The Bahamas issued a beautiful banknote commemorating the 500th anniversary of Columbus setting foot in the New World, which happened to be, The Bahamas.
In this map of The Bahamas on the left, the island group is shown, and the individual island, San Salvador, is labeled. San Salvador is the island accepted by preponderance of scholarship as the island upon which Columbus first set foot October 12, 1994.
It was morning. And we might imagine the sun rising distant and glorious, illuminating the paradise before those three little sailing ships. It was October 12, 1492, Friday according to our reckoning. Christopher Columbus climbed down from the Santa Maria, into a little excursion boat, rowed the short distance to the little island, and stepped ashore.
This pre-Industrial Age, pre-Age of Enlightenment, pre-Scientific Revolution, pre-Reformation, Admiral, armored and weaponed, with his fleet of three ships anchored behind him, and the monarchy of Spain behind them, stood before a handful of curious and naked inhabitants of Guanahani, for so they called their island home.
I cannot imagine a more fateful meeting in world history.
The record of this first day ashore is reproduced below.
To be sure, the Bahamas are very beautiful islands. Columbus reports seeing only parrots on his first venture. And these parrots are beautiful as illustrated here on our banknote.
These parrots live in there island nations of the Caribbean Sea; the Bahamas and Cuba and the Cayman Islands. Leucocephala Bahamensis are also known as the Cuban Parrot and the Rose Throated Parrot.
These beautiful birds gather in gorgeous flocks during the Winter, and then disperse into mating pairs from March to September.
Phoenicopterus Ruber, or, the American Flamingo, is also known as the Caribbean flamingo, although it lives also in the Galapagos islands in the Pacific ocean. It is the only species of flamingo native to North America.
This beautiful bird grows to 4 feet or 5 feet tall and lives for 40 years, one of the longest life spans in the kingdom of fliers.
Our Cylura Rileyi, or San Salvador Rock Iquana lives on three island groups in The Bahamas. Our iguana grows to about 15 inches long and can be very colorful with colors varying from subspecies to subspecies and among individuals in a subspecies.
The Coat of Arms of The Bahamas has a shield at center with the shining sun over the Santa Maria , the sailing ship of Columbus. Overhead is a conch shell brimmed with five palm fronds. To the left is a marlin and to the right is a flamingo, the national wildlife of the Bahamas illustrating its island nature.
The following is the record of October 11 and 12, 1492, from the Journals of Christopher Columbus:
Thursday, 11 October. Steered west-southwest; and encountered a heavier sea than they had met with before in the whole voyage. Saw pardelas and a green rush near the vessel. The crew of the Pinta saw a cane and a log; they also picked up a stick which appeared to have been carved with an iron tool, a piece of cane, a plant which grows on land, and a board. The crew of the Nina saw other signs of land, and a stalk loaded with rose berries. These signs encouraged them, and they all grew cheerful. Sailed this day till sunset, twenty-seven leagues.
After sunset steered their original course west and sailed twelve miles an hour till two hours after midnight, going ninety miles, which are twenty-two leagues and a half; and as the Pinta was the swiftest sailer, and kept ahead of the Admiral, she discovered land and made the signals which had been ordered. The land was first seen by a sailor called Rodrigo de Triana, although the Admiral at ten o’clock that evening standing on the quarter-deck saw a light, but so small a body that he could not affirm it to be land; calling to Pero Gutierrez, groom of the King’s wardrobe, he told him he saw a light, and bid him look that way, which he did and saw it; he did the same to Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, whom the King and Queen had sent with the squadron as comptroller, but he was unable to see it from his situation. The Admiral again perceived it once or twice, appearing like the light of a wax candle moving up and down, which some thought an indication of land. But the Admiral held it for certain that land was near; for which reason, after they had said the Salve which the seamen are accustomed to repeat and chant after their fashion, the Admiral directed them to keep a strict watch upon the forecastle and look out diligently for land, and to him who should first discover it he promised a silken jacket, besides the reward which the King and Queen had offered, which was an annuity of ten thousand maravedis.
At two o’clock in the morning the land was discovered, at two leagues’ distance; they took in sail and remained under the square-sail lying to till day, which was Friday, when they found themselves near a small island, one of the Lucayos, called in the Indian language Guanahani.
Presently they descried people, naked, and the Admiral landed in the boat, which was armed, along with Martin Alonzo Pinzon, and Vincent Yanez his brother, captain of the Nina. The Admiral bore the royal standard, and the two captains each a banner of the Green Cross, which all the ships had carried; this contained the initials of the names of the King and Queen each side of the cross, and a crown over each letter Arrived on shore, they saw trees very green many streams of water, and diverse sorts of fruits.
The Admiral called upon the two Captains, and the rest of the crew who landed, as also to Rodrigo de Escovedo notary of the fleet, and Rodrigo Sanchez, of Segovia, to bear witness that he before all others took possession (as in fact he did) of that island for the King and Queen his sovereigns, making the requisite declarations, which are more at large set down here in writing.
Numbers of the people of the island straightway collected together. Here follow the precise words of the Admiral: “As I saw that they were very friendly to us, and perceived that they could be much more easily converted to our holy faith by gentle means than by force, I presented them with some red caps, and strings of beads to wear upon the neck, and many other trifles of small value, wherewith they were much delighted, and became wonderfully attached to us.
Afterwards they came swimming to the boats, bringing parrots, balls of cotton thread, javelins, and many other things which they exchanged for articles we gave them, such as glass beads, and hawk’s bells; which trade was carried on with the utmost good will. But they seemed on the whole to me, to be a very poor people. They all go completely naked, even the women, though I saw but one girl. All whom I saw were young, not above thirty years of age, well made, with fine shapes and faces; their hair short, and coarse like that of a horse’s tail, combed toward the forehead, except a small portion which they suffer to hang down behind, and never cut. Some paint themselves with black, which makes them appear like those of the Canaries, neither black nor white; others with white, others with red, and others with such colors as they can find. Some paint the face, and some the whole body; others only the eyes, and others the nose. Weapons they have none, nor are acquainted with them, for I showed them swords which they grasped by the blades, and cut themselves through ignorance. They have no iron, their javelins being without it, and nothing more than sticks, though some have fish-bones or other things at the ends. They are all of a good size and stature, and handsomely formed. I saw some with scars of wounds upon their bodies, and demanded by signs the of them; they answered me in the same way, that there came people from the other islands in the neighborhood who endeavored to make prisoners of them, and they defended themselves. I thought then, and still believe, that these were from the continent. It appears to me, that the people are ingenious, and would be good servants and I am of opinion that they would very readily become Christians, as they appear to have no religion. They very quickly learn such words as are spoken to them. If it please our Lord, I intend at my return to carry home six of them to your Highnesses, that they may learn our language. I saw no beasts in the island, nor any sort of animals except parrots.” These are the words of the Admiral.