Indigenous Day? Columbus Day? New Mexico and some other states have embraced "Indigenous Day" as a holiday instead of continuing to honor Columbus, who is undeseving because of his treatment of natives of the Americas since he arrived in 1492. The following is an excerpt from the biography, Esteban: The African Slave Who Explored America:
Christopher Columbus underestimated the planet’s size so much that he assumed the Caribbean Islands were near India. He called the natives indios, a misnomer that has persisted in the English term of “Indians.”
Columbus anchored next to the first island he saw, Guanahaní, which he renamed San Salvador, in the Bahamas northeast of Cuba. Columbus reported he made landfall on a beach in front of a Taíno village. The words “Arawak” and “Taíno” as terms for the Caribbean people, language, and culture date from the mid-nineteenth century. Nevertheless, Taíno will be used here because it is the term most people use today.
The remains of such a village reported by Columbus were found on San Salvador at Long Bay Beach, and no similar village has been located in the Bahamian Archipelago. Mixed in with European potsherds at the site were a Spanish coin minted between 1471 and 1474, as well as glass trade beads and two belt buckles.
Columbus reported that the natives walked out onto the beach with food and water to welcome his ships.
Columbus wrote to the Spanish royalty to say, “Your highnesses may believe that there is no better nor gentler people in the world.” Then he made a chilling observation in the Santa Maria ship’s log.
He wrote, “These people are very simple as regards the use of arms.” In an omen of events to come, he boasted in the same sentence that “with fifty men they could all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them.” He soon seized six Taínos to train as interpreters and be shown to the royal court. “They should be good servants,” he wrote in his journal, using the frequent euphemism of the time for slaves.
A few days later Columbus wrote, “With the force I have under me, which is not large, [I] could march over all these islands without opposition.…They have no arms, and are without warlike instincts. They all go naked, and are so timid that a thousand would not stand before three of our men. So they are good to be ordered about, to work and sow, and do what may be necessary."
Most Taínos did not have even bows and arrows, although island Caribs and the Taínos of Puerto Rico and northeast Hispaniola did, so most Taínos were almost defenseless.
Scientist Jared Diamond seems to have been right when he wrote, “Some societies seem hopelessly conservative, inward looking, and hostile to change.” The Taínos’ pleasant island existence up to that point had not required weaponry beyond clubs and hand-propelled atlatl darts.
A Spaniard described Taíno wars as “little more than games with sticks, such as children play in our countries.”
The new arrivals from across Europe massacred and enslaved them at will.
* * * * *
Postscript to this excerpt: Within a single generation of the arrival of Columbus and other Europeans, there was not a full-blooded Taino or Carib Indian left alive on any Caribbean Islands. Wafare, enslavement, starvation, suicide, and disease had killed all tens of thousands of them.
Add new comment