They lied to you in school. Christopher Columbus was an obsessively cruel religious zealot, a genocidal maniac responsible for slaughtering millions of natives in the Americas in the most violent ways imaginable and initiating the slave trade. Oh -- and he was also a heroin addict. No one knows what he actually looks like. Most historians aren't even sure what his real name is. He may not even be Italian.
It's no small wonder that many Americans would prefer not to celebrate Columbus Day. There is a growing movement to reconsider this holiday, see it for what it is and deconstruct it entirely for a day that honors people of color. The state of South Dakota has officially changed Columbus Day to Native American Day. Meanwhile, 22 states refuse to recognize this holiday.
Now, that's the kind of stuff that makes me proud to be an American. If you agree, you can sign the online petition to create a national holiday for Native Americans.
Here's a few fun facts about Christopher Columbus that will probably blow your hair back, if you've got any. How much of this did you learn in school?
- Columbus was a fervent Catholic who believed God had chosen him for a great destiny -- but his folks may have been "conversos" -- converted Spanish Jews!
- Christopher Columbus’ real name is not Christopher Columbus, although interestingly, that's the name that he chose for himself. His name varies from country to country. In Genoa (his birthplace, supposedly) it's Chrisoffa Corombo. Some historians claim that Columbus was in reality a Portuguese Jew whose real name was Salvador Fernandes Zarco.
- Columbus wrote in Spanish -- not Italian or Latin! -- his entire life. (See #1 and #2.)
- Columbus began sailing at the age of 14.
- Columbus never wanted to prove the Earth was round because everyone already knew it. His goal was to find an overseas trade route to India and China. Thanks to their proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, Italy controlled trade to the East -- so they weren't all that excited about him looking for a new route.
- It was Columbus' younger brother Bartholomew’s idea to sail across the ocean -- not his.
- Contrary to popular myth, Spain's Queen Isabella never sold her jewelry to pay for Columbus's voyage. She and King Ferdinand financed the trip partly through investors -- Italian investors! (See #5.)
- Columbus made four trips west but he never actually set foot on U.S. soil. Initially, he landed on an island in the Bahamas.
- Columbus always insisted -- in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary -- that the land he "discovered" was a part of the Asian continent, as described by Marco Polo and other European explorers.
- Columbus is responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent men, women, children and infants in The New World. He's the one who opened the door for Cortez the Killer and many other European explorers to sail to the west and decimate the indigenous people of the Americas. He all but wiped out the Tainos, the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Bahamas, Greater Antilles, and the northern Lesser Antilles. They were beaten, tortured, raped, enslaved and murdered. According to Ward Churchill, former professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado: By 1496, the Taino population had been reduced from as many as eight million to around three million. In 1514, a census showed only 22,000 Taino remained alive. By 1542 there were only 200 remaining and after that, they were considered extinct, as was becoming more and more the case throughout the Caribbean basin. The Taino are NOT extinct, by the way.
- Columbus was the new world's first slave trader. Failing at finding enough gold to pay investors in in his second voyage, Columbus returned to Spain with 500 Arawaks (Tainos) of which 300 survived to be sold “naked as the day they were born.”
- Columbus reintroduced horses to the West. YES, there were horses here some 12,ooo years before the Spaniards showed up with Mustangs that went feral and ran wild across the plains. Scientific evidence shows that although the horse (equues ferus) originated in North America and thrived here for over 57 million years, they died out after the Pleistocene era. There are interesting theories as to what may have happened.
- Columbus was an opium addict -- the same drug used in producing modern-day heroin. (This wasn't unusual in the 1400s. The King and Queen of Spain were hooked, too.)
- Paintings depicting Columbus are not based on his actual looks. He is said to have light eyes, freckles and red hair.