I am sure I will not be the only person who will be echoing this sentiment in his or her blog, Facebook feed, or Twitter Page today, but seriously to hell with Columbus Day. I do not wish to celebrate a man whose legacy is one of conquest, imperialism, mass murder, enslavement and theft.
I tend to have mixed feelings about Government holidays in general. While I enjoy the fact that they have often allowed me to have time out of school and work, that conveniently coincided with everyone else getting time off, I am not sure I like the government dictating when we get time off to such a degree, and I feel a strong sympathy to those find themselves having to work on them when they would rather not (a situation I have been in a few times my self). This is not to mention the fact they often commemorate or celebrate dubious people or events as is the case here.
To illustrate the type of guy Christopher Columbus, I’ll start with a quote Howard Zinn’s passage on his Columbus from A People’s History of The United States:
Now, from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were “naked as the day they were born,” they showed “no more embarrassment than animals.” Columbus later wrote: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”
But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death.
This is hardly an individual worth celebrating and it is even worse when one takes into account that his “discovery” which was really nothing of the sort, led to epidemics the wiped out the vast majority of the native populations of two continents. As I mentioned before, Columbus did not discover the American Continents. He the Vikings were here centuries earlier and the Indians were here long before them. Furthermore Columbus refused to acknowledge that he had not made his way to Asia, and for that reason called the people he enslaved and murdered Indians.
A few years back, a rather religious and conservative gentleman insisted on celebrating Columbus, because of the sincerity of his Christian faith and dedication to its spread. While I have to question how one can accurately judge the sincerity of the convictions of a man who lived centuries ago, the sentiment shown here tells me much of what I need to know about his brand of Christianity. He did not care that Columbus was a murderer and enslave nor did he find such brutality in contradiction to the Christian faith. Apparently Columbus did not either, and the whole story reflects the degree to which Christianity was spread through violence rather than through its own merits.
While I have rather strong opinions about Columbus and the holiday associated with him, in practice, like so many other holidays, it often goes by without my notice. Perhaps in a way, it is not all that important and I could use be using today’s post discuss some other, more pressing matter, but I believe that cultural values and the mythology built around them have a great influence on a society and that often tearing down the more problematic pieces of mythology is a great place for change and dialogue to start.