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When We Celebrate Columbus Day

mp3, 2.14 MBs, 2:40

[Col. Recorded 10/2/04]

For millions of Americans, Columbus Day is a day of parades, nice dinners, and thankfully, a paid vacation day from work.

(For Canadians, this is Thanksgiving Day.)

But, I've always wondered — what do the survivors of this 500 years of genocide, slaughter, and land-theft — the so-called Native Americans — think of Columbus Day? Undoubtedly some (those culturally conditioned to follow American ways) *do* celebrate it, as do many Americans. Yet, one still wonders.

When I think of Columbus Day, I don't think of the present; nor of celebrations. I think of the time, 500 years ago, when 3 Spanish ships darkened the horizons of the Caribbean Sea. When the man then known as Cristobal Colon came to land, and met the people he mistakenly called 'Indians', the world was forever changed. I think of those people — those people whom Columbus described as "well-formed", "handsome", and with "good faces."

Thankfully, the journal of a Spanish priest tells us exactly what was happening in Oct. 1492: On Thursday, October 11th, Fray Bartolome De Las Casas wrote, Columbus marveled at their beauty and their kindness; but he noticed something else:

They do not carry arms nor are they acquainted with them, because I showed them swords and took them by the edge and through ignorance cut themselves. [p. 67]

Admiral Columbus noticed something else; that this "gentle", "handsome", and "good face[d]" people could be easily enslaved. De Las Casas records the Admiral's thoughts:

...[W]henever Your Highnesses may command, all of them can be taken to
Castile or held captive in this same island; because with 50 men all of them could be held in subjection and *can be made to do whatever one might wish*. [pp. 75-77]

This, from the first day's entry after landfall! Day One — and slavery is the first thought!

What followed, of course, was 500 years of hell for millions of Native peoples — and a hell to come for millions of African people.

It really makes one feel like celebrating Columbus Day.

[Source: De Las Casas, Fray Bartolome, *The Diario of Christopher Columbus's First Voyage to America 1492-1493*. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989); trans. Oliver Dunn and James E. Kelly, Jr.]

Copyright 2004 Mumia Abu-Jamal

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Submitted by: Sis. Marpessa

Text © copyright 2003 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.