Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus Day: Fact or Fiction?

In 1492, Christopher Columbus may not have discovered America, nor proved that the world was round and in fact, he may never have even set foot on our continent. Nevertheless, Columbus Day (October 12) continues to be observed on the second Monday of October each year in the U.S.

Opposition to the holiday cites the fact that Columbus probably never set foot on this continent, nor did he open it to the European trade. Scandinavian Vikings had already had settlements here in the eleventh century, and British fisherman, most probably, had already fished the shores of Canada...decades before Columbus.

The legend of Columbus obscures the true and more sinister story of how Columbus financed his trip. The Spanish monarchy had invested in his excursion, but only on the condition that Columbus would repay this investment with profit....by bringing back gold, spices, and other valuables from Asia. His enormous need to repay his debt underlies the almost frantic tone of Columbus' diaries, as he raced from one Caribbean island to the next.....stealing anything of value.

After he failed to contact the emperor of China, the traders of India, or the merchants of Japan, Columbus decided to pay for his voyage in the one important commodity he had found....human lives. He seized 1,200 Taino (Arawak) Indians from the island of Hispaniola, crammed as many onto his ships as would fit and sent them to Spain.

Stories and drawings show them, as they were paraded naked through the streets of Seville and sold as slaves in 1495. Columbus tore children from their parents, husbands from wives. While on board Columbus' slave ships, hundreds more had died and the sailors had simply tossed the Indian bodies into the Atlantic.

Because Columbus captured even more Indian slaves than he could bring to Spain, he put them to work in mines and plantations.....which he, his family and followers had created throughout the Caribbean. Within four years of Columbus' arrival on Hispaniola, his men had killed or exported one-third of the original Indian population of 300,000.

Also, an estimated 85% of the Native American population was wiped out within 150 years of Columbus's arrival in America, due largely to diseases such as smallpox, which were then spread among Native American populations through the continuing migration between islands and the American continent.

So, today...I choose to celebrate life and the value of life and freedom, instead. As I work on my projects, I am thinking of those men trapped in the mines in Chile, the families awaiting their arrival at the surface. I am thinking of the families of the young boys, the young men, who lost their lives, and their dignity at the hands of others who feared them and their alternative lifestyle choices enough to torment, torture, and cause their deaths. I am thinking of the young British aid worker killed during the rescue of her friends and fellow captives.

So, today I honor the idea of equality and freedom for all and the benefits of exploration and discovery as they should be. Yep, that's what Columbus day ought to be about...equality and freedom for all. Now, that would be worth celebrating!

3 comments:

  1. Yep, that would be worth celebrating.

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  2. Definitely worth celebrating.

    I've just heard that Obama has rung our Prime Minister to apologise!

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  3. It is strange that we get Columbus Day off when other holidays are getting lost in the shuffle.

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Michele Bilyeu blogs "With Heart and Hands" as she journeys between Douglas, Alaska and Salem, Oregon.