The Untold Truth of Columbus

Caitlin Wanichek

Picture of Columbus (Peter Roan)

Christopher Columbus is an Italian explorer and navigator. He is known as “the discoverer” of America. He is often praised for his journeys across the Atlantic which paved the way for European colonization of the Americas. Columbus “discovered” the New World on board his ship Santa Maria in 1492. Although he paved the way for European colonization, he wasn’t a good person. Columbus has many dark secrets that have been swept under the rug so he’ll be seen as a “hero”. What we don’t learn in school is that Columbus didn’t “discover” America or the so-called New World. In fact the Indigenous tribes of the Taino, Arawak and Lucayan, were living on this land 14,000 years before he was even born in 1451. 

Women and Children were raped

Christopher Columbus and his men were rapists. According to Bergreen quotes, shipmate Michele de Cuneo, who participated in Columbus’s second journey to the Americas, claimed that Columbus kidnapped a Carib woman. He then gave gave her to a crew member to rape. On page 143 Cuneo states, “While I was in the boat, I captured a very beautiful woman, whom the Lord Admiral [Columbus] 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. 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.” This is just one of the thousands of women that were raped by Columbus and his men. Another one of the shipmates, Miguel Cuneo, wrote that “When our caravels were to leave for Spain, we gathered 1,600 male and female ‘Indians’ on Feb. 17, 1495 and we let it be known that any of the sailors who wanted to take them could do so.” Not only are there written confessions that Columbus’ shipmates raped women and children, Columbus also wrote in one of his diaries, “… girls from 9-10 are in demand.” This is absolutely disgusting. Not only were the Native women being raped, but so were the young girls. 

Forced into Slavery

Not only did Columbus and his men rape thousands of women and children, but they also forced the large Indigenous population of the Taino people into slavery as well as sold them. In 1945 Columbus created the “tribute system”. The tribute system applied to every person over 14. You were required to provide Columbus with a “hawk’s bell,” this referred to a chunk of gold. You would need to provide this hawk’s bell every three months. If you didn’t cooperate with Columbus’ rule, you would be punished by having your hands cut off. After this inhumane act, you would he left there to bleed to death. About 10,000 people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic were victims of this. Not only were these people put through getting their hands cut off, but many of the Indigenous people were roasted on spits (slender pointed rods) and burned alive. Sometimes these burned bodies would be fed to the hunting dogs. 

Columbus’ Travel

To travel across the Atlantic Ocean, Columbus needed money, food, and equipment. The Spanish monarch agreed to invest in his journey, but only under one condition. Columbus would need to repay this investment with profit. He would need to bring back gold, spices, and other goods from Asia.  According to Fox61 “Columbus wrote in his diaries how he traveled from one Caribbean island to the next, stealing anything of value. Columbus was running out of gold, spices and valuables to take back to the Spanish monarch.” This is when he decided to pay for his journey to The Americas in the one important “product” he had found a lot of, human lives. He kidnapped 1,200 Taino Indians from the island of Hispaniola. He crammed as many people onto his ships as would fit, and sent them to Spain. Once the ships arrived in Spain, the Taino Indians that survived the Journey were displayed naked through the streets of Seville and sold as slaves. The Tanino Indians that didn’t make it to Spain, and died on the ships were tossed into the Atlantic Ocean like they were nothing.

Millions Murdered

Thousands of Indigenous people were raped and sold into slavery, but millions were murdered. Across the Caribbean Columbus was responsible for millions of deaths. In 1943 when he arrived in the Caribbean islands, there were 8 million Taino people. Within only three years of Columbus being there, the population of 8 million was now reduced to 3 million people. Finally when Columbus left in 1504, only about a population of 100,000 Taino people remained. In the past, historians have said this huge number of the deaths was caused by the spread of diseases that Columbus and his men brought to these Caribbean Islands. Recently, historian Andrés Reséndez has argued that slavery, overwork and famine killed more Indians than these diseases of smallpox, influenza and malaria.

The Takeaway

Yes Christopher Columbus is the reason that many of us are here in America, but we also have to acknowledge all of the horrible things he did. The whole history of Columbus should be included in the school requirements of what we have to learn, not just the “good” things that he did. Columbus was a rapist, slave trader, and murdered. Him and his men came to the Caribbean Islands to take everything of value and then leave. When they were here, they dramatically reduced the number of Indigenous people, and treated them less than human. We need to hold Columbus and his men accountable for this monstrosity.