Mike Stuchbery 💀🍷 @MikeStuchbery_ Journalist / Historian ★ (@BylineTimes/@TheLocalEurope)★ 'Let everything happen to you, beauty & terror, just keep going, no feeling is final.' ★ ↙️↙️↙️ / ⌛ Nov. 24, 2018 4 min read

Here's a request - I was asked, what were the direct consequences of westerners coming in contact with isolated indigenous populations?

This was raised by the recent death of an American adventure blogger trying to contact the North Sentinelese, in the Andaman Islands. 1/

Unfortunately, we have one big case study, staring us in the face - the Spanish Conquest of the Americas in the 15th and 16th cases.

While the Conquistadors and their ilk certainly did engage in abhorrent, brutal violence, they were far from the most lethal killers. /2

The arrival of Columbus on Hispaniola (now Haiti/Dominican Republic) in 1492 was the first inkling of what would happen.

While Columbus did go out of his way to enslave and murder the Taino - so much so an investigator was spent from Spain - he was outpaced by stowaways. /3

Some historians have hypothesised that with Columbus's arrival alone, over 30 separate diseases & parasites were introduced to the Taino by Columbus's crew.

It's estimated that the indigenous population dropped from around 60,000 to around 500 in the space of a few years. /4

Still, for around 25 - 30 years, the decimation of indigenous population was confined to islands under Spanish control.

One of the first proven vectors for the spread of diseases and parasites into the 'New World' was Hernan Cortes, as he landed on Mexican shores in 1519. /5

It is documented Smallpox - one of the deadliest killers - was present in Cortes' bands of soldiers. While it did not hinder them, it certainly afflicted the Aztec they met

By the time conflict broke out, accounts speak of Spanish fighting in plague-decimated Aztec cities. /6

While these first outbreaks of smallpox were to surprise the Spanish , the real impact of the diseases and parasites brought by the Spanish would be a slow burn.

It would kill via water infected by cholera, by influenza outbreaks, through fleas carrying plague. /7

The means by which Spanish concentrated indigenous populations in the decades after 1519 also enabled the spread of disease.

Missions, mining operations and trading posts also enabled the spread to disparate communities. /8

It's estimated that 95% of the deaths of indigenous populations in the 'New World' following the Spanish Conquest can be attributed to disease.

So, why? Yes, little exposure to western diseases plays a large role, but also the nature of those diseases. /9

It has been posited by a number of historians and epidemiologists that many diseases that had simmered away among European populations had evolved or arisen as afflictions that required straightforward vectors - touch, droplets, water sources to pass on. /10

They did not require the presence of certain species to spread, and those that did, such as bubonic plague, could be spread by species that thrived and spread in the 'New World'.

This might explain why diseases did not travel back to Europe from the Americas. /11

Whereas, many believe that many diseases present in the Americas required specific species of insect or parasite to enable their spread - such as Chagas disease, spread by 'kissing bugs'. These would not survive a months-long journey back to Europe. /12

The exception *may* be venereal smallpox. I stress *may*. That's the subject of considerable debate. If true, I think that's poetic justice. /13  https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/3321872/Columbus-did-bring-syphilis-from-America.html 

Diseases brought by the Spanish Conquest tore through Central and South America, often outstripping the spread of colonization.

This may be due to the more centralised nature of Aztec and Inca communities - towns and cities. /14

Disease did massively impact indigenous communities in North America via exposure during colonisation. Sometimes it may have been used as a weapon.

However, pace of colonisation & the nomadic nature of Native American peoples - small bands - held the tide back longer. /15

When the nascent United States moved west and came up against the Plains and West Coast peoples - fighting against them, moving them on, forcing them into reservations - disease road with them.

Epidemics were not uncommon throughout the 19th century. /16

So, let's put the fact that humans, in general, have an almost bottomless capacity for murderous barbarity.

We all know that.

Where ever we go, we take passengers with us - and to those who are isolated, have different social structures, these can prove deadly. /17

So THAT is one of the main reasons the North Sentinelese are protected, for the main, from the outside world.

That, protecting their unique way of life and the fact they don't particularly seem to want to be visited.

Those are some *bastard* bows. /18

For a quick overview of the spread of European diseases into the Americas, this is a great overview. /19  https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/06/how-europeans-brought-sickness-new-world 

For a more nuanced, detailed look at what the Spanish brought the 'New World', this is a good look at the 'Columbian Exchange' of disease, foods and other resources. /20  https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/faculty/qian/resources/NunnQianJEP.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwiT9MilgO3eAhXMD8AKHThXDwIQFjANegQICRAB&usg=AOvVaw0Thztl-7zh0DPk8A36Txjj&cshid=1543061758201 

Thanks for reading. I understand that many may already be familiar with this, but nobody ever suffered from being reminded of the past. There's also know shame in starting here and reading further - I encourage you to do so. /FIN

PS. Just thought of this, but should add it: Yes, central & southern America are huge, and had considerable civilisations interacting with each other. Not saying they were in any way primitive. Just isolated from much of the rest of the world until the 1490s.

You can follow @MikeStuchbery_.


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