When I was a youngster in school, eons ago, my classmates and I were fed heaping piles of BS about Christopher Columbus. He was, and still is, an Italian hero. He discovered America…that is if an island in the Bahamas, Haiti and Cuba are America. Of course he thought he was in India and the natives were Indians. I guess we still do because that’s the name that stuck. We like to think it is short for indigenous peoples.
Anyway, today is a National Holiday, one that allows Federal employees the special celebration of “time-off” in honor of Columbus.
Christopher Columbus wrote a log and it has been available for anyone to read for hundreds of years. Nobody reads it and we keep celebrating Columbus like he was Abraham Lincoln. We don’t even have a “Jefferson Day-Holiday,” a true American hero and founder.
We know that Columbus was sent to find India because it was believed there was gold, spices and riches to be found. Columbus was promised 10% of the profits, a governorship of the new-found lands and lots and lots of fame.
As the three ships (Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria) approached an island in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492, a sailor named Rodrigo saw the morning moon shining on white sands, and he cried out, “Land, Land.” The first man who spotted the “new land” was to get a pension of 10,000 maravedis for life. Rodrigo never got it. Our wonderful hero, Columbus claimed he had already seen the land the night before so he got the reward.
We know that the natives on this island were part of the huge Arawak tribe and they were not only friendly but willing to share all their food and land. They had developed fields of corn, yams, and cassava. They knew how to weave and spin. They wore tiny gold ornaments in their ears. The Arawaks actually swam out to greet the arriving ships.
Columbus wrote: “As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first island I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and give me information of whatever there is in these parts. 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.”
The Santa Maria had run aground so they tore it down and used the timbers to build the first European military base. Columbus named it “Navidad” and he left 39 of his men there to find the gold and store it in the fort. He took more Indian slaves aboard the remaining two ships. As he and his crew walked around the island they insisted on making a trade for some Arawak bows and arrows. When the natives refused, two of them were run through with swords and bled to death.
One of the local chiefs gave Columbus a gift of a gold mask. That drove old Christopher over the edge. He imagined actual fields of gold. With the two ships and many native slaves they set sail and arrived in present day Haiti. Columbus names it Hispaniola and reported to Madrid that he had indeed reached Asia (actually it was Cuba) and that he had found a large island off the coast of China (actually it was Haiti). Here are some of Christopher Columbus’s words from his log: “Hispaniola is a miracle. Mountains and hills, plains and pastures, are both fertile and beautiful…the harbors are unbelievably good and there are many wide rivers of which the majority contain gold…There are spices, and great mines of gold and other metals. The Indians are so naïve and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone…”
He concluded his report asking for a little help from their Majesties, and in return he would bring them from his next voyage, “as much gold as they need and as many slaves as they ask. Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities.”
So our hero returned with Spain’s blessing, this time with 17 ships and over 1200 hundred men. They had one aim; slaves and gold. Obviously they found no fields of gold so Columbus was worried about returning to Spain without a dividend. They went on a slave raid, rounding up 1500 Arawaks, and put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs. They then picked 500 of the strongest best looking specimens to take to Spain. Two hundred died en route.
Columbus was desperate to pay back dividends to many Spaniards that had invested and he believed there were still hidden fields and rivers of gold. Every native, 14 years and older, was ordered to bring a certain quantity of gold every three months. If the natives succeeded they were given a copper token to hang around their necks. Any Indians found without the copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death.
Since the Indians had been given an impossible task, some fought but most fled. Those who fought faced muskets and swords handled by soldiers in armor…certain death. Those who fled were hunted with dogs and hung or burned to death.
Mass suicides began with parents killing their infants to keep them from Columbus and his Spanish militia.
In two years, through mutilation, suicide or mass murder, over half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.
By 1515, there were approximately fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were less than five hundred still alive.
Happy Columbus Day!