‘Discovery’ in Historical Civilisations.


The word ‘Discovery’ as its etymology in the old Anglo-french word – Descovrir. Hence, it was first used in the English language in the early sixteenth century around 1529. Which literally means the act of finding or learning something for the first time: the act of discovering something.

In historical relevance, the word ‘discovery’ has become a contentious vocabulary. It inceptions around the late fifteenth century, 1492, when a Spanish explorer, Christopher Columbus, took on his four voyages (1492, 1493, 1498, 1501) to the East on which he posited to take the western route (hitherto unknown to the expertise of Portugal who has been leading the forefront of exploration and expansion in Europe). Notwithstanding, Columbus himself was unaware that he has got to a new land which he thought was Calicut and the peripherals of the Eastern countries where the spice trade (which was dominating Europe then) is dominantly grounded. Until 1507, when Amerigo Vespucci and a German geographer Martin Waldseemüller published a book Cosmographize Introductic which states vividly the discovery of the ‘New world’ made by Columbus thus the name ‘America’ was neologised from ‘Amerigo’.

However, the discovery has been challenged by Historians, whereas some write it as an insult to humanity while some support the account that emphasises the usage of discovery in relation to the voyages of Columbus and other explorers that popularised a place hitherto unknown to the world. In other words, this article will be viewing the crux of the word ‘discovery’ from the two main debates and leave its readers to judge for Historical society is made up of conceptualisation.  

From the supportive motion, when Christopher Columbus sailed out of Spain in 1492 with three vessels (Pinta, Niña and Santa-maria) he decided to sail to the East via the Western route, this has never been done in the history of exploration which by in fact created incertitude of Columbus sailing experiences. Howbeit, it must be noted that, Columbus had been a disciple in the Portuguese voyages under Prince Henry and had gained the knowledge of voyaging and also had before tendered his proposition to sail to the East via the Western route to the monarch of Portugal king John II but was jettisoned after thorough scrutinisation of his proposition and was tagged impossible which later moved him to Spain to gain the attention of Monarchs there.

His discovery under the flag of the Spanish identity thence opened the eyes of others to the places he ported such as Bahamas, Honduras, Cuba, Trinidad, and others and arouse the justification of the word ‘DISCOVERY.’

It must also be noted that, even before the discovery of this ‘New World’ by Columbus, there have been aborigine settlers which have been inhabiting this place from Before Common Era (BCE) and they were known as the Amerindians which consist of Maya, Olmec, Inka, Azteca. Thus, the voyages of Columbus discovered these people and led them to the already fortified and civilised world. In this motion that supported ‘discovery’ as the right word, it posited that these people living as the Amerindians were unknown, crude, and was never civilised and this made Columbus voyages important because it showed the world of a new world.

From the other point of view, the word ‘discovery’ vehemently challenges and negates as irrelevant. From the aforesaid, it is seen that there had been people living as the Amerindians. However, historically, there had been civilisation among the Amerindians around 1200 BC, when Olmec, laid the foundation of civilisations for the other settlements which did later such as Maya, Inka e.t.c. their civilizations were notable for pyramids, sophisticated system of politics and religion, agriculture and others which means in one way or the other, the Amerindians had been well civilised to some extent and civilisation on its own never died but rather replicated itself in the minds of generations either through oral or hieroglyphs. Back to the word ‘discovery’, in relation to a civilised society which reached the apogee of civilisation, can it still be called a ‘discovery?’ This is the question which these sects of Historians posited. But rather Columbus’s role and voyages in the Amerindians should be called ‘exposure’ and not ‘discovery’ for it only exposed the known world and also linked them to the rest of it. From a source that supported this motion,

‘…it is a misconception to assert that Columbus discovered America. What he did was to reveal to the Europeans the existence of continents and islands which were already inhabited. The University of Ibadan, Historical Society of Nigeria In regards to this conceptualisation, what Columbus did was ‘exposure’; exposing the Amerindians to the world.

The contemporary world is evolving such as our language and its vocabulary. Perhaps it’s stale to use ‘discovery’ or rather a misappropriation. Columbus voyages laid a magnificent role but in regards to his feat, will discovery still fit in the sentences?

Awosusi O. Abraham

Awosusi Oluwabukunmi Abraham is a student at the University of Ibadan, Department of History. A poet, essayist, and short story writer. Hails from Ekiti, Nigeria. His works have been featured on Merak Magazine, Kalahari magazine, poetry anthologies and other places. He greatly believes in the concept of the cultural renaissance.


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