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Monday, October 08, 2012

Columbus Day, 2012

As any school child from my era knows, in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. We all knew that Christopher Columbus challenged the view of his day that the Earth was flat and set out to sail all the way around to India. We all knew that Columbus discovered America. Plain, simple facts for any school child of my day.

Turns out, of course, that a lot of it was wrong.

Oh, sure, there were minor things. Columbus was actually looking for a sea route to China and Indonesia (the Spice Islands). Thus, what he thought he found was "the West Indies" when what he actually came across were islands in the Carribean. (We always referred to the native people of North America as "Indians" because of Columbus's blunder.) Nor did Columbus or his benefactors believe that the Earth was flat. That myth was started by Washington Irving's fictional biography of Columbus. (They were making globes of the Earth when Columbus set sail.) They thought that the Earth was round, but too big to sail around safely. (Columbus's estimate was a circumference of 18,756 miles; reality is 24,861 miles at the Equator.) His original plan was to find gold in sufficient quantities to fund his ultimate goal of starting a Crusade to free Jerusalem. (He had a lot of issues with Moslems.)

Columbus claimed to be bringing Christianity to the savages, but, in fact, sought in the name of the Holy Trinity to enslave as many as possible. (In fact, Columbus was funded by the royalty of Spain that also brought Spain the Spanish Inquisition. Very little at all to do with Christianity.) Some paintings show Columbus coming ashore with a priest. In fact, there were no priests on board for his first voyage.

Columbus Day became a federal holiday in America in 1937, instituted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to garner the votes from the Italian American community. As it turns out, there is some question as to Columbus's origins. There is no proof that he was from Genoa as most surmise. There is conjecture that he was Portuguese, Spanish, or of Viking descent. What is certain is that Columbus never wrote anything in Italian; he always wrote in Spanish.

Lots of other small stuff, too. Queen Isabella didn't sell her jewelry to pay for his travels. He was sponsored by investors including some towns that owed money to the king and queen. Columbus did not sail with a crew of criminals. His trip was not difficult. In fact, no life was lost on the first crossing and he made it in 5 weeks. Columbus didn't die poor. He was largely forgotten, perhaps, but fairly wealthy.

Christoper Columbus did some amazing things. He found the "West Indies". He even travelled eventually to South America. He introduced horses to the New World and in return introduced Europe to tobacco ... and syphilis. (One of our common myths had Columbus dying of syphilis. Not accurate, apparently.) But Columbus never landed in North America. The closest he got was the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas. Indeed, the continent is named for Amerigo Vespucci, the explorer who followed Columbus and first demonstrated that it was not the back side of Asia that Columbus had found. (Apparently North and South Vespucci didn't have the same ring.) And Columbus never new that he discovered a new continent.

Christopher Columbus did some horrible things. He slaughtered natives and enslaved more. He brought "Christianity" to the New World in a form that would be abhorrent to Christ. For many of his atrocities, then, there are those who protest the recognition of Columbus Day at all.

What's my point? Well, it's Columbus Day, of course! I thought some correction of our popular information was in order. Some distance between "Columbus" and "Christian" is important. He did do some impressive things, and that's fine. We can remember those. But I'd like to point out that many things we learned as kids in school (and I went to a Christian school) were wrong. If you have kids, no matter how they are being taught, I hope you are paying close attention and learning the truth yourself. I'm just sayin'.


Marshal Art said...

I've been reading several links regarding lies and myths about Chris. It seems that there are many variations and versions that purport to set the record straight, many in conflict with each other. It's strange that this particular guy is the subject of so much confusion. One source said that while he did indeed enslave some natives, these were those that were very aggressive and not responsive to attempts to negotiate peacefully. Other tribes were trading partners. There is also some stuff about treatment of natives, including chopping off noses and other body parts. But one source spoke of native practice of impaling thieves among them. Chris tried to do away with this with the less severe practice of chopping off parts of the nose or ear to brand them as thieves, but letting them live.

I'm left with only the fact that we celebrate his discovery and the rest is up for debate. It would mean more to me if I was a postal worker.

Stan said...

Some of the information we have is erroneous (like the "flat earth" concept from Washington Irving, not history). Some is questionable. One article I read was about a guy who made it his purpose in life to smear Columbus.

Some of the stuff comes from Columbus's own journals. Some is a product of his time. (You know, like claiming the land for Spain because he landed there.) Some was unavoidable. (If Columbus didn't bring diseases that wiped out large populations of natives, the next explorer would have.) Some of it is true. (Columbus left 39 men as a colony from the first expedition because the Santa Maria wrecked. When he came back a year later, they had been massacred by natives.) And some of it is entirely questionable (such as the sex trade he was supposed to be in or even where he's from).

There is indeed some that matches what I was taught as a kid, but there are a lot of questions. And frankly I don't much celebrate Columbus. I mean, not too many of us get the day off, so ...