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Columbus meets Native Americans

People in North America were innovative. They had moved up from the spear to the bow and arrow and its greater range. Before Christopher Columbus arrived in the Carribean, many had moved beyond hunting and gathering, with a large farming center for example at Cahokia in what today is Illinois. People of the Americas were skilled at making tools, clothing and such, including the hunters on the plains making their mobile homes and people on the west coast building cabins of wood. When the pilgrims arrived in what today is Massachusetts the Wampanoag showed them how to plant corn, how to cook squash and pumpkins and how to make corn pudding. And, after Europeans brought horses to the continent, native Americans became skilled at horsemanship, and with guns.

They had boats for river and lake travel but nothing for crossing the great Atlantic ocean. Inventions were pragmatic endeavors rising from experience and interests. The sailing ships that Columbus had and the navigation he used to cross the Atlantic had been cultural developments rising from on the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, and in the 1400s journeys to Africa and then to the East for spices to be sold to Europen aristocrats. The kings and queens of Europe started to fund their own spice-getting expeditions.

People in North Americas were not interested in saving the souls of foreign peoples. Now they interest in profits from large quantity trade on the other side of endless ocean. They were concerned with opportunities at hand.

Columbus is commonly portrayed as an intellectual with advanced thinking, as a man who persuaded rulers and scholars to overlook accepted theories about the size of the Earth. Columbus was not on the forefront of scientific thought. In his time the idea that the world was round was common among men of the sea in Western Europe. Columbus was a man of his time in Europe and made much of his first name Christopher, meaning Christ-bearer. He said his daily prayers and chanted "more than did the average priest." He was steeped in a culture that encouraged him to want to sail to the East to gain wealth to finance another crusade to take the Holy Land from the Muslims – a crusade he "hoped to lead personally." (The Modern Age: The History of the World in Christian Perspective, Laura Hicks ed., vol 2, p 194-95.)

Columbus's calculations were way off, believing as he did that the Far East was only a couple thousand miles to the West. The distance to Hong Kong through Panama was 15,220 miles – and farther if one travelled through the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of South America. Columbus's miscalculation arose from his study of scripture. He interpreted the Second Book of Esdras 6:42 as describing the earth as six parts dry land and one part sea. Salt water oceans actually covered around 71 percent of the earth's surface.

Columbus and his crew slept on the hard deck of their tiny ships. They were to learn to use hammocks from native Americans – more of history's cultural diffusions.

The people that Columbus and his crew found where they landed in the Caribbean were friendly. And Columbus, the European Christian gentleman that he was, concluded that they could be easily dominated and had the makings of what he called "fine servants." People on the island to be called Hispanolia impressed him by the gold they were wearing as jewelry.


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