History will clash with genealogy Sunday at Blacktip Island’s Columbus Day Festival, commemorating deserters from Christopher Columbus’ fleet settling the Caribbean island in 1493.
“The Santa Maria stopped at Blacktip Island for reprovisioning,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “Most of our locals trace their ancestry to a handful of malcontents who jumped ship and hid in the jungle until the boss sailed away.
“The place was uninhabited, so the sailors made themselves at home,” Altschul said. “Popular tradition has it that several of the deserters were suspiciously-proportioned cabin boys, but we have no hard evidence to support that. Other than population growth.”
The celebration is not without controversy.
“Columbus was a murderer who introduced disease, slavery and genocide to the Western Hemisphere,” local activist Harry Pickett said. “To celebrate the arrival of such a monster is a travesty, even if he is my uncle. And cousin.”
Event organizers brushed aside the criticism.
“There was no native population on Blacktip to murder or enslave,” Knights of Columbus Grand Knight Jay Valve said. “Columbus may have been a ruthless rotter and racist, but he’s also the one who brought our ancestors together. He’s family.”
Some locals say the celebration doesn’t go far enough.
“Columbus introduced self-reliance and individualism to a part of the world that was sparsely inhabited and underused,” Eagle Ray Cove resort owner Rich Skerritt said. “The best way to honor that legacy is with more development. More resorts. A big-ass cruise ship terminal. Really squeeze maximum usage out of the island.”
Organizers, however, are emphasizing the day’s activities.
“We’ll have something for everyone,” Valve said. “There’s a Prove The Earth Is Round calculus contest, an Italian sonnet slam, and snow globe carving.
“The full-scale papier-mâché caravel-building competition will go on most of the day,” Valve said. “Followed, of course, by the papier-mâché caravel race across Eagle Ray Sound. The last boat to turn completely to mush is the winner.”
Island residents are eager for the day’s festivities.
“Last year’s bluff-top blind man’s bluff was brilliant,” resident Chrissy Graysby said. “We spent the afternoon watching blindfolded drunks try to navigate their way off the bluff without falling over the edge. Dermott’s scars are pretty much healed now.”
Local historians say Columbus would be pleased with the celebration.
“Murder, rape and pillaging aside, Columbus truly is Blacktip Island’s spiritual father,” Altschul said. “He had no idea where he was going, once he got here he had no idea where he was and he called that a success. Anyone that clueless is a Blacktipper at heart.”