Week Two

When I first heard of Columbus, it was in a middle school in Switzerland. Because of Switzerland’s relative disconnection with the Americas, the image I got of Columbus was generally neutral; he was just a guy sent out by the Spanish monarchs to look for a new route to the East, who happened to land somewhere in the Caribbean instead. This would of course lead to the European colonization of the Americas which was seen as generally positive. As I got older and learned more about the treatment of the Caribbean natives by the Spanish, I started to get a more villainous perception of him. Hearing about how natives were almost completely wiped out after his arrival made it pretty hard to not see him as a bad guy.

Hearing his side of the events neither moved me towards seeing him as a hero nor as more of a villain. Rather it give me a better understanding of Columbus himself. By reading this you see him as a regular man with faults, rather than a hero or villain. It brings him to life and makes him seem more real. I can kind of understand how some may see him as a hero. It was brave to head out into the unknown based on a hunch and just hope for the best. He also did seem to truly care about honoring the king and queen and fulfilling their wishes (but of course that may just have been because if they were angered by him, he would have probably been executed). His account sounds like an exciting, yet intimidating adventure.

For me, the hero façade cracks and we begin to see his flaws through his comments. For example, when he says, “with fifty men one could keep the whole population in subjection and make them do whatever one wanted,” we see that though he is being kind to them, he’s still thinking of ways to conquer the natives and get what he wants. These little remarks about subjugation and ownership of the land etches away at his air of heroism. But yet it’s hard to reconcile how he comes off in his journal with the things I’ve hard about the mistreatment of natives. Granted, he did believe he was far superior to them and treated them like children, but he did make sure not to harm them and even went out of his way to be liked by them.

What happened between these peaceful and fairly cooperative first interactions and the near extinction of the Taíno people? If Columbus wasn’t directly responsible, were his remarks one of the reasons why some Spaniards took advantage of the natives?


« »

Spam prevention powered by Akismet