October 12 is when the United States celebrates Christopher Columbus making landfall in the Caribbean in his 3 caravels. A ‘cacique’ (chief) of the Taino, the first indigenous people of the Americas Columbus encountered, gives his take on why the observance of this day is unacceptable
("The Landing of Columbus" painting by John Vanderlyn. Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Every year, as October 12 looms on the horizon, strong emotions begin to stir in me. Emotions, that only the Indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere truly, fully understand. I am speaking of course of Columbus Day. On this day, Americans of European descent celebrate a grand myth while the indigenous people are forced to remember a day when a band of criminals aboard 3 ships, mistakenly landed on lands they were not looking for and began the systematic extermination of an entire race of people. Exactly what did my ancestors do to deserve this treatment? Well for starters, we discovered them as we were home and they were lost. We also fed them, taught them to bathe and freely shared all that we possessed. It was indeed a clash of cultures, one primitive and the other highly advanced. The primitives hungered for gold. They also had this unbending notion that their spiritual beliefs must be ingrained in the minds and souls of others unlike them. In fact, these primitives had begun perfecting their barbaric skills in their own homelands during the “Spanish Inquisition”.
The civilized peoples of the Western Hemisphere had no immunity to the diseases that had grown and festered in the land of the primitives. Thus, my ancestors began dying in great numbers. Only those who were able to fight back and escape to the mountains were able to survive. In other parts of the Americas, our native brothers fought Europeans from many other nations and although they were all so different from one another, they all worshiped the same god…GOLD. And so it was, they pillaged and plundered, raped, robbed and murdered, all the while feeling that they were somehow morally, spiritually and culturally superior to the “Indians”, as they call us.
(Enriquillo, a Taino cacique from the island of Hispaniola, who led a rebellion against the Spanish. Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
History is indeed HIS-Story. It is written by the conquerors not by those who were defeated. But American Indians, Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, Native Americans, First Nations, anything you want to call us, were never defeated. This is evident in the fact that the winners had to fabricate a story and glorify a monster. They turn their backs on, and ignore truths so cold-hearted they appear reptilian. For 526 years since the “discovery”, we, the real people have had to endure the telling and retelling of a story of a man who was not only flawed but inhuman. Some historians claim that he cannot be judged by today’s standards; after all he was a man of his time. However, the truth is, murder for profit is wrong in any era.
(Hatuey, a Taino cacique from Hispaniola, who led a revolt against the Spaniards in Cuba. Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
So, instead of having a day where we celebrate heroic deeds that never occurred (unless one believes killing innocent women and children is heroic), why not celebrate the victims of the greatest genocide in human history? Forgotten are the souls of a little boy who wondered if he would be worthy of receiving his first headdress, a young girl who dreamed of sailing in a canoe like her brothers while helping her mother prepare casabe bread, the twin-spirited child who felt safe in the loving embrace of his people, the mothers who would rather die than let their children be enslaved, the warriors who fought although outgunned, and to the wise grandmothers who prayed and begged the Creator to shine a light on our path as we had fallen into a darkeness that came from across the sea. COLUMBUS DAY??? Columbus is not a day! Columbus is a monster!!!! October 12th is the celebration of Genocide! It is the acceptance of darkness over light, greed over humanity, the primitive over the truly civilised.
Cacique Jorge Baracutei Estevez is a Taino Indian from Haiti/Kiskeya. Estevez has worked for the National Museum of the American Indian for 25 years and is also the Head Chief of the Higuayagua Taino people of the Caribbean
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