Indigenous Caribbean Network

This month people in various countries will be celebrating what is commonly called “Columbus Day” or “Dia de la Raza”; a day marked to celebrate the arrival of Columbus and his cronies crew onto the shores of “virgin” lands.

Many view this as an incredible event, worthy of celebration and joy. At a time when the planet was believed to be flat and only dangers and monsters awaited at the edge of the world, that a man had the audacity to take off into the vast unknown is nothing short of extraordinary! The Italians get to glorify one of their own, others celebrate escape from religious persecution, escape from famine, a place to begin life anew; some consider it was their god-given duty to bring Christianity and “civilization” to this “New World” and yet others, well, they just like the day off from work. But rarely does anyone stop to consider the flip side of the coin and are even surprised to hear that there are people out there who actually oppose celebration of this day as a holiday.

Well, to form an objective opinion one must have as much factual information as possible. I ask you to look at the other side of the coin, at least through this native’s eyes…

Before writing this essay, I sought the “pro” opinion; I needed an intelligent, objective and well constructed view in defense of the celebration of Columbus Day so that I may challenge it. I felt excited when I found Dr. Michael Berliner’s editorial on this controversy. I was feeling brave, figuring it would be a difficult ordeal to take on a PhD- in philosophy no less! But the more I read this article the more I realized that this whole essay was nothing but a collection of logical fallacies, arguments that are flawed in logic and deliberately(?) inaccurate, leading to a subjective conclusion that wasn’t supported by the information provided. Disappointing, really! Among the fallacies most often used are: red herrings, which distract one point for another, judgmental language, which insults the opposition personally as if that were the point of argument, composition, which makes something true that isn’t and non sequitur, a baseless conclusion. What I found surprising was that the author’s philosophy is not only Objectivism, which is supposed to be based purely on fact, but that Mr. Berliner is also the Co-Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Ayn Rand Institute. (Ayn Rand was the philosopher who created Objectivism.)

I guess a PhD doesn’t get you much these days.

The whole point of his piece is to argue in favor of the celebration of Columbus Day as the “discoverer of the New World”. The interesting detail here is that Berliner’s descriptions of natives, native life and history , on which he bases his “objective” opinion, are either erroneous or can very well be used to describe the Europeans themselves, if only because these points were facts of life in the 15th century. This essay will be dedicated to pointing out the fallacies used by Dr. Berliner as well as make corrections to the history he is basing his opinion on.

Magnesium vs. Gymnasium

One of the first claims Berliner states is that the attack on Columbus is an attack on Western Civilization. This is what is called a red herring fallacy. An argument thrown in to intentionally mislead or distract the other party from the original topic or subject, a digression. It distracts the listener or the reader into an unrelated topic and loses them in “yadda, yadda”. Then they come back to the original subject and viola! Because a lot has been written or said, you have a “convincing” argument.

But, not if you are paying attention…

The attack on celebrating Columbus has nothing to do with Western Civilization; apples and oranges. That native peoples have a bone to pick with western civilization as well is not a big secret, but it is a separate topic. I will touch on both topics separately, as it should be; and since “discovery” is the main topic, as well as the easiest one to dismiss, we will focus on that one first.

Discovery

I was always taught that the word discovery implied finding of a new thing, to reveal or expose something that was not known before; like when they discovered DNA, or new insects or new uses for organic materials that have never been thought of before, those are true discoveries. I only have three dictionaries and they all seem to agree with this definition. However, in support of Mr. Berliner’s point, we could say that Columbus effectively, as he says “brought America to the attention of…Western Europe” since he did uncover a land that was unknown to them at the time. But does this mean that Columbus discovered America in “every important respect”, as he claims? The only argument he has is that the Europeans didn’t know about America so he discovered it for THEM, but this is not a true discovery, is it?

I have never been to Europe. If I get on a plane, fly over there and explore the cities I am literally discovering the area. But there are folks that live there already. Say my little imaginary trip is over, I come home and tell my family about it; could I claim discovery for anyone other than myself?

