Columbus' Confusion About the New World

Smithsonian has several articles today about Christopher Columbus, one of which explains some of his actions by looking at the mindset of a self-educated person in the 15th century. The unfamiliar things he saw in the New World were filtered through the knowledge of ancient writers, religious authorities, and culture. For example, both Columbus and king and queen of Spain assumed they would take dominion over any lands he discovered, because they were civilized and Christian, which obviously gave them rank over those who weren't.
Columbus sailed from Palos de la Frontera on Friday, August 3, 1492, reached the Canary Islands six days later and stayed there for a month to finish outfitting his ships. He left on September 6, and five weeks later, in about the place he expected, he found the Indies. What else could it be but the Indies? There on the shore were the naked people. With hawk's bells and beads he made their acquaintance and found some of them wearing gold nose plugs. It all added up. He had found the Indies. And not only that. He had found a land over which he would have no difficulty in establishing Spanish dominion, for the people showed him an immediate veneration. He had been there only two days, coasting along the shores of the islands, when he was able to hear the natives crying in loud voices, "Come and see the men who have come from heaven; bring them food and drink." If Columbus thought he was able to translate the language in two days' time, it is not surprising that what he heard in it was what he wanted to hear or that what he saw was what he wanted to seeā€”namely, the Indies, filled with people eager to submit to their new admiral and viceroy.

The process of "civilizing" the peaceful Arawak people of Hispaniola involved taking their gold and putting them to work finding more, until the population dropped from a conservative estimate of 100,000 to only 32,000. Read a lot more about Columbus' relationship with the New World in the article. Link

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A picture of Columbus? Let me guess: a piece about how human beings whose ancestors evolved in Europe are bad and everybody else is good. That wasn't predictable.
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