Confrontation of Cultures
Caribbean and Brazil
Arawaks: The Arawakian Lucayos lived on a cluster of islands in the Caribbean Sea and the Greater Antilles. Caribs were a fierce tribe. They expelled the Arawaks from the Lesser Antilles. Arawaks were gentle people. They were skilled boat-builders and used dugout canoes to sail on the open sea. Their occupation included hunting, fishing and agriculture. They grew corn, sweet potatoes, tubers and cassava. Their central cultural value was the organization of people to collectively produce food. They were organized under clan leaders. Polygamy was common. They were animists. The Arawaks used gold for ornaments, but did not attach the value to gold as much as the Europeans did. They were experts in the art of weaving.
Tupinamba: The Tupinamba lived on the east coast of South America, and in villages in the forests. They had no access to iron, so they could not clear forests. But because of plenty of fruits, vegetables and fish, they did not have to depend on agriculture. They enjoyed happy freedom, because there was no king, no army or church to regulate their lives.
Central and South America
In the twelfth century, the Aztecs had migrated from the north into the central valley of Mexico. They defeated different tribes to expand their empire. Aztec society was hierarchical. The nobility included people who were nobles by birth, priests, and others who were awarded the rank of the noble. In spite of being in minority, the hereditary nobility occupied the senior positions in the government, the army and the priesthood. A supreme leader was chosen from among the nobles, and he ruled until his death. The king was regarded as the representative of the sun on earth. Traders also enjoyed many privileges. Traders often served as ambassadors and spies. Talented artists, physicians and wise teachers were also given respect.
Land Reclamation: Because of limited land, reclamations were carried out by the Aztecs. They made artificial islands, called chinampas, in Lake Mexico. This was done by weaving huge reed-mats and covering them with mud and plants. Canals were constructed between these exceptionally fertile islands. The capital city Tenochtitlan was built on one such island in 1325.
The Aztec Empire was based on rural population. People cultivated corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, manioc root, potatoes, etc. Land was owned by clans. The clans also organized public works. Peasants were attached to lands owned by the nobility. They got a part of the harvest in lieu of cultivating the land. The poor sometimes sold their children as slaves. But slavery was usually only for a limited period, because slaves could buy back their freedom.
Education: It was ensured that all children went to school. Children of the nobility attended the calmecac, and were trained to become military and religious leaders. Other children went to the tepochcalli, where they learned history, myths, religion and ceremonial songs. Boys got military training, and training in agriculture. Girls got training in domestic skills.
The Aztec Empire was showing signs of strain, in the early sixteenth century. It was largely due to discontent among recently conquered people.
The Mayan culture of Mexico developed remarkably between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. But they had less political power than the Aztecs, in the sixteenth century. Many religious ceremonies of the Mayans were centred on the planting, growing and harvesting of corn. It shows the importance of corn in their culture. Surplus farm produce helped the ruling classes, priests and chiefs to invest in architecture, and in the development of astronomy and mathematics. They had developed a pictorial form of writing.
The Incas of Peru
The Quechuas or Incas in Peru was the largest among the indigenous civilizations in South America. The first Inca, Manco Capac, established his capital at Cuzco, in the twelfth century. Expansion began under the ninth Inca. At its maximum extent, the Inca Empire stretched 3,000 miles from Ecuador to Chile. The Empire was highly centralized. The king represented the highest source of authority. Every subject was required to speak Quechua, the language of the court. Each tribe was ruled independently by a council of elders. The Inca Empire included over a million people.
The Incas were magnificent builders. They built roads through mountains from Ecuador to Chile. The forts were built of stone slabs. The stone slabs were so perfectly cut that there was no need of mortar. They did not have any wheeled vehicles but they successfully transported heavy stones because of highly organized labor.
Agriculture formed the basis of the Inca civilization. They practiced terraced farming, and developed systems of drainage and agriculture. They grew corn and potatoes, and reared llamas. Weaving and pottery was of high quality. They did not develop a system of writing. But there was an accounting system in place, called quipu. This system was made up of cords upon which knots were made to indicate particular mathematic unit.