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Towards a True People's History , published on Saturday, October 6, , by Common Dreams, nicely articulates the reason why we, the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, must become more forceful in our demands that the true histories of our Peoples be taught in schools.
Bill Bigelow taught high school social studies in Portland, Ore. So who did he find when he came here? What are their names? In more than 30 years of teaching U. On March 30, , she issued an edict demanding that Jews either convert to Catholicism, leave the country, or be executed. Quoted from We Were Not the Savages "The event that led European Nations to destroy many of the civilizations of two continents, and drastically diminish the remainder, resulted from what was an almost impossible accident of fate.
If it had not already occurred, it would be virtually impossible to envision. In , Christopher Columbus, on a sea voyage to chart a shortcut to the Indies, funded by Queen Isabella of Spain, set the stage for the rape of American civilizations by going astray at sea. By chance he eventually landed on a small island in the Caribbean sea populated by a defenseless and friendly pacifist race of people, the Taino. These people were ripe for picking by unscrupulous men, and Columbus and his crew pillaged with impunity.
The blind luck that led him to land on this small defenseless island instead of somewhere else along the thousands of miles of North and South American coastline-where people wouldn't have been so complacent-is akin to finding a needle in a haystack.
In retrospect, if he had instead landed in a non-pacifist country, such as that of the Iroquois or Maya, history would have turned out differently. Their Warriors would have fought back ferociously, very probably ending his voyage on the American side of the Atlantic.
If this had happened, and no Europeans had appeared for another century, population growth and technology development would have reduced the possibility of European colonization considerably.
However, history turned out the way it did and no amount of fantasizing can change that. Columbus, thinking he was in the Indies, did not waste time paying lip service to the pretence that he was importing "shining" European ideals to the people he mistakenly labelled Indians.
Instead he wrote in his journal: When he embarked from the Americas for Spain, it was with a cargo of five hundred Native Americans it could have been a smaller number, I took the figure from a White man's declaration crammed into three ships to be sold on the continental slave markets. Upon landing at Seville, only about three hundred of these unfortunate souls were still alive. These and booty were turned over to Queen Isabella.
Ship size - From Wikipedia , the free encyclopedia: The NiZa and the Pinta were smaller. They were called caravels, a name then given to the smallest three-masted vessels. Columbus once uses it for a vessel of forty tons, but it generally applied in Portuguese or Spanish use to a vessel ranging one hundred and twenty to one hundred and forty Spanish "toneles.
The fleet of Columbus, as it sailed, consisted of the Gallega the Galician , of which he changed the name to the Santa Maria, and of the Pinta and the NiZa. Of these the first two were of a tonnage which we should rate as about one hundred and thirty tons. The NiZa was much smaller, not more than fifty tons. One writer says that they were all without full decks, that is, that such decks as they had did not extend from stem to stern.
But the other authorities speak as if the NiZa only was an open vessel, and the two larger were decked. The whole company in all three ships numbered one hundred and twenty men. The news of the riches offered by Hispaniola and surrounding islands soon spread across Europe. The notion of fabulous wealth for the picking was like a magnet for other European Nations. Within a few years, harvesters from Spain and other European countries were travelling from island to island seeking artifacts, precious metals, spices, and human beings for enslavement.
The cruel assault mounted by these people against the defenseless and non-aggressive Taino, who had numbered in the millions in , was so effective that forty years later they were virtually extinct. This is probably why they hate Chavez so much.
However, Chavez is not alone in his views; scholars within native studies familiar with the genocide of indigenous peoples of the Americas tend to share his sobering perspective. What they did here was massacre the indigenous people. On Sunday, he described how Spanish, Portuguese and English invaders slaughtered millions of native inhabitants. The indigenous population of the Americas plummeted from million at the time of Columbus' arrival to just three million years later, Chavez claimed.
Chavez devoted most of the four-hour show to the plight of indigenous groups. Guests from Peru and Ecuador wearing traditional brightly coloured dresses praised Chavez for his defence of indigenous rights. Chavez hooked up with a live broadcast of an international gathering of indigenous peoples being held in Caracas. He also announced the creation of Mission Guaicaipuro to promote development among Venezuela's indigenous groups. The project - named for an Indian chief in Venezuela who fought the Spaniards - will include demarcation of aboriginal lands and offer cheap credit to indigenous people.
