jewel bush: Discovering the lies behind Columbus Day

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jewel bush

Dear folks who decide holidays in Louisiana,

I respectfully request that you discontinue the Christopher Columbus holiday observance, posthaste.

It is an act of disrespect and deceit to continue to prop up Christopher Columbus as America’s first great hero.

He was no darling.

With romantic whimsy, textbooks recount the arrival of the Niña, Pinta, and the Santa Maria on October 12, 1492. Students are taught to herald the bravery of Columbus and his crew, to hail them as sailors who braved stormy seas and the unknown to discover our beloved America.

None of this, however, reveals the true Columbus history. From the moment the lookout cheered, “Tierra! (land),” Columbus began a campaign of genocide and theft — theft of land, resources and people. Countless atrocities to mankind followed with his arrival.

The story of Columbus as we have been taught in school is a farce, one of the biggest lies taught in American history classrooms. He did not discover America more than 500 years ago. He was a liar, who fabricated everything from weather conditions to travel time in his logbooks. He was not kind to the “naked savages” he encountered. He deemed the indigenous people inconsequential and subhuman. He claimed their soil and anything else he and his band of looters deemed valuable.

“Christopher Columbus introduced two phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth, and labor from ingenious people in the Western Hemisphere, leading to their near extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass,” wrote James W. Loewen in his bestseller, Lies My Teacher Told Me.

In 1892, on the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing, President Benjamin Harrison established a celebration. The second Monday in October came to be the Columbus holiday in 1971.

Columbus does deserve a place in history, but not on a pedestal. He should be acknowledged as a disoriented explorer, who set sail for India and landed near what is now the Bahamas; one of a long line of European mariners seeking world domination.

We are taught that once he landed in the New World (the biggest misnomer in history given that an existing population and culture preceded his disembarking) he kissed the ground and praised God. We are not taught the nasty details of how he disfigured the uncooperative original people by chopping off their hands, noses, and ears, maiming them in revolting ways to coerce the rest into submission.

We are not taught about the perverse nature of these so-called Christian journeyers. Or about the sexual violence they inflicted.

From Christopher Columbus: The Four Voyages, a collection of letters and various correspondence, one of his men, Michele da Cuneo, wrote nonchalantly of a rape he committed against a young indigenous woman:

“While I was in the boat, I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral gave to me. When I had taken her to my cabin she was naked—as was their custom. I was filled with a desire to take my pleasure with her and attempted to satisfy my desire. She was unwilling, and so treated me with her nails that I wished I had never begun. But — to cut a long story short — I then took a piece of rope and whipped her soundly, and she let forth such incredible screams that you would not have believed your ears. Eventually we came to such terms, I assure you, that you would have thought that she had been brought up in a school for whores.”

Wicked and ghastly, this is a report back of a dutiful subordinate eager to tell the boss man how he is upholding the company line.

In Columbus’ own words, from his diary: “They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… . They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

When Columbus is revered so is mass murder, global thuggery and the degradation of humanity. Not exploration or inquisitiveness — all the things textbooks and the powers that be lead us to believe.

Alaska, Hawaii and Oregon join 16 other states that don’t recognize Columbus Day as a public holiday. South Dakota has celebrated Native American Day since 1990. Berkeley, Calif., has boycotted Columbus Day since 1992, instead marking Indigenous Peoples Day. Today, places like Seattle and Minneapolis do too.

Again, I question: Why do we honor Christopher Columbus?

In Louisiana, I propose a holiday to memorialize the Tunica, Chitimacha, or perhaps the Coushatta tribes who were robbed of their land or the scores of slaves whose very sweat and blood fueled the economic system for centuries, whose stories are too ugly to be told during plantation tours.


Fed up with revisionist history

jewel bush is an award-winning journalist and writer. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Times-Picayune and The (Houma) Courier. She has won numerous awards including distinctions from the Louisiana Press Association and the New York Times Regional Media Group. Her short story, “Red Polish” appears in “Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop.” Her newest piece, Related Somehow to Africa: Black Palestinians and the Search for Shared Identity, appears in issue 115 of the Harvard journal, Transition.

