Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Columbus: The Enslaver and Tyrant

In November 1493, a raiding party led by Christopher Columbus killed some natives and kidnapped some in the island of Guadalupe. Among the kidnapped natives, there was a beautiful young girl. Columbus gifted the girl to a member of his raiding party, Michele da Cuneo. In a letter, dated Oct 28, 1495, da Cuneo has described his experience with the native girl. This excerpt from da Cuneo’s letter could be the first record of love making in the Americas:

“When I was in the boat, I took a beautiful Cannibal girl and the admiral gave her to me. Having her in my room and she being naked as is their custom, I began to want to amuse myself with her. Since I wanted to have my way with her and she was not willing, she worked me over so badly with her nails that I wished I had never begun. To get to the end of the story, seeing how things were going, I got a rope and tied her up so tightly that she made unheard of cries which you wouldn't have believed. At the end, we got along so well that, let me tell you, it seemed she had studied at a school for harlots. The admiral named the cape on that island the cape of the Arrow for the man who was killed by the arrow.”

Michele da Cuneo calls the girl a cannibal, but historians have not found any evidence of cannibalism in these islands. Columbus and his conquistadors had the policy of denouncing as cannibals the tribes that were not submissive, and resisted and fought. Once a tribe was denounced as a cannibal tribe, they could be enslaved or killed under Spanish law. It was in the interest of Columbus and his followers to enslave people after branding them as cannibals—the slaves provided free labor and their sale brought revenues.

Columbus was the Spanish governor of the islands that he had discovered in the Americas. But he had no experience with civil administration. He could not control the rapacity of his followers. The two obsessions of his administration were to find gold and sell slaves. The indigenous Taíno population of Hispaniola was wiped out within years of the arrival of the Spanish. In his official letters to the Spanish monarchs, Columbus has bragged about the profits that can be made from the sale of slaves. 

The Spanish monarchs were appalled by the brutality and incompetence with which Columbus was administering the American islands. The Spanish regime was itself quite brutal—if they were accusing Columbus of brutality, then that should tell you just how bad his administration was. When Francisco de Bobadilla, a senior functionary in the Spanish regime, arrived in the Americas, he arrested Columbus and his chief associates for irregularities. Columbus and his brother were put in chains and taken by sea to Spain. But they were released by the Spanish monarchs. 

Those who celebrate Columbus Day, should remember that they are glorifying a man who: profited from slavery, had natives in the Americas maimed and killed for flimsy reasons, presided over the ethnic cleansing of several native tribes, and did nothing to stop the abuse of native women by the conquistadors. The notion that Columbus facilitated the spread of “liberty, democracy, and culture” to the Americas is political propaganda. The Europeans gained from the rampage of the conquistadors, but the indigenous tribes of the Americas were destroyed.

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