Columbus Day?

The engraving above represents no kind of hyperbole. It depicts SOME of the atrocities committed by Spanish explorers on the indigenous people of the Caribbean as described by Bartolome de las Casas, including the mass murders and infanticide but omitting the femicide and rape considered too obscene for the eyes of polite society viewing elite Eurocentric art. As detailed by Michael Coard in his 2020 article for The Philadelphia Tribune:

The historically documented record is clear. Columbus is definitely one of the worst genocidal racists- if not absolutely the worst genocidal racist- in human history. When the Spanish king and queen ordered that he “abstain from doing… [the indigenous inhabitants] any injury,” he completely ignored that order. For example, he created in 1495 the “tribute system” requiring every person over 14 to provide him with a “hawk’s bell” of gold dust every three months. Those who complied were given a copper disk “token” to wear around their neck. Those who didn’t comply, as Columbus’ own son Fernando reported, were “punished by having their hands cut off” and “left to bleed to death.” About 10,000 in Haiti and the Dominican Republic were victimized in that manner.

And many of the indigenous people were- while alive- “roasted on spits [i.e., slender pointed rods]… and burn[ed]… at the stake…” and the invaders “hack[ed] the… children into pieces….” Also, Columbus’ men “tore the babes from their mother’s breast by their feet and dashed their heads against the rocks… They ‘splitted’ the bodies of other babes, together with their mothers… on their swords.”

As noted by Spanish historian and Catholic priest Bartolome de las Casas, who witnessed much of the carnage, Columbus, in order “to test the sharpness of their blades,” directed his men “to cut off the legs of children who ran from them.” His crew would “pour… people full of boiling soap” and cause others to be “eaten [alive by]… hunting dogs….” And if Columbus’ brigade ran out of meat for their vicious dogs, “Arawak babies were killed for dog food.”

A Columbus shipmate, Miguel Cuneo, wrote that “When our caravels… were to leave for Spain, we gathered… 1,600 male and female ‘Indians’… on February 17, 1495… [and] we let it be known… that… [any of the sailors] who wanted to take… them could do so….” Cuneo took a teenage “Caribbean girl as a gift from Columbus.” And when she “resisted…, [he] thrashed her mercilessly and raped her.”

Speaking of rape, it was noted by University of Vermont History Professor James Loewen that “As soon as the 1493 expedition got to the Caribbean…, Columbus was rewarding his lieutenants with native women to rape. On Haiti, sex slaves were one more prerequisite that… [they] enjoyed.” It included adult rape and child rape. As Columbus himself wrote in 1500, “… girls… from 9–10… are… in demand.” In one day, de las Casas saw Columbus’ soldiers “dismember, behead, or rape 3,000 natives.” As a result, de las Casas wrote, “My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that now I tremble as I write.”

Columbus’ wickedness was so efficient that when he arrived in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and other Caribbean islands in 1493, there were eight million Taino. That number, within a mere three years, was reduced to just three million. By the time he left in 1504, only about 100,000 remained alive. Throughout his four voyages, he murdered approximately eight million Red/Brown people, raped and tortured millions, robbed millions of acres of land, and obliterated ancient civilizations.

Columbus not only pioneered a new form of mass murder, he also pioneered a new form of slavery, which he transformed into a race-based and generational form of brutal labor. In fact, as documented by Loewen, “Columbus not only sent the first ‘slaves’ across the Atlantic, he probably sent more ‘slaves’- about five thousand- than any other individual.”

Columbus’ atrocities were so outrageous that Spanish Governor Francisco De Bodadilla- based on the testimony of 23 eyewitnesses- arrested him for inhuman and widespread crimes against the Taino/Arawak/Lucayan population and shipped him back to Spain in shackles. The evidence was so overwhelming that Columbus confessed and was convicted…

The history of Columbus’ ‘discovery’ of the Americas, as recorded by one of the priests with Columbus’ West Indies party in the Caribbean, reveals a horror story whereby the sailors and conquistadors manifested the Hell on Earth they believed were the just deserts of non-Caucasians and non-Christians. The Catholic sailors with Columbus’ expedition to ‘the New World’ were following venerable Biblical precedent, defining the elimination of infidel infants from other tribes, by invading Old Testament Hebrews:

“How blessed will be the one who grabs your babies and smashes them on a rock! (‎Psalm 137:9),” and “Whoever is caught will be stabbed, and whoever is captured will die by the sword. Their children will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted, and their wives raped.” (Isaiah 13:15–16. There is plenty more in that vein, which is meant to be prescriptive as to how to ‘cleanse’ non-believers of alien tribes and nations.)

Historical Imperialist Europe, Abrahamic purity strictures, and contemporary capitalism have SO much to answer for. Reparations could take a thousand years, and still never fully restore what was murdered along with the human victims — trust, love, camaraderie, hospitality traditions, entire cultures, entire civilizations…

This specious ‘holiday’ should be expunged from the record except as an example of infamy: “The only reason anyone would celebrate Columbus Day on October 12 (or any other day) is that person believes the genocide of Red/Brown people is a good thing or that person knows absolutely nothing about history and geography. A day celebrating Christopher Columbus (born Cristofor Colombo) is not only a day celebrating racist genocide. It’s also a day celebrating massive land robbery, barbaric slavery, child/adult serial rape, systemic torture, and cultural obliteration.” (Coard, 2020)

Precisely 528 years ago, Columbus arrived on the Bahamian island of what he referred to as San Salvador on October 12, 1492. By the way, he never set foot in America- so how then could he have discovered it? He couldn’t. And he didn’t. Well, why is he celebrated as the discoverer of America? Even better, why is he even celebrated at all?

Work cited:

Michael Coard, ‘Anyone celebrating Columbus Day is racist, ignorant, or both,’ The Philadelphia Tribune, Oct 12, 2020.

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Yvonne Owens, PhD

Yvonne Owens, PhD

I'm a writer/researcher/arts educator on Vancouver Island and all round global citizen who loves humans even though we're such a phenomenal pain-in-the-ass.