Monday, October 10, 2005
international man of mystery

So today it's Columbus Day, a holiday of rather questionable value. While it's a commonly asserted notion that the guy was Italian and he 'discovered' America, the reality of it all is a bit harsher. The Internet's fount of knowledge, Wikipedia, has an excellent article about him clearly titled Christopher Columbus.

Probably the most bothersome thing about the guy were the prescendents set in dealing with Native peoples of the New World. It's probably a good thing that celebration of Columbus Day is now a muted event, given the historical facts. Some of the more disturbing acts by Mr. Columbus (quoted from the article):

Before he left on his second voyage he had been directed by Ferdinand and Isabella to maintain friendly, even loving relations with the natives. However, during his second voyage he sent a letter to the monarchs proposing to enslave some of the native peoples, specifically the Caribs, on the grounds of their aggressiveness. Although his petition was refused by the Crown, in February, 1495 Columbus took 1600 Arawak as slaves. 550 slaves were shipped back to Spain; two hundred died en route, probably of disease, and of the remainder half were ill when they arrived. After legal proceedings, the survivors were released and ordered to be shipped back home. Some of the 1600 were kept as slaves for Columbus's men, and Columbus recorded using slaves for sex in his journal. The remaining 400, who Columbus had no use for, were let go and fled into the hills, making, according to Columbus, prospects for their future capture dim. Rounding up the slaves resulted in the first major battle between the Spanish and the Indians in the new world.

The main objective of Columbus's journey had been gold. To further this goal, he imposed a system on the natives in Cicao on Haiti, whereby all those above fourteen years of age had to find a certain quota of gold, which would be signified by a token placed around their necks. Those who failed to reach their quota would have their hands chopped off. Despite such extreme measures, Columbus did not manage to obtain much gold. One of the primary reasons for this was the fact that natives became infected with various diseases carried by the Europeans.

In his letters to the Spanish king and queen, Columbus would repeatedly suggest slavery as a way to profit from the new colonies, but these suggestions were all rejected: the monarchs preferred to view the natives as future members of Christendom.

Cheery stuff, right?


When I was a student back in elementary school, it's funny how none of these things were ever discussed, except the issue of disease.

Though it never occurred to me back then as a kid, I can see now that in fact there was an over-emphasis on the role that disease played in European-Native interactions. Since most of my teachers never taught me to think critically about what I was reading, it's only now that I can see the facts for what they are - that disease, by itself, was not the sole culprit of the next few centuries of Native extinction. History books and the American public don't like the implication that there is (white) European responsibility in the death of Native Americans - disease is the cover to hide the fact that there was a willful and systematic intent to exploit and kill all non-European peoples they "discovered". Those details became glossed over because the history I was taught as a student came from eyes of the conquerors rather than the conquered.

If I'm ever charged with teaching American history, you can bet that I won't repeat the same mistake that happened when I was a student. My kids will be reading books like A People's History of the United States, fo sho.


Great stuff! Our Columbus day entries complement each other quite well.

I think next year, I'm going to take a camping raft out on Lake Michigan and "discover" Evanston. I hear they have gold and shit up there...
oooh. howard zinn. the textbook of my US history education.

tanks for the encouragement.

oooh...and guess who i've run into? lika, jenny lau, and david from our brazil team. crazy, eh?
xian- heh, coo.

steph- nice! yay for brazil team homies.
julie hu running around there too?
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in?scrip?tion (n-skrip-shun)n.
1. The act or an instance of inscribing.
2. Something, such as the wording on a coin, medal, monument, or seal, that is inscribed.
3. A short, signed message in a book or on a photograph given as a gift.
4. The usually informal dedication of an artistic work.
5. Jeremiah 31:33

the facts.
name. Gar AKA "that Chinese guy" "Sleepy.McSleeping"
ethnicity/nationality. Chinese/American, 4th gen.
location. Sea-Town, WA, USA Kawanishi, JAPAN
occupation. less-cynical poor grad student
age. younger than you think, older than you know



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