Christopher Columbus the Liar Essay
The letter Christopher Columbus wrote back to Spain to report his findings in the New World sparked intrigued me and sparked my imagination. Why I have been so absorbed in this letter I can not explain. This letter is supposed to be about describing an unknown land, a land that has not been seen by anyone besides the natives, but it seems that there is more to it than that. Columbus is known in elementary schools as the man who found the New World, and is regarded as a hero. To the contrary, historians who have done more research on Columbus say that he was driven by fame and fortune and that he was tyrannical in his ways with the indigenous peoples of the places that he came to find. I feel that the contradictory tones Columbus uses gives this letter an eerie feel, and Columbus’s eventual desire to take over the indigenous peoples brings doubt on his reliability as an accurate and fair eyewitness.
Columbus begins this letter to Luis De Sant Angel by saying how fortunate he was to find these great islands. Right away, before even describing his findings, he thanks the king and queen and begins to explain how he named the islands he discovered. Everyone knows that the king and queen gave Columbus those ships, yet he wanted to recognize them for some reason. I think that he wanted the king and queen to feel as if they themselves discovered the islands, not him. Whether it was out of fear, or out of respect, Columbus really gave them credit. So much tribute was given that the first island they discovered, Columbus named San Salvador, commemorating the king. He seemed like he really wanted to give credit to everyone that may have had a hand in this voyage, especially the king and queen, who financially supported this expedition. Contrary to what historians believe about Columbus, he was very humble and giving in the naming of these islands. Keeping with the standard tone of the Spanish monarchial society, he named these islands for the wisdom and greatness of the monarchs.
Columbus then went on to describe the natives, whom he called “Indians”. He made it clear that there were many people, and even used the word, “innumerable” on several occasions. One of the more disturbing lines to me was in the beginning of the letter, “I have heard from other Indians I have already taken that this land was and island” Columbus goes on to explain how he explored the island after receiving the advice from the natives. The reason I am so disturbed by this line is the fact that Columbus said, “I have already taken,” to me that was pretty barbaric. The way Columbus said those words so nonchalantly really gives me an idea of what kind of man Columbus really was and what kind of mission the Spaniards were really on. What does “I have already taken” mean? To me it means that Columbus now owns these “Indians” and their freedom was most likely taken by force. It means that he has already enslaved these people and they must have not put up much of a fight. He just kind of threw those four words into a sentence in the letter, did not mention how they have taken them or what happened, he just mentions that there are “Indians” and he is letting the monarchs back in Spain know that he has taken them. He mentions nothing more of the people he has just conquered, but moves on to mention how he named their island Hispaniola. This was just a preview for the more barbarism to come.
When Columbus describes the environment of the land they have discovered, he gives it much praise. Columbus gives a vast description of Hispaniola, saying that the mountains and trees are beautiful, but then saying that they were as lovely as the trees in Spain. Speaking of the mountains Columbus said, “They are most beautiful, of a thousand varied forms, accessible, and full of trees of endless varieties, so high that they seem to touch the sky, and I have been told that they never lose their foliage. I saw them as green and lovely as trees are in Spain in the month of May.” For some reason this line caught my attention. At first I thought the word usage was to help the people in Spain visualize the colors and the beauty of the new world by comparing it to what the Spanish people are used to. I then took it to another level. As fascinated as Columbus was with what he saw, he did not want the king and queen to think that he thought the new world was more beautiful than Spain itself. To think that this New World could be more beautiful than mother Spain, could be treason and he could not describe this place to the king and queen without mentioning Spain’s beauty. So, as unnecessary as it may seem to me to describe these islands in relation to Spain, Columbus may have been using a bit of tactic behind his seemingly innocent poetry. In trying to save himself from seeming treasonous, Columbus had to use a little poetry to compare the New World to Spain. In the quote, the place Columbus was describing seems divine and majestic, almost like heaven, but then he just relates all this beauty to Spain in the month of May. Is Spain really that beautiful in the month of May, or is Columbus just trying to make the monarchs believe that Spain is just as majestic and divine. This line alone, seemingly insignificant, may have dampened Columbus’s description of the New World, just to please a few monarchs.
In the following paragraphs, Columbus explains how timid and afraid the native peoples are of all of his men. Columbus makes himself seem so noble and so generous to these people, by giving them gifts and not allowing his men to take advantage of the native peoples. This all sounds like he is a great man, but he then mentions that they have no iron, steel, or weapons, which means that some of his intentions may lead to some sort of quarrel between the two. Columbus says that he has taken possession of a large town, which he named the City of Navidad. Columbus mentions that the king of these Indians views Columbus as his brother. He then goes on about the king, “Even should he change his mind and wish to quarrel with my men, neither he nor his subjects know what arms are, nor wear clothes, as I have said.” Why would the king of this city of Indians want to quarrel with Columbus, whom he regards to as kin? Well if some people just show up and come in thinking they own your whole country, try to make you convert to Christianity, whatever that may be, and then takes over your town using arms and artillery, how would you feel about it. Would be happy with this man, and call him your brother? I am pretty sure that the leader of this town is not going to embrace the man who has tyrannically taken over your people. I believe that the king calling Columbus his brother is a fictional embellishment to the story, or that the king of this town was so afraid for his people’s lives that he did not put up a fight.
During the whole course of the letter, Columbus beat around the bush and was not upfront with their true intentions of the voyage. He speaks of gold, he speaks of quarreling, but whenever these subjects came up, Columbus quickly changes the subject to a lighter matter. Based on much of the fine print, much of the things that he did not realize what he was writing, and by reading in between the lines of this letter, I saw much more than what was just written. The strayed away from the fact that he was tyrannically taking over the indigenous peoples of this land, even though it was so apparent that he in fact was. Because of this information that we now know about Columbus’s tyrannical ways, was hard for me to read this letter and still believe in Columbus’s integrity as an eyewitness for describing the events on at this New World.