Christopher Colombus (1451-1506) is still ranked as one of the most famous explorers and remembered for the voyages he undertook. He was under the auspices of the Spanish monarchs when making these excursions and even received funding from Queen Isabella herself. Colombus’ exploration exploits begun at a time when the current European powers were on a never-ending quest of seeking colonies and establishing trade routes (Petrie 45). These kingdoms were in stiff competition with their economic rivals and got their motivation from the nascent imperialism. It was for this reason that the Spanish monarchy and enthusiast such as Luis de Santangel financed Colombus who was in search of a direct sea route to the East Indies. The Spanish crown showed interest in this venture because it was a superb opportunity for the Kingdom to enter the Asian market and trade (Sullivan 34). It was during one of these voyages that he set foot on the New World where he came across a series of islands that he immediately named. He was primarily claiming these lands for the glory of the Spanish crown. His “Letter to Luis de Santangel” was written while at sea and describes his New World exploits in great detail. In this essay, I will provide an in-depth analysis of the letter, its contents, rhetoric and its strengths and weaknesses.
Christopher Colombus wrote the letter on February 15, 1493, with the sole intention of providing details of his first navigation to the West Indies. He starts with a succinct description of the Canary Islands that he first came into contact with before proceeding to a land mass that he names San Salvador. Colombus “discovers” more islands which he names Fernandina, Santa Maria de Conception, Isla Juana (Cuba) and Isabella. He ultimately comes into contact with Hispaniola (Haiti), an island he views as a jewel for Spain. Columbus even goes ahead to describe it as being “beyond comparison” which indicates that he was taken aback by its geography. Moreover, he readily acknowledges that these islands already had inhabitants who do not put up a fight when they encounter him. One of the strengths of this letter is the excellent detail used to describe what Colombus saw in the New World. He describes the beautiful scenery he witnessed in Hispaniola and the fertility of the land. Colombus also mentions tall green trees, their fruits, the birds and the abundance of metal in the mainland ever. It is interesting how he asserts that there was no native opposition to the Spanish banner on the land, which sounds absurd. I opine that he writes the letter in great detail, focusing primarily on the discovery of Hispaniola which he sees as a feat. The amount of time he spends talking about it might indicate that he was trying to convince Luis de Santagel that his financial backing was an investment that was worthwhile and would benefit both Spain and his chief financier.
One of the shortcomings of the letter is the arrogance that Colombus exudes. He boastfully announces his discoveries and tries to mask this self-exaltation by pretending that he is praising the Spanish monarchy:“ As I know you will be rejoiced at the glorious success that our Lord has given me in my voyage, I write this to tell you how in thirty-three days I sailed to the Indies with the fleet that the illustrious King and Queen, our Sovereigns, gave me, where I discovered a great many islands, inhabited by numberless people”(Shi and Tindall 263). Additionally, his picks a condescending tone when speaking of the native folk and views them as lesser beings. Throughout the letter, he refers to them as being “hopelessly timid.” It is evident that he somewhat feels superior and even describes how they were excited to receive ordinary Spani goods: “Whether it be anything of great or small value, with any trifle of whatever kind, they are satisfied. I forbade worthless things being given to them, such as bits of broken bowls, pieces of glass, and old straps, although they were as much pleased to get them as if they were the finest jewels in the world”(Shi and Tindall 266). I view his action as unjust especially due to the fact that he claimed land that already had inhabitants. He takes advantage of vulnerable people who were ignorant of the European way of life and later seizes a sizable amount of Native Americans who he intends to parade in Spain.
In conclusion, “Letter to Luis de Santangel” provides an account of Christopher Colombus’ navigation and the subsequent discovery of the West Indies and the Americas. He was acting on behalf of the Spanish monarchy to secure land, resources, and prestige which he saw as being vital at the time. Nonetheless, it’s still appalling how he disposed the natives of their land with no regard to their right of ownership.