was the name the natives gave to the island that Columbus
called San Salvador when he arrived at the Americas. Columbus reached the island on 12 October 1492
, the first island he sighted and visited in the Americas. Guanahani is one of the islands of the Lucayan archipelago
in the Bahamas
, but the exact island is a matter of some debate. The problem may never be resolved, as Columbus's original log book has been lost for centuries, and the only evidence is in the edited abstract
made by Bartolomé de las Casas
Other suggested candidates
- Mayaguana, proposed by Francisco Varnhagen in 1825
- Conception Island, proposed by R.T. Gould in 1943
- East Caicos Island, proposed by Pieter Verhoog in 1947
- Cat Island, widely believed to be Guanahani until Las Casas' abstract of Columbus' log was rediscovered in 1791 and published in 1875-1876, which argued strongly against the identification
Cat Island advocates based their claims on old maps. One of the defenders of Cat Island was Canadian explorer Alexander Mackenzie.
The first way to locate Guanahani is to follow the distances and directions Columbus gave in his log. This track leads to a point five nautical miles south of Watling Island/San Salvador. However, if ocean currents and winds are taken into account (as was attempted by Luis Marden for the National Geographic in 1986), the track leads to a point just south east of Samana Cay. If compass deviation is also taken into account, the track leads to a point south of Plana Cays, and east of Acklins Island. If erratic steering and the fact that no one knows whether the compass card was fixed to the needle accurately is taken into account all attempts at reconstructing the track from the "Diario" turn out to be meaningless.
Lights on the evening preceding the discovery
At 10 p.m. on October 11
, Columbus noticed lights "like a little wax candle, rising and falling" at the horizon. He pointed them out to other people on board, some of whom were able to see the lights, while others didn't. The actual landfall was about 35 miles from the location Columbus saw the lights, so if taken that the lights were from a ground-based source, then they could not have been from Guanahani, but must have been from another island farther east. For the Plana Cays theory, the light would have been on Mayaguana. For Conception, it could have been on Cat Island, Watling/San Salvador or Rum Cay
. For Caicos it could have been on Grand Turk. For Cat Island it could have been Watling/San Salvador and for Lignum Vitae Cay it could have been Eleuthera Island
. Other theories have no ready explanation.
Description of Guanahani
Columbus calls the island very flat with many trees. This is true for all of the proposed islands. His next statement is more problematic. He says Guanahani has "muchas aguas y una laguna en medio muy grande" (many waters and a "laguna" in the middle (or "in between") very big). The word laguna
creates many problems. It is uncertain whether it means lagoon
. In any case, most of the proposed islands have either a lagoon or pond; only East Caicos lacks one.
On October 14, Columbus made a boat trip to the eastern part of the island. Therefore he went the length of the island in a North-northeast direction. This is only possible on Plana Cays, Conception and Egg, and to a certain extent on Samana Cay. Columbus noticed a reef that completely surrounded the island. All proposed islands, except Cat, have a reef, but the ones on Cat and Watling don't completely surround the island. Between the reef and the island was a harbor "large enough to store all ships of Christianity." Of course this is an exaggeration, but the harbor on Egg is definitely too small. Columbus went on land and saw "a piece of land, that looked like an island, but actually wasn't one." This is difficult to track, because it may have become a real island in the past 500 years.
Island or islands
Disputed about Guanahani is the question of whether Guanahani was one island or not. Evidence is said to be contradictory. Columbus never says Guanahani consisted of several islands, something which is surely worth noting. But on reproductions of the map of Juan de la Cosa
, who was with Columbus, Guanahani looks for some researchers like a string of islands. The map itself - preserved in Madrid - and recent facsimiles show that to be a mistake of the reproductions, though.