Christopher Columbus and the Transition from Pan American Day to Indigenous People's Resistance Day in Belize

Christopher Columbus and the Transition from Pan American Day to Indigenous People’s Resistance Day in Belize

Christopher Columbus

October 12th is when the various countries of the Americas celebrate Indigenous People’s Resistance Day, formerly known as Columbus Day or Pan American Day. This event is both a national and bank holiday within Belize and commemorates the survival, struggle and resistance efforts of Belize’s indigenous peoples against colonization. The day falls on October 12th as that is when Columbus first landed in the Americas back in 1492. This day is also known as Dia de la Raza, a “day of the race” that celebrates diversity between Europeans and Native Americans.

Columbus’ efforts ignited European interest in colonizing the Americas and while his first voyage was of considerable significance, he did not reach the mainland until 1498, his third voyage. Rather than seeking a sea route to India, Columbus happened to make landfall on a Bahamian island he christened San Salvador. Despite his influence on global trade and governance, Columbus was not the first European to reach the Americas-multiple accounts attribute the Norse to arriving centuries earlier but without establishing colonies.

About the Changed Name

In 2021, Belize’s government decided to rebrand Pan-American Day as Dia de la Raza. Later that year, in November, this term was discovered to be a misunderstanding; Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs and New Growth Ministries clarified that the government press office published a list of holidays, with pressure coming from the calendar printers to have a good idea of what holidays to list. This resulted in the initial list having Dia de la Raza as a holiday name despite little thought having been put into the name. Due to the vaguely racist phrasing of this name, the holiday’s proper name is now known as Indigenous People’s Resistance Day in honor of Belize’s many indigenous peoples, especially the Mayas.

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A Refresher

Columbus voyaged the New World a total of four times, from 1492 to 1504. These voyages brought him to San Salvador, Cuba, Haiti, Guadaloupe, Montserrat, Antigua, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Trinidad, mainland South America and lastly, Honduras and Nicaragua. The revelation of an entire new megacontinent encouraged European nations to expand their empire at the expense of many people who were doing just fine before.

Belize uses October 12 to celebrate the journey taken by Mestizos and Hispanics from the Yucatan into Belize during the mid-1800s. These people were escaping war and eventually found a safe place to re-establish themselves (the present-day districts of Corozal and Orange Walk). While they thrived throughout northern Belize, they eventually influenced the entire nation, especially with regard to Catholicism, Spanish as a language, and sugar cultivation.

Columbus’ Three Ships

  • The Santa Maria was a small carrack that served as Columbus’ flagship on his first expedition. It held 40 men and was initially named “La Gallega” in recognition of its Galician construction. “Marigalante” was another name its sailors called it, which means “Gallant Mary.” Despite these nicknames, Bartolomé de Las Casas’ accounts only call it “La Capitana” or “La Nao.”She had one deck and three masts and while she performed well, was also the slowest of the fleet. She wrecked off the coast of Haiti on Christmas Day, 1492, and was lost. Timbers from the craft were later used for establishing the site of Môle Saint-Nicolas, Haiti, initially known as “La Navidad” due to the shipwreck’s timing.
  • The Niña, meaning “The Child,” was a caravel nicknamed after owner Juan Niño’s name; its actual name was Santa Clara. Despite being Columbus’ favorite ship, we have no proper documentation for its design. She carried 24 men on the first expedition and was captained by Vicente Yáñez Pinzón. During the first voyage, her men slept on the deck but subsequent trips incorporated hammocks after noticing their use by indigenous peoples. This ship would later serve as the flagship of a 17-vessel fleet to Cuba and was the sole survivor of a hurricane in 1495.This ship was later chartered for an unofficial trip to Rome, was captured by pirates and brought to Sardinia. Captain Alonso Medel managed to escape and sail off with the ship back home. Her final voyage involved trading with the Pearl Coast and she is known to have logged over 25,000 nautical miles under Columbus’ endeavors.
  • The Pinta, meaning “Painted,” was a caravel and Columbus’ fastest ship. Her design was square-rigged and smaller than the Santa Maria. She carried 26 men and was captained by Martín Alonzo Pinzón. Crewman Rodrigo de Triana was the first person to notice the New World.

Two things that these ships had in common is that none were first-hand vessels nor were they ever intended for naval explorations. Replicas of the trio exist, with the replica Niña serving as a sailing museum since 1992.


Get a copy of The Ultimate Belize Bucket List! Written by Larry Waight, a local with more than twenty years of experience in the travel industry, the book is packed with tips, information, and recommendations about all of the best things to see and do in Belize.
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