- the takeover of the Americas by Western powers;
- the Transatlantic slave trade;
- the genocide of Hispaniola in which over a million died;
- the custom of calling the natives “Indians”.
He was hardly the first to discover the Americas: there were already 20 million people living there when he arrived in 1492.
Even the Scandinavians, Arabs and West Africans already knew there was something not far over the ocean – something he might have heard about when he was in Iceland and West Africa.
He went to the king of Portugal and said he could trade with Asia by sailing west. The king’s experts said Columbus would run out of food and fresh water on the open sea long before he reached Asia. They knew the earth was round and knew just how big it was.
Columbus thought the earth was smaller than it was. He thought Cipangu (Japan) was about where Mexico is. He was not completely alone in his opinion – German mapmaker Martin Behaim and Italian astronomer Paolo Toscanelli had much the same ideas.
After several years Columbus was able raise enough money to go: half the money came from Italian backers, half from the king and queen of Spain.
After a month of smooth sailing on the open sea he arrived in the Bahamas on October 12th 1492. He was greeted by the Arawaks, the main people of the Caribbean in those days. He noticed two important things about them: they had gold and their most advanced weapon was the spear. Columbus:
With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.
For years he went from island to island looking for where the gold came from. In 1499 he found gold at last in Hispaniola, the island where Haiti is.
Columbus made Hispaniola a living hell. The Arawaks had no guns or swords, but it was not enough to simply kill those who fought against Spanish rule. The Spanish had them:
- burned alive;
- cut to pieces like they were animals;
- run down by attack dogs and torn to pieces.
Not just the men but women and children too.
Columbus said that Arawaks over the age of 13 who did not gather enough gold or cotton every three months would have their hands cut off. He sold thousands of Arawaks as slaves to Europe. He rewarded lieutenants with Arawak women to rape.
The Arawaks threw the gold into the rivers to keep it from the Spanish. Mothers even killed their babies to keep them from living in Columbus’s new world.
When Columbus had first met the Arawaks he said they were “of quick intelligence” and had “good customs”. But later when he was killing them and making them into slaves, he said they were “stupid” and “cruel”.
By 1505 there were so few Arawaks left that Columbus’s son started bringing in slaves from Africa.