What made Native American peoples vulnerable to conquest by European adventurers?
There were several traits which made the Native American’s vulnerable to conquest by European adventurers. First, the people themselves were ill equipped to deal with the European invaders. Their numbers were quickly reduced as a result of famine, forced labor, epidemics involving contact with European diseases and wars.
They were unaccustomed to the economic, political and military aspects associated with the Europeans. They lacked the organization and political unity to resist the conquering people. The various tribes were frequently in conflict with one and other as they went about their daily lives competing with each other for land and food. As an example over the years the Aztecs accumulated many enemies especially within their own tribe. This conflict resulted from competition for territorial rights, acquisition of wealth and the practice of using their captive enemies as religious sacrifices. Cortés exploited this trait by forming alliances with the opposing tribes. In contrast to the Aztecs lack of unity the Spanish explorers were a highly unified society.
The Native Americans possessed the necessary skills to work with copper but failed to develop those needed to smelt iron thus they lacked sufficient technology to wage war upon the invaders. When the Europeans arrived in the New World they were welcomed by the Native Americans. The Indians regarded their visitors as wonderful warriors with their dress, beards, and their ships but more so for the technology they brought with them. The native population was amazed at this technology such as their steel knives and swords, the arquebus which is a sort of muzzle loader, the cannon, copper and brass kettles, mirrors, hawk bells and earrings which were used as trading goods, along with other items which were unusual to their way of life. This was rightfully so since the natives lacked the ability to create these amazing inventions used by the Europeans. Unfortunately the European visitors used their weapons of war inflicting great amounts of damage to the natives.
It did not take long before serious problems began to develop. Upon the arrival of the Europeans there were 7 million Native Americans in North America. Most lived in hunter-gather or agricultural types of communities. The largest problem encountered by the Native Americans was their lack of immunity toward European diseases. This lack of immunity in these communities towards the European diseases took their toll among the Indian tribes. Smallpox was a common threat frequently contracted by the Indians from the European people.
The Native Americans soon began to dislike the Europeans and their beliefs. They often viewed the white man as despicable and stingy with their wealth. This was something that the Indians had not previously encountered. In their social order things were freely shared. The explorers were deemed to be insatiable in their desire for furs and hides. They particularly disliked the European’s intolerance for their religious beliefs, eating habits, sexual and marital arrangements and other aspects of their customs.
The Native Americans were used to being in tune with the spirit of nature but to the Europeans nature was an obstacle in their path. They viewed the gifts of nature as an endless supply of resources such as the forest having an abundance of timber, a beaver colony possessing unlimited pelts and the buffalo with many robes. To the explorers even the Native American’s were deemed a resource ripe for religious conversion or as a means of free labor.
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Source by Joseph Parish