Value. That’s what I found the most interesting about this book. Although i’ve always had this fairly basic idea of the contrast between the new world explorers and the natives of the new world, this book is so full of the concept of value, and questions concerning value that you could, y’know, write an essay on it or something. When Columbus gets to the new world he is surprised to find that the natives are willing to hand over something that could be worth a lot of money in exchange for trinkets. Why is he surprised? Different systems assign different values in whatever way they please: worth is completely relative. I know this is no revelation, but to see it (read it) in action was fascinating. One asks which system is more ridiculous, monetary value in small gold coins or monetary value in things that are ornamental, or, useful. But it really has nothing to do with which is more ridiculous because it’s entirely based on perception.
When it comes to Columbus and his view of the natives his values get even more convoluted. He values these natives for their use to him and their ability to be converted to Christianity. But like the rest of the book there is and undercurrent of idealism. In this case it is concerning monsters. Columbus writes “I have not found the human monsters we expected” which is great, but I got the feeling that in many ways Columbus wanted to find monsters, or wanted the local people to be monsters. It would add to the romance, the adventurism of his story. In this expedition he really wanted something foreign and different, and in a way no hostilities at the beginning may have come across as a bit of a letdown. When Columbus and his sailors meet the Caribs, the cannibals, the letters really play up their atrociousness and their monstrosity, writing about all the horrendous things they do and such. I think these types of things were largely written for the comfortable white “audience” that waited in Spain, so they could say “Ooh look at that, there’s monsters over there, how foreign and romantic.”
The funny thing is that not much has changed. Humans still like to see those who are actually very similar to them as monsters and something non-human. It makes it easier to control them, kill them, or other nasty things. That’s how wars start.
Columbus himself reminded me greatly of Medea. He’s smooth talking in a whiny sort of way, and his letters are like a phsycological study of human self justification. Again, it comes back to value. “Value me” says Columbus. “Value what i’ve done” Hmm.
There was line about one island that spoke of native people with tails. It is never spoke of again. What the heck! I want to here more about that.
Oh yes, and God is still here, shaping peoples destinies and such. I’m starting to think this guys is more trouble than he’s worth.