Why NOT to celebrate Columbus Day

April Holloway, Ipek S. Burnett

April Holloway, Ipek S. Burnett

Columbus Day, which is celebrated on October 8 in the USA and honours the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the ‘New World’, is an example of outdated and misguided history. Rather than celebrate, it should be a day to mourn the destruction of an indigenous population which had lived in peace for tens of thousands of years before Columbus—a rapist and murderer—set foot on American soil.

 

Although Christopher Columbus is credited with ‘discovering’ America, people had been inhabiting both North and South America for thousands of years before the 15th century criminal explorer actually first set foot there. In fact, a new exhibition in Brazil features more than 100 artefacts dating back as far as 30,000 years ago, 18,000 years earlier than previously believed.

 

The artefacts include cave paintings and ceramic art depicting animals, hunting expeditions and the daily lives of people who lived around the Serra da Capivara in Brazil for tens of thousands of years.

 

“To date, these are the oldest traces of human existence in the Americas,” said archaeologist Niede Guidon who has headed a mission to carry out large-scale excavation of Piaui’s interior since the 1970s. “It’s difficult to think there exists a site anywhere with a higher concentration of cave art.”

 

This indeed is something to celebrate, not the arrival of Christopher Columbus who led the way for these indigenous populations to have their culture decimated and their population murdered, displaced or forced into slavery. Columbus’ arrival is seen as the beginning of civilization in the Americas. But what exactly does it mean to be civilized?  Let’s look at Columbus himself, to see if he meets the definition.

 

The reason Columbus set sail on his epic journey in the first place was because he raped the 13-year-old daughter of a Spanish Duchess. Columbus couldn’t be killed without angering the Italian court, so Queen Isabella sent him on a mission, hoping he wouldn’t return.

 

When Columbus first landed on American soil he was met by the Arawak native Americans. He and his crew were greeted with smiles, gifts and food. He wrote in his log:

 

“They brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things … 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.… They would make fine servants … With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

 

In 1495, during his second voyage, Columbus and his men gathered fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children as captives; of these, the five hundred strongest men and women were put on the ships. Then Columbus announced that any Christian could help himself to as many of the remaining captives as he pleased. The natives onboard were placed in pens. Of the five hundred, about two hundred died on route. The ones who were taken as slaves worked at a ferocious pace on the lands which the colonizers claimed for themselves, and died by the hundreds.

 

Despite all counter evidence, Columbus had not yet given up on gold, either. Again during the second voyage, in the province of Cicao on Haiti, he ordered all Arawak men and women fourteen and older to find gold. Once they collected and delivered their share to one of the armed posts, they were to be given stamped copper tokens to hang about their necks as proof of their accomplished work. Those without the copper tokens were to be punished for not turning in the gold.

 

As Howard Zinn reflects, the truth was the Arawak people had been given an impossible task. There simply was not enough gold on the land. Utterly helpless, some tried to flee to the mountains. They were hunted down with dogs, and if found, immediately killed.

 

The tyranny and bloodshed that started with Columbus’s expeditions continued for centuries, staining the histories of both the North and South American Continents. During this time, slavery, genocide, and the annihilation of the land were committed again and again in the name of civilization, progress, and perhaps most significantly, divine will.

 

Aside from the despicable acts that Columbus and his people committed, there is plenty of evidence to show that Columbus was not the first foreigner to arrive on the continent anyway. In fact, there is proof that the Chinese, Greeks and Italians, all explored America before Columbus. It’s just that Columbus was the ‘brave’ one to stake his claim to a land that did not belong to him.

 

So before waving the US flag in celebration of a criminal who did not discover America, spare a thought for the millions of Native Americans who were murdered as a result of Christopher Columbus’ arrival on American soil.

 

 

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