Columbus: hero or villain?

Story by Maddie Anderson, staff writer

Each year, Christopher Columbus seems to be resurrected and spark the never ending debate: greatest explorer or indigenous destroyer? The 15th century explorer’s voyages brought so much knowledge to the world, along with riches and glory, but with these revolutionary discoveries came devastation— like the destruction of indigenous culture and the deaths of thousands.

Born in 1451, Christopher Columbus’s life began just as it ended— by the sea. He was only a teenager when he began his first maritime expedition on a merchant ship where he remained until 1470 when the ship was attacked by Privateers. As the boat sank, Columbus floated to the Portuguese shore where he started to design his plan for western domination.

In 1491, Columbus presented his plan to the Spanish monarchs, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Columbus’ lust for fame and fortune equally matched the monarchs’, along with the desire to spread Catholicism. On Aug. 3, 1492, Columbus set sail for the new world and brought about with him a new era of truth and lies.

Textbooks frequently credit Columbus with a glory not reasonably accepted as he only managed to find the Bahamas, not the continental U.S. Furthermore, this “discovery” was only found through inaccurate ideas about the earth’s size, wrong calculations and blind wandering throughout the Atlantic Ocean.

When he first arrived in Hispaniola, he was faced with the large indigenous population of the Taino peoples. These natives were kind to the travelers and freely traded jewelry, animals and food. In his diary, Columbus described the natives as “very well built with very handsome bodies and very good faces. They do not carry arms or know them … They should be good servants.” He continued to describe their ignorance of European technologies and how he planned to use this disadvantage to manipulate them.

Columbus forced the Tainos into slavery and punished them grotesquely if disobeyed, even resulting to murder as punishment. The spread of European disease and brutality such as public executions, floggings and rape of Taino women further show the barbarity of Columbus and his men.  

Columbus set sail for the new world and brought about with him a new era of truth and lies.

— Anderson

Despite his revolutionary discovery, we cannot forget the brutality and tragedy that Columbus and his men inflicted upon the indigenous people. His words and actions toward the Taino only reflected his sole intentions of economic gain— not knowledge or peace— regardless of any pre-existing societies and basic human rights. Through his lust for money and glory, he managed to destroy the centuries old culture of the indigenous Americans.

Recently, the states of Colorado, Phoenix, Arizona and Vermont have joined the rapidly increasing list of American states that have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. Recent interviews with CNN delve into the reasons for the change.

“Indigenous Peoples Day represents a shift in consciousness,” said Dr. Leo Killsback, assistant professor of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University and member of the Northern Cheyenne Nation. “It acknowledges that indigenous peoples and their voices are important in today’s conversations.”

Society still struggles in regards to the view of Columbus: hero or villain? The truth, however, is that history cannot be simplified into such blackness and whiteness. We cannot negate his contributions to the world, such as knowledge of the Western Hemisphere and expansive knowledge of new cultures, farming techniques and technologies. In an essay titled, “Honoring Christopher Columbus,” Warren Carol praises Columbus, despite his flaws.

“Christopher Columbus is the discoverer of America and by that discovery ultimately responsible for America’s evangelization; and for this we should forever honor him,” Carol said.

Although he wasn’t the best man to ever exist, we cannot call Columbus a villain. His discoveries changed the world forever and the entire course of history. Yet, at the same time, he should never be regarded as a hero. His treatment of humans was undeniably atrocious and should never be forgotten.