Week Two: The Meeting of Two Worlds

For a large part of my life, Christopher Columbus was depicted as an “accidental hero” and the man who in some way “started it all.” I remember many teachers would describe how he set out on a voyage to the Silk Road in Asia, took the wrong route and ended up in the Americas. I don’t recall hearing that the island was in the Caribbean or even Latin America, it was implied as somewhere in North America. Some would tell students that’s why the Indigenous population was referred to as “Indians” connecting it to the actual country or that Columbus believed he reached the Indian Ocean. There was never a consistent story because people really weren’t aware. Referring back to the video, Professor. Beasley-Murray states that Colombus’ story is an allegory, whose true object is missing or displaced. I think this nicely explains why I was taught several versions of the same concept. History in a way is subjective based on whomever you speak to. I never formed much of an opinion about Columbus due to the fact I thought he was just another guy in a textbook.

However with some independent research and access to social media, you can view posts or articles explaining the mass murders and rapes, pillaging and cruelty during  colonial times. Even though his journal showcases his curiosity and loyalty to the Crown to find new land, you can read very vividly the treatment towards the native people. On October 14, the journal states.”One old man climbed into the boat, and the others, men and women, kept shouting, ‘Come and see the men who have come from Heaven; bring them food and drink.’  Many men and women came, each bringing something and giving thanks to God, throwing themselves on the ground and raising their hands in the air.” The conquistadors were met with kindness/hospitality but Columbus writes the same day, “These people have little knowledge of fighting, as Your Majesties will see from the seven I have had captured to take away with us so as to teach them our language and return them, unless Your Majesties’ orders are that they all be taken to Spain or held captive on the island itself, for with fifty men one could keep the whole population in subjection and make them do whatever one wanted.”  He later mentions valuable resources such as gold, this was also a reoccurring topic seen in the Guaman Poma reading.

In this particular reading, Candia once back in Spain, heavily discussed gold and silver especially the fact that the people wore clothes, shoes, hand and head pieces made of the sort. This pushed a large wave of Spaniards to the New World with hopes of returning with riches. When in Peru, certain individuals started off with a fairly decent greeting to be friends but led up to a conversation about how Inca Atagualpa should “adore the cross and believe in the Gospel of God and not worship anything.” which the leader responded by standing with his faith and throwing the Bible to the ground. This was enough of a reason for the Spanish to attack and murder the majority. The reasoning behind it was the following stated: ” Here, knights, these heathen Indians are against our faith!” and “Out, knights, against these infidels who are against our Christianity, and for our Emperor and King let us have at them!”. In Colombus’ journal, he mentioned religion multiple times. For example, “And Your Majesties, in my opinion, should not allow any foreigner to do business or gain a foothold here, but only Catholic Christians, for that is the beginning and end of the whole enterprise; it should be for the growth and glory of the Christian faith, and you should allow no one but good Christians to come here.”

This led to me thinking about how religion was used throughout history as a way to justify colonialism, genocide and more. It is a bit surprising that people can use words of someone they believe in to commit heinous crimes . Forced conversions and assimilation play a vast role in establishing dominance and rule as well. Multiple empires were able to reach as much “glory” as they did on account of religious manipulation. Looking at our modern day world, this could be an explanation for cultural extinction and languages dying.

Discussion Question:

  1. Can you recall how Columbus was portrayed during your early education?
  2. How can/was religion used to justify colonialism and are there any modern day examples of this?


Read 4 comments

  1. Hi Simran! I remember being taught in primary school the same type of narrative of Christopher Columbus that you seem to have been taught. The only thing that had always left me confused was that when I would come home from class and explain what I had learned to my parents, I received the opposite lesson of what my teachers had told me. My parents told me of the violence the indigenous endured as a result of these two worlds meeting. And so, i’m grateful that both sides of the story are being taught.

  2. Hey Simran!
    Your second question really stuck with me. First, I began to think to what extent colonialism itself can be justified. The onset of colonialism brought the horrific deaths of thousands of Indigenous people in the Americas, like you said, however, it also lead to modern-day Latin America. If we changed this aspect of history, would we still end up with the same circumstances that we are in now? Probably not. As horrendous as Columbus’ acts were, we cannot ignore the impact he had on the world today, but we can definitely remove the false narrative of him being a hero. Moving on, Columbus used religion as a means to convince the King and Queen of Spain of the worth of his discovery. In a way, I don’t think he was trying to justify colonialism, he was simply trying to impress the King and the Queen as well as convince himself that his journey was not a waste of time. As with modern-day examples, the first thing that comes to mind is missionaries. Of course, they don’t use violence to impose a religion on you, but I feel like that it’s a close enough link to colonialism and religion.

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