Recently, in class, we have been researching a man by the name of
Christopher Columbus. He was a very interesting character and, in turn, had
a very interesting life. In 1484, he had asked King John II of Portugal to
support his voyage to the west, but was refused. The next year, he went to
Spain to seek the aid of Queen Isabella and her husband, King Ferdinand.
Although they first rejected Columbus, they gave him a small sign that they
once may support his voyage, and he remained hopeful of convincing them. In
January 1492, after being rejected twice, Columbus obtained the support of
Ferdinand and Isabella. The favorable response came directly after the fall
of Granada, the last Moorish stronghold in Spain, which led Spanish
Christians to believe they were close to stopping the spread of Islam in
sothern Europe and beyond. Christian missionary zeal*, as well as the
desire to increase Spanish prominence in Europe over that of Portugal and
the desire for gold and conquest, were the main “driving forces” behind
Columbus’ historic voyage.
*Zeal: Enthusiastic devotion to a cause, ideal, or goal and tireless
diligence in its furtherance.
Many people jump to talk about how Columbus was a hero and an idle to
be looked upon in awe. But that is not how people should look at him. Yes,
he did do a great deal of heroic things, but there is much more that is
being hidden behind the face of guilt.
Columbus was a great navigator with exceptional seamanship, he was
extremely knowledgeable of the wind currents (how to get somewhere, and
even more importantly, how to get back). These wind currents were called
the Easterly and Westerly winds. Columbus knew of them only through years
of experience of sailing over the oceans. But this knowledge was not strong
enough to carry him to where he longed to travel for so many years of his
On August 3, 1492, the fleet of three ships-the Nina, the Pinta, and
the Santa Maria-set forth from Palos, on the Tinto River in southern Spain.
After spending close to a month in the Canary Islands, off the mainland of
northwest Africa, the ships continued west, across the Atlantic. According
to records of the voyage, weather remained fair throughout. The first
sighting of land came at sun rise on October 12, 1492. (Columbus claimed
that he himself, on the Nina, was the first to see land, later evidence
showed that the sighting was made from the Pinta.)
Columbus, thinking he was somewhere in the Indies (close to the
eastern coast of China), began naming the native people who lived there,
“Indians”. He also observed very closely their behavior. As he writes in
his journal, “are so nave and so free with their possessions that no one
who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask them for
something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to
share with anyone….” As well as reporting this to the “Majesties” he
reported that the “Indians” would make great slaves for they had no weapons
and when at the sight of a blade, ran their hang down it and started to
bleed (and they didn’t know why). Later on in the islands Columbus starts
getting extremely nasty with the native people. He orders them to gather
gold to earn a medallion around their necks; if anyone was caught without a
medallion, they would have their hangs cut off and would bleed to death.
Though the United States celebrates a “national holiday” in his honor
(on the Monday closest to October 12, the date of the first sight of land
in 1492), much more attention has been paid in the more recent years to the
Spanish explorers’ treatment of the Native American peoples, and the word
“discovery” has been replaced by “encounter” when used to describe
Columbus’ achievements in regard to “the Americas”. Columbus went to his
grave believing he had reached a whole other place (Cathay), and that he
was “a divine missionary, ordained by God to spread Christianity into the
New World”. In modern society, many have made Columbus out to be a villain
and a symbol for all that is *exploitative and *predatory about the
colonization of the Americas by Europe. It can not be argued, that the real
Columbus, falls somewhere in the middle.
*exploitative: An act or deed, especially a brilliant or heroic one.
*predatory: Living by or given to exploiting or destroying others for one’s
1. Dictionary.com (for the definitions)
2. A Peoples History of the United States (1492-Present), By Howard Zinn.