Christopher Columbus was a man of many faces. Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen state that he was “resilient, courageous, and confident” (4.) Not only that, but he was a determined and ambitious person, as is proven by the fifteen years it took him to get enough money for his first trip (Brebner 7.) Despite this, he never reached Asia, or North America. On the contrary, he landed in Central and South America, stepping foot in countries now known as Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad, Panama, and Puerto Rico (History.com Staff.) Many of Christopher Columbus’s actions are not covered in elementary textbooks, probably due to how brutal and graphic they are. Some people believe Columbus’s these actions are justified for the advancement of society, but many disagree, stating that civilization has the capability to improve without breaking laws and committing crimes against humanity. In either case, Christopher Columbus was the perpetrator and/or bystander of countless heinous brutalities Americans should be aware of before they celebrate Columbus Day.
Christopher Columbus’s motives for voyaging across the Atlantic four times range from pursuits widely considered noble to endeavours born by deceit and greed, although many children hear only of the noble. Contrary to popular belief, Columbus was not trying to prove that the world is round (Zinn 2.) Most educated people knew the earth is not flat, so Columbus was not alone in this knowledge (2.) Columbus voyaged for another reason; he genuinely believed that it was God’s will for him to sail to the New World and spread the Catholic faith to “Indians” (Brebner 7, 10.) However, few Native Americans converted from their polytheistic religion to Christianity, although some were baptised shortly before death (17.) While the previous motive proved futile, his goal of monetary gain was realized through the reward for being the first to see land: “a yearly pension of 10,000 maravedis for life” (Zinn 3.) Multiple sources (America Discovers Columbus, A Patriot’s History of the United States, The Mysterious History of Columbus) state that a member of Columbus’s crew was the first to spot land. When this news reached Columbus, he stated that he had actually seen the light of the new world the night before (Zinn 3.) A very common speculation is that Columbus lied in order to receive the reward money (3.) Americans celebrating Columbus Day should know that he voyaged across the Atlantic not only to spread Catholicism, but also for monetary gain and materialism.
Americans should be proud to celebrate civil rights activists; however, many people forget that as they celebrate Columbus Day, they are celebrating a man who promoted slavery, with his greed for gold making both him and his men more ruthless. Immediately he envisioned making the Native American people slaves, writing, “With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want” (Zinn 1.) On his first voyage in Central America, he abducted Arawak Indians and held them on his ship so they could point him to where the elusive gold was (2.) On his way home, he attempted to transport 500 Natives to Europe (4.) Two hundred died at sea and the rest were sold into slavery upon arrival (4.) John Brebner states, “Spaniards … came to loot them of their accumulated gold and then to work them to death in extracting more” (17.) Of the Native men who dug gold in mines for six to eight months, “up to one-third of” them died (Zinn 7.) Columbus and his crew practiced slavery, causing the premature deaths of countless Native Americans, merely for monetary gain, a fact rarely mentioned on Columbus Day.
Columbus allowed multiple horrific cases of sexual assault that should have put him and many members of his crew in prison for decades. For example, Columbus gave a man by the name of Michele de Cuneo permission to take a Native American woman he abducted into his cabin (Wilford 178, 179.) When Cuneo first attempted to have sex with her, the woman forcibly fought back, obviously showing her dissent to his sexual advances (179.) In response, Cuneo “took a rope-end and thrashed her well, following which she produced such screaming and wailing as would cause you not to believe your ears” (179.) Afterwards, he raped her (179.) In addition, Native women and children were kidnapped and forced into sex slavery by soldiers stationed at Fort Navidad (Zinn 4.) Native Americans later killed the soldiers who committed these crimes (4.) Columbus seemed to have ambivalent feelings concerning the ethical treatment of women. He once commanded a Native American to be taken back to her home and released when she was abducted by his men; however, this single act of kindness does not make up for the other sexual atrocities he and his crew committed. (Wilford 163.) Americans should be aware that Christopher Columbus and his crew showed little respect for the boundaries and human rights of Native American women and children through multiple cases of aggravated rape.
Columbus’s men committed numerous acts of violence that fall under the categories of cruel and unusual punishment, and in the most severe cases, murder. On his second voyage, Columbus ordered all Native Americans of the age of fourteen and older to collect a certain amount of gold every three months (Zinn 4.) If this criteria was not met, “their hands [were] cut off and [they] bled to death,” and if they fled, they were hunted down and killed by dogs (4.) Furthermore, one day, when Columbus was negotiating with two Native Americans about trading bows and arrows, the consultation took a deadly turn (3.) When the Natives refused “to trade as many bows and arrows as [Columbus] and his men wanted,” they “were run through with swords and bled to death” (3.) A couple of Columbus’s men cut off the heads of two Native American boys and then stole their parrots (6.) These murders were not committed by any fault of the boys; they were killed for sport (6.) Another example follows:
“Trying to put together an army of resistance, the Arawaks faced Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords, horses. When the Spaniards took prisoners they hanged them or burned them to death. Among the Arawaks, mass suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead. When it became clear that there was no gold left, the Indians were taken as slave labor on huge estates, known later as encomiendas. They were worked at a ferocious pace, and died by the thousands. By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants left on the island.” (4, 5).
Every Columbus Day, Americans should remember that Columbus and his crew murdered Native Americans in many inhumane ways: dogs, swords, decapitation, and the cutting off of hands.
While Christopher Columbus certainly impacted and changed the world, specifically Central America, forever, most of the effects of his actions were certainly negative. He and his crew not only condoned but also committed theft, slavery, sexual assault, cruel and unusual punishment, and murder. Columbus not only allowed, but also committed crimes against the Native American people that should have put him in prison, not given him a holiday.
Brebner, John Bartlet. The Explorers of North America 1492-1806. New York City, NY: The MacMillan Company, 1933. Print.
History.com Staff. "Christopher Columbus." History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 27 July 2016.
Schweikart, Larry and Michael Allen. A Patriot’s History of the United States. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2004. Print.
Wilford, John Noble. The Mysterious History of Columbus An Exploration of the Man, the Myth, the Legacy. New York, NY: Alfred A Knopf Incorporated, 1991. Print.
Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States 1492 - Present. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1980. Print.