The famous poet, Rudyard Kipling, wrote a poem urging the USA to colonise the Philippines : Take up the White Man’s burden, Send forth the best ye breed….To serve your captives’ need….Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half devil and half child…Take up the White Man’s burden- The savage wars of peace…Take up the White Man’s burden, And reap his old reward; The blame of those ye better, The hate of those ye guard
( the best ye breed,i.e, the best of the human race, the whites) (the savage wars of peace – waged on natives, to bring peace among them) (reap his old…those ye guard – the white man’s reward was going to be the blame and hate of the natives, for toiling to make them better)
This was how Europe’s colonization of the world has been portrayed and justified – as a mission to civilize indigenous peoples, who were childish and heathen. The whites were considered as a master race, superior to coloured people, with the right to subjugate and subdue the latter, through violence, if necessary. Of course, the motives were different- the need for raw materials and markets, and to safeguard sea trade routes. The natives, the indigenous peoples, the ones who were colonized- did the feel the same way? Or was the White Man a curse inflicted upon them?
When the Spaniards under the command of Hernan Cortes came to Meso-America ( present day Mexico), they encountered the prosperous and flourishing Aztec empire, with distinct culture, society and bustling commercial centres. They constructed artificial islands called chinampas on freshwater lakes which allowed highly intensive agriculture.
The Spaniards arrived in early 16th century and were accorded a warm welcome by the Aztec king. However, the Spaniards take him captive,to control the empire through him. Later, he dies in custody. They also brought with them, various diseases like smallpox and salmonella, which wiped out nearly half the Aztec population. A historical account states that death was so widespread that entire families died; Due to shortage of land for burial, the roofs of their houses was brought down on those bodies, which became their tombs. In a second attack, the Spanish were able to defeat the Aztecs. They razed the ancient capital city, Tenochtitlan to the ground and build modern Mexico over it.
In Peru, at the time of Spanish conquest, the Incas had built a huge empire. They had a vast network of roads, supplemented by rock tunnels and suspension bridges. They practised a unique type of agriculture which cut terraces into the steep Andes and utilized water efficiently. They did not use numbers for keeping accounts and records; rather they used the ‘Quipu’ system, a system of cords and knots.
The Spaniards arived in the middle of a war of succession and took full advantage of it. Francisco Pizarro, the leader of the expedition and the founder of Lima, called a meeting with the Incan emporer, Atahuallpa and his emissaries. There his men slaughtered the unarmed Incas and took the emperor hostage. For the latter’s release, he demanded and recieved a huge ransom. But he did not release the emperor, but had him garroted. They spread disease among the population and greatly reduced the numbers. They destroyed the traditional method of farming of Incas and forced the them to farm and mine for them. Treachery, dishonesty and cruelty seemed to be hallmarks of the conquistadors of Europe and their policy towards the native people.
The saga continues, in the continents of Asia, Africa and Australia in Part 2 and 3.