However, the following is an excerpt that Nancy posted from someone else. It
is written by Thom Hartmann.
most excellent; gold constitutes treasure; and he who has it does all he wants
in the world, and can even lift souls up to Paradise."
-- Christopher Columbus, 1503 letter to the king and queen of Spain.
Columbus not only opened the door to a New World, but also set an example for
us all by showing what monumental feats can be accomplished through
perseverance and faith."
--George H.W. Bush, 1989 speech
If you fly over the country of Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, the island
on which Columbus landed, it looks like somebody took a blowtorch and burned
away anything green. Even the ocean around the port capital of Port au Prince
is choked for miles with the brown of human sewage and eroded topsoil. From the
air, it looks like a lava flow spilling out into the sea.
The history of this small island is, in many ways, a microcosm for what's
happening in the whole world.
When Columbus first landed on Hispaniola in 1492, virtually the entire
island was covered by lush forest. The Taino "Indians" who loved there had an
apparently idyllic life prior to Columbus, from the reports left to us by
literate members of Columbus's crew such as Miguel Cuneo.
When Columbus and his crew arrived on their second visit to Hispaniola,
however, they took captive about two thousand local villagers who had come out
to greet them. Cuneo wrote: "When our caravels… where to leave for Spain, we
gathered…one thousand six hundred male and female persons of those Indians, and
these we embarked in our caravels on February 17, 1495…For those who remained,
we let it be known (to the Spaniards who manned the island's fort) in the
vicinity that anyone who wanted to take some of them could do so, to the amount
desired, which was done."
Cuneo further notes that he himself took a beautiful teenage Carib girl as
his personal slave, a gift from Columbus himself, but that when he attempted to
have sex with her, she "resisted with all her strength." So, in his own words,
he "thrashed her mercilessly and raped her."
While Columbus once referred to the Taino Indians as cannibals, a story made
up by Columbus - which is to this day still taught in some US schools - to help
justify his slaughter and enslavement of these people. He wrote to the Spanish
monarchs in 1493: "It is possible, with the name of the Holy Trinity, to sell
all the slaves which it is possible to sell...Here there are so many of these
slaves, and also brazilwood, that although they are living things they are as
good as gold..."
Columbus and his men also used the Taino as sex slaves: it was a common
reward for Columbus' men for him to present them with local women to rape. As
he began exporting Taino as slaves to other parts of the world, the sex-slave
trade became an important part of the business, as Columbus wrote to a friend
in 1500: "A hundred castellanoes (a Spanish coin) are as easily obtained for a
woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who
go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten (years old) are now in
However, the Taino turned out not to be particularly good workers in the
plantations that the Spaniards and later the French established on Hispaniola:
they resented their lands and children being taken, and attempted to fight back
against the invaders. Since the Taino where obviously standing in the way of
Spain's progress, Columbus sought to impose discipline on them. For even a
minor offense, an Indian's nose or ear was cut off, se he could go back to his
village to impress the people with the brutality the Spanish were capable of.
Columbus attacked them with dogs, skewered them with pikes, and shot them.
Eventually, life for the Taino became so unbearable that, as Pedro de
Cordoba wrote to King Ferdinand in a 1517 letter, "As a result of the
sufferings and hard labor they endured, the Indians choose and have chosen
suicide. Occasionally a hundred have committed mass suicide. The women,
exhausted by labor, have shunned conception and childbirth… Many, when
pregnant, have taken something to abort and have aborted. Others after delivery
have killed their children with their own hands, so as not to leave them in
such oppressive slavery."
Eventually, Columbus and later his brother Bartholomew Columbus who he left
in charge of the island, simply resorted to wiping out the Taino altogether.
Prior to Columbus' arrival, some scholars place the population of
Haiti/Hispaniola (now at 16
million) at around 1.5 to 3 million people. By 1496, it was down to 1.1
million, according to a census done by Bartholomew Columbus. By 1516, the
indigenous population was 12,000, and according to Las Casas (who were there)
by 1542 fewer than 200 natives were alive. By 1555, every single one was
This wasn't just the story of Hispaniola; the same has been done to
indigenous peoples worldwide. Slavery, apartheid, and the entire concept of
conservative Darwinian Economics, have been used to justify continued suffering
by masses of human beings.
Dr. Jack Forbes, Professor of Native American Studies at the University of
California at Davis and author of the brilliant book "Columbus and Other
Cannibals," uses the Native American word wétiko (pronounced WET-ee-ko) to
describe the collection of beliefs that would produce behavior like that of
Columbus. Wétiko literally means "cannibal," and Forbes uses it quite
intentionally to describe these standards of culture: we "eat" (consume) other
humans by destroying them, destroying their lands, taking their natural
resources, and consuming their life-force by enslaving them either physically
or economically. The story of Columbus and the Taino is just one example.
We live in a culture that includes the principle that if somebody else has
something we need, and they won't give it to us, and we have the means to kill
them to get it, it's not unreasonable to go get it, using whatever force we
In the United States, the first "Indian war" in New England was the "Pequot
War of 1636," in which colonists surrounded the largest of the Pequot villages,
set it afire as the sun began to rise, and then performed their duty: they shot
everybody-men, women, children, and the elderly-who tried to escape. As Puritan
colonist William Bradford described the scene: "It was a fearful sight to see
them thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same, and
horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet
sacrifice, and they [the colonists] gave praise therof to God, who had wrought
The Narragansetts, up to that point "friends" of the colonists, were so
shocked by this example of European-style warfare that they refused further
alliances with the whites. Captain John Underhill ridiculed the Narragansetts
for their unwillingness to engage in genocide, saying Narragansett wars with
other tribes were "more for pastime, than to conquer and subdue enemies."
In that, Underhill was correct: the Narragansett form of war, like that of
most indigenous Older Culture peoples, and almost all Native American tribes,
does not have extermination of the opponent as a goal. After all, neighbors are
necessary to trade with, to maintain a strong gene pool through intermarriage,
and to insure cultural diversity. Most tribes wouldn't even want the lands of
others, because they would have concerns about violating or entering the sacred
or spirit-filled areas of the other tribes. Even the killing of "enemies" is
not most often the goal of tribal "wars": It's most often to fight to some pre-
determined measure of "victory" such as seizing a staff, crossing a particular
line, or the first wounding or surrender of the opponent.
This wétiko type of theft and warfare is practiced daily by farmers and
ranchers worldwide against wolves, coyotes, insects, animals and trees of the
rainforest; and against indigenous tribes living in the jungles and
rainforests. It is our way of life. It comes out of our foundational cultural
So it should not surprise us that with the doubling of the world's
population over the past 37 years has come an explosion of violence and
brutality, and as the United States runs low on oil, we are now fighting wars
in oil-rich parts of the world. It shouldn't surprise us that our churches are
using violent "kill the infidels" video games to lure in
children, while in parts of Africa contaminated by our culture and rich in oil
(Congo) rape has become so widespread as to make the front page of yesterday's New York Times.
These are all dimensions, after all, our history, which we celebrate on
Columbus Day. But if we wake up, and we help the world wake up, it need not be