Columbus and the new world: Hero or villain?
The dream of most young men or most victims of wars and violence, indeed, intractable social unrest, is to flee to the United States of America, generally acknowledged as the land of freedom and opportunities. Five countries have developed the irresistible attraction and the pulling power. Search engine, citizenpath lists them as Britain, Germany, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States which in terms of ranking carries the trophy. As the number one destination, the United States accounts for 19 per cent of world’s migrant population. In the last reckoning, it is carrying over 51 million immigrants, a figure said to be nearly four times as any other nation on the globe. It is followed by Germany with 13 million which is 4.8 per cent of the world’s migrant population. Saudi Arabia comes third with 13 million, 4.7 per cent of the total. Indeed, so steep was the rise, shooting up dramatically to about 93 per cent between 2010 and 2015 that alarmed Saudi Government began to put restrictions in place to curb the influx.
Russia is next with 12 million which is 4.4 per cent even although the number is said to have decreased. Ranking fifth is the United Kingdom with 10 million which constitutes 3.7 per cent, made up largely of East European migrants. The research quotes the United Nation’s report as noting that migrant total figure grew by about 119 million since 1990, all streaming to Europe and North America in search of economic opportunities and religious freedom, developed infrastructure, sound education system and red carpet spread for highly skilled workers, in Germany for example. All thanks to Christopher Columbus.
The centenary of his birth is marked with fanfare. The last one was 30 years ago. When the centenary takes place all across the United States, Americans would roll out drums. Flags and bunting adorn streets and public as well as private buildings in the celebration of the triumphal entry of Christopher Columbus, seen by most Americans and Western Europeans as the architect of the new world known as America today. To the Americans and Europeans, he was a hero. But to most nations of the developing world, especially the Black world, he was a villain and his world no less than one.
But in a world where everything is considered relative—relativeness itself being an expression of individual differences engendered by varied levels of individual maturity. This, really, is because what is right can only be absolute, not relative; the object remains, it is the perception, vision that differs, clear or dimmed—there cannot for now be just one or two or a few ways of looking at people, places, things and events. Television, for example, is a great companion or tool to a great many. Yet, it is despised by nearly an equal lot, either for the health hazards of its radiation emission, or for visual and nerve excitation which is now being associated with over stimulation of blood, a resultant tendency for aggression or, with changing blood chemistry, damage to the body’s organs. That is not to mention piles of unpalatable social effects associated with television. Yet a modern world without television is as inconceivable as one without automobiles with all the pollution they bring or airplanes and their damage of the ozone layer.
Last week Wednesday marked the 530th anniversary of his sail. Christopher Columbus (1446-1506), the man who made it possible for every part of the earth to know that the other exists, is caught in a web, 530 years after his historic sea voyage which opened the door of the new world for Europe. For in the wake of the voyage were to come trade, colonisation, racism, world wars, and the whole gamut of modern history, including health scourges of today—COVID-19 pandemic, monkeypox, HIV and Aids, etc. Columbus, an Italian born was only 14 when he first set sail. At that young age, he loved maps a great deal and dreamt up a great dream: If the earth is round, he reasoned, sailing West would lead to East, going West would open route to Asia! As Christopher Columbus story goes, Spanish King Ferdinand, his Queen Isabella, offered to sponsor his voyage after in search of support he had hit a stone wall, including from King John 11 of Portugal. And so come August 3, 1492, he sailed West from Palos with 87 men in three small wooden ships—Santa Maria, Pinta and Nina.
Incidentally, Pedro Alonzo, navigator of Nina was a Blackman, according to The World Almanac and Book of Facts. On October 12, 1492, 48 hours after his men had threatened to mutiny if they did not return home, having been longer at sea than any previous expedition without sighting land, and exactly on the day he promised they would if they did not sight land, they sighted Watling Island in the Bahamas (San Salvador), which at first was mistaken for India and later Cuba and India, before the expedition returned in March 1493 to Spain and to a hero’s welcome. Columbus sailed West for the East again (1493-96), this time with 1,500 men, in an expedition filled with misadventures, although he discovered Dominica and Jamaica and hit Isabella, Haiti said to be the first European town in the new world.
In contrast with Spanish expectations, however, Columbus returned “empty handed” at a time Portuguese Vasco da Gama had found a lucrative eastern trade passage to India. But Columbus was undaunted. He had a third crack at the dream (1498-1500), unsupported by anyone. As the account goes, he reached the South American Mainland. An incorrigible optimist, he gave his adventure yet another pot shot (1502-1504), and this time reached the coast of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. But he failed to find a western passage to India. He returned home disgraced, to live and die in poverty, unknown to him and to anyone at that time that he had discovered a new World, laden with abundant riches and inestimable opportunities.
Europe was awash with the centenary celebrations 30 years ago. The next centenary is 70 years away. Every year, in October, second Monday, pockets of states such as Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana etc, celebrate the landing of Christopher Columbus in the new world on his first sail. It is called Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the U.S. From the European perspective, there is every reason for the Columbus celebration, considered from the point of view of economic development. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Human Development Report as of February 08, 2022 places emphasis on what it calls New Threats to human security, stating that “low people’s sense of safety and security is at a low in almost every country, including the richest countries, despite years of upwards development success. Those benefiting from some of the highest levels of good health, wealth, and education outcomes are reporting even greater anxiety than 10 years ago.” The cluster of threats, the report says, include those from ‘‘digital technology, conflicts and the ability of healthcare systems to tackle new challenges like COVID-19 pandemic.’’