This is another logical fallacy called the fallacy of composition; if it’s a little bit true then it’s all true. Columbus discovered America for himself and the Europeans only, not the World. By implying that Europe was “The World” at the time, you devalue the people living everywhere else on the planet as “less than”, which is not only racist and ethnocentric, but also gives you an attitude of superiority. This attitude of superiority and thinly veiled supremacism is the same that supported the cruel and barbarous acts committed against the Natives, the same attitude that supported Hitler!

Civilized? I don’t think so. But it may be why these two different topics are so often blended together.

I am getting ahead of myself, but it is a nice little segue into my next topic. However before we move on I would like to end the topic of discovery with the comment that Columbus’ finding of the Americas was not discovery as much as it was a serendipitous finding, an accident. He was not out looking for America, he was looking for India and found America instead.

This is how the Caribbean People became the First American Indians.

Western Civilization

I found my dictionaries to be somewhat vague here so we will look at the facts and come to a logical conclusion. These dictionaries define civilization as being an advanced state of society with a high level of culture, science and government; a culture or society of a particular time and place and a populated area as opposed to a wilderness.

I also looked up civil, since a civilization is supposed to be constructed by and for civil people. Besides the definitions of citizenship as opposed to military life, they define civil as: not rude, acting in accordance to polite social interactions and a condition of social order and organized government.

These definitions can be applied to ANY civilization at ANY point in time. The Romans were the epitome of civilization in their time and their Superbowl was pitting people against lions to see who won! Not something we would do today because it’s “uncivilized”. During the Renaissance, people wore perfumes to mask body odor because they didn’t bathe on a regular basis. With a few exceptions, in this day and age we bathe daily. At one point in time doctors didn’t wash their hands from one patient to the next and it was only the other day that we stopped smoking in places like hospitals and doctor’s offices. Anything living and thriving will grow and change, civilization is no different. To say that one is better than the other is subjective- it really all depends on who you are asking.

Because once people congregate, make homes and have a governing body they are considered a civilization, I understand then, that Berliner was using the “uncivilized” argument as a Judgmental Language fallacy. This is a fallacy used when you don’t have a logical argument; so you use insults and derogatory language to put down the opposing party instead. A quick example would be “He thinks the movie is cool, but he’s an idiot anyway”.

You see it a lot in schools and playgrounds. And it’s, again, subjective.

Berliner goes on using this inflammatory language, putting down the civilizations that existed in the Americas as lesser than the civilization the Europeans had, even to the point of claiming that this Nation was founded on European ideas!

Fact: The Europeans had no clue on how to run a democracy. They came from a society governed by a Monarchy who claimed authority to rule as a god given right. It wasn’t working in Europe, it’s one of the many reasons they came to the Americas. And when they finally became independent from British rule, they were lost as to how to unite 13 colonies as one when they were supposed to be independent. USA democracy is based not on any roman ideal, it’s based on the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, The Iroquois League, the Six Nations of the North who are the oldest participatory democracy on Earth. We have a governing system that was worthy of imitation! Benjamin Franklin’s first diplomatic job in the 1700’s was as Pennsylvania’s Indian Commissioner and during that time he became intimate with the ins and outs of Indian diplomacy and insisted that the US adopt this way of thinking to run the USA.

He speaks of the land and peoples of the USA in 1492, when Columbus had nothing to do with the lands that became the USA at the time. (Non sequitur Alert!)

Fact: Columbus’ first voyage landed in the Bahamas, after which he explored Cuba and then Espanola. The Spanish didn’t come to Florida until 20 years later.

Berliner goes on to describe the native peoples in a way that makes you think of neanderthals, and perhaps that is his opinion. However, he needed to do more research and based his opinion on fact, like Ayn Rand would have done. Berliner states: “The inhabitants were primarily hunter-gatherers…living from hand-to- mouth and day-to-day” and they had “little agriculture and scant permanent settlement”.

