Why Columbus Day Should Not Be Celebrated as National Holiday
Christopher Columbus is synonymous with discovery, innovation and exploration.
People tend to think of these things because that is how his history and the European discovery of this continent has been shared with us. However, along with these terms also comes other ideas or words that are synonymous with Columbus, those being genocide, slave trafficking, plunder and inhibiting native progress by destroying their entire society. These actions and concepts were carried out by Columbus and his men, and left an entire race of people to be slaughtered and muddled until there was no trace of them on their own indigenous land. Due to these serious and irreversible offenses, it is our standing as a collective unit that Columbus Day not be celebrated as a national holiday. A holiday that is rooted in the destruction of an entire civilization for the colonial growth and economic gain of a different civilization is not something that should be honored or celebrated in any capacity.
Upon reaching land, Columbus and his men almost immediately came into contact with the indigenous people of those lands. These people that they came across they called Indians, and the soldiers and Columbus were instantaneously amazed by their hospitality and the gracious manner with which they were treated. Columbus immediately saw this as a sign of weakness as is seen in his correspondence with their Majesties, the Indians “…are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone…” (Zinn 5). Columbus continued this by then asking for more help and in return promised them an endless supply of slaves and gold. With this, Columbus began a campaign that lasted well beyond him, that culminated in an entire people disappearing from their home-land as he and future visitors enslaved these Indians, and also proceeded to take their land, steal their gold and did it all under the thin veil of attempting to convert them to Christianity. Their material goods and land were not the only things stolen from them though,
as their culture and way of life was also abducted. The Indians lived a way of life where women were completely independent and afforded the same privileges and standards that men were. This completely changed under the rule of the Spaniards and it was common for these women to be raped and enslaved. This shows that it wasn’t enough for these European men to come and steal everything that these people had ever owned, but they destroyed their culture and their way of life. This all leads to what would become the eventual genocide of these people.
Columbus was a faithful man and courageous to sail unknown waters but was also a man that was governed by greed and guilty of genocide. After Columbus returned from his first voyage he was greeted in Spain as a hero would be, celebrated for “discovering” new land. In his voyage log he describes the indigenous people as generous, peaceful people he also noted their ignorance to their weapons. Columbus saw this as an opportunity to take advantage of them, I believe from the first time he set foot on the island and saw gold his intentions were to make them slaves and take their gold. Upon meeting them Columbus wrote in his log “They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them.” (Columbus 119). This thought of making them slaves became a reality and is a contributor to the genocide. Upon arriving in Haiti Columbus and his men took into captivity natives and made them slaves to work the land looking for gold. Of the 250,000 indigenous people on the island half were dead within two years (Zinn 7). The indigenous people were being worked to extremes, they were dying out in the fields and mines brutally killed and mutilated by soldiers for not finding gold. Others were killing themselves and their children with poison out of desperation. Greed is what drove Columbus to obliterate an entire human race not just by weapons or overworking them but also by trafficking them.
During his voyages, Columbus began trafficking slaves. On his first voyage he
found Indians that greeted him and were very giving which he used towards his advantage. A first mention of the beginning of his slave trafficking is when he turned to his sponsors and in return for their help of his second voyage he offered, “As much gold as they would want and as much cotton, spice, and slaves as they would command” (Columbus 109). In his writing dated Wednesday, 26 December 1492, he wrote, “I am sure that I can subjugate the entire island with the men that I have in my company” (Columbus 130). Based on his offerings his second voyage was granted and the main purpose of this second voyage was to obtain as much gold and slaves. At every island they landed, Columbus and his crew began taking Indians as slaves. Columbus made most of his earnings through slavery. The women and children that were taken were being sold for “sex and labor” (Zinn 6). The Indians were being rounded up by the thousands and only the “best” were selected to send back to the Spaniards. During their trip back, most of the Indians would die and the remaining slaves were being sold as soon as they arrived. The slaves were then put to work in encomiendas where most would ultimately die. As the indians would perish, they would begin replacing them with black slaves. Columbus made most of his riches through slavery and is responsible for slave trading in America.
Due to all of the points outlined above, we are not able to appreciate or advocate for a holiday that while not known for these horrible and inhumane actions, represents them just as much as it does the positive points. It is a horrible reminder of what the ambition of man is capable of and it continues to haunt a people that to this day have had their population severely diminished and their land stolen from the same people that celebrate this holiday.