Columbus Day – Celebration of Myth, Torture and Genocide

First Landing of Columbus on the Shores of the New World; painting by Dióscoro Puebla (1862)

America has many great days to celebrate but Columbus was not the first discoverer and his arrival started the torture,slavery and genocide of many nations.

While historians are in agreement that the voyages of Columbus increased the awareness of the continent of America in Europe, the idea of celebrating his discovery with Columbus Day holiday activities can only be greatly offensive to the original peoples of the islands and American mainland.

Although the first recorded Columbus Day had been celebrated in 1792, it was by an urging of President Benjamin Harrison on the 400th anniversary in 1892 that the official day was recognized.

What did Columbus Discover?

In fact, the idea of selecting Christopher Columbus for the honor of a named day in North America is most curious as the chronicles of his voyages show that he never even set foot here. It is also a strange choice as it seems that he was convinced the whole time that he was in Asia.

As stated by anthropologist Jack Weatherford in a 2000 article called “The Truth About Columbus”: “After three voyages to America and more than a decade of study, Columbus still believed that Cuba was a part of the continent of Asia, South America was only an island, and the coast of Central America was close to the Ganges River.”

The Voyages of Columbus

The four voyages of Columbus took him across from Spain to the Caribbean. The first voyages were mostly in the islands around the Bahamas; Cuba; Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and Puerto Rico. The third voyage arrived at the Caribbean at the south coast of Tobago and in doing so, the crew were probably the first Europeans to set eyes on South America.

The fourth voyage took the fleet through the Caribbean islands to Central America where he sailed down the coast to Panama before returning back to Spain.

The Purposes of the Voyages

The main aim of the first and last voyages was to find a way west from Europe to Asia to set up a trade route. However his failure to reach China; India or Japan caused Columbus to try to justify his voyages firstly by a promise of vast quantities of gold and then, when that could not be found, by slavery.

The fourth voyage was specifically to find the link to the Indian Ocean which Marco Polo had found before him – although it was the Strait of Malacca he was expecting to find which is in Singapore not South America.

Columbus the Tyrant

Consuelo Varela, a historian in Seville, studied statements from 23 witnesses that described the torture handed out by Columbus. The records include punishment for minor crimes including the cutting off of ears, nose and a tongue. Even though Columbus was devoutly religious, he avoided baptizing natives so that he could take them into slavery, (the enslaving of Christians was forbidden by the church).

Columbus was forcibly taken back to Spain in shackles because even his friends thought he was barbaric.

A Disastrous Day for Haiti and Puerto Rico

The day Columbus arrived in Hispaniola was the beginning of the end of the native Taino Indians (including the Haitians, Puerto Ricans, Cubans etc). As he had not been able to steal much gold from the surrounding islands, Columbus took as many people as he could and crammed them into his ships to be taken back as slaves.

Hundreds died on the journey and were simply tossed into the sea. In the following years the Taino were enslaved and killed and almost brought to extinction, (the census from the times appears to re-classify the few remaining Taino as ‘coloured’.) This was the start of the massive trade in slaves that was to continue for hundreds of years.

The Europeans That Followed Columbus

Even the idea of celebrating the awareness that Columbus brought of America to Europe is likely an anathema to Native Americans. The arrival of the Europeans brought nothing but death from disease and the forced removal from their way of life.

That is not to mention the tragic consequences for the nations in South America brought upon them by the Spanish.

A Day to Celebrate

To let Jack Weatherford sum up the absurdity of Columbus Day:

“The United States honors only two men with federal holidays bearing their names. In January we commemorate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., who struggled to lift the blinders of racial prejudice and to cut the remaining bonds of slavery in America. In October, we honor Christopher Columbus, who opened the Atlantic slave trade and launched one of the greatest waves of genocide known in history.”