Chapter 8. Confrontation of Cultures

Communities of Caribbean and Brazil
• The Arawakan Lucayos lived on a cluster of hundreds of small islands in Caribbean Sea, today these are called Bahamas, and Greater Antilles.
• The Arawaks were a people who preferred negotiation to conflict. Skilled boat-builders, they sailed open sea in dugout canoes (canoes made from hollow tree trunks). They lived by hunting, fishing & agriculture, growing corn, sweet potatoes, tubers & cassava.
• A central cultural value was organisation of people to produce food collectively and to feed everyone in community. They were organised under clan elders.
• People known as Tupinamba lived on east coast of South America, and in villages in forests (the name ‘Brazil’ is derived from brazilwood tree).
• The Arawaks were generous and were happy to collaborate with Spanish in their search for gold.
• The Europeans who met them envied their happy freedom, with no king, army or church to regulate their lives.

The State Systems of Central and South America
• In contrast to Caribbean and Brazil, there were some highly organised states in Central America.
• The monumental architectural remains of these cities continue to mesmerise visitors today.

The Aztecs
• In twelfth century, Aztecs had migrated from north into central valley of Mexico (named after their god Mexitli). They expanded their empire by defeating different tribes, who were forced to pay tribute.
• The hereditary nobility was a small minority who occupied senior positions in government, army & priesthood.
• The king was regarded as representative of sun on earth.
• Warriors, priests & nobles were most respected groups, but traders enjoyed many privileges and often served government as ambassadors and spies.
• Since land was limited, Aztecs undertook reclamations. They made chinampas, artificial islands, in Lake Mexico, by weaving huge reed mats and covering them with mud and plants.
• The empire rested on a rural base. People cultivated corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, manioc root, potatoes & other crops.
• The land was owned not by individuals but by clans, which organised public construction works. Peasants, like European serfs, were attached to lands owned by nobility and cultivated in exchange for part of harvest.
• The poor would sometimes sell their children as slaves, but this was generally only for a limited period, and slaves could buy back their freedom.
• The Aztecs made sure that all children went to school. Children of nobility attended calmecac and were trained to become military and religious leaders.
• In early sixteenth century, Aztec empire was showing signs of strain. This was largely to do with discontent among recently conquered peoples who were looking for opportunities to break free from central control.

The Mayas
• The Mayan culture of Mexico developed remarkably between eleventh and fourteenth centuries, but in sixteenth century, they had less political power than Aztecs.
• Efficient agricultural production generated surplus, which helped ruling classes, priests & chiefs to invest in architecture and development of astronomy and mathematics.
• The Mayas devised a pictographic form of writing that has only been partially deciphered.

The Incas of Peru
• The largest of indigenous civilisations in South America was that of Quechuas or Incas in Peru. In twelfth century, first Inca, Manco Capac, established his capital at Cuzco.
• The empire was highly centralised, with king representing highest source of authority. Newly conquered tribes were absorbed effectively; every subject was required to speak Quechua, language of court.
• Like Aztecs, Incas too were magnificent builders. They built roads through mountains from Ecuador to Chile.
• Masons shaped blocks, using an effective but simple method known as flaking. Many stones weighed more than 100 metric tons, but they did not have any wheeled vehicles to transport these.
• The basis of Inca civilisation was agriculture. To cope with infertile soil conditions, terraced hillsides and developed systems of drainage and irrigation.
• Their weaving and pottery were of high quality. They did not develop a system of writing.
• The organisation of Inca empire, with its pyramid-like structure, meant that if Inca chief was captured, chain of command could quickly come apart.
• The cultures of Aztecs and Incas had certain features in common and were very different from European culture. Society was hierarchical, but there was no private ownership of resources by a few people, as in Europe.

Voyages of Exploration by Europeans
• The people of South America and Caribbean got to know of existence of European people when latter began to sail across Atlantic Sea.
• Larger ships were built, that could carry a huge quantity of cargo as well as equipment to defend themselves if attacked by enemy ships.
• The circulation of travel literature and books on cosmography and geography created widespread interest right through fifteenth century.
• People from Iberian Peninsula – Portuguese and Spanish – were pioneers in fifteenthcentury voyages of exploration.
• Arabs, Chinese & Indians had navigated vast stretches of ocean, and sailors from Pacific Islands (the Polynesians and Micronesians) had made major ocean crossings. The Vikings of Norway had reached North America in eleventh century.
• Italians managed to do business with Turks but were now required to pay higher taxes on trade.
• Africans were captured and enslaved, and gold dust yielded precious metal.
• In Spain, economic reasons encouraged individuals to become knights of ocean. The memory of Crusades and success of Reconquista fanned private ambitions and gave rise to contracts called capitulaciones.

