In Fourteen Hundred And Ninety Two, Columbus Sailed The Ocean Blue

So runs the mnemonic taught to British children in my schooldays. Today, 12th October, is a national holiday in Spain. Except, of course, that as no one works on a Sunday, it will be celebrated tomorrow. El Día de la Hispanidad (The Day of Spanishness) is actually the national day of Spain and is also celebrated throughout the former Spanish empire, although one suspects that in South and Central America Simon Bolivar might be accorded greater status, he being the man who effectively liberated the people from the yoke of Spanish colonialism in the nineteenth century. The 12th October, you see, commemorates the day in 1492 when Christopher Columbus - funded by Ferdinand and Isabella - made landfall in what are now the Americas. Given the mineral wealth that was discovered there, this was particularly important for Spain at the time, as the Catholic Monarchs had only recently concluded a long and expensive war of reconquest against the Muslim powers who had ruled Spain for the previous seven hundred years, and the royal coffers were seriously depleted. We know this sea captain as Christopher Columbus, which is from the Latin Christophorus Columbus, but to the Spanish he was and is Cristóbal Colón. I mention this because it is from his name and his activities on this and subsequent voyages across the Atlantic that we get the words colony, colonial, colonist and colonise. And speaking of words deriving from people, the liberator of Latin America from colonial rule, gave his name to the country, Bolivia, to the Venezuelan currency unit, the bolívar, and indeed to the official title of the country, The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

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