27 thoughts on “jewel bush: Discovering the lies behind Columbus Day

  1. Wow – is this really what Uptown Messenger has become? An avenue for liberal journalists to espouse their views and opinions? I remember when this daily email was just information about Uptown New Orleans -the good, the bad and the ugly – please bring that back!

    • Not really a question of liberal or conservative in my opinion, just the inane opinion of a butt hurt, third world individual that resents Western culture.

      • It is a very long list of individuals that started, by some accounts, with the very event that has been celebrated in this a holiday

    • It *is* tagged ‘opinion’. This is no different than an editorial piece that you see in print papers– which is a fine thing for any news outlet to have.

  2. Miss Bush – if you are serious you are seriously deluded –
    Prior to any Europeans landing cannibalism, enslavement, and/or territorial warfare, etc – were part of every day life in North Central and South America.

  3. And while you’re at it, get rid of Christmas too. A holiday based on belief in a super space ghost with a misogynist dad or alternatively, ib a teleporting fat white guy in a red suit that watches children all year, neither of which have ever proven to be factual. Or we could just enjoy a day off from work.

  4. I agree Jewel. You should leave America & give your house to the Native Americans.
    The Spanish, although committing horrendous acts themselves including murder & slavery, ended some insane Indian wars, Indian on Indian slavery & ritual murder/sacrifice. History is complicated. Most people celebrate not Columbus the person but the changing of the world that happened in 1492 & the mass immigration from Old World to New. You are doing what you say you revile…revisionist history. The history is complex…some good, some bad. Indigenous people committed many atrocities against Europeans also. Most indigenous peoples were killed by smallpox & other diseases. This was an act of biology not murder. It was a tragedy. Columbus is merely one man in the story.

    • It is true that he is just one man (except the holiday is named after him so that changes it a bit), and while Europeans were conquering and looting this hemisphere it is true that some groups responded with extreme violence during their last days.

      I did not read anything here that is actually revisionist history– assuming by history you mean things that actually happened.

  5. I appreciate the column, which is a reminder that our view of most of our history and famous figures is shrouded more in myth than in reality. However, I tend to think it’s better to keep our traditional holidays that we have, and use those opportunities for education as Ms. Bush has done here.

    • Yes that is true, and even today there are more slaves than ever. Including the recent news that ISIS has enslaved thousands of Yazidi recently.

      One thing to note is that when the Europeans engaged the existing indigenous slave trade it grew exponentially and became a system that was horrifically different than what had existed before. Once the market expanded to provide a product for colonial purchasing, tribal cultures that had traditionally kept slaves as an after effect of conflicts or similar began to raid specifically to capture slaves to sell to the colonial powers. This is a big shift from the system that had been in place before colonial ‘discovery’. Using the pre-colonial slave practices to say the post-colonial slave practices are OK is a little like apples and oranges.

  6. Thank you for this article, and for continuing to point out truths we need to face. I do believe “the truth will set you free” even though acknowledging it can be difficult. Keep up the good work.

  7. I don’t think Ms. Bush wrote that all of the indigenous people were perfect and happy and always peaceful, singing songs about how wonderful life was. She didn’t present their lives as if they were in a musical. The point she made was that Columbus wasn’t the man I learned about in school. He was cruel and more than ready to enslave the people he found. In her opinion, and in mine, he wasn’t a hero that this whole country should be celebrating.

  8. Funny how much righteous indignation is feigned by commenters here. It’s long been a contentious “holiday” and she isn’t really writing anything that hasn’t been widely discussed nationally for years.

    • donegal,

      It’s still a debate of more recent vintage that doesn’t really address the full background of the holiday.

  9. My beef with this is that Columbus Day really isn’t about venerating Columbus; rather, it is about Columbus’ discovery of the Americas for the rest of the world, and the pride that Catholic immigrants have taken in the fact that it was an Italian explorer that made that discovery. I think boiling the entire holiday down to the ill deeds of Columbus himself grossly misses the point.

