A monument built in honor of mass murderer and enslaver Christopher Columbus was defaced in Houston’s Museum District for two nights in a row, on the first night with red paint to symbolize the blood of his millions of victims. With it was a sign which read: “Rip the head from your oppressor.” An angry white woman ripped the sign down early Thursday morning (June 11) and the paint was removed by noon, but the message is loud and clear. The mass murderer of the Arawaks, the enslaver of Black people off the coast of West Africa, the tyrant who sliced the hands off Taino children and left them to bleed to death for not bringing him enough gold, his legacy is not welcome here. That this monument stands in one of the most diverse cities in the United States is a symbol of how deep-rooted racism is in the foundation of this country, a legacy drenched in blood and genocide that continues to this very day.
Late Thursday night the statue was given yet another update as a noose was hung around Columbus’s neck and his left hand was sliced off.
To read more about the history of Columbus’s involvement in the early history of the Transatlantic slave trade and the genocide committed against the Taino and Arawak peoples of the Americas, please read the two-part series, Christopher Columbus: founder of modern-day white supremacy.
Christopher Columbus and the Spaniards who accompanied him were hideously ruthless in the way they dealt with the indigenous people. Absolutely nothing was off-limits when it came to their getting hands on the fabled gold, even if it meant the mutilation of young children. In 1494 it was decreed that all persons fourteen years of age and older must work in the ‘gold’ mines from sun-up to sun-down. A gold-quota was set and every individual had to meet that quota or else suffer the extreme consequences. At the end of every three months if an individual had delivered unto Columbus the required amount of gold, he or she was given a copper token to be worn around their neck. If at the end of this period one was discovered not to be wearing a copper token around their neck, however, both of his or her hands were cut off and they were left to bleed to death. Being that Columbus and his men always set such unrealistically high quotas, many of the enslaved were forced to take their chances and run rather than face decapitation. This too ended abysmally, for once they were discovered they were viciously attacked and torn apart by the ferocious canines. Any captive who showed even the slightest hint of rebellion or resistance to Spanish occupancy either was immediately hung, or worse burned alive. Within just two years, 1495-1497, close to 125,000 people on Haiti had died from either “murder, mutilation, or suicide.” [Zinn, 5]
One man bearing witness to many of these most gruesome events was a Catholic Bishop, Father Bartolome de Las Casas, who as a young priest accompanied Columbus on more than a few of his conquests and expeditions. He soon discovered, however, that hearing about Columbus’s journeys while he sat comfortably giving his blessings was a completely different experience from actually witnessing them up close with his own eyes. Over time he would come around to becoming the single most vocal critic against the horrific treatment of the so-called ‘Indians’ by the Spanish explorers. Of the missions that he himself had been a part of, he said they served no other purpose than “to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle, and destroy.” (*) He watched as Spanish soldiers took it upon themselves to literally “ride on the backs of the Indians as if they were in a hurry.” And, rather than having to walk on their own two feet, soldiers forced slaves to them from one place to another while they lay comfortably in their hammocks. Soldiers “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.” Las Casas even told of one such incident in which two adolescent boys, no older than 10-12 years of age, were needlessly stopped by soldiers and subjected to harassment. Each of the boys was carrying a parrot on his arm. Upon seeing this, the Spaniards snatched them away from the boys and, keeping the parrots as their own, beheaded the two young boys. This the soldiers did “for fun”. [Zinn, 6] In his final assessment, Father de Las Casas cited some figures to help demonstrate how, from one island to the next, indigenous populations were nearly if not completely wiped off the face of the earth. In 1494 it was estimated that nearly 1 million aborigines inhabited the island of Hispaniola. By the time Las Casas arrived in 1508 the population had been reduced to a mere 60,000 people; and by 1514 – two decades after Columbus’s arrival – the population had shrunk to just 32,000.