Monday, October 8, 2007

Christopher Columbus was a swell guy

The conservatives among us are fond of dismissing any unflattering accounts of Christopher Columbus's exploration of America as mere "political correctness."

They seem to favor more traditional versions (like perhaps the one in the hagiographic 1949 film in which Frederick March plays the title role, or the ridiculous stories of Columbus bravely refuting the universal belief at the time that the Earth was flat).

We would do well, however, to ponder the report Columbus sent to Ferdinand and Isabella back in Spain. It shows that exploitation and mistreatment of the natives was on the minds of the Europeans almost immediately upon their arrival in the New World.

The report reads in part:
These people in the Caribbean have no creed and they are not idolaters, but they are very gentle and do not know what it is to be wicked, or to kill others, or to steal...and they are sure that we come from Heaven....So your Highnesses should resolve to make them Christians, for I believe that if you begin, in a little while you will achieve the conversion of a great number of peoples to our holy faith, with the acquisition of great lordships and riches and all their inhabitants for Spain. For without doubt there is a very great amount of gold in these lands….
The people of this island [Hispaniola], and of all the others that I have found and seen, or not seen, all go naked, men and women, just as their mothers bring them forth; although some women cover a single place with the leaf of a plant, or a cotton something which they make for that purpose. They have no iron or steel, nor any weapons....They have no other weapons than the stems of reeds...on the end of which they fix little sharpened stakes. Even these they dare not use....they are incurably timid....
I have not found, nor had any information of monsters, except of an island which is here the second in the approach of the Indies, which is inhabited by a people whom, in all the islands, they regard as very ferocious, who eat human flesh….
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 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. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.


MR. BASEBALL said...

I've never quite understood why we celebrate Columbus Day in the United States. The guy never set foot in this country, he apparently thought he had landed in Asia, and he didn't discover the new world. There were already people here.

The Rascal said...

The purpose of Columbus Day is to give teachers and mail carriers a day off of work. It also gives high school kids and postal workers an opportunity to clean their weapons.