The European colonisation of the Americas is often portrayed as a definitive turning point in which the culture of the natives was instantly driven to extinction (or at least altered beyond recognition). While this is certainly true in some cases, such as for the natives living on Caribbean islands, in other cases it is fair to say that native culture saw relative continuation. I shall look specifically at the area of Mexico in order to provide an argument for the relative continuation of culture amongst native society in this region throughout the first century of Spanish colonisation.
Mexico was home to a diverse group of inhabitants often referred to as Nahuas, after their shared common language. Here the natives were not organised into nomadic tribes but instead formed large-scale networks of stone city states, loosely united through the central Aztec empire. The Aztec Empire was not a nation state in the European sense however, many comparisons can be made. This meant that, unlike the British on the East Coast of what became the United States of America, the Spanish did not seek to drive the natives out of their land but rather wished to incorporate them into their vision of the civilized world and so adopted them as Spanish subjects. Kellogg summaries this by claiming ‘continuities of political and economic organisation allowed a relatively peaceful and profitable transition to Spanish rule to take place’. This was a very distinct set of circumstances from other colonial areas in the Americas and so can help provide an explanation for why indigenous societ...
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...ng much indigenous history due to their heavy reliance on oral stories.
So, the death of the vast majority of the indigenous population, predominantly due to outbreak of through disease epidemics, stands as the greatest outcome of Spanish colonialism in Mexico. However, in terms of actual affect on culture and society as a whole it is possible to make a case for relative continuity in the initial colonial period up to 1650. Spanish goods and technology were slow to be taken up, econmienda (and the political system which supported it) closely resembled the tribute system which natives had been used to and even Christianity failed to implement itself in any meaningful way. In the years beyond 1650 native culture was undoubtedly further altered by European influence, however the initial impact of their arrival was perhaps not as revolutionary as commonly believed.
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