While in school you hear a lot about how Christopher Columbus ‘found’ America and how amazing he was. Even now we celebrate ‘Columbus Day’ and ‘praise’ him for all he did, but were the things he did as ‘good’ as they are made out to be?
Not only did Columbus basically lead to the genocide of all who were present in the Americas before his landing he also sold sex slaves to his men some of which were as young as 9 years old. He and his men raided villages for sex and even for sport sometimes. His story, in general, is one that we see sugar coated time and time again in the modern day ‘historical narrative.’
Back in his time just after his return from the third voyage Columbus was removed as Governor of the American territories and was even imprisoned for a short period of time over reports of the horrific and brutal treatment of natives. That being said, the damage he did was not all just in the Americas. He kidnapped and enslaved more than a thousand people on Hispaniola and at least five hundred of those people died on boats and were thrown over into the Atlantic.
Upon meeting the tribes people he found on his first experience in the Americas, Columbus already knew in his mind that he wanted to make them into slaves and force them into doing the things he wanted them to do. He never once thought of them as equals. While it might not seem that intense as it happened so long ago, the blood of all who were lost is still on his hands even though he has long since passed.
Back in Madrid, Columbus painted a highly exaggerated picture of what he had seen and requested the royals to finance another expedition. His bluff worked, and he set off again—this time with 17 ships and more than 1,200 men. Now his mission was two-fold—to bring back not only gold but also as many slaves as he could.
He captured 1,500 Arawak men, women and children, selected the 500 healthiest among them, and loaded them on his ships. 200 of them died on the way to Spain. But Columbus wrote: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”
But he had to find some gold, otherwise, his investors would be very unhappy. So, as the historian, Howard Zinn writes in his classic A People’s History of the United States, “In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death.
“The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed.”
The Arawaks of Haiti tried to build an armed resistance against the Spaniards, but it was easily crushed—the Europeans had armor, guns, and horses, while their opponents had only swords made of cane. Mass suicide began among the Arawaks; infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. As Zinn puts it: “In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.”
Within a century-and-a-half, none of the original Arawaks or their descendants were left on the island.
As time has passed we have all began to learn more about the things that really reign true about the past and most of them are very unsettling and quite heartbreaking. Documents and letters that were lost for so long have been found that really bring forth the evidence to back all the things many refuse to accept about the past. One report by Francisco de Bobadilla went undiscovered up until 2005 and when it was brought to light it changed everything.
How many of these things were you aware of? Columbus left a huge impact on not just the Americas but many parts of the world, greed does horrible things.