Monday, October 09, 2006

The legacy of Columbus

It's another Columbus Day. And I submit it's a day to tell the truth about what Columbus actually did. Here is an excerpt from an article entitled "The Legacy of Columbus":

Failure to produce tribute to the Spanish brought swift and terrible punishment. Those that did not comply were given an "attitude adjustment" that consisted of removal of their nose, ear, hand or foot. Those that actively resisted were burned alive. The Taino People were even forced to carry their oppressors, to spare the Spanish the drudgery of walking.
The Spanish under Columbus hunted the Taino People for sport and for dog-food for their attack hounds.

So great were the cruelties and horrible the degradations that the Taino People suffered at the hands of Columbus and his men, that entire villages would bolt in panic at the sight of a single Spaniard. The whole populations of some villages would, upon the approach of Spanish soldiers, hurl themselves from cliffs, hang themselves, shoot one another with arrows, or take poison to avoid life under the boot of Spanish oppression. Others abandoned their cultivated fields and homes to hide in the forested hills where many thousands starved to death.

Pedro de Cordoba in a letter to King Ferdinand wrote in 1517, "As a result of the sufferings and hard labor they endured, the Indians choose and have chosen suicide.....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."

The Spanish priest, Bartolome de Las Casas (who sailed with Columbus on this third voyage in 1498) wrote the following:

How much damage, how many calamities, disruptions and devastations of kingdoms have there been? How many souls have perished in the West Indies over the years and how unjustly? How many unforgivable sins have been committed? ...... What we committed in the West Indies stands out among the most unpardonable offenses ever committed against God and mankind....

There is an alternative to celebrating Columbus Day. We can celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead. And we can vow never to let the truth be hidden about the European invasion of the Americas.


  1. Hello. I thought you might want to know about an historical error in this article. Bartolomé de las Casas did not ever sail with Columbus. He was only 9 when his father sailed with columbus, and didn't come with him to the New Wrold until 1503, when Columbus had already been relieved of his governorship. When Las Casas wrote things like the Spaniards attacking the native peoples with their dogs for sport, he was not referring to Columbus, but to those who came after him, who's massacres of the natives he wrote about in "A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies." Columbus himself was concerned that the natives not be killed in large number because he considered them essential to the survival of the colonies.

    The article you quote from has at least one other error as well, which is a common one. This passage about girls of 9 to 10 being proffitable is often quoted out of context. It was not from his journal, but a letter addressing accusations made against him. In it he at various times presents the vices and low morality of the colonists of Hispaniola, where he had been governing. So, what he said about the 9 and 10 year old girls being so in demand was not praising their use for making money, but used as an example of the moral abasement of those he was governing (the same who were making accusations against him). Here is the quote with a little bit of the text around it below (which you can read in full here:

    "I should know how to remedy all this, and the rest of what has been said and has taken place since I have been in the Indies, if my disposition would allow me to seek my own advantage, and if it seemed honorable to me to do so, but the maintenance of justice and the extension of the dominion of Her Highness has hitherto kept me down. Now that so much gold is found, a dispute arises as to which brings more profit, whether to go about robbing or to go to the mines. A hundred castellanos are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand, and for all ages a good price must be paid.

    I assert that the violence of the calumny of turbulent persons has injured me more than my services have profited me; which is a bad example for the present and for the future. I take my oath that a number of men have gone to the Indies who did not deserve water in the sight of God and of the world; and now they are returning thither, and leave is granted them."

    But Columbus, by enslaving Taino woman and giving them to his men, whether he meant them to be used as "sex slaves" or not, he put them in a position where they would be especially vunerable to the type of abuse De Cuneo so callously described. It's sad to know that this is true today as well (I've done a lot of research on modern slavery, which sadly still exists though it is no longer legal, and even when women are primarily enslaved for other purposes (such as domestic servatude or other labor), in nearly all cases they are also subject to rape/sexual abuse. So, that Colubus' actions caused women to be raped is certain, but whether he intended that, is not.

    A more balanced and accurate description of the what Columbus did can be found here:

    I would not mind celebrating "Indigiounous Peoples Day" or as others have suggested, a general "Explorers Day" celebrating explorations of all kinds around the world, in stead of Columbus day. But. like you, I prefer truth to inaccuracies--the atrocities done to the Taino people and other peoples of the Americas needs to talked about, and the myth of Columbus being the first to "discover America" and "prove the world was round" needs to be put away....but hopefully not to be replaced by another myth.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment, Gale, and for the measured way in which you pointed out some of the errors. I will certainly make a point of studying more about this!

    All the best to you,


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