Monday, October 11, 2004

It's Columbus Day and since Columbus may be in an American History class test I have tomorrow, I'll let you know what I learned about him and his explorations in the "New World", ie. that of the Arawaks and other native tribes.

Columbus was like other educated men of his time - he knew the world was round. He just didn't know there was any land between Europe and the Far East. Columbus sold Spain on the idea of untold wealth being returned from his voyages and they bought into it. Columbus figured on getting unbelievably wealthy himself, since he was promised 10% of the profits, governorship over new-found lands and fame.

First note of Columbus' way of doing things was that on October 12, 1492, a sailor named Rodrigo saw land. The first to sight land was supposed to get a annual pension of 10,000 maravedis for life. Guess who got it? Not Rodrigo - Columbus claimed he had spotted it the night before...

They met the Arawaks who swam out to greet the ships. The Arawaks had an agricultural society, with no work animals. They had no iron, but wore tiny gold earrings. Some of the greeters were taken captive because Columbus wanted to know the source of the gold. Even when it was shown to be bits of gold in streams and rivers, he didn't believe that there weren't vast gold fields.

Cuba and Hispanola were used as forts, with instructions to find and store the gold.

Columbus' reports to the Spanish were part fact, part fiction. He claimed there were spices, gold and as many slaves as they would ask for. To get the gold, he demanded that every person 14 years or older had to collect a certain quantity of gold. If they didn't they lost their hands - and, in most cases, bled to death. In two years over half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.

A Spanish priest named Bartolome de las Casas transcribed Columbus' journals and described the Indians that were on the islands and the total cruelty shown to the "mild and pacific" natives by the Spainards.He stated that over three million people had died from war, slavery and the mines.

Columbus was driven by three Gs - Gold, Glory and God. God was last on the list, but used to justify most of the enslaving of the natives on the islands where Columbus landed. Europe was torn by war, disease, poverty and famine. Those things drove men like Columbus to the seas to find ways to other lands, to escape their tortured lives. They unwittingly adapted the traits of those they escaped and inflicted the tortures on those they found in that "New World". And that's still somewhat the case, when the US goes to give "democracy" to other countries - it takes away a life they know and trust, despite what our leaders think.

The information about Columbus is found in Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States 1492 -- Present"

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