There are approximately , indigenous peoples from 28 distinct ethnic groups in this country of 24 million. Most Venezuelans are considered to be "meztizo," a mix of Spanish, African, and native indigenous bloodlines. Columbus first stepped on South American soil Oct. Venezuelans refer to Columbus Day as the Day of Race, a reference to the day different races first met here and began to mix. The day was designated as such by dictator Juan Vicente Gomez in Since taking office in , left-leaning Chavez has gained considerable backing from indigenous communities.
Through a new constitution pushed through by his political allies, Chavez paved the way for the demarcation of "indigenous habitats" and gave them representation in the legislature. Despite the measures, most indigenous peoples still live in below-average social conditions. Many of the country's indigenous descendants are uneducated and most don't possess property titles.
Christopher Columbus died in poverty at Valladolid, Spain, on May 20, Click to read a Halifax Herald column I wrote about colonial criminals - October 30, It is rare, indeed, to find an instance where one of them was imprisoned, or executed, for the horrors he committed. On August 23, , Christopher Columbus and his brothers were sent back to Spain in chains by Spanish Governor Francesco de Bobadilla for mistreating Natives in the section of Hispaniola now known as Haiti.
When they arrived in Spain, they were immediately released and graciously received at the royal court. Native Americans had built great civilizations with many millions of people long before Columbus wandered lost into the Caribbean.
Columbus' voyage has even less meaning for North Americans than for South Americans because Columbus never set foot on our continent, nor did he open it to European trade.
Scandinavian Vikings already had settlements here in the eleventh century, and British fisherman probably fished the shores of Canada for decades before Columbus. Caboto arrived in and claimed North America for the English sovereign while Columbus was still searching for India in the Caribbean.
After three voyages to America and more than a decade of study, Columbus still believed that Cuba was a part of Asia, South America was only an island, and the coast of Central America was near the Ganges River. Unable to celebrate Columbus' exploration as a great discovery, some apologists now want to commemorate it as a great "cultural encounter.
The historical record refutes this, too. Contrary to popular legend, Columbus did not prove that the world was round; educated people had known that for centuries. The Egyptian-Greek scientist Erastosthenes, working for Alexandria and Aswan, already had measured the circumference and diameter of the world in the third century B.
Arab scientists had developed a whole discipline of geography and measurement, and in the tenth century A. The Monastery of St. Nevertheless, Americans have embroidered many such legends around Columbus, and he has become part of a secular mythology for schoolchildren.
Autumn would hardly be complete in U. This myth of the pawned jewels obscures the true and more sinister story of how Columbus financed his trip. The Spanish monarch invested in his excursion, but only on the condition that Columbus would repay this investment with profit by bringing back gold, spices, and other tribute from Asia.
This pressing need to repay his debt underlies the frantic tone of Columbus' diaries as he raced from one Caribbean island to the next, stealing anything of value. He seized 1, Taino Indians from the island of Hispaniola, crammed as many onto his ships as would fit, and sent them to Spain, where they were paraded naked through the streets of Seville and sold as slaves in Columbus tore children from their parents, husbands from wives.
On board Columbus' slave ships, hundreds died; the sailors tossed the Indian bodies into the Atlantic. Because Columbus captured more Indian slaves than he could transport to Spain in his small ships, he put them to work in mines and plantations which he, his family, and followers created throughout the Caribbean.
Within four years of Columbus' arrival on Hispaniola, his men had killed or exported one-third of the original Indian population of , This was the great cultural encounter initiated by Christopher Columbus. This is the event celebrated each year on Columbus Day. The United States honors only two men with federal holidays bearing their names. In October, we honor Christopher Columbus, who opened the Atlantic slave trade and launched one of the greatest waves of genocide known in history. The Essay has also been published using this title: He is author of Indian Givers: The essay above is adapted from an article Professor Weatherford wrote in for the Baltimore Evening Sun.
