Monday, October 13, 2008

Of Columbus

"Because, O most Christian and very high, very excellent and puissant Princes, King and Queen of the Spains and of the islands of the Sea, our Lords, in this present year of 1492 ... Your Highnesses resolved to send me, Cristobal, to India ... and ordered that I should not go by land to the eastward, as had been customary, but that I should go by way of the west, whither up to this day we do not know for certain that any has gone." -- The Journal.

On October 12 at two hours after midnight, the land was sighted at a distance of two leagues. The vessels were hove to, waiting for daylight and on Friday, they arrived at a small island [believed today to be Watling Island.]

If Columbus had not discovered America for Europe, eventually someone else would have. Would the indigenous inhabitants have suffered less if it had been Russia, crossing over from Siberia, not Spaniards? Or Turks, pouring in with the banners of Mohammed? Or if two more centuries had passed and Englishmen had been the first of the European race to plant their flag in the New World?

It is not reasonable to hate Columbus, as some do. He was a man of great courage, certainly. He was a man of many flaws, too, a man of his flawed era. But from Ottawa to Buenos Aires, for better or for worse, the world is a bigger place because of him.

We rightly honor him today.

Above is a church in the Canary Islands where he stopped to pray along his journey.


Chase March said...

The history here is a bit fuzzy. Columbus didn't really discover anything. He probably wasn't the first to "discover" the new land anyway.

Sure, it took courage to mount the journey. And I guess we can celebrate that. But why don't we celebrate the culture that was already here and has been almost completely destroyed because of it? That would take courage and be more appreciated by many.

Maybe it's time for a change here.

Eastcoastdweller said...

He discovered it for the folks back home, to a degree that the Viking voyages and other possible earlier trips from the Old World never did.

And I fully agree with you that we should celebrate what is left of the culture that was already here.

That change is beginning to take place -- your own country a few years ago took such a step by giving back a vast swath of territory to the native peoples there, not as a reservation but as a nation.

citizen of the world said...

When my younger son was in first grade, I got a call saying he and four other classmates would be reading their essays (five sentences) on a historical figure in an assembly and invited me to attend. It was news to me, he'd not mentioned an essay. His was last and I listened to the other short essays - the two I rememebr involved Jesus and George Bush. My son's was about Columbus. His last line: "Columbus didn't discover America - Native Americans discovered America." I was so proud.

Eastcoastdweller said...

I think my dear friends here are missing the point. Nobody is saying that Columbus and his crew were the first people to reach or to settle in America.

The etymology of discover is dis (to put in the opposite state of) + cover.

That is what Columbus' campaign did -- opened up a place that had been covered, that had been hidden from the view of all but its Native inhabitants and the occassional Viking or off-course Chinese sailor. From that day forward, the Old World knew a New World.

Vanilla, tomatoes, allspice, maize, tobacco, chocolate, peppers and potatoes became international commodities.

And space was found, here in this New World, for the enduring experiment of human democracy, far from the tyrants of the Old World.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

That is a stunning sanctuary. Thank you for sharing it with us.

And, as far as Chris goes... "...He was a man of great courage, certainly. He was a man of many flaws, too, a man of his flawed era." - aren't we all flawed? Hopefully most of us doing our best?

Day by day. Step by step. But many of us do not have the courage of an adventurer willing to travel into the unknown like he did.

Good post.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore