In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
Throughout the years his legend grew; too bad the BS isn’t true.
Columbus Day is a designated holiday in many parts of the world, intended to celebrate the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s so-called “discovery” of the Americas. Though the voyage had been informally recognized for years, it wasn’t until 1906 that it became an official state holiday in Colorado, and by 1937, a federal holiday in the United States. In the period between 1917 and 1928, many Latin American countries also began observing the holiday under a different name— Día de la Raza.
While the significance of this holiday is lost on some, for years, groups have stood in fierce opposition of remembering a man whose evil is readily ignored in exchange for an extra day off every year.
Christopher Columbus, as framed by U.S. history textbooks, is the Italian-born explorer that “discovered the New World” (aka America). Having originally set sail on a Spain-sponsored trip with a crew of close to 90 aboard three vessels we undoubtedly all know by name, the expert navigator believed himself to be en-route to India. The day we celebrate as his biggest accomplishment was in reality the result of folly and misdirection. In 1492, not only was Columbus entirely unaware he hadn’t actually ended up where he intended, his ships also shored up on what is today the Bahamas archipelago—nowhere near the continental mass of the Americas he is so widely believed to have stumbled upon. In subsequent trips, he made it to present-day Cuba and the island of Hispaniola. Still oblivious, still wrong.
If terrible navigation skills were all the guy had going against him, there may still be grounds to contest his having his own holiday, but surely not with the emotion and fervor with which it’s done today. Unfortunately, Christopher Columbus did a lot more than mistakenly land on Caribbean soil and ignorantly label the indigenous people “Indians.”
There are no positives in his real contributions to history, which lie in the atrocity of a seemingly endless list of crimes committed by him and his men against the longstanding inhabitants of the lands he “discovered”—torture, rape, pillaging, enslavement, abduction, dismemberment, and murder. Even the natives who escaped capture were eventually worn down by European illness and disease, for which they had no prior exposure or resistance.
Population estimates for the indigenous people living on the lands where Columbus staked his claim fluctuate between 3 and 8.5 million. In any case, these numbers are believed to have been reduced to slightly over 100,000 in less than 20 years. The march towards extinction so accelerated, an entire civilization ceased to exist by 1550.
And it doesn’t stop there. The ripple effects of Columbus’s actions continue through history for hundreds of years. In enslaving natives and shipping them to Europe, he laid the very foundation for the transatlantic slave trade. Having destroyed the great majority of the populations living on the islands, it wasn’t long before Africa became the new source for enslaved labor.
For many people of color, especially Native Americans, Columbus Day is a yearly reminder of the nightmares inflicted on the indigenous people. It’s a commemoration of exploitation, torture, and needless death; a celebration of the anniversary of the beginning of the end.
Many have suggested, as a way to stop the annual reopening of deep-seated wounds, that Columbus Day be replaced with Native American or Indigenous People’s Day—a holiday to promote Native American culture and history.
A brief timeline of Columbus’s crimes against humanity via Daily Kos.
Watch Benjamin Bratt recount the horrors suffered by the indigenous people, as witnessed and chronicled by historian Bartolome de las Casas.
Rallies, protests, and counter-celebrations are happening all over the country this weekend. Listed below are a few we’ve found:
If you aren’t near any of these cities, try searching “Anti-Columbus,” “Indigenous People’s Day” or other related keywords for events happening in your area.
An estimated 600 women served during the American Civil War. They had signed up disguised as men. Hollywood has missed a significant chapter of cultural history here - or is this history ideologically too difficult to deal with? Historians have often struggled to deal with women who do not respect gender distinctions, and nowhere is that distinction more sharply drawn than in the question of armed combat. (Even today, it can cause controversy having a woman on a typical Swedish moose hunt.)
But from antiquity to modern times, there are many stories of female warriors, of Amazons. The best known find their way into the history books as warrior queens, rulers as well as leaders. They have been forced to act as any Churchill, Stalin, or Roosevelt; Semiramis from Nineveh, who shaped the Assyrian Empire, and Boudicca, who led one of the bloodiest English revolts against the Roman forces of occupation, to cite just two. Boudicca is honoured with a statue on the Thames at Westminster Bridge, opposite Big Ben. Be sure to say hello to her if you happen to pass by.
On the other hand, history is reticent about women who were common soldiers, who bore arms, belonged to regiments, and took part in battles on the same terms as men, though hardly a war has been waged without women soldiers in the ranks.