Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), a sea captain and merchant from Genoa, Italy, is the most famous discoverer of the Americas. He began:
- the takeover of the Americas by Western powers;
- the Transatlantic slave trade;
- the genocide of the Tainos in which over a million died;
- the custom of calling native Americans “Indians”.
He was hardly the first to discover the Americas: there were already tens of million of 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 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 Tainos (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. He found gold at last in Hispaniola, the island where Haiti is.
Columbus made Hispaniola a living hell. The Tainos 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 Tainos 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 Tainos as slaves to Europe. He rewarded lieutenants with Taino women to rape.
The Tainos 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 first met the Tainos 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 Tainos left that Columbus’s son started bringing in slaves from Africa.
– Abagond, 2010.
- John Trudell: When Columbus Got Off The Boat
- The Spanish
- Transatlantic slave trade
- Haiti: a brief history
- How White America got rich
- Basque whalers – were probably in Newfoundland by the 1300s
- Abubakari II – sailed across the Atlantic from West Africa in the 1300s