Growing up in rural western Kentucky, I never thought much about Columbus Day. It just wasn’t a big deal for me, nor was it for a lot of my classmates; we never got the day off anyhow. I remember the stories of course: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” and all that jazz. We learned of how Columbus proved the whole world wrong by discovering that the world was, in fact, not flat and that there was a “New World” full of people that no one had any idea even existed. Columbus was a great hero worthy of praise and admiration.
Of course, it was all nonsense. Every last word of it was and still is little more than propaganda. Columbus didn’t think the Earth was flat – no one did. Columbus and literally everyone with an education in Europe at the time knew the Earth was round. The Greeks had proved it nearly 2,000 years before Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World, which of course, he didn’t actually discover. Native Americans had been living in the New World for 14,000 years. Leif Erickson, a Scandinavian explorer, landed in what is now Canada 500 years before Columbus stumbled his way into the New World – and even today, we keep finding more evidence that contact between the New World and the Old might have happened even before that.
But, of course, the most odious lie told to American children is that Columbus was some kind of hero, a saint, even! But Columbus was no saint. Columbus was a monster of a man who engaged in the slaughter, rape and enslavement of Native Americans. Upon Columbus’ second trip to Haiti in 1493, he demanded that the Native Americans living there (who had previously helped the explorer just a year before in making repairs to his ship) give he and his men gold, food and to allow them to have sex with female Native Americans, according to James W. Loewen, author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me.” When the Native Americans refused, their ears and noses were chopped off and they were sent back to his or her village – as examples.
The use of rape as a weapon by the Spanish was not as infrequent as historical revisionists might have you believe. Girls as young as nine and ten years old were forced into sexual slavery by the Spanish and abused at will by their conquerors. Writing to a friend in 1500, Columbus remarked, “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”
Native Americans were enslaved by Columbus and his cohorts not only for sexual purposes, but also for the mining of gold. A tribute system was set up, according to Howard Zinn, author of “A People’s History of the United States,” which required Native Americans to bring the Spanish authorities a set amount of gold; upon turning over the gold, the Natives would be given a medal to wear around their neck as a symbol of being “paid up” and not having to contribute more gold for a little while longer. Those who did not pay up had their hands chopped off. Instead of wearing the medal around their neck, these Native Americans would then be forced to wear their severed hands around their necks.
I have not shied away from the graphic nature of Columbus’ crimes here because they need no further whitewashing, by me or by anyone else. The fact that this man is revered and honored with a federal holiday is disgusting. Real American heroes like Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. – these are folks who deserve to have federal holidays named after them. And they do, and those are holidays worth celebrating. Columbus is not a hero. He was a sadistic, brutal dictator who engaged in the mass murder, rape and robbery of Native Americans. He does not deserve our respect or admiration.
It’s high time we took Columbus Day off the calendar.
Column by Devin Griggs, Opinion Editor