James W. Loewen, examines 12 current text books that deal with our American history, starting with the voyage of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, and Columbus’s landing on Hispaniola, which he mistook for India. We all know the stories [myths] that we were taught in grade school. Loewen reports the facts, taken from Columbus’s own logs, and the diaries of Bartolomé de las Casas, a Spanish Dominican priest and writer.
Here is Loewen describing Columbus’ arrival in the New World:
“They [the text books] have the lookout cry ‘Tierra!’ or ‘Land!’ Most of them tell us that Columbus’s first act after going ashore was for ”thanking God for leading them safely across the sea’—even though the surviving summary of Columbus’s own journal states only that ‘before them all, he took possession of the island, as in fact he did, for the King and Queen, his Sovereigns.’ Many of the textbooks tell of Columbus’s three later voyages to the Americas, but most do not find space to tell us how Columbus treated the lands and the people he ‘discovered.’”
“Christopher Columbus introduced two phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth, and labor from indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere leading to their near extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass.”
“Columbus’s initial impression of the Arawaks, who inhabited most of the islands in the Caribbean, was quite favorable. He wrote in his journal on October 13, 1492: ‘At daybreak great multitudes of men came to the shore, all young and of fine shapes and very handsome…They are not black, but the color of the inhabitants of the Canaries.’ Columbus went on to describe the Arawaks’ canoes, ‘some large enough to contain 40 or 45 men.’ Finally, he got down to business “I was very attentive to them, and strove to learn if they had any gold. Seeing some of them with little bits of metal hanging at their noses, I gathered from them by signs that by going southward or steering round the island in that direction, there would be found a king who possess great cups full of gold.’
On his return voyage to Spain, Columbus kidnapped some ten to twenty-five ‘Indians,’ only 7 survived alive. Loewen: “When Columbus and his men returned to Hispanola in 1493, they demanded food, gold, spun cotton—whatever the Natives had that they wanted, including sex with their women. To ensure cooperation, Columbus used punishment by example When an Indian committed even a minor offense, the Spanish cut off his ears or nose. Disfigured, the person was sent back to his village as living evidence of the brutality the Spaniards were capable of."
Of course, the Natives resisted, with the Arawaks fighting back, but their sticks and stones were useless against the armed and clothed Spanish. Naturally, the Spanish prevailed.
But after finding no gold, “Columbus had to return some dividend to Spain. Thus began the slave raid—he took 1,500 back to Spain and another 500 were given to the Spaniards who remained on the island to use as slaves.”
Those who could fled the into the interior of the island. “Columbus was excited, writing: ‘In the name of the Holy Trinity, we can send from here all the slaves and brazil-wood which could be sold,’…’In Castile, Portugal, Aragon…and the Canary Islands they need many slaves, and I do not think they get enough from Guinea.’”
All of these gruesome facts are available in primary-source material—letters by Columbus and by other members of his expeditions, including the work of Las Casas, the first great historian of the Americas, who relied on primary materials and helped preserve them.
Loewen: “…Columbus installed the encomienda system, in which he granted or ‘commended’ entire Indian villages to individual colonists or groups of colonists…Spain made the encomienda system official policy on Haiti in 1502; other conquistadors subsequently introduced it to Mexico, Peru, and Florida.
“The tribute and encomienda systems caused incredible depopulation. On Haiti, the colonists made the Arawaks mine gold for them, raise Spanish food, carry them everywhere they went. Pedro de Cordoba wrote in a letter to King Ferdinand in 1517, ‘As a result of the sufferings and hard labor they endured, the Indians choose and have chosen suicide.”
“Columbus not only sent the first slaves across the Atlantic, he probably sent more slaves—about 5,000—than any other individual…A particularly repellent aspect of the slave trade was sexual. As soon as the 1493 expedition got to the Caribbean, before it even reached Haiti, Columbus was rewarding his lieutenants with native women to rape…Columbus wrote a friend in 1500 ‘A hundred castellanoes 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 are now in demand.’”
Have a nice Columbus Day.