18 Apr 2022


The Evolving Interaction between Colonists and the Colonized in America

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All relationships evolve and change in nature, intensity, and scope depending on the parties involved and the circumstances. The situation becomes exponentially complex when the group level interaction involves extreme cultural disparities. Many historical events are based on a transition in group relationships based on perception. The traveling European, who was seeking for a path to Asia landed in Americas and encountered the local populace, and this marked the advent of their relationship. As with most relationships however, the initial phase was marked on a misconception. The Europeans then made known their intention and war ensued. However, the Indians were overwhelmingly defeated and conquered. Finally, the Europeans settled as colonists with the Indians trying either to move away from them or ignore them. As the relationship grew, a better understanding of one another was enhanced which exponentially changed the nature and scope of the relationship. In the near 2 centuries from 1492 to 1675, friendship would turn to enmity and back to friendship several times with war giving way to peace and finally to indifference. 

Native American and European interaction and relationships 

Interaction denotes how two individuals or groups act upon one another while relationship is how two groups or individuals are associated with one another. Interaction and relationship cannot be mutually exclusive as they have a cause and effect relationship. The way people interact with one another affects their relationship while relationships in turn inform how people interact with one another. Towards the end of the 15th century CE, Columbus landed in America and commenced the first interaction and relationship with the Indians. This was not only based on mutual curiosity but also personal ambitions on the part of Columbus. Both wanted to know who each other was but Columbus also wanted to know how best to exploit the locals. The first interaction was friendly and involved barter trade the initial relationship being cordial. Columbus took back news on a paradise laden with gold and free labor. Indeed, the assessment by Columbus showed a very primitive people, who were extremely obedient and could be controlled with very little efforts. Further, these people could also be easily exploited since they were willing to accept anything for barter trade. 

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Many Europeans followed him and started the second phase of the interaction based mainly on exploitation in the 16th century. The Europeans sought for profit at all costs mainly at the expense of the Indians. The Indians at this point believed in the superiority of the European and were submissive. This became a master-servant relationship. By the 17th century, the European was no longer coming and going but had decided to settle in the Americas and cultivate as well as mine. In spite of missionary work and the advent of Christianization in the Americas, the European was still very harsh on the Indian. The Indian was also beginning to realize that the European was not invincible. This led to a hostile relationship that always tended towards wars and skirmishes. The advent of colonization was advantageous to the colonist and calamitous to the natives. The colonists came with superior weapons and superior fighting strategies as well as terrible diseases that decimated the Indians. This changed the relationship from that based in anger to that based on fear. Towards the end of the 17th century, the Europeans were already settled as colonist with Indians either as their slaves or their victims. The relationship slowly started changing to that of indifference. 

The Four Different Perspectives 

Christopher Columbus (Late 15th Century) 

Columbus was unaware of the existence of the Americas and extremely underestimated the distance from Europe to Asia when going west. His arrival in the Americas was to him extremely exciting as he thought he was in a section of Asia. It can, therefore, be said that his initial perspective of the Americas was based on a fallacy. However, he noticed the existence of gold and the eagerness of people to help as well as their generosity. To him, this was an opportunity that was too good to pass on. Further, his perception of the Indians was that they were weak and, therefore, easy to conquer and control. The fact that they were wearing golden ornaments also created the impression to Columbus that there was a lot of gold somewhere and he wanted to find it. It is worthy of notice that at no time did Columbus considered the Indians as fellow men with whom he could relate on an equal level and whose permission he would need to take anything from their land. He considered himself a lord and the Indians hapless servants. All he needed was make a show of force and they would all fall in line, permanently. 

A Mexican Native American (Mid-16th century) 

By the middle of the 16th century when the Native Mexican elders gave their perspective about their relationship with the Spanish/Europeans, Mexico had undergone exponential change. After resisting the exploitation by the Spanish at the beginning of the 16th century, War has ensued in several areas with devastating effects of the Mexicans. There were also several unknown diseases that came with the Spanish and ravaged the native Mexicans including small pox, malaria and yellow fever. The perspective of the Mexicans, therefore, was that of victims who faced barbaric conquerors. To the Mexicans, the European was an unwelcome guest who was only around because it had so far been impossible to expel him. Indeed, the locals looked forward to the earliest opportunity to rid themselves of the European. Further, the most native Mexicans could see through the fallacy of Christianity which was more of a tool of oppression than it was a means of salvation. 

Edward Waterhouse (Early 17th Century)

Waterhouse was the colonial secretary in the fledging colony of Virginia when an Indian attack led to the deaths of more than a quarter of the colonial population. From the perspective of Waterhouse, the Indians were barbaric savages and worse than animals. He did not consider any acts of omissions by the Europeans as having been unfair to the Indians thus extenuating the situation. Instead, Waterhouse saw the Indians as calculating killers who had circumspectly pretended to be at peace with the Europeans so as to eventually exterminate them. In this regard, Waterhouse believed that even agreeing to work for the white colonists was a means of getting access to their homes and their tools in preparation for the genocide. Finally, Waterhouse’s solution was that all Indians should be killed to avoid them killing settlers. It was, therefore, the perspective of Waterhouse that neither reconciliation nor conquering was possible with the Indians was possible or necessary. The only way forward was slaughter. 

John Easton (Late 17th Century)

John Easton was the governor of Rhode Island towards the end of the 17th century. By this time, the colonists have settled in the Americas and it is clear that they will leave. The perspective of Easton is based on the complaints that he received from the Wampanoag, an Indian community that had been continually harassed by the settlers. It is clear from the attitude and words of Easton that he empathized with the Indians. However, he was also a proud colonist under the mighty British Empire who felt that the British could not be defeated by the Indians. His perspective can, therefore, be that of a kind parent who sympathizes with a child who is about to get an injection yet knows that the injection is inevitable. There was a clear aspect of indifference in his sympathy. He felt that the Indians were being treated unfairly but was also alive to the fact that the situation could not be helped. 

The initial interaction between the Europeans and the Indians at the end of the 15th century was spearheaded by the 4 voyages of Columbus and began from a position of mutual curiosity. The Indians thought the relationship was cordial but Columbus saw the Indians as an opportunity for gold and a path to Japan and Asia. A little later, Columbus and the Europeans were to reveal their intent as colonists which allowed the Indians to reveal themselves as not been too docile. This led to wars between the two sides. Sometimes it was just a collection of skirmishes but at others it was a real war of attrition. Superior weapons and tactics won for the Europeans while diseases ravaged the Indians. Mexico and Central Americans were among the areas most ravaged by war and disease. The Indian was finally conquered, albeit in some places like Virginia, the fight took longer. Indeed, the option of a complete annihilation of Indians was officially considered in Virginia. By the end of the envisaged period in 1675, there was no doubt that the Indians had been conquered and could not do anything about it. Some Europeans such as Easton sympathized, but it was already too late and the fate of the Indians was sealed.

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 15). The Evolving Interaction between Colonists and the Colonized in America.


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