  10. I agree that this seems like an odd essay for the Uptown Messenger, and it reads like an overwrought polemic. On the other hand, there is a valid point here: that Columbus was a very important historical figure, but he wasn’t a hero and wasn’t a figure of American history in the same sense as the founding fathers. So the question is whether we should be idolizing and venerating him with an American holiday. A number of states have apparently already answered this question with “no”.

  11. I have never in my lifetime seen or heard of people celebrating Mr. Columbus on Columbus day. It has always been about celebrating the beginning of the migration from Europe to the Americas and most importantly a day off of work. I do not know what the hell is wrong with liberal people today that feel that it is their role in society to “tell us the real truth”. Whether it’s the Washington Red Skins, sea world, thanksgiving, christmas, Columbus day, or veterans day you guys pick obscure and completely irelevant to our everyday lives issues and try to create a grassroots movement for change for no other reason but that it’s your opinion and that the rest of us are too ignorant or backwards to know better. Honestly, I think liberals always try to tackle these obscure issues because they do not have the courage to write about and start grass root movements to address real issues that effect our everyday lives. It’s so frustrating to me to see my neighbood news outlet resort to this type of garbage that I would expect to see on motherjones or slate. Thinking about it, this article should probably be run through a plagarism checker because that is how similar this article reads to the hundreds written on the same freaking issue on liberal blogs and news outlets. There is a reason for the Times Picayune’s downfall and it was because of the increased liberal spin on their reporting. Few more articles like this and I will no longer be visiting this site.

  12. Jewel, are you next going to attack the 4th of July? I never complain about Juntheen. However after 2 terms by our present one, I’m thinking about not celebrating Presidents Day.

  13. Cristoforo Columbo is as significant as the first man on the moon, in that he got here (New World) AND made it back. He explored more after that and created trade routes. He wasn’t the first to arrive but his impact historically will always be TRADE and that can’t be erased just because of his wrong thinking about enslaving others to serve the Crowns of Europe. Columbus Day should remind us that exploration has always come with great risk and loss of human life. It’s a wonder the Santa Maria made it at all!!! Historically he was from what is now Italy so what other holiday celebrates the Latins that braved the trip across. The world was so unknown yet – don’t you at least give him credit for having the determination to try to go where no one had been before?! How frighteningly intense that must have been … Trade routes – to a new world crossing the Atlantic in a wooden ship OMG!!! discoveries like chocolate which became a huge export from the Americas et al – make his role MAJOR even if it wasn’t pretty …

  14. For the record, I grew up thinking,’ Columbus sailed the ocean blue, in 1492′, only to “discover” pardon the pun, that this land was already inhabited for thousands of years, “Before Columbus”, a book by Lerone Bennett, a renowned historian of the African Diaspora, wrote the truth about Columbus, his crews and the almost extinction of the indigenous people already here. Call it “revisionist” if you like, but Columbus is no hero to Hispanics, African-Americans or Native Americans. Celebrated in New York/New Jersey as “Indigenous Peoples Day”, makes more sense to me, besides, the Vikings landed in America first!

    • Why would Hispanics have an issue with Columbus, he sailed for Spain? He created great power and riches for the Spanish crown and unleashed the Hispanic colonizers in the New World? Unless you are confused by who are Hispanics? Blacks might really think that the New World would never have been settled by Europeans and thus they would be able to have remained in that pastoral paradise of Sub-Saharan Africa not troubled by the complexities of modernity. But I think they would be mistaken and the New World would have been colonized by the evil westerners. And the fact is at some point in time the indigenous people were going to come in contact with viruses from Asia or Africa, the Americas weren’t going to remain isolated with the noble savages remaining free to engage in cannibalism, slavery and other pleasures of their culture.

  15. Who said they did? For decades Puerto Ricans celebrated him but he brought slaves to Puerto Rico and they mixed also. Columbus and his crew brought disease that decimated the indigenous people. Stole riches which can be viewed in the magnificent churches and basilicas in Spain and Portugal. The Spanish imposed his customs and language when they colonized the Americas throughout South America from Mexico to Brazil and the Islands of Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Cuba.

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