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A Short Account of the Destruction of Columbus Day

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Adam Patton

Hodgson

HST201  

28 November, 2018

A Short Account of the Destruction of Columbus Day

     When most people think of Columbus day they think of the recreational day off of work or school. When kids in elementary school draw pictures of Columbus day they often draw smiling natives welcoming Christopher Columbus after he “sailed the ocean blue in 1492”. Unfortunately, history is not as nice as we give it credit for. Somehow, over the years, this tragic misconception has grown and flourished into the widely shared holiday celebrated across America. In 1552, during the midst of Spanish exploration and expansion into the Americas, one priest named Bartolome De Las Casas published “A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies” in which he shares his experiences in hope of informing the king and shedding light on what really happened. After reading his account, it is clear that through the tyranny in Hispaniola alone, Columbus day does not deserve to be celebrated.

     When the Spanish first discovered the Americas in 1492, De Las Casas described the natives, saying that “God made all the people of this area...as open and as innocent as can be imagined. The simplest people in the world - unassuming, long suffering, unassertive, and submissive - they are without malice or guile, and are utterly faithful and obedient…”[1] De Las Casas stresses that the natives are not aggressive or hostile, they don’t try to run the Spanish back where they came, instead they welcome them. De Las Casas goes into detail and describes how weak the natives were, saying that they didn’t look like they could withstand manual labor and that any the were susceptible to any and all illnesses. The Spanish also see the natives, being naked, as being poor and having nothing, not even greed or ambition. De Las Casas was immensely fascinated with how peaceful and kind the natives were, even going as far as to say, as a priest, that “these[the natives] would be the most blessed people on earth if only they were given the chance to convert to Christianity.”[2] It's important that De Las Casas sets the scene because it only makes his point greater when vastly contrasting how he then described his own people, “from the very first day they clapped eyes on them the Spanish fell like ravening wolves upon the fold, or like tigers and savage lions who have not eaten meat for days...[they]still do nothing save tear the natives to shreds, murder them and inflict upon them untold misery, suffering and distress, tormenting, harrying and persecuting them mercilessly.”[3] This illustrates De Las Casas’ point that the spanish explorers were cruel, blood thirsty, tyrannical, and by no means should they have done what they did.

     When De Las Casas and the spanish explored Hispaniola, they found five main kingdoms, Magua, Marien, Maguana, Xaragua, and Higuey, and as their discovery found each one, so did there torment. In Marien, King Guacanagari ruled over the northern land, which was a fertile land containing copious amounts of gold and copper mines, and was later used as a royal harbour for the Spanish. This was the original location where Columbus first discovered. De Las Casas refers to a conversation with Columbus when discussing Marien, saying “As Columbus himself told me, it was there that Admiral’s own ship was lost and he and his men were as graciously treated and looked after as if they had been back home and were all part of the same close family.”[4] Later Guacanagari would end up dying up in the mountains surrounding Marien, after fleeing the massacres. Subsequently, those in power underneath, or with allegiance to Guacanagari were killed through slavery and other cruelties. It didn’t matter to Columbus or the other Spaniards, that they were slaughtering the same men who had previously welcomed them into their homes and treated them with such kindness and hospitality.  

     King Caonabo, ruler of Maguana, was known for his nobility, bravery, and majesty. In a trick by the spanish, Caonabo was abducted, and put on board a ship set for Castile, most likely to put into slavery. Caonabo never made it to Castile, the ship he was placed on was one of six that sank directly before departure due to a violent storm that killed everyone aboard all ships. De Las Casas, when referring to the event, described it as “the Almighty determined not to allow this act of duplicity and injustice to pass unnoticed...”[5] Caonabo survived by four brothers who were just as valorous, when the brothers heard the atrocities of what the Spanish had been doing, and learned what happened to their brother, they decided to take revenge. Their efforts didn’t last long however, when the Spanish rode in on horseback and decimated half of the population of Maguana. The use of horses is important to note about the Spanish because of how much of a military advantage the animal gave them. The natives did not know how to withstand attacks on horseback, running around and fleeing, which only made it easier to cut them down. Even without horses, the natives were no match for the Spanish, and any attempt to fight back against their heinous acts would only be met with death or torture.

Magua was a great land of plains surrounded by mountains and filled with streams. Specifically in the province of Cibao, the king Guarionex declared an order that every household would provide a gourd filled with gold to the spanish as an annual gift. Once he realized that this decree may have been to big to handle for his people, who did not know how to mine gold, he lowered the amount to half a gourd. King Guarionex then suggested the Spanish go to another Hispaniola king, Castile, who had greater resources for a mining operation. De Las Casas notes “The wicked European commanders rewarded this good and great man by dishonouring him when one of their number took and raped his wife. To this the king could have easily have reacted by biding his time and gathering an army to exact revenge, but he elected instead to abdicate and go into voluntary exile, alone…”[6] When the Spanish realized he had fled, they tracked him down with an army and lead an attack against where he was staying. Once they found him they took him prisoner and shackled him, and sent him on a ship that was then lost at sea. This is just one illustration of how cruel and unfair the natives were treated by the spanish, having no respect for alliances, or the sanctity of the native’s marriages. The Spanish took what they wanted regardless of the natives, and sometimes took efforts even further just for the sake of their sheer sadism and cruelty.

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