Our national leaders take time out of their busy schedules - raising money and covering up scandals - to commemorate the man who "found" America. Of course by now many of us know that Columbus was not the first European to sail to North America - a Viking did that nearly years earlier - and that the arrival of the Spanish empire wasn't exactly a blessing to the hemisphere. What many of us don't know, and what many more of us willfully ignore, is what Columbus really was the first to do on our side of the pond.
Christopher Columbus, you see, was a slave trader, a gold digger, a missionary, and even a war profiteer in the name of Ferdinand and Isabella. The arrival of Columbus's small fleet on what is now San Salvador that's Spanish for "Holy Savior" was greeted by the "decorous and praiseworthy" Taino Indians Columbus's words and was followed almost immediately by mass enslavement, amputation for sport, and a genocide that claimed over four million people in four years.
That's quite a saving. His arrival also marked the beginning of years of imperialism, enslavement, disease, genocide, and a legacy of impoverishment and discrimination that our nation is only beginning to come to terms with.
Today American Indians lack adequate healthcare and housing, receive pitiful education, face daunting barriers to economic opportunity, and see their lands that would be the whole of the continent overrun with pollution and big business. Columbus Day has been celebrated as a federal holiday since , making it the first of only two federal holidays to honor a person by name. The other celebrates the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. It isn't Christopher Columbus and the conquistadors, though, that resemble the selflessness of the Rev.
Published October 26, at 8: Published October 26, at 6: Currently in Columbus, GA. Published October 26, at 5: Benning soldiers visit Blackmon Road Middle School for reading program The Warrior Reads Program emphasizes the importance of literacy and teaches reading while giving students a better understanding of the military town they live in.
October 26 October Spencer High School teacher accused of slamming student into locker; causing head wound A Muscogee County Parent is furious and says she wants answers. Her son ended up in the emergency room Thursday following an incident at Spencer High School. Panama City Beach bouncing back from Hurricane Michael. Will Ferrell visits Kennesaw State to recruit Stacey Abrams campaigners Democratic Governor nominee Stacey Abrams has been touring around Georgia for the last several days ahead of elections, and comedian Will Ferrell has also been campaigning on behalf of Abrams.
Possible drug investigation underway on Willowbrook Dr. A drug investigation is underway in the area of Willowbrook Drive by Columbus police. Published October 26, at 1: Follow us on social! Published 10m at 3: Published 15m at 3: Thorson leads Northwestern over No. When he arrived on Hispaniola in , Las Casas says, "there were 60, people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from to , over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines.
Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it Thus began the history, five hundred years ago, of the European invasion of the Indian settlements in the Americas.
That beginning, when you read Las Casas-even if his figures are exaggerations were there 3 million Indians to begin with, as he says, or less than a million, as some historians have calculated, or 8 million as others now believe?
When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure-there is no bloodshed-and Columbus Day is a celebration. Past the elementary and high schools, there are only occasional hints of something else. Samuel Eliot Morison, the Harvard historian, was the most distinguished writer on Columbus, the author of a multivolume biography, and was himself a sailor who retraced Columbus's route across the Atlantic.
In his popular book Christopher Columbus, Mariner, written in , he tells about the enslavement and the killing: That is on one page, buried halfway into the telling of a grand romance. In the book's last paragraph, Morison sums up his view of Columbus:. One can lie outright about the past. Or one can omit facts which might lead to unacceptable conclusions. He refuses to lie about Columbus. He does not omit the story of mass murder; indeed he describes it with the harshest word one can use: But he does something else-he mentions the truth quickly and goes on to other things more important to him.
Outright lying or quiet omission takes the risk of discovery which, when made, might arouse the reader to rebel against the writer. To state the facts, however, and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm: It is not that the historian can avoid emphasis of some facts and not of others.
This is as natural to him as to the mapmaker, who, in order to produce a usable drawing for practical purposes, must first flatten and distort the shape of the earth, then choose out of the bewildering mass of geographic information those things needed for the purpose of this or that particular map.
