Spanish conquest essay

Throughout the Americas, the impact of the Spanish conquest and subsequent colonization was to bring about a cataclysmic demographic collapse of the indigenous population. The Andes would be no exception. Even before the appearance of Francisco Pizarro on the Peruvian coast, the lethal diseases that had been introduced into the Americas with the arrival of the Spaniards— smallpox, malaria, measles, typhus, influenza, and even the common cold—had spread to South America and begun to wreak havoc throughout Tawantinsuyu.

Indeed, the death of Huayna Capac and his legitimate son and heir, Ninan Cuyoche, which touched off the disastrous dynastic struggles between Huascar and Atahualpa, is believed to have been the result of a smallpox or measles epidemic that struck in 1530-31. With an estimated population of 9 to 16 million people prior to the arrival of the Europeans, Peru’s population forty years later was reduced on average by about 80 percent, generally higher on the coast than in the highlands. The chronicler Pedro de Cieza de Leon, who traveled over much of Peru during this period, was particularly struck by the extent of the depopulation along the coast.

“The inhabitants of this valley [Chincha, south of Lima],” he wrote, “were so numerous that many Spaniards say that when it was conquered by the Marquis [Pizarro] and themselves, there were … more than 25,000 men, and I doubt that there are now 5,000, so many have been the inroads and hardships they have suffered. ” Demographic anthropologists Henry F. Dobyns and Paul L. Doughty have estimated that the native American population fell to about 8. 3 million by 1548 and to around 2. 7 million in 1570.

Unlike Mexico, where the population stabilized at the end of the seventeenth century, it did not reach its nadir in Peru until the latter part of the eighteenth century, after the great epidemic of 1719. War, exploitation, socioeconomic change, and the generalized psychological trauma of conquest all combined to reinforce the main contributor to the demise of the native peoples—epidemic disease. Isolated from the old world for millennia and therefore lacking immunities, the Andean peoples were defenseless to the introduction of the deadly viruses by the Europeans.

Numerous killer pandemics swept down from the north, laying waste to entire communities. Occurring one after the other in roughly ten-year intervals during the sixteenth century (1525, 1546, 1558-59, 1585), these epidemics did not allow the population time to recover, while impairing its ability to reproduce itself. Before we deal more on the experiences of the native people, it will be wise to define imperialism. Imperialism is the policy by which one country takes control of the land of another region. The Age of Imperialism lasted from 1870 to 1914. The development of imperialism mirrors that of industrialization.

This is because the two reflect growth and progress. The US was more focused on competing for resources and new markets during this era. Concerns for the US were the economic situations of the Pacific and Caribbean, along with the strategic importance of these areas. The natives and the Spanish Conquest: An Expose: When the Spanish arrived in the Americas they brought with them their own definitive, almost dogmatic concepts of social order and the means for maintaining it. The sixteenth-century Spaniard saw civilized society as a just order defined by the laws of the Christian God and maintained by the principles of hierarchy and reciprocity.

Society was perceived as a body in which the organs and members fulfill their particular functions for the sake of the common welfare and he, who only cares about his own interests, must be, by necessity, the enemy of the common good of the republic. Good Iberian peasants were the feet which supported the whole; nobles and, in the New World, conquistadores were the protective hands; while the monarch and his officials provided balanced direction and justice. Unprepared to find either a new world or a strange, new people, the Spaniards applied their own standards to judge the world of the Amerindian.

According to Friar Bernardino de Sahagun, the Spanish mission was clearly one which entailed the healing and maintenance of the Indian social organism when it faltered. He argued that Spaniards were to serve as doctors to the Indians’ social and physical needs (Bemadino 1:27). At the most fundamental level, which included concern with food production and eating as both means of sustaining the individual organism and the social organism. Food became a major weapon in remaking the Indians, and in ascribing differences between them and the “old Spaniards.

” From the very beginning the Spanish were aware of the differences in the native diet, and they set about deliberately and effectively to impose new dietary regimes in the Americas. For their part, the Indians salvaged certain aspects of their culture at the cost of sometimes being labeled “inferior. ” As John Super states, “both conquerors and conquered experienced a hybridization of their “nutritional regimes,” with each party adopting foods eaten by the other group, but with staple foods, like wheat and maize, still remaining basically the same for most Spaniards and Indians”( Super 23).

