Monday, October 14, 2013

Oh Chris, and We Thought We Knew You.

Every school child learns the poem 

"In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.  
He had three ships and left from Spain; 
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain. . .
“Indians! Indians!” Columbus cried;
His heart was filled with joyful pride.
But “India” the land was not. . .
Columbus sailed on to find some gold
To bring back home, as he’d been told. . .
The first American? No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright."

Then later in Western Civ, thank you Mr. Connor, we learned a little more of the details of that first landing in the Bahamas when he "discovered America". President Benjamin Harrison encouraged teachers to have their students celebrate that date in 1892 on the 400th anniversary. President Franklin Roosevelt later made it a federal holiday and then in 1970 it was officially moved to the 2nd Monday in October.

But, there are issues with Chris's reputation. Obviously there is the death and destruction his discovery brought to the indigenous peoples in the new world. Not to mention, the small issue of just claiming their land. There is also a move across many parts of academia to change the name of the day. 

Documents published by UCLA's Medieval and Renaissance Center State:  "While giving the brilliant mariner his due, the collection portrays Columbus as an unrelenting social climber and self-promoter who stopped at nothing— not even exploitation, slavery, or twisting Biblical scripture— to advance his ambitions…" Ouch.

A group organized as the Intercontinental Gathering of Indigenous People in the Americas were against the quin-centennial celebration of Columbus Day.  They declared October 12, 1992, "International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People." 

Then the National Council of Churches chimed in, preaching from their pulpits that their congregations also not recognize the 500th anniversary of Columbus' landing. Their official proclamation called on Christians to refrain from celebrating the Columbus quin-centennial, saying, "What represented newness of freedom, hope, and opportunity for some was the occasion for oppression, degradation and genocide for others."

In reality, Chris only got as far as Cuba. John Cabot, an Englishman commissioned by Henry VII was the first European to set foot on the mainland of North America when he landed on the Island of Newfoundland in 1497. And, legend and many historians, have it that Lief Ericson, the Viking, first visited Newfoundland and left a colony there 500 years before Cabot. 

But, that wasn't an issue for Señor Columbus, he relayed back to Queen Isabella that he had in fact discovered a new trade route to Asia, even though he knew better. He referred to the locals as "Indians" to support his story. Eventually, due to accusations of tyranny, brutality, and incompetence, he was removed from his position as governor of the colonies by the Queen and returned to Spain. 

Later in life Columbus wrote two books. Book of Privileges (1502), "detailing and documenting the rewards from the Spanish Crown to which he believed he and his heirs were entitled", and a Book of Prophecies (1505), "in which passages from the Bible were used to place his achievements as an explorer in the context of Christian eschatology*." 

So, truth be told, Chris visited the Caribbean, had a grand time, and made a name for himself. He managed to bring 90 men and 3 ships across the Atlantic ocean in the name of Queen Isabella, in the process, garner credit for discovering two continents, neither of which he ever set foot on, one of which had been visited 500 years prior, and in then falsely report that he has, indeed, found the Far East. Oh yeah, and there was that issue of genocide, oppression, pillage, exploitation, and enslavery. However, those words don't rhyme well in a child's poem and why get into the details.

So now it depends on where you live as to how Columbus is celebrated or, more importantly remembered. The states of Alaska, Hawaii, and South Dakota do not officially recognize the holiday. In lieu, Hawaii, celebrates the discovery of Hawaii by the Polynesians. (Although it is not a government holiday). South Dakota celebrates "Native American Day" on the second Monday of October.

Nevada and Iowa do not celebrate the holiday either, although the governor in both states is "authorized and requested" by statute to proclaim the day each year. Nevada just feels the date is too close to their "Nevada Day" and their state holiday should trump the discovery of our land. (I have always loved that western independence.)

Always marching to their own tune, and being sensitive to others, the "The city of Berkeley, California has replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People's Day since 1992"

Internationally, the observance has many names. Through out the new world it is recognized also as Italian Americans Day, All Nations Day, and Day of Americas to name a few.

Perhaps the history books should delve a little further past Christopher Columbus' lauded exploration westward and tell more about what occurred after he set foot in the new world. Unfortunately, the sins cast upon the native people would have most likely been brought on by any European explorer, however, I would hope most would have shown more civility and humanity. At least, we could hope.

eschatology - the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind

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