The Penobscot Maritime Heritage Association is hosting a festival of tall ships, and it is causing some waves.

The issue is the late inclusion of a boat named Nao Santa Maria, a replica of one of the three ships sailed by Christopher Columbus.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

Initially, I wasn’t going to write about this because the organizers of the festival heard the outcry of offense from the community and canceled the event. Hurrah! A day later, however, the event was back on and tours were being given aboard the ship. So here we go.

To those who genuinely do not understand why there is a problem, I say, thank you for being willing to ask your questions and hear the answers. Thank you for engaging in this conversation, even when it is uncomfortable. And it will be. History often is.

To those loudly outraged folks who are demanding that the rest of us “know your history” – I agree. That is actually the perfect place to go with this. Let’s get to know the history. All of the facts that follow are accurate, documented and easily verified.

Christopher Columbus is not the thinker, person or adventurer we were taught in school. Bugs Bunny had it wrong, too.

To begin, no, he did not discover that the world was round. That reality was well known and written about long before he was even born. As noted in the Christian Science Monitor, “In reality, most educated people living at the end of the 15th century knew the Earth was a sphere. … Columbus actually thought the planet was pear-shaped.” Columbus was actually trying to measure the circumference of the earth, a feat he miscalculated by thousands of miles because he was not very good at calculations.

Also, he did not land anywhere in North America. Ever. Columbus’ ships landed, by our best estimations, in the Bahamas or the Dominican Republic. Because he was not only bad at math, he was also a terrible navigator.

However, the Vikings, Irish, Welsh, Chinese and several others all did manage to make it to North America, long before Columbus’ voyage, and they managed to do so peacefully. Let’s recreate those boats!

While we are on the “small stuff” – the ship doesn’t even have the historically correct name. According to the Christian Science Monitor, “As was common of the time, the crews gave each ship nicknames. La Santa Clara became la Niña (‘the girl’); la Pinta became la Pintada (‘the painted one,’ in other words, ‘the prostitute’); and la Santa Gallega became Maria Galante (the name of another prostitute). The church censored these nicknames …”

But enough of that. What really matters here is the rest of the actual history. Columbus was a brutal enslaver, murderer and rapist who bragged of his immoral deeds in his journals. It was recorded that “9 and 10 year old girls” brought the best price as sex slaves. He cut off ears to torture. Those working for him were known to behead enslaved humans they “could not be bothered to untie.” He brought death, pain and suffering to the places he landed, and that is the legacy which spread to our shores.

This is the human whose legacy is embodied in that ship powering up our waters. He brought the first wave of the genocide upon Indigenous nations. This ship is gliding port to port as hundreds upon hundreds of murdered children are unearthed at boarding schools which trace their existence to that same legacy. This is the actual history. This is why that ship has no business in a celebration.

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