Should we take pride in Christopher Columbus?
The story of Christopher Columbus searching for a new route to get to India and thereby discovering the Americas is commonly taught in schools in the UK.
Even though Columbus was an Italian, who sailed under commission of the Spanish, we have a statue of him in Belgrave Square Gardens in London.
The UK isn’t the only place to have a statue of Columbus, there are monuments to him all over the Americas, in the Caribbean and throughout Southern Europe.
In the US they even celebrate Columbus Day, a national holiday which occurs on around the 12th October each year.
So, why is Columbus venerated in such this way. Well, it is understandable for all the countries in the Americas, as they would not be what they are, had he not discovered the “New World”
For the Southern European countries, they would not have been able to collect as much wealth as they did if it wasn’t for his landing on 12th October 1492.
So, why then is there so much controversy surrounding him.
Well firstly, there is some argument regarding whether or not he was the first person to discover the Americas and secondly, tensions are raised over his unscrupulous behaviour once he had found it.
Let me explain.
Did Columbus discover the Americas?
Well, most intuitive people will simply answer that you can’t discover a land that is already inhabited.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s ignore that. So what do we have left?
From a European point of view, he was deemed the first person to sail across the Atlantic Ocean and find land. Although, even that is debatable now.
If we look at early cultures that lived and thrived in the Americas, we find people such as the Olmecs, the Toltecs, the Mexica (whom we refer to now as the Aztecs), the Maya and the Inca.
The monuments, the architecture, the astronomy, the calculus, and the creations seen in the Americas were beyond European understanding.
However, what was significant was that these monuments resembled those found in Africa, there were monuments of African looking people (ie Easter Island) and to the natives of Hispaniola, they informed Columbus that there spear tips were fought over the big sea by black men.
Later examination of these spear tips confirmed that they were identical to spare heads being used by warriors in certain parts of Africa.
If indeed many of these monuments were of African people it would mean that they had been travelling to the Americas for centuries.
But, if that isn’t enough, when Europeans started travelling around the Americas there were reports of European captains meeting Africans who were also arriving.
In fact, one European actually reported that they had come across an Ethiopian village in the Americas.
Why don’t we hear about that at school?
What’s more, is that murals of battles have been discovered which depict the natives and Africans are fighting white people who are presumed from their garb to be Celtic warriors from Ireland.
But, that isn’t it. George Catlin an early explorer in North America wrote a book on the Mandans, an indigenous tribe that had blonde hair. It is widely presumed that Vikings may also have crossed that Atlantic.
So, did Columbus discovery the Americas. My answer is no, but you can chose which narrative to believe.
Did Columbus represent European society in a civilised manner?
Firstly, civility can be deemed an abstract construct, defined by those in power.
However, even to the European standards of the time, the answer to that question would be no.
Columbus arrived in Hispaniola on the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. He was welcomed by the indigenous people and immediately set about suppressing them.
Columbus ordered the native people to find and bring him gold. With the threat of death over them, they brought him all the gold they could find. In the meantime, his crew set about finding elaborate ways in which to slaughter the indigenous peoples, using vile acts such as cutting off limbs to see how long they would survive, smashing babies heads against rocks and hangings.
If natives returned without enough gold to add to Columbus’ coffers, their hands were cut off as punishment and to frighten others into submission. After a while Columbus realised he wasn’t going to get the amount of gold he desired and looked for other way to increase his wealth.
On returning to Spain, Columbus suggested that he could bring the natives over to Spain to be used as slaves. Queen Isabella declined this stating that Spain would not treat other people, in another land this way.
To counter her scruples, Columbus concocted a story about the natives being cannibals. Queen Isabella was outraged at this account and gave permission for the natives to be taken into slavery.
Columbus did return to Spain with enslaved indigenous people from Hispaniola. However, over in their home land, forty years after “discovering” Hispaniola, the population of the island, once eight million was wiped out. All of the indigenous people were dead or had been taken into slavery. Those taken back to Spain as slaves were mostly young girls, who would be sold off as sex slaves.
In light of these facts, is there any pride to be had in teaching children about Christopher Columbus as an explorer and a hero?
My answer to that is no.