Two Points of View on Columbus Day

Landing of Columbus, John Vanderlyn, Capitol Rotunda, 1847

Landing of Columbus, by John Vanderlyn, Capitol Rotunda, 1847

Writers must always be concerned about point of view. Here are two views of Columbus Day, one by supporters, and the other by proponents of Indigenous People’s Day. They bring to mind the issues of peace and justice, which are themes in my books, Cologne No. 10 For Men, Well Considered, and Canoedling in Cleveland.

The Heroic Columbus:

“In the foreground, Christopher Columbus raises the royal banner to claim the land for Spain, and he stands bareheaded with his hat at his feet in honor of the sanctity of the event. The captains of the ships Niña and Pinta follow, carrying the banner of the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon [both now part of Spain]. The crew displays a range of emotions, and some search for gold in the sand. Nearby, natives watch from behind a tree at the right.” —Wikipedia

The Vanderlyn painting shows the heroic Columbus who braved the unknown, at great personal risk, to discover the new world, just as our astronauts went into space and walked on the moon. However, his motivation was to find gold and riches for Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain. Under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, he completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean. Those voyages, and his efforts to establish permanent settlements on the island of Hispaniola, initiated the Spanish colonization of the New World.  Columbus visited the Greater and Lesser Antilles, as well as the Caribbean coast of Venezuela and Central America, claiming them for the Spanish Empire. (Wikipedia).

Columbus was from Genoa, a city-state on the northwest corner of Italy that had a powerful navy and large merchant fleet. Medieval Genoa was a major player in the slave trade. Columbus “landed in the West Indies, on San Salvador Island, on October 12, 1492″ (Wikipedia). This was the same year that Isabella completed the Reconquista, finally expelling the Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula;  “after the Islamic conquest in 711–718 — [it was] 781 years until the fall of Granada” (Wikipedia).

Columbus and his sponsors were operating under the Doctrine of Discovery.

 Pope Nicholas V first articulated the Doctrine of Discovery in the papal bull Dum Diversas in 1452.  The Doctrine of Discovery consists of the idea that Christians have a right sanctioned by God to take non-Christian lands and property and assert political control over the indigenous inhabitants.  For example, the papal bull Dum Diversas  grants the king of Portugal the Pope’s blessing to go to the western coast of Africa, and to … “’capture, vanquish and subdue the Saracens, pagans and other enemies of Christ, and put them into perpetual slavery and to take all their possessions and their property.’” . . . Pope Alexander VI followed Pope Nicholas V’s pronouncement 41 years later with the Inter Caetera papal bull which divides the New World between Spain and Portugal for their conquest.

This doctrine spurred the European colonization of North and South America, Africa, India, and the Far East, and the subjugation and destruction of the non-Christian indigenous people. This colonization is similar to the Muslim expansion from Africa to the Phillipines, and their destruction of infidels.

Though Columbus was not the first European explorer to reach the Americas (having been preceded by the Norse expedition led by Leif Ericson in the 11th century[3]), his voyages led to the first lasting European contact with the Americas, inaugurating a period of European exploration, conquest, and colonization that lasted for several centuries. They had, therefore, an enormous impact in the historical development of the modern Western world. Columbus himself saw his accomplishments primarily in the light of spreading the Christian religion (Wikipedia).

The Landing of Columbus Albert Bierstadt

The Landing of Columbus, 
by Albert Bierstadt, 1893

The Non-Heroic Columbus

Albert Bierstadt painted “The Landing of Columbus” as seen by the indigenous people.

Albert Bierstadt (January 7, 1830 – February 18, 1902) was a GermanAmerican painter best known for his lavish, sweeping landscapes of the American West.”  —Wikipedia

On his second expedition to the Caribbean, with seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men, Columbus forced the Arawak Indians in Haiti to hunt for gold and cut off the hands of those who failed to meet his quota. He found no gold fields, but sent five hundred slaves back to Spain; two hundred died en route. “Mass suicides began. . . . Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.”

Indigenous Peoples’ Day

[From Wikipedia] The idea of replacing Columbus Day with a day celebrating the indigenous people of North America first arose in 1977 from the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, sponsored by the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.[4] At the First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance in Quito, Ecuador, in July 1990, representatives of Indian groups throughout the Americas agreed that they would mark 1992, the 500th anniversary of the first of the voyages of Christopher Columbus, as a day to promote “continental unity” and “liberation.” [5]

After the conference, attendees from Northern California organized to plan protests against the “Quincentennial Jubilee” that had been organized by the United States Congress for the San Francisco Bay Area on Columbus Day, 1992, to include, among other things, sailing replicas of Columbus’ ships under the Golden Gate Bridge and reenacting their “discovery” of America. The delegates formed the Bay Area Indian Alliance, and, in turn, the “Resistance 500” task force,[6] which advocated the notion that Columbus was responsible for genocide of Indian people.

In 1992,the group convinced the city council of Berkeley, California, to declare October 12, a “Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People”, and 1992 the “Year of Indigenous People”, and to implement related programs in schools, libraries, and museums. The city symbolically renamed Columbus Day to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” beginning in 1992[9] to protest the historical conquest of North America by Europeans, and to call attention to the demise of Native American people and culture[10] through disease, warfare, massacre, and forced assimilation.

In 1994, the United Nations declared an International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, but, concerned about upsetting some member nations, chose August 9 instead of the traditional Columbus Day.

In April 2014, the city council of Minneapolis, Minnesota, officially voted to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day.[24] This was followed in October by the city council of Seattle, Washington officially recognizing the holiday.[25] [Wikipedia]

This entry was posted in Relating to Canoedling in Cleveland, Relating to Cologne No. 10 for Men, Relating to Well Considered, the novel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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