The Atlantic Crossing
• Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) was a self-taught man who sought adventure and glory. Believing in prophecies, he was convinced that his destiny lay in discovering a route to East (the ‘Indies’) by sailing westwards.
• The fleet was small, consisting of a small nao (a heavy ship) known as Santa Maria, and two caravels (small lightships) named Pinta and Nina. Columbus himself commanded Santa Maria along with 40 capable sailors.
• On 12 October 1492, they sighted land; they had reached what Columbus thought was India, but which was island of Guanahani in Bahamas.
• Columbus planted a Spanish flag in Guanahani (which he renamed San Salvador), held a prayer service, and, without consulting locals.
• Gold was not immediately available, but explorers had heard that it could be found in Hispaniola, in mountain streams in interior.
• Columbus’s achievement had been to discover boundaries of what seemed like infinite seas and to demonstrate that five weeks’ sailing with trade wind took one to other side of globe.
• The two continents were named after Amerigo Vespucci, a geographer from Florence who realised how large they might be, and described them as ‘New World’.
• The name ‘America’ was first used by a German publisher in 1507.

Spain Establishes an Empire in America
• Spanish expansion was based on a display of military strength with use of gunpowder and horses. The local people were compelled either to pay tribute or to work in gold and silver mines.
• Military repression and forced labour have added to ravages of disease. The diseases of Old World, particularly smallpox wreaked havoc on Arawaks whose lack of immunity resulted in largescale deaths.
• The expeditions of Columbus were followed by a sustained and successful exploration of Central and South America.
• Before this, Spanish conquered lands of two great empires in region. This was largely work of two individuals: Hernan Cortes (1488–1547) and Francisco Pizarro (1478–1541).

Cortes and Aztecs
• Cortes and his soldiers (called conquistadores) conquered Mexico swiftly and ruthlessly.
• The Aztec king, Montezuma, sent an official to meet him. He was terrified at aggressiveness of Spanish, their gunpowder and their horses.
• The Spaniards pressed against Tlaxcalans, fierce fighters who submitted only after stiff resistance.
• The invading Spaniards were dumbstruck at sight of Tenochtitlan. It was five times larger than Madrid and had 100,000 inhabitants, twice population of Seville, Spain’s largest city.
• The fears of Aztecs proved to be well-founded. Cortes without any explanation placed Emperor under house arrest and attempted to rule in his name.
• When Cortes returned on 25 June 1520, he had on his hands a full-blown crisis. The causeways were cut, bridges taken away and net closed.
• The Aztecs continued to fight Spaniards. 600 conquistadores and many more of their Tlaxcalan allies were killed in what is called ‘Night of Tears’.
• The Aztecs thought they could see omens foretelling that their end was near, and because of this Emperor chose to give up his life.
• The conquest of Mexico had taken two years. Cortes became Captain-General of New Spain in Mexico and was showered with honours by Charles V. From Mexico, Spaniards extended their control over Guatemala, Nicaragua & Honduras.

Pizarro and Incas
• Pizarro, in contrast to Cortes, was uneducated and poor when he joined army and found his way to Caribbean Islands in 1502.
• The king’s greed was aroused, and he promised Pizarro governorship of Inca lands if he conquered them.
• In 1532, Atahualpa secured throne of Inca empire after a civil war. Pizarro arrived on scene and captured king after setting a trap for him.
• The cruelty of conquerors provoked an uprising in 1534 that continued for two years, during which time thousands died in war and due to epidemics.

Cabral and Brazil
• The Portuguese occupation of Brazil occurred by accident. In 1500, a grand procession of ships set out from Portugal for India, headed by Pedro Alvares Cabral.
• The Portuguese were more eager to increase their trade with western India than with Brazil, which did not promise any gold. But there was one natural resource there that they exploited: timber.
• The natives readily agreed to cut trees and carry logs to ships in exchange for iron knives and saws, which they regarded as marvels.
• This trade-in timber led to fierce battles between Portuguese and French traders. The Portuguese won because they decided to ‘settle’ in/colonise coast.
• In 1540s, Portuguese began to grow sugarcane on large plantations and built mills to extract sugar, which was then sold in Europe.
• The natives kept retreating into forests to escape ‘slavers’ and, as time went on, there were hardly any native villages on coast; instead, there were large, well-laid-out European towns.
• In 1549, a formal government under Portuguese king was established, with capital in Bahia/ Salvador.

Conquest, Colonies & Slave Trade
• From fifteenth century, European maritime projects produced knowledge of continuous sea passages from ocean to ocean. Before this, most of these passages had been unknown to Europeans. Some were not known to anyone.
• The South Atlantic was wholly unexplored; no sea-going ship had ever entered its waters, much less crossed it, or sailed from it to Pacific or Indian Ocean. In late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, all these feats were accomplished.
• Europe became familiar with new crops from America, notably potatoes and chillies.
• The Spanish avarice for gold and silver was incomprehensible to natives.
• The enslavement of population was a sharp reminder of brutality of encounter. Slavery was not a new idea, but South American experience was new in that it accompanied emerging capitalist system of production.
• In 1601, Philip II of Spain publicly banned forced labour but made arrangements by a secret decree for its continuation.
• From early debates in 1780s on abolishing slavery, some argued that slavery existed in Africa before entry of Europeans, indeed slaves formed bulk of labour force in states being formed in Africa from fifteenth century.

Epilogue
• South America today is known as Latin America. This is because Spanish and Portuguese, two of main languages of continent, are part of Latin family of languages.
• Most of them are Catholics. Their culture has many elements of native traditions mixed with European ones.

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