The Effects of Columbus’ Arrival in the America’s
In order to understand the effects of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, one must first understand the native populous’ level of technology, as well as their cultural background. In this essay you will find first hand accounts as written by the people that were with Columbus when he landed, as well as documentation from his hand. The point of this essay is not to degrade an explorer of new lands, but to show that he, like so many other explorers, assumed that the native peoples to be primitive because of their relative lack of “modern” technology.Unfortunately, we assume that our culture is always the best, this essay will also prove that that can be false.
After the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, Columbus was sure that he’d found the Far East, when in fact he’d discovered the Caribbean Islands. Upon his subsequent exploration of these islands he wrote “When I Juana (Cuba) I followed it west-wardly, and found it so large that I thought it might be the mainland province of Cathay.” This proved that he truly did believe Cuba to be part of the Far East. Soon this was changed when he further explored the island when he was forced to harbor for the winter. His exploration initially consisted of two men, whom he sent “to learn if there were a king or any great cities,” to his surprise, they returned saying that they had “Found interminable small villages and a numberless population, but nought of ruling authority” (Johnson 9).One is then lead to believe that the Europeans decided the natives were uncivilized, for they had no ruling authority over the land.Their lack of a formal government to their eyes, as well as the luck of the use of metals, only served to increase the arrogance of Columbus’ men.
The native reaction in Columbus’ eyes once a small amount of communication was achieved was one of a friendly child, for as he wrote “they never say no, but do rather invite the person to accept all manner of things” so much so that Columbus was forced to forbid his men from trading shards of glass for pieces of gold. In Columbus’ own words these people were “incurably timid” and “artless” as well as “senseless brutes.” He not once thought that they were happy in their ignorance of western ways, but instead wrote that the only reason he forbade his men from swindling them with the shards of glass for gold was only “in order that they may conceive affection,” (Johnson 10) for Columbus’ real goal was that of wealth and he knew that if you cause the very people you are wishing to gain wealth from to feel as though you get the better ‘shake’ they will resent you and cease your relationship. This was and still a great way to do business, as those who you trade with must feel that in return for their goods, they are receiving a greater service.
Yet another result of Columbus’ discovery was the influx of missionaries, soldiers, and other Europeans. No matter what you read, Europeans came to the New World for gold, and to fulfill their need to spread the Catholic religion. The spread of the Catholic religion had little effect on the populace, as they already believed that the gods lived in the sky (Johnson 10), so it was not much of a stretch. Once again this shows the arrogance of the Europeans in their dealings with these natives, that in their eyes every thing European was better then the natives. This is further demonstrated by the Aztec mistreatment at the hands of Cortez.
Not all Europeans were completely arrogant, one shining example would be Bernal Diaz del Castillo. Through out his letters and essays, his accounts of his meetings with the natives are very objective, almost nice. He speaks kindly of Montezuma, and his escort, neither making jokes at their expense, nor painting them in a wrong light (Johnson 15-26). Initially there was a cultural clash as demonstrated in the following quote “Cortez, through Dona Maria, offered him his right hand, and Montezuma did not wish to take it, but he did give his hand to Cortez” (Johnson 16).This showed that the Aztec leader in the name of friendship was willing to forgo his own customs, to ensure peace. Unfortunately instances like this were few and far between.
The Laws of the Burgos, which were developed in 1512-13, is some of the most tragic methods of forced religion and slavery that I know of. These so called laws did little else than enslave a race for profit. Even though the writers hide behind statements like “ it has become evident through long experience that nothing has sufficed to bring the said chiefs and Indians to a knowledge of our Faith (necessary for their salvation) since they are by nature inclined to idleness and vice,”(Sherman 296) as well as “ Also we order and command that the citizen to whom the said Indians are given in their charge shall, upon the land assigned to him, be obliged to erect a structure to be used as a church,”(Sherman 296) showing their arrogance. You get the feeling from reading this that they at least thought they were doing good, but the very next paragraph they write “it is our duty to seek a remedy for it in every way possible…. the most beneficial thing that could be done at present would be to remove the said chieftains and Indians,”(Sherman 296) which shows their only want was to remove these peoples from their land, and make them slaves. The Indians slavery was to be a harsh one, but not one that was completely barbaric, for even as the laws to enslave them came into being, the rules for the treatment of the native slaves also came about.
For example, one of these very laws was” Every Sunday and obligatory feast day they may come there to church to pray and hear mass, and after mass they shall bring them back to the estates and feed them pots of cooked meat, in such wise that they eat better on that day then on any other”(Sherman 297).
This is not to say that the natives were without what we would consider “barbaric” traditions. For instance there are many accounts on the treatment of their prisoners of war, one of which I will summarize shortly. As it turns out, a prisoner has a pretty good life. As it starts they are fed with the best food available, and the men are given wives, their captors will even allow their daughters and sisters to marry these prisoners. As soon as they’ve outlived their worth and are sufficiently fat, they are finally slain and eaten with great ceremony. To the prisoner it is a great honor to be defiant as well as jubilant in the face of your slayers (De Lery 122-133). We consider cannibalism a vile act, but when you have an entire continent that participates in the right, who were the Europeans to say it was wrong? Were not the Europeans also wrong in living in filth, because bathing was said to wash away the natural defenses of the earth? We do know today that cannibalism can lead to some bad diseases, but that was just a recent discovery.
To further demonstrate the arrogance of the European settlers, there are a few papers written on the reactions to what the Natives called religion. To start with the paper states that “there is no people so brutish, nor any nation so barbarous and savage, as to have no feeling that there is a divinity”(De Lery 134). Once again the “we are the only ones who are right” attitude of the Europeans is made apparent, by the previous statement.
Upon further examination of the religion of the natives, this quote was found “not only do they believe in an immortal soul, but they also firmly maintain that after the death of the bodies, the souls of those who’ve lived virtuously, … go to dance with their ancestors, while on the contrary, those who have neglected the defense of their father land, go to Aygnan, by whom they say they say these unworthy ones are tormented”(De Lery 136).
For the reasons stated above it is my belief that though the Native Americans were more primitive technologically, they were as civilized as the European explorers. The native’s lack of gunpowder left them unable to compete with the incoming invaders (Europeans). Both groups were extremely vicious, European medicine of the time, was the scariest thing out there, but the cannibalism of the natives was equally vicious. As bloody as the wars between the native peoples were, they did not hold a candle to the numerous people who were persecuted because of their religion, or way of following that religion, but not once to my knowledge did a Catholic ever eat a Protestant.