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THE FARCE OF COLUMBUS DAY

When Taino Indians saved Christopher Columbus from certain death Oct. 12, 1492, what occurred next was neither beautiful nor heroic. His diaries indicated he was greeted with the most generous hospitality he had ever known, yet he immediately began the encomienda system tying Indian slaves to their stolen lands, and was personally responsible for their slaughter, and for beginning the trans-national slave trade between Europe and the “New World”..

Despite his murderous nature, his discovery came to symbolize what seems to, for a time, be recognized as accepted civilized truths. Manifest Destiny justified theft. Assimilation or genocide was a reasonable choice for pagans. A successful violent campaign to destroy Nations validated the superiority of European values and institutions. Let’s review the history.

In 1492, the big island of Hispaniola was one of the most densely populated areas of the known world. Unfortunately, within forty-nine years these three million souls had been reduced by their new Christian neighbors to two hundred. The Taino Indians had saved Columbus and his men from starvation– and Columbus wrote in his journals. “I saw that they were very friendly to us,…. They are all of a good size and stature, and handsomely formed, their eyes were large and very beautiful;…Weapons they have none, nor are acquainted with them. They are good to be Ordered about, to be made to Work, Plant, and do whatever is wanted, to build towns and be taught to go Clothed and accept our Customs. The air is as soft as April in Seville. “Our Lord in his goodness guide me that I may find this gold”.

It is 1493. In January, 39 men are left behind to guard the fort at La Navidad in the “New World” while a triumphant Columbus sails back to Spain with parrots, gold, and enslaved Indians. In November, Columbus returns, this time with a fleet of 17 ships, 1500 men, as well as horses, dogs, armor, and cannons. The 39 men who had been left to guard the fort are found dead…. the official Chronicler of the Indies, Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, writes that the “natives could not endure the excesses, for the Spaniards took their women and used them as they wished and committed other violences and offenses. One of Columbus ways to reward his officers was to allow them to choose pre-teen Native girls to use as they wished.

It is 1494. Columbus and company gather green wood to place under the feet of rebellious Tainos, the same Tainos that saved him. The conquistadors string them up in groups of thirteen, representing Jesus and the twelve apostles. The burning is slow, methodical, and torturous. Columbus notes in his journal, “The weather is like April in Andalusia.  Columbus now ‘discovers’ the island now called Jamaica. Terrified Indians flee from soldiers and their crossbows. Attack-trained dogs pursue the Indians. These are the same dogs that in the Old World are trained to hunt wild game. in the “New World” they learn to savor human flesh. Columbus writes”…so many vultures flocked there to scavenge on the bodies that they darkened the sky.”

It is 1496. After only four years, half the native population of Hispaniola is dead. In 1498 Columbus writes,””From here one might send, in the name of the Holy Trinity, as many as 4000 slaves to be sold. Native women have now began to self-abort their babies rather than allow them to be a part of the horrific reality of encomienda. Still, Columbus believes he will discover the gold he came for. The “New World”, once the mother of countless peaceful and happy Native peoples has been literally transformed into the Christian hell. Eleven years after Columbus pronounced the Indians as beautiful, loving, pliant and without knowledge of weapons or violence, he now describes them as “unfriendly, cruel, and hostile savage savages”.

In 1542, Bartolome De Las Cases, champion of Native peoples in the Americas wrote: “The Indies were discovered in the year one thousand four hundred and ninety-two. In the following year a great many Spaniards went there with the intention of settling the land. And all the land so far discovered is a beehive of people….there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening wild beasts that had been starved for many days. And Spaniards have behaved in no other way during the past forty years, down to the present time, for they are still acting like ravening beasts, killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples…” “Their reason for killing and destroying such an infinite number of souls is that the Christians have an ultimate aim, which is to acquire gold, and to swell themselves with riches in a very brief time and thus rise to a high estate disproportionate to their merits. It should be kept in mind that their insatiable greed and ambition, the greatest ever seen in the world, is the cause of their villainies.”

You can not “discover” a hemisphere inhabited by 100 million people, yet Columbus Day perpetuates the myth that the “New World” was a wilderness with a few savages awaiting the blessings of civilization. Hardly mentioned is the fact that the Western Hemisphere was a virtual paradise of ecology and health, that Indians provided the model for U.S. constitutional government, that Native agricultural advances currently provide 60 percent of the world’s daily diet, and hundreds of medical and medicinal techniques are still used.

Today, in North and South America, Native people remain at the bottom of every socio-economic indicator, are under continuing physical and economic attack, and are afforded the least access to political or legal redress. Despite this we refuse to ride off into a romantic sunset.

Europeans in the Americas have always been afflicted with a long term memory dysfunction. Now that we know what kind of man Columbus really was, let’s take these myths of the past and update them to reflect the truth. Rename Columbus Day to celebrate something we can all be proud of. Officially proclaimed in 1971, this divisive holiday should be replaced by a celebration that is more reflective of the rich heritage of the Americas. How about Bartolome De Las Cases Day? Until then, Indians of North America (including Mexica and descendant Africans), should be reminded that the wicked heart of Manifest Destiny still beats around the world. Natives still die daily at the hands of those, who in their quest for personal power and wealth, keep greed the one true lasting Institution of Progress.
Happy Indigenous Peoples Day!

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James BlueWolf

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