Columbus, the Gilligan of Explorers

Today is Columbus Day, when we celebrate the first European explorers to discover the Americas, which they weren’t, when Christopher Columbus landed on our continent, which he didn’t.

Still, Columbus thought October 12, 1492, was worth celebrating. After all, he’d badly miscalculated the size of the word, figuring he’d have to sail about 2,300 miles to reach the East Indies. It was actually 12,200 miles from the Canary Islands to Japan. I’m not sure anyone even consulted the Japanese on the idea, let along the Canaries.

Luckily for Columbus’ dwindling food supply, he bumped into a continent that nobody even knew was there. He spent his whole time there assuming he was in Asia after being the first to sight land—which he didn’t. A guy named Rodrigo de Triana was the first to actually see some little palm tree in the Bahamas.

After one of his ships ran aground he established the first Age of Discovery colony in the New World, but the men he left behind argued over gold and internet usage, and the town failed. Meanwhile Columbus headed back with some kidnapped locals, and introduced Europe to tobacco.

If you think about it, he was kind of a lousy explorer. If he’d made it to the Pacific, he’d have ended up stranded on Gilligan’s Island.

I mean, Cuba looks nothing like China. Come on.

But at least that got Columbus the job of Governor of the Indies, where he gained the nickname “The Tyrant of the Caribbean”, soon to be a major motion picture from Disney.

All of this led to the Aztecs and Incas being wiped out, pandemics in both the Americas, yadayada, Pilgrims, American Revolution, treaties broken, Trail of Tears, casinos.

I’m summarizing a bit.

Now, my wife is not a fan of Christopher Columbus. I suspect she thinks Columbus’ direct descendent was Andrew Jackson—see above about the Trail of Tears. Emily’s a descendent of the Aniyvwiyaʔi, which is what we’d call the Cherokee Indians if we weren’t too lazy to spell it.

My Cherokee ancestors lived up in the Appalachian Mountains and got something of a pass, pardon the pun, from forced relocation. Emily’s ancestors walked hundreds of miles, and those who survived ended up in snowstorm earthquake territory, instead of the much more pleasant southeastern hurricane zone they’d enjoyed before.

All because of Christopher Columbus.

You can see why some areas now celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on this day, which is actually that day, because getting a Monday off is way more important than marking an actual date. Personally I’m in favor of renaming it Explorer’s Day, or Discoverer’s Day, or some such. Columbus did make important voyages, after all, even if he was a dick; and it would be a way to learn about all the explorers from all over. Remembering the past, instead of hiding it.

We are a race of explorers, after all, and as a people we tend to crave discovery. To the bottom of the ocean to the ends of space, we need to keep exploring.

For the sake of little green men, hopefully in the future we’ll be nicer about it.

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