European Views of Native Americans
The trappers of the Canadian wilderness and the American wilderness liked and respected Native Americans. They even interbred with them and sold them guns, which was very often illegal. Traders had a special status in Native American society. A trader could travel thousands of miles in his canoe without once being robbed or molested. Contrast that with Europe, where anyone from another town was fair game. However, the English settlers, after a very brief period of good relations in Massachusetts, came to loathe Native Americans.
There was a serious culture clash here between stone age Native Americans (who had no land as private property, property belonged variously to the family, clan, or tribe) and Iron Age Europeans. Europeans had a totally different concept of private property. Your own property could be sold, transferred, deeded, or abused with complete contempt for the land. It astonished Native Americans that the English and Dutch could denude, or even want to denude,entire mountains of forest in just a few years. To them this was incredibly barbaric.
In European eyes Native Americans were contemptible because they embraced polygamy, often went about nude, and indulged in mutilating corpses after a battle. Usually this meant looping intestines over a tree and taking a bite out of your enemy’s heart to gain whatever courage he had. This is not cannibalism, but a form of ritual magic. This distinction was lost on Europeans who simply assumed they were all cannibals. Cannibalism was practised in the Carribean and in South America among a few tribe, but hardly at all in North America.
Another thing that astonished Native Americans was the very harsh way in which Europeans treated their children. Children were not beaten in Native American societies. Native Americans in European eyes were ignorant savages who needed to be Christianized and exploited at the same time. In Native American eyes Europeans were vicious liars whose character was bad and who exhibited a very poor sense of real dignity. Things changed a little in Europe during the Enlightenment when French writers romanticized Native Americans as ‘noble savages’ who were brave, always honest, very dignified, and so on.
This had too little influence to change the situation in North America. It was also a little overblown; Native Americans were not all the same; they had sociopaths just as we do who were liars and people of bad character. Native American religion was completely repugnant to Europeans,who could not and refused to understand anything about it. They thought the Native Americans were devil worshippers, which is the same vicious slur Christians use against all pagans. savages. godless. pagans. people of the earth
European explorers and settlers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries did not discover a “New World. ” These newcomers encountered an indigenous people who existed in intricate spiritual relationships with the land and all other living beings in their environment. Our understanding of these earliest inhabitants is limited. Euro-American observations of Native people and their lifeways frequently ignore oral history and cultural traditions in favor of written documents and surviving artifacts.
While many artifacts have decayed over time, surviving examples of bone, pottery, and a few fragments of wooden objects reveal the intricacy of Native craftwork and tools. The consequences of contact between Europeans and the inhabitants of what would come to be called “the Americas” were profound on both sides. New trading partners and novel trade goods generated new relationships and destabilized old ones. European traders and settlers triggered devastating epidemics when they unwittingly introduced measles, smallpox, typhus and other Old World diseases to the New World.
By the 1630s, the “Great Migration” of English people to New England began. These immigrants came with assumptions and beliefs that condemned the original inhabitants as ignorant, irreligious, roving savages who lacked valid claims to the land or its resources. Resulting conflicts over land and resources yielded tragic results in an ever-shifting world of political alliances and warfare. The Europeans had a very mixed view of the Indian natives. On one hand, they were told that Indians could be gentle and receptive, helpful and eager to trade.
This may have been a true depiction, or the propaganda of the English government and trading companies which had a vested interest in promoting colonization; it was a very positive image and gave intended settlers hope that they would be welcome with open arms and helping hands. They wanted to believe that they were heading to the Garden of Eden. However, there was an opposing image of these same Indians. Perhaps these came from the Spanish or from visitors to America who’d had bad experiences with the locals. Whichever the case, Indians were often described in very unflattering terms.
Among these descriptions were terms like, “Flesh eating primitives,” “Savage, hostile and beastlike,” and “Crafty, loathsome half-men. ” These various metaphors could not have inspired much confidence in the people who heard them. The European colonization of the Americas forever changed the lives and cultures of the Native Americans. In the 15th to 19th centuries, their populations were decimated, by the privations of displacement, by disease, and in many cases by warfare with European groups and enslavement by them. The first Native American group encountered by Columbus, the 250,000 Arawaks of Haiti, were violently enslaved.
Only 500 survived by the year 1550, and the group was totally extinct before 1650. Over the next 400 years, the experiences of other Native Americans with Europeans would not always amount to genocide, but they would typically be disastrous for the Native Americans. Because the natives lived opposite of the colonists. Not only that, but they looked different. They also were not believers of Christ. They were looked upon like savages because of their rituals, and that they lived off the land with none of the comforts that the colonists were used to.
When it comes down to it, these natives were scary to the colonists. They were because they did not understand them. The English especially were notorious for destroying things that were a threat… without first learning. People still live this way today. People tend to want to hurt what they don’t understand as a mechanism for survival. Bullying is an example of this type of behavior. Impulsive reaction is actually very dangerous… and it’s the colonists who were the threat all along. It did not start with the natives.