Week Two

The journal of Columbus reminded me of a reading I had to do in a History course last year that was about Marco Polo’s travels. Both explorers were very rich in description about the places they traveled to and how wonderful and beautiful the places were. Their observations seem a bit over the top at some points and what I found odd was how Columbus¬†also gives a statement of what the indigenous people were saying when they met, but there is no way they would have been able to understand exactly what was said. Of course there are other ways to understand people besides speaking in the same language, but many things get lost without that direct connection. It seems like a small detail, but a similar problem arose with our study in my history class of the Marco Polo text in terms of what is exaggerated or not completely true in the account. What I found most alarming in Columbus’ journal is how he views the land he is travelling through and the people he interacts with. He catalogues everything with the mindset of how much of an asset it can be to the Spanish monarchy. He notes that the people are “willing” and already begins to create plans for the land. I understand that I am looking at this situation with a “21st century mindset” which is very different than the 15th century European one. However, it was saddening to see in the journal, at least from what I read, that there were no thoughts in trying to set up some sort of trade system or relationship with the indigenous peoples, it was all about colonization. Of course most of this information is not particularly new, as I learned it in high school and somewhat first year, but I have never read as detailed an account on his “discovery”. It is one thing to learn about what happened in a general sense and another to see into the eyes of the main historical character. As well, having solely one point of view provides a very biased one. At the time of Columbus, at first, the only word the people from Europe and Spain had were his and his crew, which I think could have created certain expectations of the area. ¬†The presence and abundance of gold being a huge one. This obsession with gold- and power- I found was highlighted better in the Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala reading. Don Pizarro and Don de Almagro and their men seemed to me to be described as only seeking riches with no care for anyone or anything else they encountered. I suppose a question that could be asked then, is that did Columbus’ extravagant description (and Candia’s in the other reading) of the America’s contribute to the expectation of receiving riches and consequently, brutal behaviour by the conquistadors? Or could it also be because of the way Columbus talked about everything there as if Spain was entitled to it? Or did he speak that way more due to the opinions of the monarchy and societal norms at the time (as in other countries were colonizing, so it was fine/they should too)?

2 thoughts on “Week Two”

  1. I like your observation that although Columbus might have been able to communicate with the indigenous peoples through gesturing and body language, there is no way to completely know if his interpretations of their conversations are entirely accurate, if at all. It’s also interesting to think about, as you mentioned, how information about these new lands and peoples that much of Europe got was through the account of Columbus and his men – not very many Europeans actually got to see for themselves what it was like, and thus this widely accepted information (that I believe influences us to some degree even to this day) becomes a narrative told to many by a small group.

  2. You’ve mentioned something I never gave much thought to; the two sides not being able to completely understand what was said, and that is so true. I also agree that with Columbus, it was all about colonization rather than building relationships or peacefully interacting with the indigenous people. Awesome analysis!

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