October 12th commemorates the arrival in America of Christopher Columbus in 1492. In reality, although this is how we have been taught in school for generations, it was not a “discovery” as such.
The region was already occupied by well-established civilizations. These are 10 keys to explain what really happened in this historical event to your children.
10 keys to explain the “Discovery of America” to children
When we were children, we celebrated October 12th as “Columbus Day”; the objective was to feel proud of the miscegenation and of the European roots that originated it.
However, with the pass of time, it has been preferred to speak, as the historian Miguel León Portilla suggests, of an “encounter of two worlds”.
Let’s see some basic points to understand it:
1. The Vikings came first
Christopher Columbus was not the first European to set foot on American soil. At least 500 years before him, the Vikings had already made explorations.
According to “The Norse Sagas”, an ancient collection of Scandinavian tales and legends, a Viking named Leif Ericson led an expedition from Greenland to what is now North America.
He encountered a land of forests, streams full of salmon, and fields of wild grapes. That is why he called the new territory Vinland.
But the Vikings weren’t the only ones. Today it is known that Asians also crossed the Bering Strait. And there is a strong discussion about whether the potato is native to South America or was brought over by the Polynesians.
2. Who was Christopher Columbus (the father of the “Discovery of America”)?
Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy, in 1451. He was the son of a merchant and weaver of humble origins.
He was self-taught, but from a very young age he had an adventurous spirit and became a navigator to travel the world. His first trips were for commercial purposes, later he learned to draw maps.
3. The need to seek new trade routes
In the 12th century, most of the Western European trade routes were directed to the search for oriental products.
Europeans needed goods they did not produce such as silk, pottery, ivory, perfumery, and weapons.
When the Eastern Roman Empire fell, the Ottoman Empire took control of trade to the Indies, the name as the Asian continent was known.
The European kingdoms were forced to find other ways. Portugal, for example, decided to go around the coast of Africa to get there.
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4. The earth is round
Many navigators, including Columbus, were getting notice of the idea that the Earth was spherical, and that Asia could be reached by sailing west.
Obviously, they were unaware of the existence of the American continent. Columbus began to imagine that if he crossed the Atlantic he could open a new trade route.
5. Nobody listened to him
For several years he visited European courts trying to find financing for his expedition, but nobody paid any attention to him, considering that it was a risky and very expensive mission.
Meanwhile, the Arabs continued to dominate overland trade.
6. Queen Isabel gives him a vote of confidence
In April 1492, Isabel de Castilla decided to accept Columbus’s project.
She and her husband, Fernando, the Catholic Monarchs, had just regained Granada, the last position of the Muslims, so they could try to find new trade routes.
Isabel signed the Capitulations of Santa Fe, thanks to which Columbus received the money for the mission, 2 million maravedies, today it would be around 1.2 million euros, according to the Spanish historian Antonio Domínguez Ortiz.
“For this reason, the Columbian party is classified as Castillian and Isabelina, since the interest and efforts shown by the queen made the trip possible”, explains in his book Historia de México, Miguel León Portilla.
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7. The trip with the “Three Caravels”
The navigator armed his crew with 88 men and three caravels, ships specially equipped to cross the Atlantic.
They were called La Niña, La Pinta and La Santa María.
On August 3rd, 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail from the Puerto de Palos in Huelva heading for the unknown. He was 40 years old.
His mission was purely commercial, he did not carry weapons or priests, evangelizers.
8. Arrival on an island in the Caribbean
Columbus headed west in search of the shortest route to the Indies. After 72 days, not without hardships and riots among the crew, they finally spotted land.
The crew member Rodrigo de Triana was the one who shouted the sweet words: Land ho!
The first American land where he set foot on was the Guanahuani Island that he baptized with the name of San Salvador; today it is called Watling and it belongs to the Bahamas in the Caribbean.
Then he went to what is now Cuba and Santo Domingo. He claimed the lands as part of Spain. He was convinced that he had reached the Indies.
According to the book Historia Mínima de México, by the Colegio de México, “It was not until the first years of the 16th century that Columbus’s idea was discarded and the Spaniards understood that it was a complete new continent and that they did not had a prior idea of it”.
9. Columbus made three more trips
When he returned to Spain, Columbus told about his achievements: amazing landscapes, naked and peaceful “Indians”…
He brought before the king and queen some native prisoners, parrots, plants unknown in Europe and a little gold. When they saw the gold, Isabel and Fernando authorized a second trip. This time the ambition would be greater.
There were no longer 88 men but 2,500. Actually, he would not find peaceful tribes, but that’s another story. Columbus made three more trips to America. He founded new settlements, held various positions like governor and viceroy, but in 1500 he was accused of tyranny and keeping property for himself.
He was sent back to Spain where he lost all his privileges.
Christopher Columbus died in Valladolid on May 20, 1506. He is considered the discoverer of America, although he died believing that he had reached the Indies.
10. The name of America comes from another explorer
From America, Europeans knew products such as cocoa, potatoes, corn and tomatoes, but at the same time, they introduced onions, wheat and animals such as horses and pigs that were previously unknown to the new continent.
The name that the continent now bears was given by another Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, who participated in other expeditions in the beginning of the 16th century and in whose diaries he already described that these lands were not the Indies, but that they were part of a new continent between Europe and Asia.
Translated by: Ligia M. Oliver Manrique de Lara
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