2. Before the Europeans

For the Peoples of Latin America and Caribbean 2021 course, after getting a general overview in chapter 1 on “Anthropology, Latin America, and the Caribbean,” we then read chapter 2 of Sanabria, “Before the Europeans” (31-68). I think this chapter desperately needs to be re-titled in the spirit of the image above. Image credit: WAYUNAIKI.

After this chapter we read about Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance.

Before the Europeans

Before the Europeans. The first thing that I will say about that is simply, urgh. This title bothers me a great deal because it implies that there are people just sitting around there waiting for the Europeans to come, and the time is divided between a time “before the Europeans” and “after the Europeans.” Now in certain places this is probably a true designation. If you were a person living on a Caribbean island, your life changed pretty drastically in the 20 years after the Europeans showed up. And certainly in different parts of the Americas life did change a lot. In some cases their lives changed without even the Europeans being there. So if you were in the North American plains, you would probably have acquired horses from traders to the east of you without ever actually seeing Europeans. So your lives were changing in some ways but you didn’t actually see Europeans. And there are other people in the Americas who didn’t necessarily change that much for 100 or 200 years after the Europeans arrived. So I think that the way we’re taught this in school is like you’re going along, and then it describes Native Americans, and then 1492 happens, and then it’s like: “they’re gone.” That’s not the way history happened and it’s important for us to understand that it was not just a development of societies before the Europeans, but there were certain processes that were still going on long after the Europeans arrived, and in some ways the Europeans simply stepped into, as well as interrupted.