When the typical American hears the name Christopher Columbus he or she thinks of a hero, a man who started the rush for European colonization in the Americas. What most people do not think of is how monetarily driven his discoveries were. He manipulated anyone who posed a threat to his perspective fame and fortune through his actions and faulty promises.
The reading from Columbus’ diary describes what he thought about everything he had seen in his two voyages to the new lands. On his first journey, Columbus “sugar coats” many of his observations and makes hasty generalizations about what he finds. For instance, he talks of how the amount of gold on some of the islands as being in “a very great quantity”. When in reality when he wrote that he saw very small amounts of gold and jewelry. Most of these were probably just to have the king and queen funding his trip to keep funding his voyage. These were the results they wanted to hear.
Columbus did not expect to find some of the things he did. Like the great cities and towns he had heard of in China, he expected to see immense cities and populations. He writes, “…I sent two men inland to learn if there were a king or great cities. They traveled three days’ journey and found an infinity of small hamlets and people without number, but nothing of importance. For this reason, they returned” (Columbus 4). He seemed very concerned about not finding the things he expected, but, nonetheless, talks of how fertile and beautiful the lands are that he explores. He built up Espanola as an island of great significance with unlimited resources of gold, spices, and metals. He even goes as far as to say that the island is bigger than England and Spain combined, when in all actuality it was smaller.
Besides the land that he explores, he also writes about the natives that he finds and encounters, which he called Indians, thinking he was in the Indies. He spoke of them quite highly. They fled whenever he and his men were in site. The Indians fear of Columbus subsided, because, for after some time he learned to gain their trust. He spoke of them as very generous people who never refused their possessions to anyone. He was amazed by the communal understanding of the natives not relative to their lack of diversity. Also, they treated Columbus and his men like they were from the heavens after they had gotten over their initial fear.
Columbus induced he could use the natives for slave trade eventually, and convert them towards Christianity, believing that they had no religious beliefs or idols. He reckoned it would be easy to accomplish slavery. Before he returned to Spain, he left a group of men on an island he called La Navidad. They were left with supplies to build a fort and weapons so that they could learn the land and the natives’ language.
On his second trip back to the islands, he looked for the men he had left. Before he reached the site where he had left them, he heard rumors that some of the “Christians” were dead. When he finally did reach the place where they were supposed to be he found the fort burned and his men’s clothes scattered. Later on, while looking through natives’ abandoned homes, he found his men’s possessions. Also, more shockingly he found some of their heads that were well hidden. The reason for the killings, many believe to be the jealousy and anguish that was suffered by the natives. The men apparently took the women of the tribes for themselves.
Personal Comments/ Interpretations
I am not under the impression that Columbus is this so called hero that many Americans make him out to be. In my mind he was a profit- driven manipulative hypocrite. The way he treated the Indians is a disgrace, and should not be looked upon as anything but horrible.
Christopher Columbus was an exceedingly intelligent man. His wife and many of his relatives knew what they had to do to make a profit. Columbus was no different. He wanted to set up his new discovery the way that the Portuguese had set up Africa earlier. That was the only way that he had known to take advantage of the new lands. To make gains, he planned on making the Americas ready for eventual colonization by Europe. He also elaborated a scheme for the development of slave trade.
Columbus wrote in his accounts that the natives were considerably generous and timorous, however, he used them and manipulated them for his own personal gain. I find his methods very hypocritical. I admit his deception was good. He knew what he was doing. The way he brought translators with him on his travels was a smart decision. The people that he had taken from their homelands were separated from their families. William Phillips writes about one of his trips on his second voyage, “the husband of one of these women and the father of three children, one male and two female, came alongside the ship in a canoe” and implored Columbus to let the people he had taken go. Phillips makes the assumption that Columbus did not let them go, since nothing more was added to Columbus’ diary about that incident. (Phillips 157)
With regards to his men that he left in the fort on La Navidad, I say that those men deserved what they had gotten. They were using innocent Indian females as concubines. That is very disrespectful and makes me feel sorry to be part of this country. The Indians were very hospitable towards Columbus and his men. They were generous when they did not have to be. Columbus and his men paid them back by using their wives as sex toys.
Our “great hero” believed that the natives were intelligent but that they had no religious beliefs and would therefore be converted to Christianity easily. He believed that his way of life was best and that the natives were just ignorant to his ways. He was profit-crazy and did anything he could do to make them, no matter how immoral they seem to you and me.
Without Christopher Columbus, America would not be what it is today and I might not be sitting here typing this paper. He opened up the Americas for colonization; but who is to say that he could not have done it a better way? I believe if he used his mind a little more instead of using the Native Americans that he could have still made a profit and set up the new world for colonization. Instead he used greedy tactics that make me ashamed to be represented by our flag and the way we idolize Columbus.