On Oct. 12, 1942, Christopher Columbus landed on an island now known as the Bahamas. As he approached the land, at that time named Guanahani, local Natives swam out to greet the stranger who was accompanied by three ships and 39 crew members. Columbus quickly identified the Arawaks as free and naïve, wreaking havoc as he went through the land in hopes of gaining wealth and fame. The sailor killed, enslaved and inflicted all types of inhumane misery upon those who welcomed him so freely. In modern times, he would be considered a thug who used genocide to create a new world.
Although many Americans welcome a day free from traditional labor, Columbus was not a hero by far. Instead, he was a genocidal maniac who annihilated anyone that conflicted with his self-serving motives. Reportedly, between 1494 and 1508, over three million people perished at the hands of Columbus and by 1515 there were only 50,000 left. By 1550, there were only about 500 people remaining. In schools, this villain’s story is a tale of ambition and bravery landing Columbus his own day throughout America.
The 1492 “voyage of discovery” was more of a hostile take-over than a simple finding. In 1493, with an invasion force including 17 additional ships and over 1,000 men Columbus returned to the land and appointed himself as viceroy and governor; a position he held until 1500. The sailor promised the Spanish Crown that he would bring back as many slaves and as much gold as anyone wanted. In 1495, his crew gathered together 1,500 Arawak men, women, and children, of which he chose 500 of the best to take to Spain. Reportedly, 200 of his captives died en route.
Although deemed a hero, Columbus did not happen upon the Atlantic for altruism. According to his own reports, including letters and diaries, Columbus made it clear that he left Spain with the expectation of encountering wealth belonging to others. It was his stated purpose to seize this wealth, by whatever means necessary and available, in order to enrich both his sponsors and himself. Simply stated, he not only symbolizes the process of genocide and conquest, which eventually consumed the indigenous people of America, but bears the personal responsibility of acting like a genocidal thug.
Many historical contexts state when the Arawaks could not produce enough gold, Columbus cut off the hands of all who were 14 years and older. He then enslaved them on estates where they were worked to death. Bartolomé de Las Casas, a young priest, wrote:
The Spaniards think nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.
While it is true that his brutality toward the inhabitants of the Native land was not all that uncommon during the days of early European colonialism, by today’s standards Columbus was clearly a genocidal thug. Many historians believe that his true significance of account stems not from discovering America, but establishing a solid presence in the Americas. His landing on the continent was without doubt a huge, world-changing event which impacted the new “found” land and his native country.
In true genocide style, Columbus annihilated the Arawak people. While many of them were overtaken by the diseases known to have been common in the land, a host of others were either worked to death or slaughtered when they attempted to resist. In 2008, a genetic study found that the Columbus voyage brought syphilis back to Europe with them, which two years later led to the “Great Pox” that allegedly killed five million Europeans. This is thought to be traced back to his men having the liberty to pillage and rape wherever they landed.
Deemed a hero, in search of wealth and fame the villain killed, enslaved and inflicted all types of inhumane misery on the Natives of his supposed discovery. The sailor ruled as “a greedy and vindictive tyrant” who ultimately received the titles and pension he so desperately wanted. Christopher Columbus was no hero, instead he was a genocidal thug who stumbled upon an already inhabited land.
Opinion by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
MIT Edu: Columbus and the Beginning of Genocide in the “New World”
Top Image Courtesy of Nate Hughes – Flickr License
Inside Image Courtesy of Chuck Moody – Flickr License
Featured Image Courtesy of John Sonderman – Flickr License