Monday, October 14, 2013

Columbus Day

"They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance.... They would make fine servants.... With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want." -Christopher Columbus

Some, such as the American Indian Movement, have argued that the responsibility of contemporary governments and their citizens for allegedly ongoing acts of genocide against Native Americans are masked by positive Columbus myths and celebrations. These critics argue that a particular understanding of the legacy of Columbus has been used to legitimize their actions, and it is this misuse of history that must be exposed. F. David Peat asserts that many cultural myths of North America exclude or diminish the culture and myths of Native Americans. These cultural myths include ideas expressed by Michael Berliner of the Ayn Rand Institute claiming that Western civilization brought “reason, science, self-reliance, individualism, ambition, and productive achievement” to a people who were based in “primitivism, mysticism, and collectivism”, and to a land that was “sparsely inhabited, unused, and underdeveloped [...except for those who had already lived there]. -Wikipedia

 "He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future."

George Orwell

   He wasn’t the first... not by a long shot.
   The first humans to discover what we now call The Americas walked here from northeast Asia when Asia and North America were connected in a region scientists call Beringia during the  Last Glacial Maximum between 26,500 and 19,000–20,000 years ago, a region we now call the Bering Straight. You see the deal was a lot of the ocean was locked up as ice in huge glaciers that existed at the time, which lowered the sea levels, allowing these people to walk on over. And why not? They probably didn’t have anything else to do as there was no T.V. at the time. 
   They must have been really cold though. 
   As the ice age ended the glaciers began to melt, rising the sea levels to what we can see today, with the two continents being separated by a mere 51.44 miles, allowing Sarah Palin spy on the Russians. And a good thing too, or we wouldn’t have that “Deadliest Catch” television program.  
   These early migrants brought their families along and they multiplied while migrating, and they multiplied all over the place, walking all the way down to what we now call the Tierra del Fuego archipelago of southern Chile. They lived and prospered, and in some places and times developed vast civilizations, like the Inca and Maya Empires. 
   Christopher Columbus called them “Indios,” which is Spanish for “Indian.” He did that because he didn’t know he had ran into a previously unknown continent (as far as Europe and Asia were concerned), and thought he had landed in the East Indies (a term used by the Europeans to describe what is now known as the Indian subcontinent, Southeastern Asia, and the islands of Oceania and Maritime Southeast Asia). It is in dispute if Columbus ever admitted to himself and others that he had never made it to the East Indies (this is most likely why the American continent was named after the Florentine scholar Amerigo Vespucci and not after Columbus).
   In fact he was fortunate not to have landed in say, Japan, a nation that was quite capable of defending itself. If he had landed there and tried to conquer the native population as he did in Hispaniola, he most likely would have never returned to Spain. 
   He wasn’t even the first European to discover the Americas. That honor goes to  a Norse explorer by the name of Leif Ericson, regarded as the first European to land in North America (excluding Greenland), nearly 500 years before Chris, or by some accounts, another Norse explorer, Bjarni Herjólfsson who while looking for his dad, was blown off course by a storm. He saw a piece of land that was not Greenland. It was covered with trees and mountains and although his crew begged him to, he refused to stop and look around. Also Leif himself was blown off course (that happened a lot back then), to a land that he did not expect to see, where he found "self-sown wheat fields and grapevines." He next rescued two men who were shipwrecked in this country (who knows where these guys came from? I certainly don’t), and went back to Greenland. Consequently, if these accounts are to be trusted, Bjarni Herjólfsson was the first European to see America beyond Greenland, and the two unnamed shipwrecked men were the first people known to Europeans to have made landfall there.
