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WHO WERE THE INDIANS?

In 1492, an Italian navigator named Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain in search of a sea route to Asia. Columbus hoped to obtain access to the wealth of spices, silks and gold for which the Asian continent was famous. Six weeks later, his men sighted land.

Thinking he had landed in the Indies a group of islands east of the coast of Asia he called the people on the first island on which he landed "los Indios," or, in English, "Indians." Of course, Columbus had not reached Asia at all. He had landed in the New World (the American continent). But the name "Indians" remains fixed in the English language.

Though Columbus had one name for them, the Indians comprised many groups of people. The Indians north of Mexico in what is now the United States and Canada spoke over 300 languages. (Some 50 to 100 of these languages are still spoken today.) And they lived scattered across the continent in small bands or groups of bands called tribes. To them, the continent was hardly new. Their ancestors had been living there for perhaps 30,000 years.

Over time, these people increased in number and adapted to different environments.

Some groups, such as the peaceful Pueblo of the American Southwest, lived in busy towns. They shared many-storied buildings made of adobe (mud and straw) bricks. They grew corn, squash and beans.

Their neighbors, the Apache, lived in small bands. They hunted wildlife and gathered plants nuts and roots.

In the eastern woods of the North American continent, the Iroquois hunted, fished and farmed. Their long houses, covered with elm bark held as many as 20 families. Each family had its own apartment, on either side of a central hall.

The Iroquois were fierce warriors. They surrounded their villages with wooden stockades to protect them from attack by their neighbors. They fought for the glory of their tribe and for the glory of individual warriors.

Many Indians were fine craftsworkers. They made pottery baskets, carvings and wove cotton and plant-fiber cloth. They traveled in small boats and on foot, never having developed the wheel.

Different as they were, all tribes were greatly affected by the coming of the white man, with his firearms, iron cooking pots, horses, wheeled vehicles and with his diseases, to which the Indians had no immunities. The European arrival changed the Indian way of life forever.

 


Date: 2015-01-02; view: 723


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