During the 16-17th centuries, when the Europeans started to arrive in the New World, they discovered a society of Native Americans, or Indians, which was fundamentally different from their own. Considering themselves to be the champions of the civilized world, the Europeans thought that the Indian culture and society had to be changed to be similar to their own. Seeing the Natives as extremely primitive and basic savages, the Europeans initially tried to assimilate them into their civilization using education. However, this perception of Indian culture caused a shift in how their society interacted with that of Europeans. As schooling ceased, the Europeans decided to conquest Native Americans, which, unfortunately, resulted in bloodshed, war, and a near-genocidal catastrophe (Townsend 33). Drawing upon extensive research, this paper provides a comparative analysis of Indian and European societies, discussing their ideas about land, religion, and gender roles.
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Comparative Analysis of European and Indian Societies
The advances and skills of any civilization are based upon their desires, faith, and fundamental beliefs. One may even argue that it is these three concepts that are the foundation of any society that shape their prosperity and growth. These factors also were the underlying reasons for the misunderstanding between the Indian community and the society of Europeans. While Indians desired simple and attainable things, for the most part, Europeans, on the other hand, valued individual accomplishment and wealth. One may even say that it is the humbleness of the Indians in comparison to the selfishness of the Europeans that made the diversity between these two groups so enormous as if they were the opposite ends of the globe. However, analyzing both cultures makes one see that there were some things that both populations held in common. Even though both the Indians and Europeans were indeed opposite, both shared strong will and passion for fighting for what they loved and for what they believed in.
Relationship to Nature and Land
One thing that both the Indian and European societies had in common was their hunter-gatherer economy. Both communities lived in villages, domesticated crops, and brought new animals to the opposite. However, the Indians did not have private property and embodied the environment. Even though they farmed the lands and hunted the animals, they rarely stripped their lands of resources. By practicing culturally distinct rituals designed to demonstrate respect to nature, they felt themselves to be spiritually connected to their land and tried to stay one with it. One may even suggest that the beliefs of Indians were similar to that of animism as they believed that everything in nature, including inanimate objects, possessed spiritual power. In contrast, the Europeans set boundaries for their land and depleted environmental resources by killing all animals, damming streams for water reserves, and cutting trees in a wasteful manner (Townsend 24). One may argue that the Europeans, unfortunately, saw the land as their unending right and did not have any respect or reverence for nature.
When analyzing the social hierarchy in both cultures, one sees that European women had a very limited role in society and were subjected to house chores and childbirth only. In contrast, Indian women ran the family and held upstanding positions among their tribes. Moreover, they received the same respect as any male did, which must have been perceived by the Europeans as a culture shock (Townsend 38). However, one sees that both groups had very defined gender roles in the family and society, even though the parts of women were fundamentally different.
Religion and Spiritual Beliefs
The fighting for religious conflicts between the Indian and European societies further portrays the growing diversity between these two populations. While Indians worshipped nature spirits of wolves, birds, and bears, corn gods, and sun gods, Europeans, on the other hand, came as messengers of God. Seeing the Indian society as barbarous, they saw it as their duty to convert them to Christianity (Townsend 33). Though this attempt was successful to a certain extent, most of the Indians would not convert and as such were imprisoned or killed, and later forced onto reservations (Townsend 40). However, even though the religious beliefs of Indians and Europeans were profoundly different, one sees that both cultures had a very strong spirituality that fueled their passion, which, sometimes, drove them to the extremes.
When the Europeans started to arrive in the New World, they discovered a society of Native Americans, which was fundamentally different from their own. Considering the Natives as primitive savages, the Europeans thought that it was their duty to change the Indian culture to be similar to their own. The analysis of the Indian and European societies revealed that both groups were indeed opposite in their beliefs and ways of life. Both had very different ideas about nature, treated the land very differently, as well as had very differing gender roles and spiritual beliefs. Due to these differences, there were frequent clashes between the Europeans and Indians, which often led to the destruction of people and land. However, there were some things that both groups held in common, such as their hunter-gatherer economy, strong spirituality, as well as passion, and strong will, even though the diversity between these two cultures was enormous.
Townsend, Kenneth W. First Americans: A History of Native Peoples. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2019.
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