My argument cannot be against selection, simplification, emphasis, which are inevitable for both cartographers and historians. But the map-maker's distortion is a technical necessity for a common purpose shared by all people who need maps.
The historian's distortion is more than technical, it is ideological; it is released into a world of contending interests, where any chosen emphasis supports whether the historian means to or not some kind of interest, whether economic or political or racial or national or sexual. Furthermore, this ideological interest is not openly expressed in the way a mapmaker's technical interest is obvious "This is a Mercator projection for long-range navigation-for short-range, you'd better use a different projection".
No, it is presented as if all readers of history had a common interest which historians serve to the best of their ability. This is not intentional deception; the historian has been trained in a society in which education and knowledge are put forward as technical problems of excellence and not as tools for contending social classes, races, nations. To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to de-emphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice.
It serves- unwittingly-to justify what was done. My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality.
But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all -that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth.
We have learned to give them exactly the same proportion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable of classrooms and textbooks. This learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly. The treatment of heroes Columbus and their victims the Arawaks -the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress-is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders.
It is as if they, like Columbus, deserve universal acceptance, as if they-the Founding Fathers, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, the leading members of Congress, the famous Justices of the Supreme Court-represent the nation as a whole.
The pretense is that there really is such a thing as "the United States," subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a community of people with common interests.
It is as if there really is a "national interest" represented in the Constitution, in territorial expansion, in the laws passed by Congress, the decisions of the courts, the development of capitalism, the culture of education and the mass media.
From his standpoint, the "peace" that Europe had before the French Revolution was "restored" by the diplomacy of a few national leaders. But for factory workers in England, farmers in France, colored people in Asia and Africa, women and children everywhere except in the upper classes, it was a world of conquest, violence, hunger, exploitation-a world not restored but disintegrated.
My viewpoint, in telling the history of the United States, is different: Nations are not communities and never have been, The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest sometimes exploding, most often repressed between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.
Thus, in that inevitable taking of sides which comes from selection and emphasis in history, I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish, of the Mexican war as seen by the deserting soldiers of Scott's army, of the rise of industrialism as seen by the young women in the Lowell textile mills, of the Spanish-American war as seen by the Cubans, the conquest of the Philippines as seen by black soldiers on Luzon, the Gilded Age as seen by southern farmers, the First World War as seen by socialists, the Second World War as seen by pacifists, the New Deal as seen by blacks in Harlem, the postwar American empire as seen by peons in Latin America.
And so on, to the limited extent that any one person, however he or she strains, can "see" history from the standpoint of others. My point is not to grieve for the victims and denounce the executioners. Those tears, that anger, cast into the past, deplete our moral energy for the present. And the lines are not always clear. In the long run, the oppressor is also a victim. In the short run and so far, human history has consisted only of short runs , the victims, themselves desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on other victims.
Still, understanding the complexities, this book will be skeptical of governments and their attempts, through politics and culture, to ensnare ordinary people in a giant web of nationhood pretending to a common interest. I will try not to overlook the cruelties that victims inflict on one another as they are jammed together in the boxcars of the system.
I don't want to romanticize them. But I do remember in rough paraphrase a statement I once read: I don't want to invent victories for people's movements. But to think that history-writing must aim simply to recapitulate the failures that dominate the past is to make historians collaborators in an endless cycle of defeat.
If history is to be creative, to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I believe, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win. I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past's fugitive moments of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare.
That, being as blunt as I can, is my approach to the history of the United States. The reader may as well know that before going on. It built enormous constructions from stone tools and human labor, developed a writing system and a priesthood. It also engaged in let us not overlook this the ritual killing of thousands of people as sacrifices to the gods.
The cruelty of the Aztecs, however, did not erase a certain innocence, and when a Spanish armada appeared at Vera Cruz, and a bearded white man came ashore, with strange beasts horses , clad in iron, it was thought that he was the legendary Aztec man-god who had died three hundred years before, with the promise to return-the mysterious Quetzalcoatl. And so they welcomed him, with munificent hospitality. That was Hernando Cortes, come from Spain with an expedition financed by merchants and landowners and blessed by the deputies of God, with one obsessive goal: In the mind of Montezuma, the king of the Aztecs, there must have been a certain doubt about whether Cortes was indeed Quetzalcoatl, because he sent a hundred runners to Cortes, bearing enormous treasures, gold and silver wrought into objects of fantastic beauty, but at the same time begging him to go back.
