For some reason, every year, we celebrate Christopher Columbus’ “heroic” journey to the “New World,” and every year I ask, “Why? Why would a civilized society celebrate such a man? Not only did he openly despise Jews and Muslims, but he was a rapey slave driver whose own mother would be hard-pressed to find an admirable quality.
In a letter Columbus wrote to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain asking that he be allowed to embark on his journey, he expressed a strong desire to convert people to Catholicism by force.
YOUR HIGHNESSES, as Catholic Christians and Princes who love the holy Christian faith, and the propagation of it, and who are enemies to the sect of Mahoma [Islam] and to all idolatries and heresies,resolved to send me, Cristóbal Colon, to the said parts of India to see the said princes … with a view that they might be converted to our holy faith …. Thus, after having turned out all the Jews from all your kingdoms and lordships … your Highnesses gave orders to me that with a sufficient fleet I should go to the said parts of India …. I shall forget sleep, and shall work at the business of navigation, so that the service is performed.
The long and dangerous journey did nothing to make Columbus a better person, either. After Columbus was greeted by the indigenous population, he wrote in his diary,
They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned… . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… . They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.
How exciting! Rather than befriend and cooperate with the native tribes, Columbus jumped straight to violence and subjugation — and enslave them, he did! In a letter to King Ferdinand, our “hero” wrote,
As soon as I arrived in the Indies, in the first island which I found, I took some of the natives by force, in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts. And so it was that they soon understood us, and we them, either by speech or by signs, and they have been very serviceable.
If you still think Christopher Columbus has redeeming qualities worthy of celebration, take a look at this account from one of Columbus’ men detailing the brutal rape of a woman Columbus “gave” to him.
While I was in the boat, I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral gave to me. When I had taken her to my cabin she was naked—as was their custom. I was filled with a desire to take my pleasure with her and attempted to satisfy my desire. She was unwilling, and so treated me with her nails that I wished I had never begun. But—to cut a long story short—I then took a piece of rope and whipped her soundly, and she let forth such incredible screams that you would not have believed your ears. Eventually we came to such terms, I assure you, that you would have thought that she had been brought up in a school for whores.
We’re with the growing number of cities who have sworn off the shame that is Columbus Day and replaced it with Indigenous Peoples Day.
Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant, whose city recently voted to instead celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, said that Learning about the history of Columbus and transforming this day into a celebration of indigenous people and a celebration of social justice … allows us to make a connection between this painful history and the ongoing marginalization, discrimination and poverty that indigenous communities face to this day.”