Thursday, December 31, 2009
Speaker Explores the Secret History of Christopher Columbus
By Eddy Ball
During its latest Hispanic Heritage Celebration on October 6, the NIEHS Diversity Council offered employees and contractors a novel perspective on explorer Christopher Columbus with a lecture by historian Manuel Rosa. Hosted by council member and NIEHS biologist Eli Ney, Rosa's talk, "Unmasking Columbus," explored the topic of "Columbus, the who, what and where — his identity, his knowledge and his mission.
A native of the Portuguese Azores who once worked on an information technology contract at NIEHS, Rosa has spent the past 18 years investigating historic events related to Columbus' 1492 voyage to America. His research findings are the basis of his two controversial books in Portuguese — the carefully documented account, O Mistério Colombo Revelado (The Columbus Mystery Revealed), published in 2006, and a popular version of the study released this year, Colombo Português-Novas Revelações (Portuguese Columbus-New Revelations).
As the titles of his books suggest, Rosa rejects the depiction of Columbus as "an inexperienced, lost and confused" explorer — a self-made man and shipwrecked sailor from Genoa, Italy, who stumbled across the Americas in 1492 during his misguided search for a western route to India.
Basing his argument on DNA and documentary evidence, Rosa presented a revisionist account of the explorer, whose real name, he argued, was Cristóbol Colón. According to Rosa, Colón was in fact "a highly trained [and very well-educated] nobleman, a Portuguese spy who infiltrated the Spanish royal court on a mission to take Spanish ships as far from India as possible in order to protect India's trade routes for the Portuguese king [John II].
As Rosa explained, during this time of cataclysmic shifts in the global balance of power, Portugal used its most powerful weapons — artifice, secrecy and intrigue — to divert Spain to the Americas and preserve its own standing as a colonial power in Africa and the East Indies. Columbus, Rosa contends, was an expert navigator, a master prevaricator and accomplished cryptographer who plotted against Spain throughout the voyage, even stopping at Portuguese island ports on his way to America and on his return voyage before returning to Spain — presumably to give progress reports to his Portuguese handlers and co-conspirators.
Rosa contends that the new information he has discovered about Columbus offers a fresh context for understanding apparent contradictions in the established historical record. The new evidence also helps explain Spain's readiness to sign the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, dividing newly discovered lands outside Europe between the two naval superpowers — and reserving Africa and India for Portugal.