The painter Durer a few years later described what he saw just arrived in Spain from that expedition-a sun of gold, a moon of silver, worth a fortune. Cortes then began his march of death from town to town, using deception, turning Aztec against Aztec, killing with the kind of deliberateness that accompanies a strategy-to paralyze the will of the population by a sudden frightful deed. And so, in Cholulu, he invited the headmen of the Cholula nation to the square.
And when they came, with thousands of unarmed retainers, Cortes's small army of Spaniards, posted around the square with cannon, armed with crossbows, mounted on horses, massacred them, down to the last man.
Then they looted the city and moved on. When their cavalcade of murder was over they were in Mexico City, Montezuma was dead, and the Aztec civilization, shattered, was in the hands of the Spaniards.
In Peru, that other Spanish conquistador Pizarro, used the same tactics, and for the same reasons- the frenzy in the early capitalist states of Europe for gold, for slaves, for products of the soil, to pay the bondholders and stockholders of the expeditions, to finance the monarchical bureaucracies rising in Western Europe, to spur the growth of the new money economy rising out of feudalism, to participate in what Karl Marx would later call "the primitive accumulation of capital.
In the North American English colonies, the pattern was set early, as Columbus had set it in the islands of the Bahamas. In , before there was any permanent English settlement in Virginia, Richard Grenville landed there with seven ships. The Indians he met were hospitable, but when one of them stole a small silver cup, Grenville sacked and burned the whole Indian village. Jamestown itself was set up inside the territory of an Indian confederacy, led by the chief, Powhatan. Powhatan watched the English settle on his people's land, but did not attack, maintaining a posture of coolness.
When the English were going through their "starving time" in the winter of , some of them ran off to join the Indians, where they would at least be fed. When the summer came, the governor of the colony sent a messenger to ask Powhatan to return the runaways, whereupon Powhatan, according to the English account, replied with "noe other than prowde and disdaynefull Answers.
Twelve years later, the Indians, alarmed as the English settlements kept growing in numbers, apparently decided to try to wipe them out for good. They went on a rampage and massacred men, women, and children. From then on it was total war. Not able to enslave the Indians, and not able to live with them, the English decided to exterminate them. In that first year of the white man in Virginia, , Powhatan had addressed a plea to John Smith that turned out prophetic.
How authentic it is may be in doubt, but it is so much like so many Indian statements that it may be taken as, if not the rough letter of that first plea, the exact spirit of it:. When the Pilgrims came to New England they too were coming not to vacant land but to territory inhabited by tribes of Indians.
The governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, created the excuse to take Indian land by declaring the area legally a "vacuum. The Puritans also appealed to the Bible, Psalms 2: The Puritans lived in uneasy truce with the Pequot Indians, who occupied what is now southern Connecticut and Rhode Island.
But they wanted them out of the way; they wanted their land. And they seemed to want also to establish their rule firmly over Connecticut settlers in that area. The murder of a white trader, Indian-kidnaper, and troublemaker became an excuse to make war on the Pequots in A punitive expedition left Boston to attack the Narraganset Indians on Block Island, who were lumped with the Pequots. As Governor Winthrop wrote:. The English landed and killed some Indians, but the rest hid in the thick forests of the island and the English went from one deserted village to the next, destroying crops.
Then they sailed back to the mainland and raided Pequot villages along the coast, destroying crops again. One of the officers of that expedition, in his account, gives some insight into the Pequots they encountered: They not thinking we intended war, went on cheerfully So, the war with the Pequots began. Massacres took place on both sides. The English developed a tactic of warfare used earlier by Cortes and later, in the twentieth century, even more systematically: Battle, as such, was not his purpose.