   Subsequently Leif approached Bjarni, purchased his ship, gathered a crew of thirty-five men, and mounted an expedition towards the land Bjarni had described, and landed on what was probably Baffin Island, the largest island in Canada, then sailed on to what was probably Labrador, the mainland portion of the province of Newfoundland. He took two days off, then sailed on to what was probably L'Anse aux Meadows, which is on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland. Leif stayed there for the winter  then returned to Greenland in the spring with a cargo of grapes and timber, related his tale, and never came back.
    "Columbus's claim to fame isn't that he got there first," explains historian Martin Dugard, "it's that he stayed."
   Columbus, an Italian mariner, had the idea that he could reach the East Indies from Europe by sailing westward, which had never been tried. Up until the time of Columbus trade with Central Asia and China (for commodities such as silk, spices, opium, and Top Ramen) was accomplished over land routes pioneered by another Italian explorer, Marco Polo (after which he returned to Venice and developed various games to be played in swimming pools). Walking to China isn’t as quick and easy as you might think, and in the late 1480‘s, when Columbus was peddling his idea to almost every seafaring sovereignty and being turned down (he had miscalculated the distance it would take to achieve his goal. The advisors of these kings and queens knew it and advised them not to back Columbus. It is a myth that at the time of Columbus the belief was widely held that the Earth was flat, probably popularized by American author Washington Irving’s 1828 biography of Columbus. It had been known that the Earth was spherical in shape since the time of the Ancient Greeks) various wars had made traversing these land routes very difficult.
   In 1488 the news that Portuguese nobleman Bartolomeu Dias had successfully sailed around the southern tip of Africa on his way to India didn’t help Columbus’s quest at all. 
   However, desperate to gain any kind of advantage over other monarchies, the King and Queen of Spain (Ferdinand and Isabella respectively), took up his idea in 1492, and along with other investors sponsored Columbus’s expedition. 
   What would Columbus get for his troubles? Glad you asked. A whole lot it seems. If he was successful he would gain the title of Admiral of the Ocean Sea (which is pretty silly if you ask me. How can anyone be in charge of an ocean or a sea?), he would be both the Viceroy ( a regal official who runs a country, colony, or city province (or state) in the name of and as representative of the monarch) and Governor (ah, pretty much the same thing as a Viceroy except they didn’t run an entire country) of all the lands he would claim (steal) for Spain. He’d also get 10% of all the revenues from the new lands in perpetuity (that’s like forever), he would also have the option of buying one-eighth interest in any commercial venture with the new lands and receive one-eighth of the profits. Oh yeah, and free government subsidized health care.
   Why were Ferdinand and Isabella so generous? Well, they didn’t really expect him to make it back, that’s why.
   What would be his first voyage to the Americas began on the evening of August 3rd of that year from the Spanish town of Palos de la Frontera with three ships. Columbus would captain the largest carrack (a three or four-masted sailing ship), the Santa Maria, and two smaller caravels (a small, highly maneuverable sailing ship with 1 to 3 masts, with triangular sails), the Pinta ("Painted") and the Santa Clara, nicknamed the Niña ("Girl") after her owner. These two ships were piloted by local brothers, Martín Alonso and Vicente Yáñez Pinzón.  
   They first made port in the  Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa where they provisioned. They left on the September 6th, for what turned out to be a five-week voyage across the Atlantic ocean. 
   At approximately 2:00AM, on the morning of October 12th, a lookout on the Pinta spotted land. Martin the captain, verified the discovery, then fired a cannon to wake up Columbus on the Santa Maria. Columbus later stated that he had actually been awake and had spotted a light on the land a couple of hours earlier... but just kept that info to himself, for safe keeping I guess (actually he was stealing a lifetime pension (10,000 maravedís!) for himself that had been promised  by Ferdinand and Isabella to the first person to sight land. He did that because that’s just the kind of guy he was. 
   A real dick. 
   The three ships had made it to the Bahamas consisting of more than 700 islands, cays (a small, low-elevation, sandy island formed on the surface of a coral reef), and islets north of Cuba and Hispaniola (what is now the Dominican Republic and Haiti); northwest of the Turks and Caicos Islands;   southeast of Florida and east of the Florida Keys. Which island the lookout first spotted is unknown for sure, but he named it San Salvador, and in the morning they went ashore. 

To be continued.

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