Why Everything You Know About Christopher Columbus Is A Lie
Emily Vrotsos | On 14, Oct 2013
“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” We all recited those pretty words through our first forays into history as elementary students. Nearly everyone has had a day off from school to celebrate the discovery of the Americas because if it weren’t for Christopher Columbus, we would not have this great country in which we live.
Unfortunately, this is just not the case. And so, on this Columbus Day 2013, we have some mythbusting, relearning, and reframing to do:
Columbus Day was declared a state holiday for the first time in Colorado in 1906, and declared a federal holiday for the first time in 1937. Customarily, it is recognized on the second Monday of every October. Sometimes it is observed (by banks and government entities, etc.), and other times it is not.
Christopher Columbus was not the first explorer to discover the Americas. In fact, he didn’t even land in North America. Columbus landed in the modern-day Bahamas, while Leif Ericson landed in Vinland (modern day Newfoundland) in the tenth century, nearly 500 years before Columbus even set sail. Still better, Ericson was inspired to search for this foreign land because of stories surrounding a Norse explorer named, Bjarni Herjolfsson, who had already caught a glimpse of modern-day Canada in 985 C.E. But still, here we are, glorifying the treacherous trip across unexplored ocean waters that these brave adventurers made to North America. Regrettably, this completely invalidates the lives of the people who were already living both in the North, South, and Central Americas hundreds of years before the first European explorer caught an accidental glimpse of the other half of the globe after their ship was blown off course.
Let’s be real. Historical evidence shows us that the native people who inhabited the Western Hemisphere arrived here and made substantial settlements nearly 14,000 years before Columbus thought to take a cruise across the Atlantic. Let’s not forget who the true natives are.
Upon arrival, Columbus was struck by the hospitality of the native people, known now as the Lucayan Natives. Not only that, he also noticed the large amounts of gold jewelry these people wore, and so he became obsessed with taking possession of all the gold this new region had to offer and conquering the people who inhabited it. Even though the Lucayan natives spent hours saving shipwrecked sailors as the Santa Monica floundered, Columbus saw this willingness to help as a way to take advantage and dismantle the people who had welcomed him to this new land.
Returning to Spain, Columbus brought along 25 Lucayan natives to serve as proof to the queen of the prosperity that awaited them in the New World. Of these, seven natives survived the voyage, and it is unknown if any of them were able to return to their homeland. Gold hungry, like Columbus, the queen of Spain put 17 ships, 1500 men, and countless European weapons under Columbus’ control to return to the Bahamas.
Once Columbus and his men arrived in the Bahamas a second time, he became a tyrant and rigid enforcer of rules that would garner the most gold and the most power from the Lucayans. Columbus demanded that his men be given food, gold, and sex with Lucayan women. If anyone refused, their ears and noses were cut off to serve as a reminder of who was in control. When the natives finally rebelled, Columbus used the rebellion as an opportunity to go to war, which the Europeans quickly won. Columbus returned to Spain with the intention of selling 500 captured Lucayans chained in the decks below as slaves, arriving home with only 300 voyage survivors. Even more natives were enslaved in the Bahamas by Columbus’ men who remained behind, and made sport of fleeing Lucayans by hunting them in the mountains and using their bodies as dog meat.
We have finally arrived at the tribute system part of Christopher Columbus history that most of us will recognize as a peaceful and organized exchange of gold and goods from the natives to Columbus. Well, our schools got one thing right, it certainly was organized. And by organized, I mean an organized system of oppression in which the Lucayans were required to surrender gold to Columbus, and if any of them refused or failed to do so, one of their hands would be cut off and they would be required to wear their severed hand around their neck.
All of this history still leaves out the sexual exploits (by which I mean using rape as psychological and biological warfare; terrorism didn’t pop out of nowhere on 9/11, people) of Columbus and his men. They began taking sex slaves, and Columbus journaled about the high demand for pre-pubescent girls. Not only were natives (men, women, and children) traumatized by the sexual exploitation, but they also fell ill due to smallpox and other unfamiliar diseases that effectively wiped out a previously thriving and self-sustaining population.
In the five decades following Columbus’ terrorization of the Lucayan people, it is suspected that at least three million natives lost their lives due to disease and starvation. Not only that, because of the sudden and overwhelming influx of gold from the New World into the European economic system, the frantic search for gold in Africa was suspended, and taking native Africans as slaves became the major form of capital, providing the foundation for future trade of African slaves. That’s right, the beloved Christopher Columbus helped lay the groundwork, however unintentional, for the trade that would not only split our country in two in the mid-18th century, but also ripped apart families, civilizations, and cultures that can never be recovered.
Here I sit, in a country built on the broken bodies and broken families of millions of native individuals. Their blood was spilled in the farm land where I grew up. And their tyrant is recognized, remembered, and celebrated, today, as we remember the father of all tyrant European explorers who took land for their country, gold for their greed, and people for their own pleasure.
This could end in a discussion of, “Aren’t you proud to be an American?” and my answer would be as follows: No. Not all the time, anyway. I won’t pledge allegiance to a flag that doesn’t recognize equality for everyone, and I sure as hell will not celebrate a tyrant who took a civilization and broke it apart. I will, instead, celebrate the civilization that we have here, today. I will do so by recognizing that even though my great-grandparents did not directly colonize North America when they came over from the old country in the early 1900s, they did participate in the perpetuation of imperialistic practices by effectively setting up shop in a land that had been forcefully vacated by the U.S. government, and whose native people were relocated to a reservation far away.
The U.S. is my home, I was born here, and my heart, lungs, and veins are full of the Midwest. But that also means that my body and my mind are filled with the history that was trodden on, the history that was forgotten, and the history that was recorded instead. In tribute, I will remember what really happened when Columbus crossed the ocean blue, and what happened still after others followed him. I will also recognize the actions that still take place to this day to contain the native power and presence that was in this land long before anyone else thought to look for it.
Written by Emily Vrotsos
Follow her musings on having a trans sibling, books she’s reading, and how she does feminism at Bend it. Break it. All of it. and her gardening and sustainability endeavors at The Outdoor Amateur. She also has fun on Twitter and is a little bit obsessed with Pinterest. She’d love to hear from you!