Today I was speaking with a close friend about the role of forgiveness to affect change within the heart and I realize now part of the solution toward a reclamation of poverty and healing may rest in the act of forgiveness. Many centuries ago, settlers came to visit their lives upon ancient civilizations in many regions of the world including Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. One of the tragedies resulting from the exploration and settling of explorers was the expidition of Christopher Columbus. While Columbus is often regarded as hero in some teachings and has a celebrated holiday in America, his actual practice and the ways he treated the local indigenous people he came to know was anything but caring.
Visiting the island of Hispanola as he came to call it in 1492, he discovered an indigenous people known as the Taino tribe. The Taino had lived thousand of years with a peaceful existence and were welcoming to Columbus and his compatriots. However, when Columbus began to understand how docile and passive this remote indigenous island people were in their daily life pursuit, he recognized an opportunity to capitalize and become rich from their generosity of gentle action and resolve. Within a very short time, Columbus began to capture and enslave the Taino sending some back to Spain while others worked hard labor cultivating various crops for harvesting and profiteering.
But the exploitation did not stop there, Columbus created an entire sex industry shipping young boys and girls to Spain and forcing many to commit sexual acts for himself or his men. When they resisted they were either killed, beaten, or punished in some other brutal manner. So deplorable and demented were the acts of Columbus on the Taino tribe that many began to take their own lives than live the in the harrowing circumstance now found in their once peaceful island home.
Tragically within only 30 years, the population of the Taino had now been obliterated with only a few thousand remaining of a once great nation of over 3 million. Not long after the remaining were also gone leaving a heart rending chapter in the wake of the violent storm Columbus had wrought upon an an innocent people.
So thinking about this brutal assault and decimation of a people as you can imagine makes me wonder why we celebrate Columbus Day? Why do we choose as an American culture to pay homage to this man? At first my anger was aired and evident but then it began to dawn on me, Columbus Day may serve as an oportunity to forgive him and some of the other explorers or masters of exploitation who have created a storm of sorrow in their wake through the horrific ways in which they have treated large groups of people in some of the poorest regions of the world. What would the social impact be of creating a day where the ones who are accountable could come forth and speak their accountability and ask for forgiveness? Then the people of a nation who had been assulted, raped, and had their land stolen from them could welcome the accountable actions and required amends with a willingness to forgive. Perhaps the hurt still runs deep within the heart of so many now centuries later and the pain holds something back from the growth which may be possible. It’s really hard to know the affect of giving persecutors a chance to come clean and persecuted a chance to forgive but what is their to lose if the effort is tried.
At the very least, this creates a dialogue of possible solution and one act of humanity can lead to another and then another and perhaps ultimately a compromise of debt forgiveness and other bars which may be holding back an entire segment of people in a developing nation. There are so many possibilities when we consider forgiveness as a vehicle for change.