Fact: The Taino, the nation that Columbus first met, used a farming method they called conucos, which was a farming method taught to the colonies who used it until the 1930’s. We would put corn, yuca, beans, and squash all in this conuco and not only did the plants protect each other from the sun, but they also protected each other by attracting insects that ate the pests that ate the plants. They also nurtured each other, since the wastes of one plant was the food of another; and the conuco itself, by it’s very construction, prevented erosion. Another thing the Taino did was farm by cuttings, as opposed to seeds. That’s advanced farming, my friend, not some fly by your seat, let’s-see-if-it’s-edible kind of existence. And that was just the Taino! The peoples in mainland Americas were cross pollinating corn to create corn hybrids that filled their needs. Present “civilization” is only starting to touch this kind of technology! The Taino lived in villages, had plazas, music and art, had a religious cosmology with priests and healers, a governmental heirarchy and we shared community ceremonies and celebrations…much like society today. And as far as “permanent settlements”, what are the ruins of the Maya, Aztec and Inca civilization if not permanent? People lived there! And they were so well constructed that to date, they are STILL standing! These are facts.

As for life being “nasty, brutish and short” that is pretty much describing life ANYWHERE on the planet in the 15th century. And he was absolutely right about the warfare of the times!

Fact: The Inquisition, the Hundred Year’s War, The Expulsion of the Muslims and the Jews from Spain and Portugal, civil upheaval in England, Wars in France, Wars in Italy- just google 15th century! All this and more was happening in Europe, in Berliner’s “superior culture” at the time- “endless, bloody wars.” Yes, the natives warred against each other but we didn’t commit genocide, rarely did people die. It was more honorable to “count coup”, to touch an enemy without killing him or being killed was admired, and to avoid inbreeding, women were taken from neighboring tribes. The Europeans were used to attacking to kill; European civilization did not bring us peace. These are facts.

To state that western civilization brought an improvement for the people in the Americas, without which we could not have survived into this century is a formal fallacy called appeal to probability. There is no way of knowing how things would have turned out. That comment is pure speculation and far from being objective. It also reflects Berliner’s inflamed ego and sense of superiority when he suggests western civilization was our saving grace. Just looking at the details we have gone over so far, we were doing pretty good without western intervention! You might even say better than the Europeans were doing, since they ended up running away from Europe! How do you factor that in?

Berliner then goes on to prattle about how those against Columbus Day are actually out to get western civilization; talk about chasing your tail! I guess a PhD allows you to publish your own conspiracy theories.

I found it incredibly ironic when he argues that not all cultures are morally equal and dares say: “a free society is better than slavery; reason is better than brute force as a way to deal with other men”. This is , almost word for word, the stand of Objective philosophy, however it was not quite what western civilization brought to us, the native peoples of this land. We were enslaved; raped in body and mind, brutalized. Barolome’ de las Casas, a Spanish priest who came with Columbus wrote that the Spaniards:

made bets as to who would slit a man in two, or cut off his head at one blow; or they opened up his bowels. They tore the babes from their mothers breast by their feet, and dashed their heads against the rocks…they spitted the bodies of other babes, together with their mothers and all who were before them, on their swords….and by thirteens, in honor and reveraece for our Redeemer and the twelve Apostles they put wood underneath and, with fire, they burned the Indians alive

This is the civilization Columbus brought with him. This is not propaganda, this is history.

It was surprising to read Berliner’s claim that western civilization stands “for man at his best”, since his PhD is supposed to be in philosophy. He must have missed a couple of days of school. A far as I am aware, Sir Thomas More’s Utopia was based on the information coming into Europe about the native’s way of life in the Americas. It was from there that the rest of Europe began thinking of a life free from monarchic rule. They knew no other way of life, they learned about freedom from the native peoples! Even Ayn Rand looked to America as a model of what free men could be!!
Apples and Oranges

Berliner does touch on something intrinsic to native society, the Collectivistic philosophy we lived by. This way of thinking supports the idea that is presently being proven by physics, we are all connected. All living things are interdependent and what affects one will eventually affect the rest, so decisions were made with thought on how it would affect people seven generations into the future. Within this philosophy of life, however, it was understood that the collective was made up of individuals and these individuals were free to do as they pleased. Berliner’s rhetoric is all based on the debate between the philosophies of Individualism and Collectivism. This is not a difference of right or wrong nor better or worse, unless, like Berliner, you make it that way. It’s merely a difference of perspective, much like measuring in feet and yards as opposed to using the metric system.

