Week Two: The Meeting of Two Worlds

I found this week’s subject matter very interesting. I’m a little familiar with the story of Columbus, his discovery, and the development of the New World, but the primary source readings provided some brand new perspectives I’d never been exposed to before, and the lecture definitely flipped some of my knowledge on its head.

Though Columbus was already esteemed at this point, proven by the 4 lines of titles that preceded his name at one point in his journal, still, a lot of factors were working against him. There seemed to be a lot of pressure on him to find a new way to India, and his crew seemed to be somewhat uncooperative. What shocked me was that he consistently kept a log of inaccurate as well as accurate distances so as not to discourage the crew as to how far the journey was taking them. This lead me to think, as members of Columbus’ crew, the explorer tasked by the Spanish monarchs themselves to find an extremely important new route to India, wouldn’t they have realised the importance of this voyage and cooperated a little more with their leader? In the name of being involved in such an important, historic journey? I suppose the answer is embedded in the lecture, as none of these men really understood how significant this journey would become.
Like the lecture mentioned, I also noticed that Columbus was a hard worker. He expressly mentions that he will disregard sleep and instead focus on the demanding task of navigating and tracking his journey into unexplored waters. Also, when he does spot land and begins communicating with the natives, he employs tactics to get to know the new population. He focuses on getting through the language barrier, participates in trade, as well as intently observes them to see exactly how Christianity can be introduced to them. I have to give it to him, all these years I’ve seen him solely as a villain, like the lecture suggests some might. But his work ethic is good and he doesn’t slack when it comes to his mission from the Crown.
However I cannot completely dismiss his actions and mindset just because he’s a hard worker. Though he compliments the island populations, he sees them only as value to him and to his country. I suppose this could be a typical European mindset of the time, but his compliments are almost always followed by suggesting they would be good slaves, or that they would be a prize/novelty/spectacle for the monarchs back home. Columbus was an explorer, and he was also tasked with claiming land for Spain and even with beginning colonisation of the lands he came across. So I understand his haste to claim land as Spain’s own despite there being existing populations. But I would think that more respect towards the people who are already living on the land would have only helped further his primary task of converting them to Christianity, as well as finding out how to extract resources from the new land. Instead, he used manipulation-like tactics to win over the people, so he would seem nice in their eyes simply because he did not kill them.
I had a harder time understanding the account of Guaman Poma, though I found the little introduction of the reading to be very interesting. I’ve barely seen anything about the Spanish conquests from a non-Spanish point of view, so I was delighted to have an account from this highly educated indigenous man. What struck me was the dedicated paragraphs to the Spanish greed for gold & silver. Even in Columbus’ journal, one of his captains took off without permission in hopes of finding gold. It seems as if they didn’t find much except what the people wore as jewellery, and yet the greed for it consumed their minds.
Also, the way conflict broke out in front of Atagualpa interested me. It seemed as if Columbus respected the Great Khan, leader of the land he hoped to find, and yet the Spanish completely disrespected the leader Atagualpa in the land they actually found, removing his entire kingdom from him. Why did the Spanish have such differing opinions and approaches to these two leaders? Were they simply blinded by the greed that Poma mentions so much before? Or is there a greater (more historical factor as we look at all this from the future) element at play, like historiography or the idea of “us” and “them?”

4 thoughts on “Week Two: The Meeting of Two Worlds

  1. Jon

    The notion of “respect” is interesting, and perhaps tied into conceptions of what it means to be “civilized.” How do you think Columbus thought about “civilization”? And now, is this still a useful concept?

    1. kelsey wiebe Post author

      I hadn’t thought about the connection between the two! It seems to me that Columbus did relate respect with his own perspective of civilisation. Maybe he respected Khan because he knew of him & his land. Yet, Columbus’ role as explorer means he could likely encounter new civilisations that had not yet been written about. Why does he seem to value one more than the other when his position exposes him to both? Perhaps because he is the one to discover the people, he does not consider them civilisations. It’s possible that the new population, though “intelligent,” since they have not yet made an impact through their own doing on his own culture and country, he respects them less. Civilisation itself is a hard term to define, and it’s likely Columbus thought of it through his cultural lens. Now, I feel as if it’s a more global concept to classify different realms of influence.

  2. Magalee

    Hey Kelsey, love how thorough you were in your post! Reading about the events of 1492 from an Indigenous perspective, Felipe Guaman Poma’s, is indeed interesting as well as extremely valuable. Seeing as so much of our history is told from the perspective of the ‘victors’, it is in my opinion extremely important to understand the conditions and specificities of the so-called ‘victory’ from the other side because it can often times reveal important details the ‘victors’ tried to hide in order to make themselves look better. As in, the victors in a way also win the right to write their legacy. Additionally, an contrasting ‘insider’ view of history is also important to understanding motives and intentions involved in a given pursuit. For example, Guaman Poma was able to give insight as to not only the motivating factor of the Spaniards, but their weakness as well: greed for gold and silver.

    1. kelsey wiebe Post author

      Thanks Magalee! I loved your comments about victory. It is very true that history, more specifically, primary sources, are told from 1 perspective and it’s so important to look at other perspectives in order to understand the whole story. In essence, history is kind of a construct by whoever has the loudest voice or the most evidence (I think I took this idea from another student’s comment somewhere… but I forget who!!)


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