Day By Day

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy Columbus Day

On this day it is interesting and informative to see what Nobel Prize winning author Mario Vargas Llosa had to say back in 1990 about what Columbus' voyages meant and why.

Most commentators these days take positions on one side of a moral question: Was Columbus' voyage the beginning of a great European triumph, or the start of the greatest crime in human history? Llosa tries to get beyond that simplistic dichotomy. He writes:

I have two other questions, both having to do with the conquest, and I happen to think that an honest and thoughtful discussion of them is as timely and urgent as any others one could pose just now about Latin America. First: How was it possible that cultures as powerful and sophisticated as those of the ancient Mexicans and Peruvians–huge imperial cultures, as opposed to the scattered tribes of North America–so easily crumbled when encountered by infinitesimally small bands of Spanish adventurers? This question is itself centuries old, but not academic. In its answer may lie the basis for an understanding of the world the conquest engendered, a chronically “underdeveloped” world that has, for the most part, remained incapable of realizing its goals and visions.

The second question is this: Why have the postcolonial republics of the Americas–republics that might have been expected to have deeper and broader notions of liberty, equality, and fraternity–failed so miserably to improve the lives of their Indian citizens? Even as I write, not only the Amazonian rain forests but the small tribes who have managed for so long to survive there are being barbarously exterminated in the name of progress.
In other words he turns the moralists' questions back on themselves, urging them to stop assigning blame to Europe for everything that afflicts them and to instead look to their own pre- and post-colonial history.

It's an interesting position. I recommend the article highly.

Read the whole thing here.

No comments: