Oct 12, 2016

October 12: Christopher Columbus: Not the first European to reach America (but instead the first mass murderer)

On October 12th, 1492, 3 ships (Nina, Pinta, & Santa Maria) led by Christopher Columbus pulled ashore on the Caribbean island of what is now called Santo Domingo. Not the first European explorer to reach the Americas, but Columbus' voyages were the first lasting European influence with the Americas, leading to an extended period of European conquest, colonization, terror and genocide that has had a lasting impact for centuries.
      The first recorded European explorer (whose name know) to reach the Americas was Viking explorer Leif  'The Lucky' Erikson 500 years before Columbus. Referenced in the Icelandic historical book Íslendingabók (c. 1122 A.D.) Eirkson reached the northern tip of Vinland (what he named the land now called Newfoundland in Canada, due to all the grapevines there) and was surprised to find 2 shipwrecked European sailors standing ashore (making these two men, whose names were not recorded, the first known Europeans to discover America).
      Half a millennia later Spain funded a voyage led by Columbus to find a new route to Asia.
On the early morning of the 12th of October one of Columbus' sailor's (a man named Rodrigo) cried out that he could see land by the moon's reflection. The first crewmen to spot land would be rewarded 100,000 Maravedís (about $15,000) a year for life. But Rodrigo never saw the money, as Columbus later claimed to see the coastline the day before and took the prize money for himself. In Columbus' logbook he remarked on the first natives he met, the Arawaks, speaking to their generosity and hospitality. And then he took them as slaves.  Columbus surveyed the Caribbean islands, collecting gold and slaves, killing anyone in his way, and headed back to Spain to report his findings.
      The timber from the Santa Maria was used to make the first European military fort in the Americas, which he named Navidad (Christmas), and in his absence he left a brigade of men to find more gold until his return.  In his logbook Columbus wrote about the natives "With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want." But Columbus did not take his own advice and only left 39 men at the Christmas fort. Upon his return Columbus found all his men dead; after the men began taking native women and children for sex slaves the Arawaks killed them all.
     But this time Columbus was prepared. On the promise of "As much gold as they want" and "as many slaves as they need" Columbus was given 17 ships and over 1200 men to enslave the Arawaks and strip their lands of resources. The only issue was that Columbus knowingly over exaggerated the amount of gold he figured was there. The solution to fulfilling his promise would become a living nightmare of unending horrors for the native people of the Caribbean. Columbus first sent hundreds of slaves back to Europe, noting "Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold." but too many died en route so the name of the game now was to enslave them all and force them to collect gold from their native lands. Columbus told his benefactors of fields of gold, but the natives knew the only gold to be found was dust in streams.  Any native who could not produce a certain quantity every 3 months was killed by hanging, set on fire, or had their hands chopped off causing death by exsanguination. In a desperate situation, the Arawaks fled but were chased down by dogs and killed. What followed next were mass suicides by the natives in a desperate attempt to escape the brutality. Children and babies were killed as a compassionate measure to spare them the torture handed down by Columbus' men.
In just two years, of the original 250,000 natives, half of were dead. The rest were forced to work on estates in horrific conditions, and by 1515 there were only 50,000 left. A report from 1650 showed no natives left, the entire Arawak race erased by brutal genocide.
 Columbus' voyage to the Americas is still recognized as an official holiday, on October 12th,  by the U.S. and Spanish governments.
Columbus Day, 1892, Salem Massachusetts 

Editor's Note: Unlike Columbus' actions of enslaving, raping, and killing the first people he met standing on the shoreline, The Viking Lief Erikson (who was also a Christian) rescued the men he met on the American shoreline; as well as rescuing a crew of castaways on the return voyage back to Iceland. Which is the reason he was given the nickname "Leif the Lucky".  I propose we replace Columbus Day with Lucky Leif Day, or even Shipwrecked Castaway Day would be a fine replacement.