Way back in 1492, a guy who yearned for the title “Great Admiral of the Ocean” set sail with a group of people and three ships after having math issues and incorrectly figuring the circumference of the Earth. He got lost, ended up somewhere he didn’t plan to go, was personally responsible for the deaths of millions of Native Americans in the first 15 years of his colonization of the Caribbean and was the founder of the practice of slavery in the Americas.
So we gave him a holiday with his name on it.
Christopher Columbus, from what I’ve read about him, was a money-hungry tyrannical jerk who died still thinking he had found been running around Asia.
It took him about seven years to talk someone into his proposal, which was to equip three ships and take a year’s time to sail out into the Atlantic, search for a western route to the Orient and return. He requested the “Great Admiral” title, and also asked to be appointed governor of any and all lands he discovered. He wanted a tenth of all revenue from those lands.
Not exactly a humble chap, was he?
In 1492, after two years of negotiation, Chris was fronted the dough. Queen Isabella had turned him down again, and he was riding away on his mule, all dejected and sad, when King Ferdinand decided to pony up the cash.
After rounding up the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, he set sail in early August. He landed somewhere in the Bahamas on Oct. 12. The people he encountered there he described as peaceful and friendly.
So he decided to make them into slaves.
Chris managed to annoy the heck out of everyone he met in the new lands he discovered, mostly because he kept enslaving or killing them.
He headed to Cuba, managed to crash and wreck the Santa Maria on Christmas Day, kidnapped a bunch of people from Haiti and arrived back in Spain in March 1493.
This little tidbit comes from Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt, but it is interesting:
“There is increasing modern scientific evidence that this voyage also brought syphilis back from the New World. Many of the crew members who served on this voyage later joined the army of King Charles VIII in his invasion of Italy in 1495 resulting in the spreading of the disease across Europe and as many as 5 million deaths.”
So we gave him his own day.
On a different voyage to Hispaniola in 1494, the native Taino people of the island were systematically enslaved and murdered by Chris and his cohorts.
Again, from Wikipedia, with reference from "9.11 – Columbus’ History of Genocide” by Ward Churchill:
“Hundreds were rounded up and shipped to Europe to be sold, but many died en route. For the rest of the population, Columbus demanded that all Taino under his control should bring the Spaniards gold. Those who didn’t were to have their hands cut off. Since there was, in fact, little gold to be had, the Taino fled, and the Spaniards hunted them down and killed them. The Taino tried to mount a resistance, but the Spanish weaponry was superior, and European diseases ravaged their population. In despair, the Taino engaged in mass suicide, even killing their own children to save them from the Spaniards. Within two years, half of what may have been 250,000 Taino were dead. The remainder were taken as slaves and set to work on plantations, where the mortality rate was very high. By 1550, 60 years after Columbus landed, only a few hundred Taino were left on their island. In another hundred years, perhaps only a handful remained.”
Just so you’re aware, Mr. Churchill compared Columbus to Adolph Hitler, effectively invoking Godwin’s Law (see Dirty Laundry post from Aug. 24)
During another voyage, Columbus had some of his crew hanged for disobeying him. A number of returning settlers and sailors lobbied against Columbus at the Spanish court, accusing him and his brothers of gross mismanagement. On his return he was arrested for a period for being a jerk, but the king was busy and let him and his brothers go after agreeing to fund a fourth voyage.
This time, our hero got himself and his crew stranded on Jamaica for a year. Strangely enough, he got the natives to feed and help his crew and himself by correctly predicting a lunar eclipse for Feb. 29, 1504 using the ephemeris of the German astronomer Regiomontanus. Apparently his math skills improved.
Note: An ephemeris (plural: ephemerides; from the Greek word ?φ?μερος ephemeros "daily") is a table of values that gives the positions of astronomical objects in the sky at a given time or times.
I remember reading years ago that Columbus’ death was thought to be the results of poison, and that Queen Isabella and her posse were the likely suspects. But then I found this little tidbit:
“According to a study, published in February 2007, by Antonio Rodriguez Cuartero, Department of Internal Medicine of the University of Granada, he died of a heart attack caused by Reiter’s Syndrome (also called reactive arthritis). According to his per-sonal diaries and notes by contemporaries, the symptoms of this illness (burning pain during urination, pain and swelling of the knees, and conjunctivitis) were clearly evident in his last three years.”
So there you have it. An abridged tale of mayhem and murder, greed and bullying, all of which we celebrate on the second Monday in October each year with white sales and recitings of the poem about 1492 that many claim to have written.
American anthropologist Jack Weatherford criticized that the Americans celebrate the greatest waves of genocide of the Indians known in history each year on Columbus Day.
"Columbus’ voyage has even less meaning for North Americans than for South Americans because Columbus never set foot on our continent, nor did he open it to European trade" he said.
In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.
He sailed by night; he sailed by day;
He used the stars to find his way.
A compass also helped him know
How to find the way to go.
Ninety sailors were on board;
Some men worked while others snored.
Then the workers went to sleep;
And others watched the ocean deep.
Day after day they looked for land;
They dreamed of trees and rocks and sand.
October 12 their dream came true,
You never saw a happier crew!
“Indians! Indians!” Columbus cried;
His heart was filled with joyful pride.
But “India” the land was not;
It was the Bahamas, and it was hot.
The Arakawa natives were very nice;
They gave the sailors food and spice.
Columbus sailed on to find some gold
To bring back home, as he’d been told.
He made the trip again and again,
Trading gold to bring to Spain.
The first American? No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.