Christopher Columbus did not discover America.
He also didn't prove that the world was round rather than flat. It was well known
and commonly accepted that the world was not flat long before Columbus was born.
Similarly, people were living in what we now call the Americas tens of thousands of
years before Columbus was born. In fact, the evidence indicates that there were more
people living in the "Americas" in the year 1492 than in all of
Europe and Russia combined. There were vast, advanced civilizations prospering in
"America" -- civilizations which dazzled the eyes of Columbus and his
Columbus initially wrote glowingly of the generous natures of the indigenous inhabitants
(the Taino people) of the "New World":
They are so artless and free with all they possess, that no one would believe it
without having seen it. Of anything they have, if you ask them for it, they never
say no; rather they invite the person to share it, and show as much love as if
they were giving their hearts..."
On his first voyage to "America" Columbus kidnapped indigenous
men, women, and children (a few from several of the islands he visited). He put
these on his ships in order to display them like trophies back in Spain. As he wrote in
Yesterday there came alongside the ship a canoe with six young men in it., and
when five of them entered the ship I detained them and I am bringing them. And
later I sent men to a house... and they brought seven head of women, counting
young ones and adults, and three small children... I did this so the men would
behave better in Spain, having women from their country, than without them.
Having their women, they have a desire to carry out the business they are charged with.
This was evidently a lesson he had learned from his previous trading in African slaves.
But already he was thinking ahead to more massive enslavement for these people of
whom he wrote:
"In all the world there can be no better or gentler people...
all show the most singular loving behavior and speak kind...
They love their neighbors as themselves.".
But the fact that they were loving, kind, and gentle did not dissuade Columbus
from planning their enslavement. In his log (which he knew would be read by the king and queen of Spain)
he also wrote:
"May your Highnesses believe that... this island and all the others are as much
yours as Castile; for nothing is lacking except settlement and ordering the
Indians to do whatever your Highnesses may wish... They do not have arms and
they are all naked, and of no skill in arms, and so very cowardly that a
thousand would not stand against three. And so they are fit to be ordered about and made to
work, plant, and do everything else that may be needed..."
Unfortunately, only about a half-dozen of the slaves Columbus captured actually
survived the trip back to Spain: of these, only two were still alive 6 months later.
On his second voyage to "America" Columbus was more organized in his
efforts to enslave the people. In 1493 he had written to the king and queen of Spain:
"It is possible, in the name of the Holy Trinity, to
sell all the slaves possible. Here there are so many of these
slaves, and also brazilwood, that although they are living things they are as good as gold"
Columbus' ships were greeted by the indigenous people with gifts of fish and fruit,
"as if we had been their brothers," recalled one of the men on board.
Columbus' men had brought a gift too: an inadvertent case of influenza. The
indigenous people had not built up any immunity to this heretofore unknown disease, and
they began to die in droves. According to Fonzalo Fernandez de Ovideo:
"So many Indians died that they could not be counted, all through the land
the Indians lay dead everywhere. The stench was very great and pestiferous."
This, of course, did not stop Columbus from sending his men out across the island
and on to other nearby islands: searching for gold, kidnapping, raping, "looting
and destroying all that they found" (according to Columbus' son Fernando),
and spreading disease and death wherever they went.
Michele de Cuneo, an Italian "nobleman" who accompanied Columbus on
his second voyage, described the slave-gathering process as follows:
"...we gathered together in our settlement 1600 male and female of
those Indians, of whom, among the best males and females, we embarked on our caravels
on February 17, 1495, 550 souls. Of the rest who were left, the announcement went
around [to the Spaniards who remained to man the island's fort] that
whoever wanted them could take as many as he pleased; and this was done.
Cuneo relates that on this occasion he himself took a beautiful teenage girl as his
personal slave: a gift from Columbus himself. But when he attempted to have
sex with her, she "resisted with all her strength." So, in his own words, he
"thrashed her mercilessly" and raped her.
Of the 550 people Columbus kidnapped from their homeland, 200 died on the voyage
back to Spain. By the time they reached Spain, half of the remaining 350 were
sick and dying.
Columbus and his men also used the Taino as sex slaves. Columbus often rewarded
his men by "giving" them local women to rape.
As he began exporting Taino as slaves to other parts of the world, the sex-slave trade became
an important part of the business, as Columbus wrote to a friend in 1500:
"A hundred castellanoes [a Spanish coin] are as easily obtained for a woman as for
a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking
for girls; those from nine to ten [years old] are now in demand."
On his second voyage, Columbus set himself up as "viceroy and governor" of
the land he called Espanola (we know the area today as Haiti and the Dominican Republic).
In 1495 Columbus instituted a tribute system: every Taino over the age of 14 was
required to give a certain quantity of gold every 3 months. Those
who did not meet their quota had their hands cut off and were left to bleed to
Columbus also instituted a program called "the system of encomiendas".
This divided up the indigenous people into various groups which were then "given"
to Spanish "masters". The "master" was perfectly free to do whatever
he wished with "his people". This labor pool was free and seemingly in endless
supply, so the "masters" worked their slaves literally to death. They were
deprived of food and forced to work until they dropped. Those who attempted to
escape were hunted down with dogs and either torn apart on the spot or publicly flogged
and left to die.
For even a minor offense, a Taino's nose or ear was cut off, so he could go back
to his village to impress the people with the brutality the Spanish were capable of.
Columbus attacked them with dogs, skewered them with pikes, and shot them.
So harsh was their treatment that already by 1502 slaves were being imported from
Africa to make up for their depleted numbers!
Columbus held his post until 1500. Before he arrived, there was a robust Taino population
of about 8 million people. There were about 100 thousand remaining when he left.
That means 7.9 million had died: 98.75% of the population! The policies
he instituted remained in effect (enforced by his brother Bartholomew Columbus whom
he appointed in his place), and the population continued to be decimated.
Christopher Columbus: this is the man the city in Ohio is named after. This is
the man who is honored in the USA by a national holiday that bears his name, replete
with parades and grade-school re-enactments of his deeds. This is the man for
whom we have erected monuments.
This is the man whom a recent president of the USA honored with these words:
"Christopher Columbus not only opened the door to a New World, but also
set an example for us all by showing what monumental feats can be accomplished
through perseverance and faith."
George Bush, Sr. 1989 Speech