As an atheist, I’m no big fan of holidays. In fact, we have far too many of them in this country. Luckily, Groundhog’s Day doesn’t interrupt the mail service, Valentine’s Day is a paean to lovers everywhere (even though it’s allegedly based on secret Christian weddings in the bad old days of pagan Rome), Saint Patrick’s day is an excuse to get hammered, wear green and sport buttons that say “kiss me, I’m Irish”, and one of them is even a fun holiday to play pranks on people.
But Christopher Columbus? You gotta be fucking kidding me.
I grew up (as most of you probably did also) hearing about how this cat set out to discover the Far East, only to get somewhat hampered by the intervening continent in his way. Hell, I’ll bet you even remember that old mnemonic, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
For the most part, very little was ever mentioned about these voyages except that they were harsh (scurvy was a constant threat), and that some crewmen died en route. When I was a kid, there was absolutely no mention of this ass-clown’s subsequent behavior.
So let’s recap, for those of you familiar, and for those of you who aren’t, be prepared to be horrified.
Good old Chris, on his first voyage:
Columbus called the island (in what is now The Bahamas) San Salvador; the natives called it Guanahani. Exactly which island in the Bahamas this corresponds to is an unresolved topic; prime candidates are Samana Cay, Plana Cays, or San Salvador Island (so named in 1925 in the belief that it was Columbus's San Salvador). The indigenous people he encountered, the Lucayan, Taíno or Arawak, were peaceful and friendly. From the 12 October 1492 entry in his journal he wrote of them, "Many of the men I have seen have scars on their bodies, and when I made signs to them to find out how this happened, they indicated that people from other nearby islands come to San Salvador to capture them; they defend themselves the best they can. I believe that people from the mainland come here to take them as slaves. They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can very easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. If it pleases our Lord, I will take six of them to Your Highnesses when I depart, in order that they may learn our language." He remarked that their lack of modern weaponry and even metal-forged swords or pikes was a tactical vulnerability, writing, "I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased."
Columbus also explored the northeast coast of Cuba (landed on 28 October) and the northern coast of Hispaniola, by 5 December. Here, the Santa Maria ran aground on Christmas Day 1492 and had to be abandoned. He was received by the native cacique Guacanagari, who gave him permission to leave some of his men behind. Columbus left 39 men and founded the settlement of La Navidad at the site of present-day Môle-Saint-Nicolas, Haiti. On 13 January 1493 Columbus made his last stop in the New World. He landed on the Samaná Peninsula where he met the hostile Ciguayos who presented him with his only violent resistance during his first voyage to the Americas. Because of this, and the Ciguayos' use of arrows, he called the inlet where he met them the Bay of Arrows (or Gulf of Arrows). Today the place is called the Bay of Rincon, in Samaná, the Dominican Republic. Columbus kidnapped about 10 to 25 natives and took them back with him (only seven or eight of the native Indians arrived in Spain alive, but they made quite an impression on Seville).
He just took people against their will. Whatta sweetheart, ey?
Buckle up kids, it gets worse:
On 22 November Columbus returned to Hispaniola, where he intended to visit Fuerte de la Navidad (Christmas Fort), built during his first voyage, and located on the northern coast of Haiti. Columbus found Fuerte de la Navidad in ruins, destroyed by the native Taino people.
Among the ruins were the corpses of 11 of the first 39 Spanish to have attempted New World colonization. Columbus then required from the Taino that each adult over 14 years of age was expected to deliver a hawks bell full of gold every three months, or when this was lacking, twenty five pounds of spun cotton. If this tribute was not observed, the Taínos had their hands cut off and were left to bleed to death. Columbus then moved more than 100 kilometers eastwards, establishing a new settlement, which he called La Isabela, likewise on the northern coast of Hispaniola, in the present-day Dominican Republic. However, La Isabela proved to be a poorly chosen location, and the settlement was short-lived.
Another good Christian who’d never heard of ‘turning the other cheek’.
Prince Charming had even more tricks up his sleeve:
Columbus returned to Hispaniola on 19 August to find that many of the Spanish settlers of the new colony were discontented, having been misled by Columbus about the supposedly bountiful riches of the new world. An entry in his journal from September 1498 reads, "From here one might send, in the name of the Holy Trinity, as many slaves as could be sold..." Since Columbus supported the enslavement of the Hispaniola natives for economic reasons, he ultimately refused to baptize them, as Catholic law forbade the enslavement of Christians.
He had some of his crew hanged for disobeying him. A number of returning settlers and sailors lobbied against Columbus at the Spanish court, accusing him and his brothers of gross mismanagement. On his return he was arrested for a period (see Governorship and arrest section below).
Even in an age of gross barbarism, this guy stood out. And get this – on his fourth voyage, he ended up getting help from the same people he supported enslaving:
For a year Columbus and his men remained stranded on Jamaica. A Spaniard, Diego Mendez, and some natives paddled a canoe to get help from Hispaniola. That island's governor, Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres, detested Columbus and obstructed all efforts to rescue him and his men. In the meantime Columbus, in a desperate effort to induce the natives to continue provisioning him and his hungry men, successfully won the favor of the natives by correctly predicting a lunar eclipse for 29 February 1504, using the Ephemeris of the German astronomer Regiomontanus.
