Effects of European Exploration on American Indians
The Capitalistic dreams of the Europeans and the natural anarchy of the Indians; never before has a clash of cultures had such a great influence on the future of the world. The Indians were one with nature and shared a kinship with all living as well as nonliving things on earth. They respected each other and flourished under these ties of mutual reverence. The Europeans sought similar refuge in America(1). They longed for freedom from the overpowering monarchies of Europe which, by the 1640s were experiencing an overpopulation of cities accompanied by devastating disease and religious indifference.
The European settlers of America also faced hardships throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Plagued by disease and lack of nourishment, the Europeans found themselves greatly dependent on the Indians for survival. The Indians were more than welcoming of their new neighbours, lavishing them with gifts and performing rituals as a show of equality. Equality was a major theme throughout the Indian culture as they accepted the newcomers as they would their own family. This initial exchange of gifts would eventually lead to trade practices that would prove to be a pivotal element in the relationship of the Indians and the Europeans in the near future(2).
Prices start at $12
Prices start at $11
Prices start at $12
The seventeenth century was marked by the consumer revolution of Europe and Colonial America. The consumer revolution was the product of a drastic increase in per capita wealth, which gave rise to an “unprecedented” purchasing of goods. These goods were manufactured as a result of the rapid enhancement of technology.
With mass production came great demands. These goods were imported from Europe and became of great value to colonists and Indians alike. Improvements were made in farming tools, clothes, and luxury items during this time. Colonists, for the first time, began to make purchases based on luxury rather than solely on necessity. The Indians were not left out of this trend. They too experienced a rapid influx of wealth due to the great demand for furs. The beaver furs brought immense wealth to the Indians.
These furs, although relatively useless to the Indians, were of great value to the Colonial settlers as well as an important export to Europe. By the late 1600s, the Indians became dependent on the “trade goods” of which they received from the colonists. Metal tools made for more effective farming and hunting, and the European cloth was lighter and more colourful. Vanity also began its takeover of Indian culture in the late 1600s; the acceptance of jewelry marked the Indian’s adaptation to the traditions of their European counterparts.
In addition to these novelty goods, alcohol was of great importance to the Indians. Alcohol came to be horrible cancer to the Indians, and to their culture as a whole. Drunken brawls and alcohol-related diseases resulted in several deaths amongst the Indians. It has been observed that alcohol may have been one of the leading causes of death among the Indians of the time(3).
The Indian’s dependency on the Europeans was a direct result of years of trade. The Indians began to adopt the customs of the Colonists. A large portion of the Indian population had now converted to Christianity and several of them moved from the wigwam to the English framed houses of Colonial America. It is needless to say that Capitalism had taken its toll on the Indian’s once sacred culture. The strength of money had prevailed over tradition and custom, even the Indians themselves were beginning to show complacency with the takeover of their homeland. Going into the eighteenth century the Indians were surely starting to show their “domestication” in conforming to the Colonial ways(4).
The mutual dependence in terms of trade relations continued throughout the eighteenth century. The disease of the cattle population of Europe leads to the importance of leather as an export from America. Leather became a major export and was very important to Indians and Colonists alike. Trade was very corrupt in the eighteenth century; Europeans instigated wars between two tribes in order to increase their demand for guns and other tools. Other abuses of the trade such as taking advantage of the credit system was also a characteristic of the time.
The Indians had now fallen deeply into the trap of the Colonists. They were now utterly engulfed in the “white man” lifestyle. What started as luxury was now convenient and would eventually become a necessity. The Indians had grown dependent on the Europeans and had lost all sense of their deep-rooted culture. The colonists’ way of life was changing also, they were less worried about the Indian uprising because of the Indian’s newly realized dependency on Colonists. The disease was also not the problem that it was two hundred years before, the Colonists were now stronger than ever before(5).
The implications that trade had on the Europeans and Indians were huge. All aspects of life were affected. Economics, culture, and tradition were all altered as a result of the trade practices that took place in America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Indians had welcomed the Colonists because they had no choice. The Indians were subconsciously obligated to accept new technologies and thus question their previous beliefs.
It is only human to do so. The Europeans brought a whole New World with them and introduced it to the Indians. Capitalism prevailed and the Indian’s obligations went from family and community to self-prosperity and vanity. Money became the most important thing in life, a trend that would haunt humanity for eternity. The Utopian like a society that the Indians once knew would become a vague memory by the turn of the eighteenth century.
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