Christopher Columbus is one of the greatest navigators in history. He is given a revered position in all cultures. He was long held to be the first European to lay his foot on American soil. It is no wonder then that second Monday in the month of October is celebrated as Columbus Day all across America. In schools children are taught that Columbus was a hero. But quite contrary to the teaching the man was a cruel murderer. It is true that America was exposed to the so-called civilised world by Christopher and his men, but he also inflicted slavery, warfare and inhumane acts that destroyed the native people of America. These are some actions that go unmentioned at most times while delineating the true character of Christopher Columbus.
Throughout his voyages, Columbus was never respectful of the natives he encountered. When he landed in America, he saw many unclothed men and termed them as “Indians”. On viewing their nakedness he thought they lacked customs, culture and religion. So, Columbus got on with his task of preaching Christianity as well as thought of new ways to exploit these natives. They were easy to conquer and lacked any idea of trade. So he thought of enslaving them. Columbus’s arrogance is portrayed in some letters he wrote to his friends. He wrote about finding many islands that were filled with innumerable people who were his. He never thought that the lands were not his nor did the people who inhabit them. He took over the lands and renamed them, to let everyone known of his conquest. He returned back to Spain with many new items including some kidnapped Indians. This was just the beginning of his cruel acts.
Columbus’ true feats of exploitation and slavery began on his second voyage to America. Columbus exposed the order by Isabella and Ferdinand which stated that the natives should be treated kindly. In 1494 Columbus began exporting large numbers of slaves from America. He started exporting slaves as there was not much profit elsewhere on the islands. But there was abundance of people and that served as his mode of income. When this news reached the crown of Spain they did not want any more slaves to be sent, but Columbus ignored it. Thousands of Indians began to be exported and by the time they reached Spain usually a third of them were dead. One of Columbus’ fellow explorer commented that they did not require any compass to travel to and fro from Spain to America, they had to simply follow the floating dead bodies of the Indians who were tossed overboard when they died. Exportation of natives caused thousands of deaths. And all this was for Columbus’ craving for glory.
Indians who were not exported worked as slaves on the islands. Columbus let his fellow settlers decide on the Indians they wanted as slaves. According to an account by Fernandez Armesto “ach settler had slaves to work for them, dogs to hunt and beautiful women to warm their beds.” The degradation of natives did not bother Columbus or his mates in any way as this was seen as rights for superiors. Enslavement was not the only hardship that native Indians had to put up with. In one of the incidents Columbus got news that Indians were planning to attack his men who had been sent in search of gold to the hills. Immediately Columbus sent four hundred soldiers to massacre the Indians. He felt that the Christians could do no wrong, thus when reports came of Spaniards terrorizing the Indians and stealing their food, Columbus promptly punished the victims.
There were other atrocities committed by Christopher Columbus and his men. Michele de Cuneo, a Spanish who was travelling with Columbus reported that one day they came upon a canoe which was carrying some Indians. Spanish attacked the canoe and they thought all the Indians had been killed, but one survived and was swimming away. Soldiers caught the Indian and cut his head with an axe. Cuneo also records the rape of a woman which received the blessings of Columbus. Columbus believed he had the right to capture women and then pass them on to his men and Spanish soldiers enjoyed the women without their consent.
Columbus and his men committed many other horrific activities in the name of subduing the enemy. Once they made an example out of an Indian by cutting his hands and tying them around his neck and let him go to spread the news.
These acts are not that of a hero they are inhumane and cast a glance upon a hidden side of Columbus’ character.