Monday, October 10, 2011

Columbus Day

Mmmmmmm....  Columbus Day.  I honestly don't know exactly how I feel about it - other than conflicted.  Columbus Day is actually on 12 October, but the government has squeezed it onto the nearest weekend, for the sake of convenience.  On 12 October 1492, a Genoa-born Italian named Cristobal Columbo, first made landing on the shores of the Bahama Islands and claimed them for the country of Spain.  Of course, Columbus was searching for an easy sailing route to India and China, to make tons of money in the spice, tea and silk trading business.  He also planned on finding gold and jewels, to put in his own pockets, as well as into the royal treasury of Ferdinand and Isabella.  He next landed on Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where the Santa Maria broke up, and the sailors spent 6 months before returning to Spain.  During that time, small pox, cholera, measles, and diptheria were introduced to the native people, who had no immunity to such new and powerful diseases.  The natives, in return, gave the sailors syphillis. (I have always found it funny that the Europeans always blamed another European nation for syphillis - when it was brought by sailors from the New World.)  Columbus didn't actually set foot on North America until 1502, with his third voyage west.  -  By that time, the damage to the native peoples of the Caribbean and the Americas had already been set on it's course.

Then there are the sagas of the Vikings and tales of the Irish priests to consider.  According to a saga from Iceland, Bjarni Herjolffson landed on the coast of Maine (previously landing on the coast of Labrador in Canada) in 986, and it was his tale that encouraged Leif  Ericson to make his journey to what he, in turn, called Vinland.  There are several Norse/Viking type settlements along the coast of Canada that date to  1000.  And there are several Norse runestones that are in Oklahoma - the only problem is there were 12 different runic alphabets in use at that time, and some were read left to right, while others were right to left, and a couple were vertical.  The runestones in Oklahoma have not yet been successfully translated. 
And what about St. Brendan, the Navigator of Ireland?  Also known as Brandan and Borodon, Brendan was born about 484 A.D. near Tralee in County Kerry. He was ordained by Bishop Erc and sailed around northwest Europe spreading the Christian faith and founding monasteries — the largest at Clonfert, County Galway. Legend says that the community had at least three thousand monks — their rule dictated to Brendan by an angel. He died at the age of 93 and he was buried at the monastery in 577 A.D.   Brendan and his brothers figure prominently in Brendan's Voyage, a tale of monks travelling the high seas of the Atlantic, evangelizing to the islands, and possibly reaching the Americas in the 6th century. At one point they stop on a small island, celebrate Easter Mass, light a fire - and then discover the island is an enormous whale!  Maps of Columbus’ time often included an island called St. Brendan’s Isle that was placed in the western Atlantic ocean. Map makers of the time had no idea of its exact position but did believe it existed some where west of Europe. It was mentioned in a Latin text dating from the ninth century called Navigatio Santi Brendani Abatis (Voyage of Saint Brendan the Abbot). It described the voyage as having taken place in the sixth century. Several copies of this text have survived in monasteries throughout Europe. It was an important part of folklore in medieval Europe and may have influenced Columbus.

The discovery of the Americas was advantageous to European nations.  But it brought slavery to those in Africa, and it brought death and destruction to the native people of the Americas. I believe that America is one of the greatest countries in the world, but I also decry a lot of the government's dealings with native people.  I'm proud to be an American; I'm proud to be of Swedish and Danish and English descent.  I love to read the ancient sagas and tales of many countries and try to place them in today's location names.  But at the same time, I'm upset by the lies, cruelty, death and destruction that has occured "in the name of We, the people..."

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