Battle is only one of the ways to destroy an enemy's will to fight. Massacre can accomplish the same end with less risk, and Mason had determined that massacre would be his objective. So the English set fire to the wigwams of the village. By their own account: Cotton Mather, Puritan theologian, put it: Indian tribes were used against one another, and never seemed able to join together in fighting the English.
Forty years after the Pequot War, Puritans and Indians fought again. This time it was the Wampanoags, occupying the south shore of Massachusetts Bay, who were in the way and also beginning to trade some of their land to people outside the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Their chief, Massasoit, was dead. His son Wamsutta had been killed by Englishmen, and Wamsuttas brother Metacom later to be called King Philip by the English became chief.
The English found their excuse, a murder which they attributed to Metacom, and they began a war of conquest against the Wampanoags, a war to take their land. They were clearly the aggressors, but claimed they attacked for preventive purposes. As Roger Williams, more friendly to the Indians than most, put it: Jennings says the elite of the Puritans wanted the war; the ordinary white Englishman did not want it and often refused to fight.
The Indians certainly did not want war, but they matched atrocity with atrocity. When it was over, in , the English had won, but their resources were drained; they had lost six hundred men. Three thousand Indians were dead, including Metacom himself. Yet the Indian raids did not stop. For a while, the English tried softer tactics. But ultimately, it was back to annihilation. The Indian population of 10 million that lived north of Mexico when Columbus came would ultimately be reduced to less than a million.
Huge numbers of Indians would die from diseases introduced by the whites. A Dutch traveler in New Netherland wrote in that "the Indians There were no wars on that island, but by , only Indians were left there. Similarly, Block Island Indians numbered perhaps 1, to 1, in , and by were reduced to fifty-one. Behind the English invasion of North America, behind their massacre of Indians, their deception, their brutality, was that special powerful drive born in civilizations based on private property.
It was a morally ambiguous drive; the need for space, for land, was a real human need. But in conditions of scarcity, in a barbarous epoch of history ruled by competition, this human need was transformed into the murder of whole peoples.
Roger Williams said it was. Was all this bloodshed and deceit-from Columbus to Cortes, Pizarro, the Puritans-a necessity for the human race to progress from savagery to civilization?
Was Morison right in burying the story of genocide inside a more important story of human progress? Perhaps a persuasive argument can be made-as it was made by Stalin when he killed peasants for industrial progress in the Soviet Union, as it was made by Churchill explaining the bombings of Dresden and Hamburg, and Truman explaining Hiroshima. But how can the judgment be made if the benefits and losses cannot be balanced because the losses are either unmentioned or mentioned quickly?
That quick disposal might be acceptable "Unfortunate, yes, but it had to be done" to the middle and upper classes of the conquering and "advanced" countries. But is it acceptable to the poor of Asia, Africa, Latin America, or to the prisoners in Soviet labor camps, or the blacks in urban ghettos, or the Indians on reservations-to the victims of that progress which benefits a privileged minority in the world? Was it acceptable or just inescapable? And even the privileged minority-must it not reconsider, with that practicality which even privilege cannot abolish, the value of its privileges, when they become threatened by the anger of the sacrificed, whether in organized rebellion, unorganized riot, or simply those brutal individual acts of desperation labeled crimes by law and the state?
If there are necessary sacrifices to be made for human progress, is it not essential to hold to the principle that those to be sacrificed must make the decision themselves? We can all decide to give up something of ours, but do we have the right to throw into the pyre the children of others, or even our own children, for a progress which is not nearly as clear or present as sickness or health, life or death?
What did people in Spain get out of all that death and brutality visited on the Indians of the Americas? For a brief period in history, there was the glory of a Spanish Empire in the Western Hemisphere. As Hans Koning sums it up in his book Columbus: Beyond all that, how certain are we that what was destroyed was inferior? Who were these people who came out on the beach and swam to bring presents to Columbus and his crew, who watched Cortes and Pizarro ride through their countryside, who peered out of the forests at the first white settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts?
Columbus called them Indians, because he miscalculated the size of the earth. In this book we too call them Indians, with some reluctance, because it happens too often that people are saddled with names given them by their conquerors.