To top off his ‘accomplishments’, he was arrested and detained after being a governor:
The Court appointed Francisco de Bobadilla, a member of the Order of Calatrava, but not as the aide that Columbus had requested. Instead, Bobadilla was given complete control as governor from 1500 until his death in 1502. Arriving in Santo Domingo while Columbus was away, Bobadilla was immediately peppered with complaints about all three Columbus brothers: Christopher, Bartolomé, and Diego. Consuelo Varela, a Spanish historian, states: "Even those who loved him [Columbus] had to admit the atrocities that had taken place." Columbus before the Queen, imagined by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, 1843
As a result of these testimonies and without being allowed a word in his own defense, Columbus, upon his return, had manacles placed on his arms and chains on his feet and was cast into prison to await return to Spain. He was 48 years old.
According to an uncatalogued document supposedly discovered very late in history purporting to be a record of Columbus's trial which contained the alleged testimony of 23 witnesses, Columbus regularly used barbaric acts of torture to govern Hispaniola.
Delusional? You tell me:
While Columbus had always given the conversion of non-believers as one reason for his explorations, he grew increasingly religious in his later years. Probably with the assistance of his son Diego and his friend the Carthusian monk Gaspar Gorricio, Columbus produced two books during his later years: a Book of Privileges (1502), detailing and documenting the rewards from the Spanish Crown to which he believed he and his heirs were entitled, and a Book of Prophecies (1505), in which passages from the Bible were used to place his achievements as an explorer in the context of Christian eschatology.
A Christian explorer using cherry-picking to justify himself? What are the odds? (Pretty damn good.)
As if these horrors aren’t enough, these excerpts from Lies My Teacher Told Me should be enough to enrage our readers to write to their representatives in Washington to get this holiday off the books altogether:
"Christopher Columbus introduced two phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth, and labor from indigenous peoples, leading to their near extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass" (60).
"When Columbus and his men returned to Haiti in 1493, they demanded food, gold, spun cotton--whatever the Indians 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" (61).
"..attempts at resistance gave Columbus an excuse to make war... For this he chose 200 foot soldiers and 20 cavalry, with many crossbows and small cannon, lances, and swords, and a still more terrible weapon against the Indians, in addition to the horses: this was 20 hunting dogs, who were turned loose and immediately tore the Indians apart" (61).
"Columbus.. initiated a great slave raid. They rounded up 1,500 Arawaks, then selected the 500 best specimens (of whom 200 would die en route to Spain. Another 500 were chosen as slaves for the Spaniards staying on the island" (62).
"Spaniards hunted Indians for sport and murdered them for dog food. Columbus, upset because he could not locate the gold he was certain was on the island, set up a tribute system... The Indians all promised to pay tribute.. every three months... With a fresh token, an Indian was safe for three months, much of which time would be devoted to collecting more gold... the Spanish punished those whose tokens had expired: they cut off their hands" (62).
"Columbus installed the encomienda system, in which he granted or "commended" entire Indian villages to individual colonists or groups of colonists... On Haiti the colonists made the Indians mine gold for them, raise Spanish food, and even carry them everywhere they went" (63). An Spanish observer wrote that "As a result of the sufferings and hard labor they endured [under this virtual slavery], the Indians choose and have chosen suicide. Occasionally a hundred have committed mass suicide. The women, exhausted by labor, have shunned conception and childbirth... Many, when pregnant, have taken something to abort and have aborted. Others after delivery have killed their children with their own hands, so as not to leave them in such oppressive slavery"" (63).
"Estimates of Haiti's pre-Columbian population range as high as 8,000,000 people... a census of Indian adults in 1496.. came up with 1,100,000... "By 1516," according to Benjamin Keen, "thanks to the sinister Indian slave trade and labor policies initiated by Columbus, only some 12,000 remained." Las Casas tells us that fewer than 200 Indians were alive in 1542. By 1555, they were all gone" (63).
".. one of the primary instances of genocide in all human history" (64).
"Columbus not only sent the first slaves across the Atlantic, he probably sent more slaves--about five thousand--than any other individual... other nations rushed to emulate Columbus" (64).
"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. On Haiti, sex slaves were one more prerequisite that the Spaniards enjoyed. Columbus wrote a friend in 1500, "... 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"" (65).
"Columbus is not a hero in Mexico... Why not? Because Mexico is also much more Indian than the United States, and Mexicans perceive Columbus as white and European. "No sensible Indian person," wrote George P. Horse Capture, "can celebrate the arrival of Columbus." Cherishing Columbus is a characteristic of white history, not American history" (70).
"The worshipful biographical vignettes of Columbus in our textbooks serve to indoctrinate students into a mindless endorsement of colonialism... the Columbus myth allows us to accept the contemporary division of the world into developed and underdeveloped spheres as natural and given, rather than a historical product issuing from a process that began with Columbus's first voyage" (70)
There will be plenty of Christians who will deplore these acts as barbaric and savage, and rightly so. But the majority of them will rationalize that old Chris was not a ‘True Christian’. Unfortunately for them, he was. A simple in-depth reading of the Old Testament (and some of the New) will amply demonstrate that these were common (and sanctioned) acts based on their holy text. Slavery is a biblical injunction, and the mistreatment of non-believers par for the course. Genocide is not only justified in the bible, it’s also smiled upon as an act that was directed by their deity, and in some cases perpetrated on the ‘chosen people’. Even rape isn’t beyond that tome of horrors.
So yes, old assclown Columbus was most definitely playing by the set of rules put forth by those Iron-age shepherds of yore. Every single act he perpetrated fits neatly into the superstitions of the day, and the words written in that Necronomicon of old, the Wholly Bibble.
He was an evil fuckwad, whose only just deserts are that people should urinate on his grave. He was a pimp, a slaver, a butcher, a tyrant, and an idiot. That anyone has a holiday for this bozo is not just a wart on the face of this country, but full-blown metaphorical melanoma.
Till the next post, then.