Sunday, October 10, 2010

Against Columbus Day, with Eduardo Galeano

Last week I read Genesis, the first book in the Memory of Fire trilogy about the history of the Americas by Eduardo Galeano. I'd been looking for this book, for all three books, for a while, but they seemed to be out of print and I was even having trouble finding them in any library. Now, though, no doubt because of the resurgence of interest in Galeano's work thanks to Venezuela President Hugo Chavez presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with Open Veins of Latin America at a summit last year, the trilogy has been reissued in a new edition by Nation Books.

This first volume, Genesis, starts with the pre-invasion era and ends at about 1700. It is devastating. History as I have never before read it. In language so finely crafted that for the first hundred pages or so I was reading under the misapprehension that this is a novel. Creatively, originally, imaginitively as Galeano tells it, however, this is not fiction. Every word is true. On every page, a revelation. Even if you have long since been disencumbered of the lies about Columbus as courageous explorer, conquistadors as dashing heroes, invasion and occupation and genocide and chattel slavery as manifest destiny--there is much to learn in these pages. Much horror, pain, evil; also much courage, resistance, beauty. Here it is, laid out for us by Galeano, here it is just as it happened. It is our duty, I think, especially those of us who support the struggles of indigenous peoples, of people of African descent, and of the Latin American left, to face it, know it, arm ourselves with it, so that we can be better, truer fighters.

What a wonderful counter, then, to the imperialist holiday honoring the racist colonizers. Read Genesis--read it and weep, read it and be inspired, read it and re-enter the struggle filled anew with righteous anger. I'm looking forward to the next two volumes. From Galeano to the genocidal invaders: take that, Columbus!

Here's an excerpt from the opening section of Genesis, which consists of creation myths and other lore from various of the original nations of the Americas. This one, in a way harsh yet at the same time whimsical, offers an explanation of how patriarchy began:
In remote times women sat in the bow of the canoe and men in the stern. It was the women who hunted and fished. They left the villages and returned when they could or wanted. The men built the huts, prepared the meals, kept the fires burning against the cold, minded the children, and tanned skins for clothes.
Such was life for the Ona and Yagan Indians in Tierra del Fuego, until the day the men killed all the women and put on the masks that the women had invented to scare them.
Only newly born girls were spared extermination. While they grew up, the murderers kept repeating to them that serving men was their destiny. They believed it. Their daughters believed it, too, likewise the daughters of their daughters.
Most of the rest of the book tells bitter bitter truths from the days after the Europeans arrived. What they did is unspeakable. What their inheritors still do carries on their crimes. A reckoning will come. Read Genesis yourself, to remind yourself of why.Today of all days.