Mr. Berliner seems to have a passion for teaching and a desire to be of service in a way that focuses on the freedom of the people of this great country of ours. I would suggest he refocus on issues that affect the country on a grander scale; perhaps apply Ms. Rand’s objectivistic philosophy on the slave work that lines the pockets of so many American companies, the forced (and illegal) removal of native peoples from their lands for the benefit of American Companies as well as the poisoning of our environment by yet other American industries and the way this affects the local human populations down to their very DNA. These actions would best serve the country as well as fall well within the objective philosophical view of laissez-faire capitalism.

Then he’ll be doing Ms. Rand proud!

(c)Anita Pagan

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Comment by Juan Almonte on November 26, 2008 at 10:25pm
I agree with keisha above comment.

Keep in mind also that the tainos did defeat the spanoirds. There was a treaty signed between the tainos and the spaniords in 1540 to free the taino slaves. In the island of kiskeya (now known as dominican rep)
Comment by Arenahi on November 21, 2008 at 9:24pm
Well, it could possibly have been the same. The idea of "peaceful" and "warlike" is not so clear cut. Oral history says that the Caribs warred against the Arawaks as revenge for the Arawaks keeping them as slaves. This happened far far back in history. This was the reason for their attacks, not because they simply liked war.

Also, by the time the Europeans got to the Caribs, the Caribs had already gotten word of all the bad things they had done to the Taino, so they defended themselves. If the Europeans went to the Caribs first maybe they would have accepted them since they didn't know what their real intention was.

We know that at least Fr. Breton who wrote the dictionary was welcomed among the Caribs and he writes of their kindness to him.
Comment by Ray Osborne on November 21, 2008 at 4:41pm
OKay here it is. I was going to continue it if there was interest.

Ray's Blog

I ponder sometime about alternative history. For example what if Columbus had not met the peace-loving Taino but encountered the warrior Caribs instead. History may have been very
different.
Comment by Arenahi on November 20, 2008 at 1:28pm
Ray, earlier in the thread you wrote,

"I wrote an account of Columbus meeting the first people in my blog here. At the start he held a deep admiration for them. I was going to post more about these two cultures meeting but maybe it might inflame some emotions."

I think this is what Juan meant.
Comment by Ray Osborne on November 20, 2008 at 12:07pm
>Ray Osborne's, I would actually apreciated if you can post it.

Sorry I am not sure what you want me to post. I lost the thread.
Comment by Juan Almonte on October 17, 2008 at 9:47pm
Ray Osborne's, I would actually apreciated if you can post it.
Comment by Juan Almonte on October 17, 2008 at 9:46pm
Ayesart,

sadly we will never know how our ancestors and other native's would have evolved without the contact.

I dought that people who had weopons like a macana were that peacefull. I mean even the spaniords feared these weopons. I read many accounts were other indigenous people of south america had macanas and spaniords feared them.But I am sure that many of the weopons were not only use to battle but to hunt. My understanding is that taino was not even a word that our ancestors used to call themselves. My understading is that they gave themselve that name after columbus made contact. As to separate themselve from the caribs indians.

I am also sure that many of european accounts of the indiginous peoples of the america's were greatly exaggerated. Our ancesstors were made to look like savages. You know so they can force there religion on them. Just like they have done all over the world.

You wrote "And why do so many of our people deny their Indian-ness and are so ready to proclaim that they are descended from the conquistador?"

You know thats a question that cant be answered with just one anwers.

1)Cause many of us dont know we are indians. the extinction myth. You use to be thought in school and in books. But I am seeing a change in this.

2) Cause of hollywood. Hollywood makes all indians look the same. From what I seen in fulll blooded indians they themsleves dont fit the hollywood typecast. I seen full blooded indians that had facial hair, that were as light as me. I read that even europeans ( I think it was french) who had seen full blooded indians with hazel eyes.There are more examples but I am sure you guys get the picture.
3)Cause we have spanish surnames, The below was sent to me by a friend who has done some research on this issue.

Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros,in around the 1500s,told Spanish sailors to take census of all the people in there colonies,and the only way to keep count of people was by giving out spanish surnames to the indians and black slaves.so just cause you have a spanish last name does not mean your spanish descent.the british did the same to black slaves.


Not only that, but the king of spain during the 1500's ordered the spanish in "new spain" to give spanish slave names to their "indian" slaves. Thus the slave owners named their slaves "gonzales", "martinez", "jimenez".. etc after their own spanish names "gonzalo", "martin", "sancho".. etc. Its like if they stamped us with "property of the spanish" on the forehead.

the spanish did the same thing the same thing to the indigenous people in the southwest US when they reached "california", "arizona", "utah"... etc. which is why they too have spanish slave names, oh and english slave names too as a result of the "indian" schools founded by the english/americans... sick history.
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So unless you have recent admixture from your dad side. I would not be using your last name to trace it back to spain or other eurpeean countrys.

You wrote. "How many descendants of Taino are out here in the world of humanity. Why is it so impossible for us to come together as a people, one tribe again?"

Because we are ingnorant. Just like many african american dislike africans, ecudorians dislkike mexcians. We Dominicans, puerto ricans and cubans dislike eachother. When infact we are brothers and sisters.

Also to many titles. I mean these are diffent times. Even some europeans countrys have done away with the king and queen labes. Tainos we need leader to unify us, regardles what island we come from. For all we know spanirds could have moved us around. A cuban may actually have roots in PR, and puerto rican can have taino relative in dominican rep. That have been separated for over 500 yo. I mean we even have tainos that were taken to spain as servents. There deccendants are probably not even aware of who they are. Unless they kept a family tree records.


Good questions. I am going to leave it at this as it can be a very long post.
Comment by Juan Almonte on October 17, 2008 at 9:46pm
Keisha,

Your wrote "Even if it was called Hindustan, "h" is not pronounced in Spanish, and India was the name that others called."
Yeah thats the whole point. Hindustan was what they called themselves. Its not a spaniord name. Later on in the 1800's when england invaded they changed its name. In many ways england was like spain. They try to conquered and inslave other countrys. I mean even ireland and the scotish. They have been opressed by england.
Comment by Ray Osborne on October 17, 2008 at 8:00pm
I wrote an account of Columbus meeting the first people in my blog here. At the start he held a deep admiration for them. I was going to post more about these two cultures meeting but maybe it might inflame some emotions.
Comment by Ayesart on October 17, 2008 at 6:26pm
I have read the article and the responses to it.
The same issues have made me think a lot for many years. What if the "discovery" never happened?
It has been written that the Taino were on the way to becoming a civilization.
Had they had the chance to evolve would they have held onto their oneness with nature?
In retrospect we all would like to think so.
I have asked another question. If our ancestors were so peaceful why did they have weapons?
Why did they fight against the Caribs?
Then another question arises when I begin to look at our own civilization.
Why do we allow religious systems to send missionaries out into the wilderness to convert and subvert people who live in wild places?
And why do we hate those whose genetics have become an integral part of us?
And why do so many of our people deny their Indian-ness and are so ready to proclaim that they are descended from the conquistador?
If we really wanted to go back to our ancestral ways why then do we buy cars that pollute the air we breathe. Participate within the wastefulness ways of our civilization. Why do we not speak up loudly against the wars that are draining us of our youth and destroying our economy.
Why do we dwell on the past and begin to look to the future.
How many descendants of Taino are out here in the world of humanity. Why is it so impossible for us to come together as a people, one tribe again?
Can it be that we have become a fragmented people.
Can be it that we'd rather be part of an organization instead of a tribe.
Why do we glorify violent sports and those who participate in them?
When we get ill why do we not turn to our ancestor's way of healing by using herbs. Instead we run to the doctor at the first sign of a fever.
And why do we insist on looking upon ancient people through our jaded civilized tinted eyes.
How many of us have tried to work stone to create a tool?
Can we really see through the eyes of our ancestors.
All these questions have made me think alot about my own way of life and how much would I be willing to give up to become like those who came before me.
Ayes

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