Even then the Western world continues with their development with Norway leading, followed by Switzerland in a tie with Ireland. Other countries still soaring are Japan, United States, Canada, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong and Greece. The report which gave rise to the Western world being agog with celebrating Christopher Columbus centenary 30 years ago stated that Europe and the immediate vicinity of its New world accounted for $14, 430 billion of the $17, 210 billion of Gross Domestic income of all nations on earth while the developing nations contributed a paltry $2, 780 billion or 16 per cent. Poor Nigeria made do with $28.9 billion while Japan made $2, 819 billion; Germany, $1, 189; France, $956 billion; United Kingdom $718 billion; Spain $379 billion; and the United States, the land of milk and honey, accounted for $5, 156 billion. If the material condition of the poor people is bad enough today, the picture is grim. The UNDP report published by the World Bank at the time said that while average yearly world income would increase from $750 to $2,500 in the year 2030, income per head in sub Sahara African countries would hit $400 by the same period representing a mere $60 rise.
The report warned that the income gap between the rich and the poor countries was not only considerable, it was widening. Between 1960 and 1989, the richest 20 per cent grew 2.17 times faster than the bottom 20 per cent. The West dominates the world not only economically but also politically, militarily, and, even to a large extent, culturally. It is a clear leader, many thanks to Columbus.
On the other side of Columbus phenomenon and celebrations, therefore, must be those who ascribe their weakness, lameness and disorientation in a highly mobile world which waits for no one to the gluttony and wickedness of a cold, uncaring and tyrannical West from which suffocating grip it would appear there is no hope of salvation. I can see my friend and former colleague, Chinweizu, grinning from one corner of his mouth to the other and dusting up his West and the Rest of Us. I can see him in the ranks of those who are ready to spoil any celebration of Columbus. But I can also see him waging his battle on two fronts, even though he may prefer to first chase away the fox before he blames the hen, for he is a brilliant and multi-tasked self-reliant fellow.
There is a gross misunderstanding on the lessons to draw from Columbus’ exploits. It should certainly not be the conquest of one people by another or the boastful acclaim of a so-called civilising of the world. There is conquest alright. But is conquest civilised and worthy of praise and celebration? Those who engage or embark on conquest of their fellow men have a heavy price to pay in the Beyond and in the next earthlife. They will be dragged in the dark region of the Beyond with flaming and immovable walls around them and torment they will regret they were ever born, and back on earth born only in areas unceasingly under siege, anxiety and eventually falling victims of conquests themselves. Adamantine is the Law, the Law of Reciprocal Action and ignorance which permits of neither excuse nor protection. In respect of the civilising mission, in what direction has the West proceeded in the last 530 years in which it has not created more problems than it had aimed to solve?
The story of Columbus is the story and triumph of adventure. A most telling lesson in the Columbus story, therefore, is that adventure pays, perseverance rewards and the world belongs to the courageous and, if I may add, the strong. For the weak peoples, it is of no avail in this context to blame other people for their plight. To start with, man is man everywhere and at any time, derived from common source and endowed with the same capabilities but varied inn abilities only on account of the varied directions to which different peoples have applied their free will in the course of their experiencing. In a world compelled to be perpetually mobile, as evidenced in motion –within atoms, and by planetary air and wind movements; we roll on our beds even when we sleep, the pounding heart, lungs; sea waves or the constantly quaking earth—experiences bestir the man, the human soul, and prevent it standing still which is stagnation, a condition that must lead to retrogression, and ultimately effacement. Experiences do not bring pain, it is the rebellion to accept them for what they are that torments and, in bowing the spirit, causes pain. For in rejecting the experiences, the recalcitrant soul sets up a thought form of its hate for the event.
This takes on a life of its own to which the soul is linked for as long as it fails to severe the connections by ceasing to nourish the form with thoughts of it. So, long after the experience has passed the form remains, the fury rages and the pain lingers. Whether it is love turned sour or in grieving over a departed loved one or in the bitterness of whatever form of slavery, release from pain comes only when the thought forms of rebellion with their accompanying pressure and force are allowed to dissolve through genuine inner change and gratitude for recognition that the experiences are brought in reciprocity out of love to bring about maturity and polish. It may be useful to consider, for example, that the ruinous plunder of the weak people manifested, as it still does today, largely through trade and it takes two to tango. Freedom lies in the inner being, the spirit, being free: It is not overlaid with dross; in inner integrity. And so, it is said, “As within, so without.” Even where condition for trade may seem imposed the “cajoled” party took the decision to surrender. Afterall, some slaves who would not go to America decided against all odds, not to go: They chose to end up in the deep.
The lesson of the Columbus’ never-say-die spirit for the weak, therefore, is that they, not any-one else, are responsible for their plight and they will remain run over for as long as they go on sulking, chasing shadows by seeking to find faults in others. Was it any wonder that Shakespeare said, “The fault is not in our stars but in us that we are such underlings”? The way out is in striving to make oneself strong, and unconquerable as willed by Our Maker and Lord. Science, explaining the mysteries of Nature, has already pointed out in the Law of Osmosis that the strong will always overcome the weak.
Strength in reference, however, is not in brute force, but in inner strength. Columbus civilised the world and charted a new course to a great world towards which millions gravitate for opportunities and freedom. The contact of high-rhythm Europe with slow moving parts of the earth brought heat and motion and vigour to slackened areas. There were blunders here and there, no doubt, but what the world has made of the dream of Columbus is what matters; it is their own business and responsibility. Areas in slumber can only stand the risk of being flung off in the unceasing motion of life.