October 9, 2017, Prescott-
Synchronicity leads to triage. A meeting that I cannot miss, tomorrow night, has delayed my brief jaunt over to Gila Cliff Dwellings, until Wednesday morning. This will be just fine, though it takes me away from other meetings, Wednesday and Thursday nights. As long as I’m back, to take care of a key task on Friday, it’s all good. Besides, driving down and over to Superior on Tuesday night, after the gathering, will be easy enough.
Now then: Today is celebrated by those of Italian descent, across the United States, as Columbus Day.. Others among our countrymen point out that Columbus’ track record, with regard to the Indigenous people of the Caribbean Basin and Rim, was hardly deserving of special honours.
A contemporary of Columbus, Bartolomeo de las Casas, himself a defender of indigenous peoples’ rights, says of the Admiral : He was “more than middling tall; face long and giving an air of authority; aquiline nose, blue eyes, complexion light and tending to bright red, beard and hair red when young but very soon turned gray from his labors; he was affable and cheerful in speaking […] A forgiver of injuries, [he] wished nothing more than that those who offended against him should recognize their errors, and that the delinquents be reconciled with him.”
Columbus did concur with slaughtering cannibals, among the Caribs of Dominica, after seeing graphic evidence of their torture of both Taino and Spaniard. He reported, but did not practice, the sexual enslavement of young Taino girls. For this last, and other “crimes against the Spanish”, his opponents, Bobadilla and Roldan, sought Columbus’ removal. Although Roldan later reconciled with Columbus, Bobadilla persisted, and eventually saw to the Admiral’s removal and imprisonment. Much of the present-day condemnation of Christopher Columbus comes from “evidence” cited by Bobadilla, who was himself a severe persecutor of indigenous people, though his own rule over Santo Domingo proved ineffective and was, therefore, very brief.
Having said this, I am not sure what merit Columbus has, for the honours heaped upon him, as “discoverer of America”. He never set foot on American soil, other than Puerto Rico, which has its own history and sovereignty, separate from that of the United States of America. He was, by his own admission, not the first European to set foot in North America (having visited Iceland and heard the descriptions of “Vinland”, from that country’s residents).
Like many of our holidays, Columbus Day has become about us. In this case, it has become about proud Italian-Americans marching in parades and honouring their rich heritage. That heritage includes, among other things, the fact that our hemisphere’s two continents are named for one of Columbus’s contemporaries: Amerigo Vespucci, a cartographer. Columbus himself is honoured, decently enough, by places being named for him, from the capitals and largest cities of Ohio and South Carolina, to Canada’s westernmost province (albeit by way of Lewis and Clark having named the Columbia River after him).
People change at a glacial pace, so I expect Columbus Day, and the parades, will be around for some years yet. It doesn’t much matter, here in Arizona, save for the banks and post offices being closed. We tend to pay more mind to those important to this area’s heritage. So, by and large, the sensibilities of Native Americans loom larger, and Columbus is more a figure of curiosity and of academic study.