To the Editor:
The saying “only the vanquished remember history” may not be entirely true, and it is definitely not when it comes to Columbus. The recent voyage of the Nao Santa Maria, a historical reproduction of the famous Santa Maria sailed by Columbus, is testament to that. Its arrival into Bucksport elicited a stream of celebration and a torrent of anger by various entities, none of whom were entirely wrong.
While the Nao Victoria Foundation purposes to share the story of Spain’s role in world exploration through the building of such historical ship reproductions, it should be clear to all by now that these explorations were not innocent excursions of discovery. They were a means to overpower opposing religions and cultures, and to gain wealth and power. Gold, spices and new trade routes were high on the list, the subjugation of natives into slavery was an immoral fringe benefit – and often a means for crew to gain personal profits – if not the intention of the entire voyage! Indigenous people across the Americas continue to live this history. I do not mean to devalue the skill and risk such explorers possessed or endured, but in our current ‘woke’ state of social affairs, the Nao Victoria Foundation could have been more politically astute. Maine’s transition from celebrating Columbus Day to celebrating Indigenous People’s Day only happened two years ago.
And the loss of maritime history was only part of it. What if the Nao Victoria Foundation sailed its ship up the Penobscot River with a broader agenda? One that included not only the appreciation of craftsmanship and innovation that built and sailed such an interesting ship, but one that also discussed more complicated human issues such as manifest destiny, trade routes and injustices such as genocide and the abject taking of land. Imagine what it might have been like if the visit included public forums with members of the Penobscot Nation in a dialogue about land rights and freedom.
It is easy to exist in a polarized state where things are either right or wrong, but it is far more interesting to provoke the difficult and important discussions that unite different states of perspective. Certainly more tickets would have been sold.