October 14, 2019
Columbus Day: What’s Fact and What’s Fiction
Whether you see Christopher Columbus as a hero or a ruthless villain, he remains as one of the most prominent figures in the history of the Americas. The Italian explorer is recognized for leading the first European expeditions to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Leaving Spain in August 1492 with three ships, Columbus first arrived in the Americas on October 12, making landfall on an island in the Bahamas. This paved the way for the permanent European colonization of the Americas.
With the enormous impact that Columbus made during his lifetime, it doesn’t come as a shock that the world would set a day to commemorate him. Celebrated in the United States on the second Monday in October of each year is Columbus Day. This year, the holiday falls on the 14th of October.
Columbus Day is one of 10 federal holidays recognized nationwide by the United States government. However, while most states celebrate the holiday with events such as parades and church services, there are a few others that don’t observe the occasion at all. If you live in a city that treats Columbus Day as another ordinary day, don’t worry. You can still have your celebration by learning the truths and debunking a handful of myths about our country’s so-called discoverer.
- Fiction 1: Columbus wanted to prove that the earth was not flat.
During the Middle Ages, people argued about the Earth’s surface, with many of them expressing belief that the world was flat and that people could sail off its edge. Although Columbus’ first New World journey wasn’t able to prove that the world was not flat, his miscalculations led him to prove that the Earth was much bigger than what everyone had thought.
- Fiction 2: Columbus forced the natives to work.
Columbus initially relied on his men to perform their labor, look for natural resources, and build settlements. Unfortunately, many of them went on to rebel against him, which made him decide to use native laborers instead.
- Fiction 3: Columbus forced the natives to change their religion.
As a devout Catholic, Columbus was keen on introducing his religion to the natives. Because of this, many people assumed that he tried to force the Indians into abandoning their faith and converting to Catholicism. However, the truth was that he only shared his religious beliefs, feeling that the natives would be interested to learn more about his faith.
- Fiction 4: Columbus committed genocide.
Another common misconception about Columbus is that he was a cruel and violent man to the extent of having allegedly committed genocide on the natives of the New World. Scholars have debunked such allegations, with Stanford professor emeritus Carol Delaney saying that Columbus was gentle in dealing with the natives and that his intentions were only to foster trade and evangelization. Historians say the deaths of a large number of natives that took place in the Americas a few years after the arrival of Columbus were mostly caused by contagious illnesses that the natives acquired from European colonizers.
- Fiction 5: Columbus only longed for gold and glory.
While Columbus desired rewards and praises for his hard work, this was not the main motivation for his voyages. Introducing Christianity was part of the reason why he went to the New World.
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