We all know that Columbus discovered America in 1492. When we were in school we used to read about the “Great Columbus who discovered America after a great adventure”. And we thought that “The Great Columbus was a man
who followed his heart and not what the others told him about the world being flat and so he would topple off the edge if he tried to find a way to India by going west”.
Such stories are good for schoolchildren who need to be told about the great values of life by giving them examples of great people. But as adults we should go beyond the “greatness” of “great” people and find the truth. I got to know some “not so great” truths about Columbus from a very interesting book: ” The Cartoon History of the Modern world”
by Larry Gonick. I have talked about the “cartoon history” and “cartoon guide” series byLarry Gonick in previous VERITAS articles. These are really interesting books.
In today’s VERITAS we will find what Columbus did after discovering America.
Christopher Columbus’s plan was to find a path to India from the west. He convinced Queen Isabella of Spain and set off on a voyage to find a route to India by going west. Columbus had underestimated the circumference of the earth and his shipmates became quite irritable after more than a month at sea. To boost their morale Columbus promised a
pension of 25000 gold coins a year to anyone who could sight land. At 2 AM on Oct 12 1492 Rodrigo de Triana sighted land. But he was denied any pension because Columbus told everyone that he had seen the land first and Rodrigo only confirmed it. Columbus and his people landed on an island which he named San Salvador. It is now a part of Bahamas. He called the natives “Indians” thinking that this island was a part of India.
But Columbus was not nice to the “Indians”. His men raped the women and killed anyone who tried to stop them. Columbus took a few native “Indians” as a gift for Queen Isabella. Most of them died on the way back but a few survived. Columbus did not just bring people from the new lands. He and his men also brought a dreaded disease: Syphilis. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease and was previously unknown in Europe. The first outbreak in Europe in 1494 killed 5 million people. But that is another story. Columbus told the queen about the islands and the fact
that they were very rich in gold and that Spain should colonize them. This was actually not true. Columbus had never seen gold in the islands. But the Queen was convinced. So she sent 17 ships and 1200 men with Columbus to colonize the islands.
This time Columbus discovered several new Islands including Cuba and Jamaica. He founded a new settlement in a place that is now known as the Dominican Republic. Columbus was a cruel man. He killed a lot of native people. He told the natives that if they did not bring gold their hands would be cut off. Columbus should have realized that there is no gold on those islands. So he chopped off people’s hands and killed them. In two years more than 100,000 natives were killed and the rest were enslaved to work in Spanish plantations.
Columbus returned to Spain and in 1498 began his third voyage to the new world. He had left a lot of Spanish people on the new Islands to manage the settlements during his second voyage. But when he returned during the third trip he found that the Spanish settlers were unhappy and frustrated: they had not found any gold! So Columbus had to deal with rebellious settlers. He hanged some of them but some returned to Spain and complained to the Queen about Columbus, his ways and the lack of gold on the islands! So when Columbus returned to Spain he was arrested. The Queen appointed a new governor in the Spanish island of Hispaniola( now Dominican Republic).
But Columbus got out of jail and set off on another voyage to the new world- this time he wanted to reach the Malacca Strait. Now, Malacca Strait is in the Indian Ocean. So Columbus was still thinking that he had reached close to India. This time he reached central America and spent two months exploring that area. Their ship got damaged during a storm
and Columbus and his men got stranded on Jamaica. They asked for help from the neighboring Spanish colony of Hispaniola by sending a message through some natives on a canoe but the governor of Hispaniola disliked Columbus so much that he ignored any messages for help. Columbus and his men stayed on the island for more than a year completely dependent on the natives for food and shelter. But the natives were getting impatient- they did not want to feed so many hungry mouths. So Columbus thought of an idea- he told the natives that he had supernatural powers
by predicting that the moon will “turn off” on a particular hour on a particular day. Columbus had used the almanac to predict a lunar eclipse! The natives were no doubt impressed and continued serving Columbus. After 18 months on the Island help finally arrived and Columbus went back to Spain in 1504. After all these voyages he was completely exhausted and he died two years later.
So was Columbus a “great man” for having paved the way for the European colonization of the Americas? Or was he just an opportunist looking to make riches by exploiting people of an untouched world? These are all difficult questions. But history is always a mix of the good and the bad and it is difficult to separate the two!
And here is a excerpt from a poem by Ogden Nash. Before reading the excerpt note that America was named after Amerigo Vespucci:
So Columbus said, Somebody show me the sunset and somebody did and he set sail for it,
And he discovered America and they put him in jail for it,
And the fetters gave him welts,
And they named America after somebody else,
So the sad fate of Columbus ought to be pointed out to every child and every voter,
Because it has a very important moral, which is, Don’t be a discoverer, be a promoter.
Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:
Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:
Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
Correct old time and regulate the Sun;
Veritas by Kanwarpreet Grewal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.