‘ahems and ahahs’

Literature, & Etc.

“Ahoy, ahoy, oh how the winds did blow…”

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“They… brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned…. They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. 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 have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…. They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” – Columbus’ Log – Sourced From: Howard Zinn’s – A People’s History of America –

Yes, let’s celebrate this joyous occasion by giving a day of rest in his honour. I’m always troubled by this particular holiday. One of the main reasons of my consternation, is that the history centering around Columbus, and I use the term “history” in a very light context, this history is when I first realized that history is something that is based primarily on the “winners” point of view. I remember learning about this man in primary school in the states (Thomas Haley Elementary School in Dallas, TX, U.S.), and what I remember most is how highly praised he was for his new world adventures. Then I read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of America, and my entire point of view of history was shaken.

I recall the various films we were required to watch, showing how nice Christopher was to the natives, all of the wonderful knowledge and culture that he brought to these people. Yes…yes indeed: rape, famine, torture, servitude, slavery, the best of culture brought to the lowest of people. (insert disgusted look here).

The chief source-and, on many matters the only source of information about what happened on the islands after Columbus came is Bartolome de las Casas, who, as a young priest, participated in the conquest of Cuba. For a time he owned a plantation on which Indian slaves worked, but he gave that up and became a vehement critic of Spanish cruelty. In Book Two of his History of the Indies, Las Casas (who at first urged replacing Indians by black slaves, thinking they were stronger and would survive, but later relented when he saw the effects on blacks) tells about the treatment of the Indians by the Spaniards. It is a unique account and deserves to be quoted at length:

“Endless testimonies . . . prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives…. But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then…. The admiral, it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians…”

Ugh, it makes me ill. The one thing I’ve learned through this confrontation with history is that I am more aware of the “voice” of history and the context with which it is applied. I think about our current time period and our defining moments: 9/11, Invasion of Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, etc. and I wonder how will we be looked upon through the eyes of our children, how will King George be hailed: hero or dictator?

I understand completely that I’m living and enjoying the benefits of Columbus and many other seafaring voyagers, pirates, conquistadors, etc. Without their escapades into North America, I could be living in a completely different part of the world, under some drastically different contexts. But it is still horrifying to think that the benefits I enjoy were at the expense of an entire people’s genocide, and let’s be honest, it was a pure genocide.

So as my American friends and readers celebrate their day off, think and reflect at what cost your day of rest was achieved.

Oh and don’t worry my Canadian friends, I’m sure that Britain had its fun too raping and pillaging various natives for the sake of our very own Canadian Thanksgiving. We too are not beyond ethnic cleansing for Imperialist expansion.

Written by thebeliever07

October 12, 2008 at 9:15 am

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