Ah, Columbus Day. That special time of year when you get a day off from school and you’re told a lengthy tale about one brave man who discovered America by sailing from Europe on ships named the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. After all, in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue!
Well, it’s not as simple as that. Our elementary school teachers failed to mention a few rather important details about good ol’ Christopher Columbus that I thought I’d bring up today:
- He didn’t actually discover America
First and foremost, the feat that made Columbus’s name so deeply buried in our heads was false. He never set foot on the mainland United States, but rather journeyed to the Americas: Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. In addition, he didn’t “discover” anything, considering the fact that there were hundreds upon thousands of individuals that were already living in the areas he conquered.
2. He was a liar
In order to receive more funding from the King and Queen of Spain, Columbus had to fib about the amount of gold present in the Caribbean. In response, the monarchy sent loads of ships to Columbus to collect all his promised gold. Since there actually wasn’t that much gold there, he rounded up hundreds of natives to send back to Spain as slaves, many of whom died on the voyage. On his first journey to “Asia,” he also took credit for being the first to spot land and received a generous monetary bonus because of it (even though this was false).
3. He enslaved natives
Oh yeah, that. A particular tribe called the Arawaks, residing in the Bahamas, was documented by Columbus as friendly but he forced them into slavery to get their gold. If they resisted or didn’t work hard enough, Columbus would cut their hands off or kill them. He also sent native Caribbean people into slavery in Spain. Native populations were decimated by Columbus and by the Europeans he brought to help plunder the islands’ gold through torture, overworking, disease, famine, or even suicide. The Arawak population was eliminated by 1650, and other tribes suffered similar fates, as Columbus was a pioneer in American native exploitation and deaths.
Still glad we get a day off to celebrate him? Recently, Indigenous Peoples Day has slowly started to take the place of Columbus Day. Hopefully our children will be taught about the multitude of native people and tribes upon whom Columbus wreaked havoc as opposed to his heroic adventures and “discoveries.”