Columbus Hero Or Antihero
Let's set the record straight. Leif Erikson or Leif Ericson was the Icelandic explorer considered as the first European to land in North America, before Christopher Columbus. And, whatever your views of Columbus Day taking its place in historical events or the “Columbus controversy,” this holiday is an important way for Americans to learn more about the Age of Exploration and the enormous changes it provoked!
That said, as the classroom rhyme goes, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and discovered America. In reality, he landed in the Bahamas, not the our mainland. But there is more to the story of the explorer we celebrate with a federal holiday on the second Monday of every October. As historians have continued to learn and write more about the real life of Christopher Columbus, legitimate questions have arisen over the validity of honoring the explorer as a hero.
There are three main sources of controversy involving Columbus’s interactions with the indigenous people he labeled “Indians”: the use of violence and slavery, the forced conversion of native peoples to Christianity, and the introduction of a host of new diseases that would have dramatic long-term effects on native people in the Americas. Historians have uncovered extensive evidence of the damage wreaked by Columbus and his teams, leading to an outcry over emphasis placed upon studying and celebrating him in schools and public celebrations.
In an era in which the international slave trade was starting to grow, Columbus and his men enslaved many native inhabitants of the West Indies, including very young girls as sex servants until they died, and subjected them to extreme violence and brutality. On his famous first voyage in 1492, Columbus landed on an unknown Caribbean island after an arduous three-month journey. On his first day in the New World, he ordered six of the natives to be seized, writing in his journal that he believed they would be good slaves. On his second voyage, Columbus brought back cannons!
Again from his own writings, Columbus says policies of forced labor in which natives were put to work for the sake of profits, were imposed.
Columbus sent thousands of peaceful Taino (TIE-no) “Indians” from the island of Hispaniola to Spain to be sold. Many died en route. Those left behind were forced to search for gold in mines and work on plantations. Within 60 years after Columbus landed, only a few hundred of what may have been 250,000 Taino were left on their island.
What's further worrisome to me, as governor and viceroy of the Indies, Columbus imposing slavery on what is now the Caribbean country of Dominican Republic, according to documents discovered by Spanish historians in 2005, in response to native unrest and revolt. Columbus ordered the a brutal crackdown, in which many natives were killed, in an attempt to deter further rebellion, and Columbus ordered their dismembered bodies to be paraded through the streets!
Eventually, his methods and actions caught up with him. A number of settlers lobbied against him at the Spanish court, accusing Columbus of mismanagement. In 1500, the king and queen sent in a royal administrator, who detained Columbus and his brothers and had them shipped home. Although Columbus regained his freedom and made a fourth and final voyage to the New World, he had lost his governorship and much of his prestige.
Anyone who has taken the time to read about this specific era, understands with facts instead of knee-jerk emotion, that the historical written record has cast Columbus into the shadow of enormous controversy. Today, protests at Columbus Day parades will be seen nationwide and efforts to eliminate him from classroom curricula, and calls for changing the federal holiday will continue to be heard.
But all things considered, on this Columbus Day 2015, keep this in mind, in a broader sense, I believe this holiday continues to be a way for Americans to be more aware about the Age of Exploration and the enormous transformations it provoked, one being the birth of America!