As many of us are aware today, Columbus is looked to by many Americans as not only a hero but a historical personage, who also carries many burdens. This description is how the film 1492 represents Columbus, in the film he was portrayed as a man of the people who treated the native people with dignity and respect and was looking out for the betterment of the people. The film shows no aspiration to explore and find the true elaborate and barbaric relations that Columbus had with the natives. Although the film does bring the natives into the main plot and consents the cruel system of slavery enforced upon them by the Spaniards, the film also remains far from Columbus’s true responsibility for the inhumane conditions imposed upon the natives. Columbus is actually depicted as a guardian of the natives’ rights, which could not be more opposite from what Columbus actually wrote in his letters.
In Columbus’s first voyage he describes the native people as a beautiful people, who were also very gentle. He also mentions that he shouldn’t have “allowed his men to take their things, the only exception being he had commanded it all be taken Your Highness, if it existed in quantity.” On the other hand if we continue reading one can infer that Columbus did all of this for his own personal benefit and to gain the trust of the native peoples. Columbus portrayed the natives to the Queen by saying “there is no better people, or better land, in the world.” This appears to be said because Columbus wished to return and wanted the Queen to think the best of the people and the land he had discovered for Spain. Because why would one want to destroy and hurt a people and land he admired so? On another one of Columbus’s expeditions he mentions how they seized twelve well-endowed and plump teenagers both male and female. He justifies his capturing off the Caribs because of what they believed to be the Cannibals inhuman treatment of them by preparing them to be eaten.
Also a depiction of Columbus’s true self and want was when he reached another island where cannibals resided, and they fled at the mere sight of his men, they simply proceeded to take their possessions. One day while anchored Columbus and his men spotted a canoe, as they approached it the Cannibals shot at them with their bows. They left one of the cannibals for dead because they thought him to be wounded. When the cannibal began to swim they seized him and cut off his head with a hatchet. They treated the Cannibals as if they were animals and as Columbus tell us “I had my hands on a gorgeous Cannibal woman, I felt a craving to sport with her.” When the women resisted he proceeded to rape her, and beat her. These action are never shown in the film coming from Columbus, they are shown through Moxica and his ill treatment of the natives.
On another one of Columbus’s voyage we can see what actions the natives were required to perform. They were made to carry any man, who did not know how to swim, also the possessions, weapons, and anything else that needed to be carried. This sad reality is also something that although slightly portrayed, isn’t shown to its full extent in the film. When Columbus and his men were approaching Jamaica they were well equipped as the natives threw stones at them, and because of this they immediately killed a handful of the people. The next day when they returned for the purpose of fighting, the men begged for mercy and brought Columbus and his mean goods and weapons of their own.
In complete opposition the film portrays Columbus as wanting to bring religion and help the natives, not to kill them and scare them away. ‘The native population was already declining, and Columbus’s slaving expedition only made it worse.” It also did not help that Columbus was organizing a mass roundup of Indians to be sold in Spain. Columbus was not only instructed to bring back goods and proof of profitable locations, and goods, but the Indians were also made to pay a tax.
The ones who “agreed” to do so had to wear a token around their neck to prove that they had paid, and if they did not they would be arrested and given a penalty. This shows that although the natives were somewhat of citizens they were still treated as animals. So now I ask you was Columbus a friend or a foe to the native people? You can make your own assumptions on this matter, but based on evidence and Columbus’s own writings he was merely a foe trying to be portrayed as a friend. He believed his actions to be beneficial to not only the natives but for himself and Spain, thus leaving us with the impression that Columbus was selfish, thought himself to be superior, and used the native people for his own benefit.
[ 1 ]. Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, Sergio Rivera Ayala, Columbus Takes on The Forces of Darkness, or film and Historical Myth in 1492: The Conquest of Paradise Based on a True Story: Latin American History at the Movies.( Ed. Donald F. Stevens. Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1997.) p.13 [ 2 ]. Geoffrey Symcox, Blair Sullian, “Christopher Columbus and the Enterprise of the Indies,” Selected Entries from the Log (Boston, New York: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, Inc. 1989) pp. 70-71 [ 3 ]. Geoffrey Symcox, Blair Sullian, “Christopher Columbus and the Enterprise of the Indies,” Selected Entries from the Log (Boston, New York: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, Inc. 1989) p.76. [ 4 ]. Geoffrey Symcox, Blair Sullian, “Christopher Columbus and the Enterprise of the Indies,” News of the Islands of the Hesperian Ocean Discovered by Sir Christopher Columbus of Genoa (Boston, New York: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, Inc. 1989) p.89 [ 5 ]. William D. Phillips, Carla Ran Phillips, “The Worlds of Christopher Columbus,” Conquest and Colonization (Cambridge University Press. 1992) p.207
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