If you were in an American school anytime after the 1930's, you've probably celebrated Columbus day. A day that celebrated the discovery of the new world, the discovery of America. Later most of us probably found out that Columbus didn't discovery America first. There were lots of different explorers here first: Vikings, Muslims, and Polynesians just to name a few. Oh, and of course the millions of native tribes that lived her for centuries.
Other than crediting Columbus with the lie of discovering this country first, we also make him out to be a real stand up sort of chap. That's a lie also, Columbus was really a terribly cruel conqueror. He makes Hernando Cortes' conquest of Mexico look like a Ghandi peace protest.
The First Voyage
As Columbus and his three ships sailed across the ocean, the began to see sticks and branches floating in the water, signalling that land was near. It was said that the first one to spot land would be rewarded a yearly pension of 10,000 maravedis a year. In Columbus's own journal he wrote that on the morning of October 12th a sailor named Rodrigo spotted the land of the Bahamas. Rodrigo never received his large pension because Columbus himself proclaimed that he had seen the lights of the island the night before, thus the reward was his.
When the sailed nearer, they spotted the Arawak natives, who swam out to greet them. In his journal he commented on the nature of the Arawak people “They have no weapons and are all naked without any skill in arms and are very cowardly so that a thousand would not challenge three,” later he writes, “… Thus they are useful to be commanded and to be made to labor and sow and to do everything else of which there is need and build towns and be taught to wear clothes and learn our customs.”
What Columbus saw when he came ashore was a people without weapons, a society without crime, and a people who would become the perfect slaves. The possible enslaving of these native people was a bonus for Columbus, but he was really there for gold. The Arawak people were rich agriculturally. That mined fo iron for which to make weapons or tools, and they had not horses or work animals to plow their fields. However, they did wear decorative golden ornaments in their ears. Seeing this, Columbus knew there must be gold somewhere. Columbus then took several of the native people as prisoners to his ship and set sail for Cuba. From Cuba, he sailed to Hispaniola which is now present day Haiti and Dominican Republic.
It was on Hispaniola that his ship, the Santa Maria, ran aground in the storm. Out of the wreckage he build Fort Navidad on the island, the first European fort build in the new world. On Hispaniola, Columbus found flecks of gold in the rivers which only furthered his ambition of finding the fields of gold he thought these islands held. Columbus's time on Hispaniola was not entirely without conflict. His men got into a fight with a native trader who refused to sell them as many bows and arrows as there were people in Columbus's expedition. The men ran the trader through with their swords and let the trader bleed to death.
After the fort was built, Columbus left 39 of his crewmen there to find gold on Hispaniola. He took several more natives prisoner and set sail for Spain. Over the trip to Spain, many of the native slaves died due to their condition.
The Second Voyage
Upon his return to Spain, Columbus proceeded to make a lavish description of the islands he visited. He claimed that he had seen Asia (Cuba) and visited an island off the coast of China (Hispaniola). These islands were rich in gold and slaves. Taken by his description, the King and many other investors invested in a second venture. This time, Columbus returned to the islands with seventeen ships and twelve hundred men. His men were armored with iron and muskets, they also brought along attack dogs for any native groups that resisted.
Columbus travelled from island to island taking the natives captive as slaves and sending them back to Spain, out of every 500 he sent, 200 died on the way back to Spain. As word spread about Columbus's activity, natives began to flee from the coast to the inland for safety. When Columbus returned to Fort Navidad on Hispaniola he found the crewmen he left were slaughtered by the natives. When Columbus left, it was said they turned into a gang looking for gold and taking native women and children as sex slaves.
Even though he had not found gold, Columbus appeased his investors with slaves, but far too many died in captivity. Desperate to find gold he told the native people that all of those fourteen or older were to bring him a certain amount of gold every three months. Those that brought it, got a copper token to wear. Those who did not bring him gold had their hand chopped off and were forced to bleed to death. If a native tried to run, attack dogs were set on them to tear them limb for limb.
When there was not enough meat to feed the dogs, native children were killed and fed to them. After Columbus decided there was not enough gold being found, he created large plantations on which the natives farmed sugar and tobacco to send back to Spain. These plantations made no better life for the natives. Columbus's men killed natives for fun, or daring each other to find a more creative way to murder them. Women from the ages of nine to fourteen were the most desirable among his crewmen as sex slaves, so they were frequently rounded up for that purpose.
The native people, seeing no way to fight against the well armed Spaniards began a string of mass suicides to escape the hell that the Europeans had created. Within two years of Columbus's arrival, half of the native population was dead. When there weren't enough natives to work the field, Columbus's son began to bring people from Africa over.
Even in his own day he was notorious for his crimes, he was even arrested and brough to Spain for them. However, the Spanish king and Queen were lenient with him because of the money that filled their treasury, but they did remove him as governor from what was then refered to as the West Indies.
Why We Celebrate This?
This holiday is celebrated over all of the Western Hemisphere, though is America is the only country with it called Columbus day. It was a state holiday in Colorado since 1906, but it became a federal holiday sometime in the 1920's. Christopher Columbus had his atrocities hidden and otherwise forgotten by then. The Knights of Columbus adopted his name into their because they were looking for a good catholic hero for people to look up to as a role model. Thus they convinced the president and congress to have Columbus Day made into federal law.