The Europeans and Social Impacts

Columbus established trade between Europe and the Americas (also called ‘The New World’) and products such as cotton and rubber were sent to the New World; the Europeans were supplied with spices, plants and … slaves.

Agricultural changes can have seriously bad effects; even today you are not allowed to take any type of living plant (even seeds) into Australia. This protects their ecosystem - a lesson learned from the influx of plants and other vegetation from Europe to the Americas.

The Europeans also brought new technologies; things which the natives had never had exposure to - ships, guns, fancy clothes and shiny trinkets (polished metals). Those sorts of thing were good; they did no harm and were welcomed by the natives. Things given in returned were welcomed in Europe as oddities or useful; tobacco comes from the Americas and at first, and for hundreds of years, that was welcomed. 

The Europeans also brought with them Christianity. The natives had their own religions, their own belief systems, but the Europeans thought that Christianity was more ‘civilised’. The natives would sometimes use human sacrifice to appease their gods. That was just their way.

Who knows what ‘to appease’ means?
To appease means to agree with someone or something so that you do not cause trouble.

The Europeans were able to learn more about native culture and art.

Columbus became friends with the natives because he had to. When he left, he had to leave some men behind, to establish a presence - and have room to take the treasures back.

But remember the idiom - good intentions can have bad results?

Who has seen the film (or read the book) “The War of the Worlds”? Not to give anything away, let’s just say that the smallest things on earth defeat the mighty power of the superior invaders.

And that is similar to what happened to the New World. Columbus, unknowingly, didn’t only take goods and products to trade, he took with him diseases. 

These days, diseases travel very easily from country to country - as we are seeing - and for most what you might call ‘standard’ diseases, populations develop a degree of immunity. Most people around the world are fairly resistant against ‘the common cold’ - but still catch colds - because they have been exposed to the common cold before. Most people do not die of the common cold.

This is the common cold virus.

However, when Columbus arrived, the natives had never known diseases such as a common cold, or worse - smallpox, plague or influenza - and, with no resistance, natives who caught these illnesses died.

In fact, within just 50 years of the Europeans arriving, thousands of natives had died of illnesses brought from Europe.

Of course the reverse was true too - Europeans died of illnesses found only in the Americas - malaria, dengue fever and illnesses like those.

In spite of these bad things, the natives were generally friendly and willing to learn a lot from the Europeans.

What does the phrase ‘in spite’ mean?
It’s a more casual, less formal way of saying ‘although’.

But even this was a problem. The Europeans thought that they were superior to the natives, because of the fact that the natives wore hardly any clothes, didn’t know God, lived in huts, and
were not ‘advanced’. In their own ways, of course, they were very advanced and had structured societies just as much as the Europeans did.

But people like Columbus thought that simply because the natives liked to imitate the Europeans - for example genuflecting - the natives would make good servants.

Who knows what ‘genuflecting’ is?
It is when people make the sign of the Christian cross, shoulder to shoulder, forehead to heart.

And this is when the really bad effects started.

There was one populations known as the ‘Caribs’.

Can you guess in which area the ‘Caribs’ lived?
The clue’s in the name - the Caribbean.

The Caribs had a cannibalistic culture and this was a threat to other nearby populations and to the Europeans. Maybe they thought that ‘there’s nothing like a nice roast Spaniard for lunch’. 

Actually it was not a habit, more of a religious practice - if you eat the body of someone who was a good fighter, you gained their strength too. A bit like some video games.

Queen Isabella decided that the Caribs were definitely not Christians and therefore could be taken as slaves. I would not think there was much of a battle, because again - guns beat spears and bows and arrows.

It didn’t take long to wipe out the Caribs or transport them back to Spain. Many died on the journey and slave ships were probably like hell on the sea. Here’s a drawing of the layout of a slave ship.

It was a good thing when Queen Isabella decided that because the ‘New World’ was now Spanish land, the people there were in fact Spanish people; and you could no longer make them slaves.

It was a bit late for many tribes though, because many many slaves had already been sent to Spain. Some populations were totally wiped out - never to exist again.

(In Spain, and Europe, slaves were not treated the same as they were later in America. They were servants, made into farmhands, worked in factories and things like that.) Back in the new world, when the things that the natives had to trade became less and less, Columbus and the Europeans turned the natives into slaves in their own country. They were made to work in mines (gold mines), on ranches or as servants in the households of their conquerors.

What's a 'ranch'?
It’s a large area of land where cattle or other livestock wander about on their own but are brought back for slaughter or other reasons.

What’s the main problem about gold?
It’s rare. Mining for gold does not find much and often finds none at all. Finding gold in rivers is possible but if you find a piece even as big as a grain of rice, you have struck lucky!

When the natives in the mines failed to find gold, they were beaten severely or even just killed. If they were not miners, they were made to build towns; if they tried to escape back to the rainforest, they were hunted down and killed.

The situation was very much worse for the natives, but the Europeans also suffered terribly too. They caught diseases, were bitten by creatures, attacked by jungle animals, poisoned by things which were harmless to the natives - even some frogs - and the Europeans who tried to settle in the New World even ended fighting amongst themselves for the best places or even, in very bad times, fighting and killing each other for whatever little food there was.

Those were some social and cultural effects on The New World.


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