Like an Ever-Flowing Stream: Proverbs and Colonialism

Photo by Maverick Ocean on Unsplash

Last week I said I would look at the conservative framing of history and how in particular that started to break down for me. As I was writing this week, I realized that I’ve actually already begun to address this in a previous post that I encourage you to check out, but I’ll summarize here as well. One of the first things that started to realize as I engaged in historical study is how much of American history had to be left out or glossed over to make cogent conservative arguments. Even when the themes of slavery and colonialism are briefly visited, the place they play in the plans and motivations of conservative heroes of history are obscured, despite what they spell out in their own writings.

Two autumns ago, my church started a study and sermon series on the book of Proverbs, and the practice of reading a chapter a day stirred up a lot of reflection for me.  Proverbs was the go-to quiet time book of the Bible for both my mother and my aunt. My mother and aunt sought to impress on us cousins the importance of wisdom, especially as we entered our teen years and made big decisions about our education, marriage, money, and other relationships. Rereading Proverbs was both nostalgic and freshly eye-opening.

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason; like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse”— my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird, but these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives. Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.

Proverbs 1:8-19 ESV

Reading for the first time Christopher Columbus’ journal of his voyage to the Americas was both validating and heartbreaking. Validating because I had begun to have a different understanding of colonialism that what I grew up with (Abeka Books, Manifest Destiny, and American Exceptionalism anyone?), and I needed to know if I was jumping the conservative ship for no reason. I needed to know whether I was being swayed by “Cultural Marxism” into a “victim mentality” or confronting the truth about injustices done in the name of Christendom.

The reading was heartbreaking because if you think it was bad, the journals and Bartolome de Las Casas’s own reports of life in the Caribbean and South America once the Spanish arrive are first-hand accounts that Spain’s encounter with the Taino people is even worse than we usually imagine.

I come back to these memories and this primary text because of the mirroring I see between Proverbs 1 and the entire enterprise that Columbus was engaged in. I tried my best to take Proverbs 1 at face value and for its own context but verses 8 to 19 refused to leave me alone; it was almost too on the nose with Columbus’s own appeals to the Spanish Crown. I often wonder if Christopher Columbus ever read Proverbs 1, or had it read to him, and, if so, what he thought it was talking about. Despite the religiosity of Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries, Columbus and his son Diego were exactly like the men that Solomon warns his son against associating with.

“Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason… we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse”

I’ll continue this discussion next week, by revisiting the work of John Locke.

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Johana-Marie Williams

Johana-Marie Williams is a writer, artist, and historian focusing on Black women and femme's health and religio-spiritual experiences. Her current projects include the ongoing zine caro and papers on the history of Black midwives in Leon County, Florida and Black women's thought on transhumanism, as expressed in science-fiction and fantasy media. Johana's work also appears under the name Marie Annetoinette, in homage to her mother's influence on her creative and spiritual life.

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