And yet, there is some reason to call them Indians, because they did come, perhaps 25, years ago, from Asia, across the land bridge of the Bering Straits later to disappear under water to Alaska. Then they moved southward, seeking warmth and land, in a trek lasting thousands of years that took them into North America, then Central and South America. In Nicaragua, Brazil, and Ecuador their petrified footprints can still be seen, along with the print of bison, who disappeared about five thousand years ago, so they must have reached South America at least that far back.
Widely dispersed over the great land mass of the Americas, they numbered approximately 75 million people by the time Columbus came, perhaps 25 million in North America. Responding to the different environments of soil and climate, they developed hundreds of different tribal cultures, perhaps two thousand different languages. They perfected the art of agriculture, and figured out how to grow maize corn , which cannot grow by itself and must be planted, cultivated, fertilized, harvested, husked, shelled.
They ingeniously developed a variety of other vegetables and fruits, as well as peanuts and chocolate and tobacco and rubber. On their own, the Indians were engaged in the great agricultural revolution that other peoples in Asia, Europe, Africa were going through about the same time.
While many of the tribes remained nomadic hunters and food gatherers in wandering, egalitarian communes, others began to live in more settled communities where there was more food, larger populations, more divisions of labor among men and women, more surplus to feed chiefs and priests, more leisure time for artistic and social work, for building houses.
About a thousand years before Christ, while comparable constructions were going on in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the Zuni and Hopi Indians of what is now New Mexico had begun to build villages consisting of large terraced buildings, nestled in among cliffs and mountains for protection from enemies, with hundreds of rooms in each village.
Before the arrival of the European explorers, they were using irrigation canals, dams, were doing ceramics, weaving baskets, making cloth out of cotton. By the time of Christ and Julius Caesar, there had developed in the Ohio River Valley a culture of so-called Moundbuilders, Indians who constructed thousands of enormous sculptures out of earth, sometimes in the shapes of huge humans, birds, or serpents, sometimes as burial sites, sometimes as fortifications.
These Moundbuilders seem to have been part of a complex trading system of ornaments and weapons from as far off as the Great Lakes, the Far West, and the Gulf of Mexico. It had an advanced agriculture, included thousands of villages, and also built huge earthen mounds as burial and ceremonial places near a vast Indian metropolis that may have had thirty thousand people.
The largest mound was feet high, with a rectangular base larger than that of the Great Pyramid of Egypt. In the city, known as Cahokia, were toolmakers, hide dressers, potters, jewelry makers, weavers, salt makers, copper engravers, and magnificent ceramists.
One funeral blanket was made of twelve thousand shell beads. In the vision of the Mohawk chief Iliawatha, the legendary Dekaniwidah spoke to the Iroquois: In the villages of the Iroquois, land was owned in common and worked in common. Hunting was done together, and the catch was divided among the members of the village.
Houses were considered common property and were shared by several families. The concept of private ownership of land and homes was foreign to the Iroquois. A French Jesuit priest who encountered them in the s wrote: Their kindness, humanity and courtesy not only makes them liberal with what they have, but causes them to possess hardly anything except in common. Women were important and respected in Iroquois society.
That is, the family line went down through the female members, whose husbands joined the family, while sons who married then joined their wives' families. Each extended family lived in a "long house. Families were grouped in clans, and a dozen or more clans might make up a village. The senior women in the village named the men who represented the clans at village and tribal councils. They also named the forty-nine chiefs who were the ruling council for the Five Nation confederacy of the Iroquois.
The women attended clan meetings, stood behind the circle of men who spoke and voted, and removed the men from office if they strayed too far from the wishes of the women. The women tended the crops and took general charge of village affairs while the men were always hunting or fishing.
As Columbus Day gives way to “fall break” and drops off many workers’ calendars altogether, it has become easy to overlook a perennial teaching moment. When Christopher Columbus does come up. In , Columbus sailed the ocean blue and totally missed his mark. His journey may not have gone exactly as planned, but there were some interesting detours along the way. Christopher Colubus, Mariner, is a very enlightening novel concerning Christopher columbus and his travels that made him immortal. By reading this book, I discovered many interesting facts about Columbus.