If the Americas Have “Columbusing,” then We can Have “Magellaning”

October 17, 2019

 

 

There is a new specter of a word online: “columbusing.”


In an online site called Urban Dictionary, columbusing is defined as “the art of discovering something that is not new.” It can also mean “taking credit for something that one never achieved.” 


Brenda Salinas calls it the act of discovering something that has existed forever. The word can imply power, the abuse of it. 


The ultimate usage of the term appears in this manner: “In 1482, Columbus was columbusing the ‘new world.”


In another Internet site called “wake up world,” an article is going viral about the man after whom this new act and claim called “columbusing” has been named – Christopher Columbus. The essay is titled “Celebrating Genocide – Christopher Columbus’ Invasion of America.”


Columbus, of course, is the Italian navigator who sailed under the patronage of Portugal, first and then Spain later. 


The essay is written by Irwin Ozborne and opens with a quote from Eduardo Galeano, an Uruguayan writer, who wrote: “In 1492, the natives discovered they were Indians, discovered they lived in America, discovered they were naked, discovered that the Sin existed, discovered they owed allegiance to a King and Kingdom from another world and a God from another sky, and that this God had invented the guilty and the dress, and had sent to be burnt alive who worships the Sun the Moon the Earth and the Rain that wets it.”


Galeano once called [Latin] America as an “intimate land condemned to amnesia” could well be describing the Philippines after the occupation of the Spaniards.


Colonization, let it be said, can never be good news. If ever we do defend the colonizers, it is always a harking back to the arrival of the civilization. But the Americas that were “conquered” by Columbus and his men had ‘civilization’ although in forms that the Europeans could not apprehend.


Columbus was not good news. Ozborne wrote of how “the Spanish Conquest of the Americas, preceded by its “discovery” by Christopher Columbus (or Cristóbal Colón as he was known by the Spanish Crown) resulted in mass assimilation, raping, slaughtering, enslaving, and intention to wipe out all evidence of a native population of between 50 and 100 million indigenous people from the land — the greatest genocide in recorded history.”


Quoting James W. Loewen, American sociologist and historian, Ozborne appears to emphasize one thing and that is the contribution of Columbus: “Christopher Columbus introduced two phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth and labor from indigenous peoples, leading to their extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass.” 


Loewen’s book carries the title “Lies My Teacher Told Me.”


In Maine, USA, the Columbus Day was replaced by “Indigenous People’s Day.”


Our country also has Indigenous People’s Day. We spend it in one month, paying tribute to those we consider indigenous as we, the lowland Christian, forget our indigeneity.


As early as December 2018, a National Quincentennial Committee has announced plans to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Magellan. 


There will be a conference on the voyage of Magellan, described as an achievement of humanity. From whose perspective is the success of Magellan’s epic adventure is not clear. Suffice it to say that it will be difficult to counter this celebration because the coming of the Spanish colonizers meant also the arrival of a new faith. This is the trick of civilization: to fuse conquest with conversion, to kill the old gods or, at most, show the “natives” that their gods are no good compared to the Almighty whose churches were more monumental, whose rituals were as mysterious and more well-funded with gold and silver and precious stones. 


When Renato Rosaldo, the anthropologist was about to embark on his fieldwork, he selected the Philippines. It is told that his adviser warned him that our country did not have “culture.” We did not have magnificent temples and tremendous architectures for the divine. Rosaldo persisted and left the Philippines with the awe-inspiring ethnography of the head-hunting Ilonggot of the North. 


When I was still teaching introduction to Sociology and Anthropology in Ateneo de Manila, the article of Rosaldo was always an engaging reading for my students. The American anthropologist was able to make sense of terrifying and, on the surface, irrational act of beheading individuals for power and release of grief.


In his essay, Irwin Ozborne, enumerates the well-d0cumented atrocities brought about by Columbus and his men. These atrocities include: Forced hard labor; abducting and selling children into the sex trade as young as nine-years-old; Mass raping of women and children; and, the amputation of limbs if slaves were not producing ‘enough’. Ozborne wrote how the “natives” were labeled as hostile savages, buried alive or burnt alive if they were resisting the demands of the conquerors. if not in complete compliance with their oppressors. 


We, in our remembering of our colonization, would like to think we were treated differently. But think of these: the first years of the conquest saw our syllabaries destroyed and the gods and tutelary divinities of villages banished; the succeeding years saw our notion of ownership altered, with us living on the land for years before the coming of the conquistadores came, and losing those lands to them; and in the latter years of the conquest, a governor-general provided us a with a book of Names, demanded that we erase our old true names, and forced us to choose from his finite list.


The image of the conquistador had been imprinted in our mind that we think like them even up to now. Heritage for us would be churches and architectures with arches and curves from Europe. We are condemned to forget our own “structures” – the magical rivers and bodies of water, the mountains and the plants and trees that grow on them, the forests primeval – these are our heritage. Then there are the languages.  They are our homes. These are the places of worship and ceremonials that we should protect and not the lies of the imported civilization.


As for “Magellaning,” I call it the art of claiming something that does not belong to you. It is also called “stealing.” Celebrate it then. Celebrate the lies, celebrate the robbery.

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