Friday, September 24, 2021

The Collision of the Three Worlds: Europe, the Americas, and Africa

The collision of the three worlds—Europe, the Americas, and Africa—that took place between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries led to the creation of the USA and Canada in North America and several nations in South America. The first act in the collision of these three worlds was initiated by the Spanish—in 1492, the Spanish Conquistadors smashed into the Indies (Hispaniola and other islands), and devastated the tribal communities that had been living in isolation in these islands for thousands of years. 

Within fifteen years of the arrival of the conquistadors, the leaders of most tribes and kingdoms were killed, the native population suffered a precipitous decline, and the tribal way of life was wiped out. The barbaric methods of the conquistadors was the primary reason for the decline in the native population, but now they faced a new problem. With most natives dead, the conquistadors didn’t have the slave labor to operate the gold and copper mines, and do the construction and farming work.

When King Ferdinand II of Aragon was made aware of the decline in the indigenous population of the Indies, he authorized the use of African slaves. The first batch of 100 people enslaved in Africa was brought to Santo Domingo colony on the island of Hispaniola somewhere around 1510. They were put to work in the copper and gold mines. As the native populations continued to decline, more African slaves were brought to take their place.

During his second voyage to the Americas, in 1493, Columbus brought with him sugarcane stalks from the Canary Islands. In those days, sugar was a luxury product in Europe. With slaves to do the backbreaking labor of sugar production in the Americas, sugar would become an article of mass consumption. When large-scale commercial sugarcane farming began in the Americas, during the 1550s, Spanish and the Portuguese were using African slaves as their farm labor. The entry of other European powers, the English, the Dutch, and the French, led to an increase in the number of people being enslaved in Africa and shipped to the Americas.

The spread of smallpox in South and North America killed more than twenty-five percent of the indigenous population between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. The death of such a large number of indigenous people freed a lot of territory which the European colonists quickly captured for establishing their cities and plantations. More cities and plantations meant the influx of more European settlers and African slaves. The continuous arrival of people from Europe and Africa led to a transformation in the demography of the Americas. 

Wars broke out between the European powers for control of North America. Freedom movements and revolutions broke out in South America. These wars, freedom movements, and revolutions gave birth to the countries that exist today. In 1776, the USA was created, but its borders continued to expand for more than a century. Canada was created in 1867. The European powers were forced to retreat from South America between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries.

Colonialism and slavery came to an end in the nineteenth century, but they have left behind scars which will not go away for a long time. In the twentieth century, the black population of America found its political voice and, in the current century, they have captured a major slice of political and cultural power in the USA. America’s Latino population has also become very assertive. The 1619 Project (spearheaded by the NYT) can be seen as a recognition of the growing cultural and political might of the African and Latino communities in North America. 

After 1990, the political situation in North America has been transformed by the entry of a fourth world: the Asians (the Chinese and Islamic forces). In the twenty-first century, North America is a battleground of four worlds: Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

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