Sort of a holiday

Today is one of those sort-of holidays. Title 5 of the United States Code set aside the second Monday of October as Columbus Day. Later, the holiday was renamed and different calendars list it as Discoverers Day or Discoverer’s Day or Discoverers’ Day. You pick.

Columbus Day was set aside as a federal holiday, which may or may not be observed by individual states or businesses. It was intended to honor an Italian who discovered the Western Hemisphere, just as Capt. James Cook was honored for discovering what he called The Sandwich Islands.

Never mind the fact that both places had been inhabited for hundreds and thousands of years. Both “discoveries” had more to do with European ethnocentricity than with actual fact.

The name change came about when evidence was found the Vikings had landed in North America hundreds of years before the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria set sail from Palos, Spain. Of course, Polynesians sailed to and settled Hawaii nei more than 1,000 years before Cook arrived.

There is even speculation that Cook was not the first European to see Hawaiian shores. There is some evidence that the Spanish, perhaps with Portuguese navigators, knew about the islands. A map taken off a Spanish Galleon captured by the British in 1742 – Cook arrived in 1776 – showed a group of islands in the Pacific at the same latitude as the Hawaiian Islands, although the longitude is off by 10 degrees.

There’s no doubt the Spanish, who did not publicize their discoveries the way Cook’s crew did, were making journeys from Acapulco to Guam and the Philippines for 223 years before Cook ventured into the Pacific. It’s also likely, but unproved, that the Chinese, along with pre-history peoples, traveled the seas centuries before Europeans knew the Earth was round.

Whatever today is called and honors whatever “discovery,” it is not an official state holiday. For most Mauians, it’s just another day. It is, though, a good day to remember just how big a leap of faith it was for the Polynesians and the other peoples of the world to set off for distant shores.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.