In Mexico, the institutional revolutionary government honors its Aztec heritage through the publicly commissioned works of Diego Rivera, official school textbooks which laud Mexico’s Indian heritage, and through the restoration of Amerindian monumental sites. At the same time, Mexico’s remaining indigenous population continues to live at a standard of living much lower than the Mexican average. Still, they have persevered and continue to struggle using means officially sanctioned in one form or another since colonial times; their goal — to be recognized by elites as more than the productive extensions of the natural environment.

In this quest, they always have been partially successful, thus ensuring their very survival in Mexico. As in Spain, poverty and famine were persistent aspects of Aztec life and culture, and, just as the Spanish elite chose to pursue its own economic interests while occasionally providing poor relief, the Aztec elite chose to hide misery behind its own prosperity. Both cultures, however, extolled the virtue of charity, had some system of poor relief, and recognized the role of charity in preventing rebellion and promoting social control.

Cortes saw the presence of beggars as proof that the Aztecs were civilized: “And there are many poor people who beg from the rich in the streets as the poor do in Spain and in other civilized places” (Cortes 75). In the sixteenth century, Spaniards destroyed the Aztec imperial rituals of human sacrifice and cannibalism, but did not eliminate those aspects of Indian culture which were not offensive to their moral and religious beliefs (Taylor 35). Thus, both Spaniards and Indians were partially satisfied.

By eating differently from the Indians, the Spaniards felt superior. By eating differently from the Spaniards, the Indians felt that they had retained a vital, basic aspect of their culture and world (Crosby 74). While old pre-Columbian religious practices and spiritual values blended with the new Christian faith the most basic aspect of community and hearth, eating, remained in many ways relatively untouched for conquerors and conquered. Dietary syncretism occurred, but very slowly, unless pressured by need.

In Spain itself, only peasants of the most marginal agricultural regions experimented with maize. Thematic to Mexican history, the appropriateness of food recurs again and again. Upon traveling in Mexico in 1839-40, Frances Calderon de la Barca noted that General Santa Anna consumed a breakfast that was “very handsome, consisting of innumerable Spanish dishes, meat and vegetables, fish and fowl, fruits and sweetmeats, all served in white and gold French porcelain, with coffee, wines, etc (Calderon de la Barca 33).

Resume: In my view, the micro patriotism and ethnic separation that emerged during the colonial period were a reflection of Indians’ increasing powerlessness in colonial society. Political fragmentation allowed smaller units to have their own cabildos; but the men who served on these councils were increasingly impoverished, and the towns themselves lost population and effective political agency. Spanish officials initially used indigenous cabildos for their own economic and political purposes.

In the early period, when Coyoacan had a legitimate ruler and, in Horn’s assessment, a flourishing cabildo, “indigenous authority functioned smoothly, channeling Nahua goods and labor to public works projects and Spanish civil and ecclesiastical officials” (Horn 229). The cabildo’s power was eroded after it became less central to Spanish concerns, which is a commentary in itself. With the decline of the indigenous population and Spaniards’ new interest in being directly involved in production for the growing Hispanic urban population, two things occurred.

First, beginning in the late sixteenth century, Indian land was acquired by individual Spaniards; and second, Spaniards contracted for labor with individual Indians rather than relying on the repartimiento. Both of these processes are well-known phenomena. The formal channels of Indian-Spanish relations increasingly gave way to informal ties of agricultural production and the colonial market. But as with institutional interactions, Spaniards were in the dominant position as a group. It is worth noting, however, that record keeping in Nahuatl ended with political independence, as the Mexican state eschewed the special status of Indians.

Nahua communities apparently did not keep records in their native language beyond independence, nor did individual Nahuas produce native-language documents for private use, such as correspondence (Horn 546).


1) Bemadino de Sahagun, Historia general de las cosas de Nueva Espana 4vols. ed. Angel Maria Garibay K. Mexico City: Editorial Pornia. 1956. 2) Super . J . C. , Food, Conquest, and Colonization in Sixteenth Century Spanish America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 1988. 3) Cortes, “Second Letter.