The Spanish colonization of America began in 1492 with the conquest of Caribbean islands later known as Hispaniola, which comprised modern Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. The first settlement in the American mainland was made by a Spanish conquistador, Vasco Nunez de Balboa, who landed in Panama in 1512. The military confrontation between the Spanish conquerors and the Native Americans is considered one of the largest clashes in the history of modern civilization. In successful claiming the Caribbean coast and a part of the mainland Mexican and Inca empires, the Spanish went through many challenges. This research paper studies the vast differences between the European and Native American cultures, technologies, politics, and historical experiences, as well as the biological history, which predetermined the outcomes of the conflict. The paper also discusses the manner, in which the Spanish conquistadors and Native Americans narrated and described the outcomes of the Spanish-American conquest with a specific focus on the conquest of the Mexican empire.
Differences in Culture
Vast cultural differences existed between the Spanish conquistadors and the Native Americans. The two cultures differed in their way of life, traditions, languages, customs, and religious beliefs. The natives believed in different supernatural beings and worshipped several gods; in general, there was no single system of beliefs. It was in stark contrast to the Catholicism that was professed by the Spanish conquerors. According to the notes of Bernal Diaz del Castillo, a Catholic priest, the main objective of the conquistadors was to spread Christianity throughout the mainland empires of Mexico and Incas (Diaz, 1800). The locals, in turn, considered the churches and the crosses a symbol of the arrival from the sea of their god Quetzalcoatl. As a result, they welcomed the conqueror Hernan Cortes in the Aztec empire.
The language differences that existed between the Spanish invaders and the natives made it difficult to communicate effectively. Therefore, the Spanish language was introduced as the official language of these empires. This step improved the interaction amongst the people of diverse social and cultural backgrounds; hence, it facilitated a peaceful coexistence of the two groups. The racial conflicts were a result of the differences in the anthropological backgrounds of the Native Americans and Spaniards. The Europeans regarded themselves as a superior race and discriminated against the native population. For instance, the soldiers of Columbus (the Spanish conquistador) mistreated the Native Americans; such behavior later caused their murder by a group of the local inhabitants.
Although these differences in race, color, and origin existed, there were intermarriages of the Spanish settlers and the local Incas and Aztecs. It led to the rise of a mixed racial category known as the mestizo. The traditional beliefs of the Mexican empires were challenged by the introduction of a new culture by the Spanish. The locals collaborated with their leaders, and this strategy allowed reducing the number of conflicts. Therefore, intermarriages amongst the native women and the Spanish conquerors also reduced the severity of the conflicts.
The Spanish had invaded the Caribbean islands and a part of the American mainland purely for economic reasons (Starkey, 1998). There existed a high amount of gold and silver within the American mainland; however, the locals lacked the necessary technology to work them. The Spanish had far more advanced equipment to mine gold and ship it back to Spain. Consequently, the mercenaries were hired for protecting the interests of the Spanish crown in the new countries. The native population relied on the hand labor in their farming activities. Later on, however, they were subjected to forced labor by the Spanish mercenaries; it was characterized by long working hours, sleep deprivation, and extortion. Nevertheless, the new ways of doing things introduced by the Spanish merchants and settlers were adopted and mastered by the Native Americans soon afterward.
Differences in Politics
The Native Americans had a form of political unit characterized by the chiefdom. Most of the indigenous Americans were organized into elite social groups. The Mexican Empire comprised a group of separate city-states that were allied to the Spanish crown. Although the colonization by the Spanish destabilized the political life of the empires, they managed to preserve the internal ruling hierarchy. In addition, the economic structures, landholding individuals, and the tribute-paying citizens did not experience the changes of the new political system introduced by the Spanish (Gibson, 1952). The Spanish, on the other hand, relied on the indigenous nobility. They provided privileges to the elite; for example, the Spanish titles of Don and Dona for noblemen and noblewomen respectively (Lockhart, 1995).
The leadership of the Mexican clans was limited to fifty people, who were appointed as chiefs. There was a clear form of inheritance of property through a matrilineal system; the key decisions were made with the help of a consensus-building approach (Hill, 2009) As a result of these vast political differences, the Native Americans were oppressed by the Spanish monarchy. They were subjected to forced labor given that their political structures were not strong enough to fight for their rights. This fact, coupled with the spread of epidemic diseases, caused several deaths and a decrease in the Native population. The encomienda legal system adopted by the Spanish leaders was also based on forced labor.
Differences in Historical Experiences
The historical experience of the Native Americans and their invasion of the Mexican land dates back to 11000 years ago. The indigenous inhabitants of New Mexico lived in campsites and relied on the stone tools in farming. In 1000 AD, they migrated a lot due to climate change and eventually underwent a cultural evolution. The ancient Pueblo people inhabited the banks of the Gila River, Canadian River, San Juan, and the Rio Grande. The historical experiences of the Spaniards in Mexico started with the invasion of the Aztec empire and the subsequent fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521. The history of the conquistadors was based on the appetite for the new territories with rich gold and silver deposits. They fought several wars including the Chichimeca war of 1576 – 1606 (Naylor & Polzer, 1986). This fact is important as it shaped the further actions and life of the two peoples.
Comparison of the Narration of the Conquest of Mexico and Its Aftermath by the Spaniards and the Native Americans
The Spanish and the Native Americans’ interpretations of the conquest of Mexico differ to a great extent due to the exaggeration and bias in the two perspectives. The Spaniards considered the Mexican conquest to begin with the first invasion by the conquistadors and end with the defeat of the Aztec empire and the final victory of the Spanish crown in Tenochtitlan in 1521. The Spanish narrators did not take into account the natives’ support. It is important to note that the indigenous Americans played a crucial role in the conquest. The Spanish disregarded and discredited the allies’ support of the Native Americans.
The Spanish image of the Mexican conquest is majorly based on the experiences of individual conquerors such as Bernal Diaz del Castillo (Diaz, 1800). The individual conquistadors would emphasize their personal contributions towards the Mexican conquest. Given that most of these conquerors were Spanish, they would usually exaggerate their own achievements. On the other hand, the Native Americans who played an important part in the war over-emphasized the loyalty that they had towards the Spaniards. They focused on the support that they offered the Spanish army as being the key to the success of the invasion and victory over the mighty kingdoms of the Mexican empire. The most known narrators of the Mexican conquest were Hern?n Cort's describing the events in his letters to King Charles V and father Bernal D?az del Castillo, who wrote The True History of the Conquest of New Spain. The Spaniards considered the indigenous Americans as peaceful victims of the Spanish conquerors. They depicted the Latin American people as the victims oppressed by the backward civilization (Schwartz, 2000).
The indigenous Americans, in turn, described various services and benefits that they offered the Spanish conquistadors. They also described their support of the Spanish crown, focusing on the privileges that they earned for it. In Historia de Tlaxcala, Diego Munoz Camargo emphasis the support that the indigenous Americans known as the Tlaxcalans provided to Cortes (Munoz & Vazquez, 1986). The Natives, however, asserted that the Spanish Catholics were tyrannical and very violent people. On the other hand, they also believed that the Spanish were gods. The American culture was depicted as being urban, literate, agricultural, and militaristic.
Spanish civilization is described as a superior culture. The Spanish implanted Catholicism on the indigenous American people. The natives, however, interpreted the invasion as the return of the gods. It is depicted that the Spanish invaders were regarded as gods, and the symbols of Christianity such as crosses and churches were part of what the god had promised to the Americans. On the other hand, the Native American culture was described by the Spaniards as Neolithic; this fact was the main point behind the invasion of the Mexican empire.