Posted on February 29, 2020
There are so many horrible things done by Christopher Columbus and the other European explorers and conquerors and missionaries - horrible things done TO the native peoples of the Americas....
This little anecdote is an example of Europeans using every technological or other advantage they had to get what they wanted, whatever the cost to the Native Americans / indios.
The scene: On Columbus's fourth (and final) voyage to the Americas, only two of his original four caravel ships were still afloat. They landed in Jamaica in June of 1503.
And, actually, those two ships were barely afloat: they were infested with shipworms! The Spaniards needed to hole up in Jamaica and wait for a rescue ship to pick them up.
The native Jamaicans were welcoming to Columbus and his crew. They provided them with food and other supplies in exchange for some trinkets the Spaniards had brought. BUT...
...How did the Spaniards repay their welcoming attitude? Did they commit terrible crimes (like murder)? Did they cheat the Jamaicans? Did they steal from the native islanders?
Actually, Columbus's crew did all of the above. Given the Spaniards' terrible behavior, the native Jamaicans didn't feel so very welcoming anymore. In January of 1504 they stopped trading with the Spaniards.
Columbus was in trouble. He and his crew couldn't leave, because the ships were not seaworthy. They couldn't stay, because they had no source of food.
But Columbus had an almanac with some astronomical tables. The German astronomer Regiomontanus had predicted that there would be a total lunar eclipse on February 29, 1504.
Columbus called a meeting with the chiefs of the Jamaican peoples a few days before the eclipse. He told them that his god was angry with them because they wouldn't give him the supplies he needed. Because of this anger, he said, his god was going to take away the moon in three days time!
Three days later.
Aaaannnnd - the lunar eclipse began! Soon it looked as if the black night had taken a "bite" out of the bright moon. As you can imagine, the native Jamaicans were astonished and scared. They ran to get some food, brought it to the ship...and they begged Columbus to intercede with his god.
At this point, the eclipse was total. Actually, the moon wasn't totally gone, but it wasn't bright, but was instead a dark, angry-looking red color. And there was no moonlight reaching the Earth.
Columbus told the Jamaicans that he would pray on their behalf, within the peace inside his captains quarters. From the information in the almanac, he knew that the total eclipse of the moon would last about 48 minutes, so inside the cabin he flipped over an hour glass. Then he waited until he knew that the moon would soon begin to reappear; he came back to the chiefs and told them that the gods had relented and would bring back the moon.
And, sure enough, the bright, shiny moon did reappear. (Of course!)
This display of supposed godly power over the moon convinced the Jamaicans to continue to supply the Spaniards until a ship finally arrived in June to take Columbus and the crew back to Spain.
This trickery is pretty bad, but of course the terrible treatment of the native Jamaicans was even worse. This anecdote shows the power of knowledge, and of written language, and of mathematics and science. After all, Columbus's trick wouldn't have been possible without that prediction being written down in an almanac. (Columbus didn't know how to predict a lunar eclipse!) And the trick would have backfired if Regiomontanus's math had been a little off, or if Columbus had tried it with a group of Native Americans who could predict eclipses on their own (like the Mayans).
Also on this date:
(Last Saturday of February)
Check out my Pinterest boards for: