In “1492 Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Every schoolchild has heard this rhyme, but do you know where Columbus landed? Do you remember what his goal was? Many remember the names of his ships, but what was the name of the people who were already on the land? This article is to set about to inform you about those people and Christopher Columbus.
To start, I will tell a story, one from my school days, when I was a 5th grader learning about Christopher Columbus. That year I had a teacher I shall call “Ms. M.” Ms. M was Native American. When Columbus Day came around, she got a wry smile on her face and told us we were all going to play the part of natives. Then she pointed to a boy and told him he was to act as Columbus.
The boy had left the classroom. Ms. M told the class that when he returns, we were to all fall dead as soon as he sneezes. The boy walked in, sneezed, and we all fell dead. He looked around, confused. Ms. M. told us that when white people like Columbus came, many of the Native Americans died from disease or were murdered. I never forgot that lesson.
Who is Christopher Columbus Really?
Christopher Columbus was born in Italy in 1451. The son of a wool merchant, he left at a young age for a life on the sea. He was a navigator. At no point did he set out to discover America, nor did he actually ever discover any new lands. On October 12, 1492, he landed in the already occupied Bahamas, thinking he had reached India. He was a slave trader despite the Spanish queen despising slavery. He enslaved and killed native peoples. His last voyage he landed in Central America, but even then, he did not discover America. People already lived there. He died thinking he found a sea route to Asia.
Who Were the Indians?
The indigenous people of the Bahamas called themselves the Lucayans. This meant “island people”. They were the descendants of Arawak’s of Hispaniola, now modern Haiti and the Dominic Republic. Columbus enslaved the people of the Bahamas and the Caribbean. The Arawak people of Hispaniola, known as the Taino, went extinct. Diseases killed most of them as they were not immune.
I stated above the Taino were extinct. In some ways, this is true for most native tribes. The Spanish recorded the elimination of the last of the Taino, but there were survivors. These survivors intermarried with other peoples or existed outside of Hispaniola. There are people today who consider themselves Taino.
What is Indigenous Peoples’ Day?
Indigenous Peoples’ Day occurs every October 12th to celebrate Native American history. There are 14 states plus the District of Columbia and 130 cities celebrating Indigenous People’s Day. It has been an idea since the ’70s, 1977 to be precise. South Dakota was the first state to officially adopt it in 1989. If we started teaching our kids that October 12 is Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus day we correct the error we have enshrined in our history.
While many might argue that Columbus day is a great celebration of Italian American Heritage, Native American’s have long protested this symbol of genocide and colonialism. Columbus Day is honouring European slaughter of existing people. It is declaring hero of a man who wrote in his own journals how easy it would be to subjugate native people. Today we should honour the many who were already here, those first Americans, not Columbus.
I wanted to get this out on October 12th but did not. On October 12, a video was posted to Tik-Tok and reposted on YouTube, claiming that it was BlackOut Day. BlackOut Day was July 7th, 2020 for Black Lives Matter. White people staying silent in the face of racism by not posting on social media does not end racism. My mother always told me silence is agreement. Speak out by lifting up voices of BIPOC.
Further Reading (Sources)
- (2016, March 03). Taíno: Indigenous Caribbeans. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/article/section/pre-colonial-history/taino-indigenous-caribbeans/
- Dope, S. (2007, December 04). Where does that “1492/ocean blue” thing about Columbus come from? And what was Columbus’s deal, anyway? Retrieved October 12, 2020, from https://www.straightdope.com/21343413/where-does-that-1492-ocean-blue-thing-about-columbus-come-from-and-what-was-columbus-s-deal-anyway
- Editors, B. (2020, August 20). Christopher Columbus. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://www.biography.com/explorer/christopher-columbus
- Hauck, G. (2020, October 12). Indigenous Peoples Day or Columbus Day? 14 states celebrate, honor Native American histories and cultures. Retrieved October 12, 2020, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/10/12/columbus-day-indigenous-peoples-day-facts-220-holiday-trump/5952881002/
- com Editors. (2009, November 09). Christopher Columbus. Retrieved October 12, 2020, from https://www.history.com/topics/exploration/christopher-columbus
- Nursery Rhymes For Kids – Videos, Songs, Lyrics. (n.d.). Retrieved October 12, 2020, from https://www.nurseryrhymes.com/columbus-sailed-the-ocean-blue-nursery-rhymes/
- Wilkinson, J. (n.d.). History of the Bahamas. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from http://www.keyshistory.org/bahamas.html
- Zotigh, D. W., & Gokey, R. (2020, October 12). Rethinking How We Celebrate American History-Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/blogs/national-museum-american-indian/2020/10/12/indigenous-peoples-day-updated2020/