Christopher Columbus’ Genocide

A handful of American cities in the U.S. have abolished Columbus Day and replaced it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Apparently some think it makes more sense to celebrate the history and culture of Native Americans than the mass murderer who launched the campaign that nearly exterminated them.

As documented in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, when Christopher Columbus landed in the Bahamas in 1492 and was greeted by Arawak Indians with food and gifts, he wrote in his journal, “They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…they would make fine servants…with fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

And so the Atlantic slave trade began. Columbus, noticing the gold ornaments the Arawaks wore on their ears, took several aboard his ships as prisoners to extract information from them.

After all, Columbus’ mission was not one of simple exploration and discovery. His mission was to find gold and spices in Asia. In return, Spain promised him governorship over all the lands he discovered, the title of Admiral of the Ocean Sea, and 10% of all profits from the loot.

Columbus, moving from the Bahamas to what is now Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, sent several dozen Indians as slaves back to Spain in February 1494. In 1495, he rounded up 1,600 Indians in Haiti, selected the 550 “best males and females,” and sent them to Spain as slaves; two hundred died during the voyage. The remainder of the 1,600 back in the New World were handed out as slaves to his men.

Columbus, like the European invaders of the Americas that followed him, justified his atrocities with religious platitudes, saying, “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

Indians were also rounded up and put to work on New World plantations called encomiendas. The death toll was catastrophic, and many women were raped.

After an Indian woman “treated me with her finger nails” because “she did not want it,” one Spaniard said, “I took a rope and thrashed her well, for which she raised such unheard of screams…” The woman then complied like she had “been brought up in a school of harlots.”

Columbus gave sex slaves to his men, saying girls “from nine to ten are now in high demand.”  

As it became clear that gold was in very limited supply on these Caribbean Islands (quite the opposite of what Columbus told the king and queen of Spain), Columbus grew more brutal.

All Arawaks over fourteen were ordered to collect a specific amount of gold every three months. Those that did not (and most could not) had their hands cut off, and left to bleed to death. Indians who fled were hunted down with dogs, who devoured them alive.

Dogs were also used when the invaders participated in monteria infernal: hunting Indians for sport.

Indians tried to mount a defense against Columbus, but were wiped out. They had no iron, no guns, no horses. Prisoners taken by the Spanish were hanged or burned to death.

A Spanish priest, Bartolemè de las Casas, wrote that Columbus’ men “thought nothing of knifing Indians by the tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.” He saw two soldiers decapitate two Indian boys “for fun.”

He wrote, “They attacked towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women…cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughterhouse.”

Many Arawaks committed suicide with cassava poisoning, and parents killed their babies to keep them away from Columbus. The invaders “took infants from their mothers’ breasts…pitching them headfirst against the crags or…threw them into the rivers, roaring with laughter.”

After two years on Haiti, half of the estimated 250,000 original inhabitants were dead. By 1515, there were about 50,000 left. By 1550, 500. By 1650, they had been exterminated completely for a long time.

Las Casas estimated that by 1508, “over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this?”

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