Bishnuprashad Rabha, the great revolutionary and visionary, hailed the Karbis as the ‘discoverer of Assam’ and lovingly conferred the ‘Columbus’ title on the tribe in an obvious analogy to the ‘discovery’ of America by the 15th century ‘explorer’. Whether or not the Karbis did indeed discover Assam as the revered Rabha had boldly asserted and that the opposite view is yet to emerge to disprove him, what has remained an irritating source of moral discomfiture for all of us Karbis is the ‘Columbus’ epithet on the tribe. But Comrade Rabha, as a fellow tribal, must have had better reasons to credit the Karbis as indeed the ‘discoverer’, because he knew the history of the tribal peoples of the then unified Assam as probably no one did. The only ‘collected essays’ of the great Rabha is now nearly 30 years old since the publication of ‘Bishnu Rabha Rachanavali’ in 1982. The rare ‘publication’ indeed gives an insight into the intimate knowledge of the culture and history of the northeast tribals that the great Rabha possessed. But what really is a painful reality for us fellow tribals of the present day Assam is that the huge unpublished materials of Rabha’s are now probably lost; partly maybe due to the our common amnesia to what is history and partly due to a few established historiographers’ calculated unconcern towards tribal history. Considering the bitter dispute over the renaming of ‘Assam’ to ‘Asom’ in recent times, no one would probably want to revert to ‘Bullung-Butthur’ for Brahmaputra, Ti-lao for Luhit or Luit, or Kamoru for Kamrup. The efforts of the revered Rabha could well have provided the tribal people of Assam a stepping-stone to compile their histories.
Now, coming to the second and main point—how did the great Rabha see in the Karbis the Columbus analogy ? It is simple as the man himself was. But the history of Columbus has never been so simple for the indigenous population of the Americas ever since this ‘harbinger’ of the ‘Age of Discovery’ is credited to have ‘discovered’ the new world on October 12, 1942. And since 1937, with the then American president Roosevelt’s proclamation of October 12 as ‘Columbus Day’, the indigenous people in the US had been provoked to rise up in protests. There are disputes as to what nationality Christopher Columbus really belonged to, but many believe he was of Italian descent. Nevertheless, nothing deterred president Nixon to give his stamp of authority by declaring every second Monday of October as a national holiday.
If the great Rabha missed the historical fact that the advent of Columbus in the Americas resulted only in the devastation of indigenous population and their histories, the analogy that indigenous people had everywhere the same fate at the hands of the rulers is a point we must all agree upon. For, like Columbus, we Karbis did not ‘colonize’ but instead, they now are colonized, suppressed and cornered into the precarious edge. And, since the Columbus Day celebration started in the US, indigenous people had formed various associations to protest the ‘savage injustice’ committed by Europeans against them. To quote from an internet publicity, ‘Columbus was enormously successful in marketing his mix of “God, Glory & Gold” to Europe. His failure to find significant gold on Hispaniola made him the first transatlantic slave trader in order to pay dividends to his investors.’
‘Transform Columbus Day Alliance’ (TDA) publicity leaflet, widely circulated in the internet reads like this— ‘We’ve all been lied to about Columbus. Before Columbus sailed the Atlantic, he was a slave trader for the Portuguese, transporting West African people to Portugal to be sold as slaves. Columbus initiated the first Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Columbus, his brother, and his son all continued slave trading of indigenous peoples from the Americas to Europe and from Africa to the Caribbean. Under his administration as viceroy and governor of the Caribbean Islands, 8 million people were killed, making his “contribution” to history the first mass genocide of indigenous peoples. The Columbus legacy is steeped in blood, violence, and death. Public holidays celebrating Columbus not only teach children to honor a cruel and brutal man, they encourage people in this society to ignore, look away, and even support racist practices embedded in today’s economic, political and judicial systems.’ And how did Columbus’ actions lead to the drastic depopulation of the indigenous people ? “……with their horses and swords and pikes began to carry out massacres and strange cruelties against [the Indians]. They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged, nor pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughterhouse. They laid bets as to who, with one stroke of the sword could split a man in two or could cut off his head…They took infants from their mothers’ breasts, snatching them by the legs and pitching them headfirst against the crags***They made some low, wide gallows on which the hanged victim’s feet almost touched the ground, stringing up their victims, in lots of thirteen, in memory of Our Redeemer and His twelve Apostles, then set burning wood at their feet and thus burned them alive.”
- Bartolome’ de Las Casas, The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account (originally published in 1547) reprinted by Johns Hopkins Press, 1992. pp. 42-45. Las Casas was a Dominican priest, the first European historian in the Americas.”
The cruelty surpassed the Nazi Holocaust. The impact did not end there. “Columbus’ actions set the foundation for legal and social policies — still used today in United States, Mexico, Canada, South America and in many countries around the world. These policies justify the theft and destruction of indigenous peoples’ lands and knowledge by corporate and government interests. Media, films, judicial systems, educational systems, and other political and social institutions support this continued assault on the natural resources of indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples today remain at the margins of technological society — struggling to overcome the destruction of land, culture and language. In many ways all peoples on this planet are impacted. These attacks on indigenous peoples and their land and their knowledge contribute to the destruction of ecosystems and the erosion of human rights for all people.”
The ‘blood-steeped legacy’ of the ‘colonial pirate’ Columbus is endless. In his famous book, ‘Year 501’, Noam Chomsky commenting on the ‘first genocide’ and its political, economic, historical and cultural impacts on today’s world, says — “October 11, 1992 brings to an end the 500th year of the Old World order, sometimes called the Columbian era or the Vasco da Gama era depending upon which conquerors bent on plunder got there first. Or “the 500-year Reich”……. While modalities have changed the fundamental themes of the conquest retain their vitality and resilience and will continue to do so until the reality and causes of the “savage injustice” are honestly addressed.” Therefore, the ‘Columbus legacy’ in any manner or any remote reference to this ‘butcher’ of humanity must not be tolerated. And we Karbis must, as should all indigenous and right thinking people, declare our total rejection of the Columbus legacy.
 ‘Bishnu Rabha Rachanavali’ (p.59), Published by Suren Baishya on behalf of Bishnu Rabha Sunwarani Gobeshona Samity, Nalbari, 1982.
 ‘Bishnu Rabha Rachanavali’ —(P. 16-17), Tilao (‘Ti’ or ‘Di’ galao=long big river). ‘Kintu tetiya Kalika Puran, Jugini-Tantra rosito hol, tetiya ei puran and tantra proneta hokole nana golpore hojai Kamoru-k Kamrup korile, kom-lokhi ba Kam-khi-(khyi)-k ba kam-khya-k Kamakhya korile, Bhullung-Butthur-ok Brahmaputra korile, Tilao’k Laoti, Luiti, Luhit, Luhitya korile.’
 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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