Christopher Columbus’s Letters

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The first thing I noticed in the Columbus letters is that this was my first time reading about most of these events. This is most likely my fault for not educating myself or seeking more information on Christopher Columbus. But this could have been included in the high school curriculum or at least mentioned. Like Dr. Peterson mentioned in class, I spent the majority of my time dressed as a pilgrim or Native American whenever the subject of Columbus’ voyages were introduced in a school setting. Sure, this is a “fun” event for children but is it really necessary to paint over what really happened in such a mocking way?

On another note, there is an immediate shift in tone between the two Christopher Columbus letters. The first is hopeful and excited about the resources that these new islands would provide. Yet the second is incredibly somber and distraught as he ironically states, “let him who brought them to this state come now with the remedy if he can or if he knows it; in destruction, everyone is adept.” The mess and destruction he was complaining about in this letter most likely stemmed from his conquests and discoveries in the letter before this, yet he asked for someone else to come remedy it.

That sounds about right for the start of America actually. This same somber tone is shared with Bartolome de las Casas’ piece on the treatment of the native people. Only his tone is based less around himself and more focused around the deaths and terrible acts against those same people. Columbus’ second letter seems to be in anguish for his loss of control over his once fruitful and promising islands and his loss of respect from his funders. Casas’ writing suggested his internal struggle with allowing the brutal slayings of the native people to go on. Even though he includes the gruesome details, he was basically playing bystander the whole time. At least he had the nerve to put what happened into words, even if I am just now reading it at 20 years old. This, again, is something that should be taught in schools.

Of all the letters, Cabeza de Vaca seemed most interested in portraying the natives as a less developed, yet still valid community of people. The combination of Cabeza de Vaca and Bartolome de las Casas presents pretty damning evidence against the Spanish with both the accounts of brutality against the natives and their justified ways of living on their own land, both of which were observed by two people the Spanish themselves had ironically commissioned to discover, conquer, and observe this new land.

Cabeza de Vaca’s respect for the culture and tradition of the natives is shown through his careful and detailed explanations of their ways of life. He presents them in a neutral light, not inserting his opinion on some of their bizarre traditions with mourning like not being able to leave for food for three whole months when a male family figure passes. In fact, the way he speaks of the Christians is much more judgmental. This same sort of appreciation is also in Columbus’ first letter, but not of the people and almost solely based around the resources the land had to offer him.

Hernan Cortes seems to share this sentiment of appreciation when describing the unique set up of the city of Tenochtitlan. His description even goes as far as recognizing that the natives, with the help of this city’s structure, could evade control and kill of Cortes and his group. This recognition is most like Columbus’s of the land because he still seeks to conquer and use it against the people who created it. Even so, his loyalty to the Spanish and to their religion surpasses his appreciation for the natives by still labeling them as “barbarous” just because they do not share the same religion.

Lastly, I can’t help but notice how similar these arrivals are to what we now think alien invasions of earth would be. In particular, a line from Columbus, “the people of which I could not have speech because they all fled immediately,” created an image of any alien invasion movie on the market. The aliens arrive, they barely make an effort to communicate, the native people run screaming, and the aliens proceed on their merry way to get rid of the native people, so they can properly take over. This is something we as humans are terrified of, yet it happened in the Americas and probably everywhere else at some point or another.

Cite this paper

Christopher Columbus’s Letters. (2021, Nov 22). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/christopher-columbuss-letters/

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