Monday, October 11, 2010

"Celebrating" Columbus Day

So, some of us (myself included) have the day off on Monday to celebrate Christopher Columbus. I remember when I was young, we were told by school teachers that Columbus discovered the new world, lived in peace with the natives (so...if people were already here, how was it a discovery? I asked too many questions, even at a young age), and was a great hero. We spent the day making weird arts and crafts to honor him, sometimes watched some videos, and in general, got to basically get a day off from doing any real school work, on top of the day we usually got off for Columbus Day, anyway. We thought it was pretty sweet - less work for us. Though I was terrible with art stuff (still am), so maybe that wasn't that great. I digress.

As I got older, I started reading more, and found myself not really all that crazy about that Columbus cat. At some point, I realized we were basically celebrating the beginning of the genocide of the American Indian.And somewhere along the way, I found Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. Zinn wrote one of the most powerful chapters in a history book I ever read, regarding what actually happened with Columbus. A few years later, I got to even befriend the late, great, historian (he passed away this year). So, on this Columbus Day, I want to give you Howard's words on Columbus.

Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island's beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log:
They ... brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned... . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features.... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane... . They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.
These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.

(Click here to read the rest)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

but come on, "in 14 hundred 92, columbus despoiled and raped the western hemisphere" just doesn't sound very catchy. and if preserving children's doggerel isn't a good justification for public policy, i just don't know what is.