Christopher Columbus Biography Essay
Inhabitants of ancient and medieval Europe had no idea that there was a landmass between Europe and the Atlantic Ocean. Even progressive minds like those of Christopher Columbus did not have any inkling that if explorers travels from Europe to Asia using a westward route, they would eventually stumble upon the New World. Thus, the New World was discovered in the most serendipitous manner.
In the latter part of the 15th century Christopher Columbus was compelled to use a westward route that would connect Europe and Asia. In the process of exploration, Columbus discovered Native Americans. He concluded that they were barbarians, in the same way that sophisticated Romans and Greeks judged the European tribes in their own process of exploration and conquest.
Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy, in the year 1451. The soon-to-be great sailor was the son of a weaver and a merchant. Columbus’ personal background as well as the place where he grew up gave him the opportunity to travel in different places on merchant ships. His early experience gave him the opportunity to study the ways of sailors as they navigate their ships through treacherous seas.
At the same time, Columbus had the chance to learn the necessary skills that he would need later on to cross the Atlantic Ocean (McGovern 25). Aside from his love of the sailor’s life and his penchant for adventure, another powerful force that compelled him to travel was the spirit of entrepreneurship.
Columbus’ entrepreneurial family initiated him into the world of seafaring, however it was the expansion of the Turkish Empire that fired up his imagination with regards to testing the claim that the earth is round because there is another way to travel from Europe to Asia.
As the Turkish Empire consolidated its strength, European leaders were fearful that they would have no more access to Asia. Business would suffer and the pilgrimage of Christians to the Holy Land would be in peril. There has to be an alternative way towards the other side of the world.
The Perspective of Columbus
There are two primary sources of information that could be utilized to understand Christopher Columbus’ worldview. First, there were eyewitness accounts of Columbus’ leadership and exploits preserved through the writings of his chroniclers. The second source is the journals that Columbus left behind. The great explorer wanted to preserve in writing his thoughts, feelings, and testimony with regards to his encounter with the local inhabitants of the new world.
It is important to figure out Columbus’ perspective because the way he perceived the New World and its native inhabitants shaped the way Europeans view the same. The demeanor of future explorers and conquerors towards native inhabitants were also significantly affected by how Columbus described his contact with the native inhabitants of the American continent.
As a consequence of Columbus’ actions, as well as the European conquistadors who came after him, there were various interpretations as to the native inhabitant’s way of life. There were historians who provided a more accurate description of the norms, traditions, culture of the native inhabitants. However, there were also historians who interpreted the natives’ way of life through the words through the narrow context of their own culture, shaped by the words of early explorers like Columbus.
There were some occasions when Columbus was impressed by the behavior of the natives. On many instances Columbus praised the behavior of the native inhabitants especially with regards to their hospitality and guilelessness (Ochoa & Smith 22). In his journals, Columbus described a people that were gentle, kind, and generous (Sale 25).
The great explorer wrote, “They are an inoffensive, unwarlike people, naked, except that the women wear a very slight covering at the loins; their manners are very decent, and their complexion not very dark, but lighter than that of the inhabitants of the Canary Islands” (Columbus 114). Therefore, Columbus believed that there is a child-like innocence among the natives.
Columbus also pointed out the fact that there are other intriguing qualities that were manifested in his interactions with the natives. Columbus recorded in his journal that that the natives were ready to barter all that they have for a very low price. In one example, Columbus highlighted the fact that a large basket of cotton was exchanged for a mere leather thong (Columbus 114).
Columbus also testified that the natives were inoffensive and that they are not warlike (Columbus 114). In his journal he wrote, “Of anything they have, if you ask the for it, they never say no; rather they invite the person to share it, and show as much love as if they were giving their hearts” (Ochoa & Smith, p.22).
Columbus was compelled to make a bold claim and he said that he believed he could convert the natives not through the use of arms but through love (Ochoa & Smith, p.22). It could be argued that Columbus wanted the natives to experience the wonderful blessings of being under the Christian faith. However, his deep-rooted Eurocentric view made his look at the natives with a condescending attitude.
In other words, Columbus believed that Europeans were superior to the native inhabitants of the New World. Columbus’ Eurocentric view was similar to the prideful disdain of the Roman Empire for people groups who are located outside the realm of Rome. The Romans call these tribes as barbarians or unsophisticated in their manners and knowledge about the known world.
No matter how hard Columbus tried to paint the native inhabitants in a positive light, he cannot help but express his true feelings about them, because he saw them as an uncivilized people. Columbus’ low estimation of the natives led to genocide because Europeans conquerors were justified in the destruction of people groups and culture based on their belief that their hopes and aspirations were greater than those of the people in the New World.
If one will study the history of the European discovery of the New World, hindsight compels historians to find a much better explanation compared to the Eurocentric view of the Europeans. Columbus cannot think highly of the native inhabitants because he was not there simply to convert them to another form of religion.
His secondary purpose was to enrich the kingdom of Spain through the conquest of new lands and the discovery of gold reserves. The desire for wealth and fame significantly affected the way Europeans view the native population.
A Better View
The condescending attitude of Christopher Columbus led to the exploitation of the native population and genocide. There is a need to evaluate the way students and historians interpret the events that surround the discovery of present day America. One way to accomplish it is through the study of primary documents. One effect is the deeper appreciation of the native inhabitant’s culture and traditions.
Columbus’ personal biases affected the way he wrote his journal. As a result his writings could not hide the way he looked down on these inhabitants as a lesser people group compared to the Europeans. However, Columbus was blind to the rich culture of the native inhabitants.
He was blind to the beauty and riches of the native inhabitants’ cultural heritage. As a result Columbus interpreted their language as uncivilized when it was as rich and diversified as the different languages of Europe. As a result, Columbus experienced minimal success when it comes to the Christianization of the New World.
Columbus was highly influenced by the Eurocentric view that Europeans are more knowledgeable; more sophisticated; and have the desire to transform barbaric tribes and turn them into a civilized world. The condescending attitude of Christopher Columbus led to the destruction of people groups as well as the exploitation of the native inhabitants.
There is a need to reconsider the view adopted by Columbus, especially after the aftermath of the European invasion of the New World. One way to change the perspective of those who adopted a similar view is to study primary documents. The use of primary documents enables the student of history to see the events through the perspective of eyewitness’s accounts.
The eyewitness’s accounts show the native’s way of life before European historians interpreted the native inhabitants behavior based on their own narrow cultural context. A deeper understanding of the rich cultural heritage of the natives could have prevented the exploitation and bloodbath that followed.
Columbus, Christopher. Personal Narratives of the First Voyage of Columbus to America. MA: Harvard University Press, 2006. Print.
McGovern, James. The World of Columbus. GA: Mercer University Press, 1992.
Ochoa, George and Carter Smith. Atlas of Hispanic-American History. New York: Infobase, Inc., 2009. Print.
Sale, Kirkpatrick. Christopher Columbus and the Conquest of Paradise. New York: I.B. Tauris and Co., 2006. Print.
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