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?”