Since elementary school, we have been taught about the achievements of Christopher Columbus, and even in some countries and states he is still even celebrated. Some Latin American countries have renamed the festivity to things like Hispanic Day or Day of the Race. But rather than celebrating the multicultural heritage of the continent, they’re just less controversial names to the same festivity.
In the United States, for instance, Columbus Day is still a federal festivity celebrated on the second Monday of October. Instead of just removing the date, they added one new festivity called Indigenous People’s Day on October 11th. But having both as a celebration is still problematic.
For a time now, the worth of the ‘discoverer of America’ has fortunately begun to be questioned, but there are so many that still consider his ‘prowess’ worthy of admiration. Recently, the whole discussion about the Spanish conquest has been a controversial dispute with the people of Spain (mainly right-wing politicians) who still encourage the ideas of Columbus and the Conquistadors being noble people who brought civilization to the Americas.
Questioning Christopher Columbus
On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus landed on American soil believing it to be the Indies. This event is known, perhaps erroneously, as the discovery of America, and as children, we know it almost by heart. We even have to memorize from a very young age the ‘iconic’ names of his ships, La Niña, La Pinta, and La Santa María.
Now this title has been called into question. Historians, researchers, and social activists are questioning more and more the ‘exploits’ of the Genoese navigator and are asking the question, does he really deserve the merit and the celebration that many have for him today?
The true discoverers of America
Let’s start from the root of the greatest lies of the navigator, and that is that he did not discover America, nor was he the first to suggest that the earth was round. The spherical shape of the planet had already been proven since the Greeks, and many contemporaries of Columbus were well aware of it.
Why didn’t they want to fund his voyage? Simple, Columbus’ calculations were wrong. He was significantly underestimating the true diameter of the planet, which is why it took him so long to find funding for his ‘revolutionary voyage.’
And as for the discovery of America, surely many already know this, but we must attribute it to the Vikings like Leif Eriksson, who touched North American shores five centuries before the famous voyage of Christopher Columbus.
It was no favor
When teaching us about Columbus’ arrival in America, the idea is often included that Europe was the advanced world and we were the savage and that they came to bring modernity and progress.
Again, this is debatable and even erroneous. Before they arrived, the American civilizations had extensive knowledge of architecture, agriculture, astrology, and mathematics, to mention some of the fields they were highly developed.
They also had complex political and commercial systems among themselves. In every sense of the word, they were civilized. But Columbus and the Europeans ignored this completely.
The peoples that exist today were indeed the product of the clash of cultures, but we must also remember that this encounter was bloody and full of death, either by physical mistreatment or by the endless new diseases brought by the Spaniards.
According to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, there were 250,000 Indians in Hispaniola when Columbus landed on American soil, but by 1517 there were only 14,000 left.
In Spanish, you can’t write colonizer without Colón (Columbus)
To tell the truth, Columbus did not arrive peacefully in America, and he even lied about the real encounter between cultures. In his version of events, it was the natives who responded aggressively to his arrival.
Today we already know that the opposite was true: Christopher Columbus was the one who enslaved the natives, in addition to treating them with great violence and brutality. He sold some of them while others he kept as his property.
He even killed many natives in the Dominican Republic who rose up in revolt because of the Genoese’s mistreatment. The natives were not seen as people by Columbus but as property.
In the same way, Columbus opened the way for other Spaniards to touch American soil, and, consequently, other European countries such as the Netherlands and England, who basically followed his steps.
With the knowledge and new research we have today, it is necessary to update our vision of great historical figures. They are not untouchable; in fact, they are the ones who should be questioned the most. To demonize Columbus or not is a personal decision, but it is necessary to tell the complete story of the navigator.
Images from: Wikimedia Commons, El Español, La Patilla, El País, CNN