The question I have chosen concerns the cultural trajectory of the Americans before European contact. Under this topic, I will discuss the exchange in the New World of the American-European contact. Further, the paper will explain my thoughts on how the exchange of ideas, people, and artifacts affected the culture of the Americans. It will explore the limitations to this exchange as well. It is also significant to point out the paper’s examination whether there is the continuation of pre-Hispanic New World cultural influences today. Finally, the ways in which today’s exchange is similar or different from trade in the past will be addressed.
Food. Before the European settlement in America, the Americans lived a very simple and humble life. They had all their energy directed to acquiring the basic needs. Their occupation was hunting and gathering, and therefore, meat, fruits, and vegetables characterized their diet. For supplementation of their diets, they took nuts and berries.
According to West (98), “They moved from one locality to another to search for these necessities. Once their targets became scarce, they migrated to other areas that promised much better.” They mostly hunted for deer and buffaloes. They practiced a bit of farming and grew crops such as potatoes, beans, and corn. However, hunting and gathering was the primary activity.
Clothing. The Americans wore animal skins. As Philips (2012:119) explains, “They became creative and could make any covering for their bodies from whatever material they landed.” Their creativity extended to making shoes that they called moccasins from deerskin. As Phillips (2012: 132) feels, “It is surprising to hear how they could chew the skins of buffalo to make it softer for making shirts and pants.”
Shelter. The Americans, especially from the northern part, shared houses among many families. The houses, made of wood, were long to accommodate several families. The plain Indians used long poles that they tied together at the top. Animal skins were then stretched over the poles to keep warmth and protect them from harsh weather conditions. The structures were popularly referred to as wigwams or teepees. The clans in the Southwest lived in huts of sun-dried bricks. Optionally, they made homes inside caves.
Possession of the land: The Americans believed that the earth was not personal property. The study of West (68) reveals, “Everyone had the right to use whichever part of it they wished at any given time.”There was no personalization of the hunting grounds as well, and one could move to a different location freely.
Transportation. The Americans walked from one point to the next. They curved out logs to make vessels that they called canoes and used them on the rivers and lakes for transport purposes. Phillips (2012: 127) reveals, “It is amazing how instead of using at least cows or horses as a means of transport, the fellows used dogs!” They designed a harness that they placed around the neck and body of the animal. They would then fasten it on two poles linked with animal skins in the middle. The skin acted as the as the area for placing the luggage, and the dog would drag it to the destination.
Exchange Between The Americans And Europeans
The Europeans were in desperate need of fur and leather, and North America was the only source of these items. They also needed a new plant in the name of tobacco that they could use for smoking and; it was unavailable in Europe. West (56) points out, “There developed trading posts where the exchange took place. On delivering the furs from beaver, deer, antelope and buffalo, together with the famous tobacco plant, the Americans received products they had not used before such as Wheat flour, cloth, and rifles.” The Americans used the wheat for baking, material for making clothes and rifles for hunting purposes.
Effects of Exchange on The American Culture
The Americans started weaving and learned the art of cotton-growing. They also learned how to produce colored thread through dyeing the cotton with other plant variants. From the colored thread, they wove clothes and blankets. They could no longer rely on animal skins for clothing.
The Americans started to use cattle and horses in transportation. They could now cover more distances during travel. According to West (2011: 93), “Hunting became quite vast as they would use these animals to travel long distances in the look-out for animals to kill.”
The Europeans introduced grain alcohol to the Americans that hurt their culture. Since the Europeans had used the liquor for many years, they were used to it, and it did not affect them negatively. The study of Phillip (2012:145) indicates that, “For the Americans, it was indeed an insult to their culture as they had never before involved themselves in alcohol-taking.”
The Europeans had developed immunity to diseases such as smallpox. Once in America, the germs of the disease spread to the Americans and spread like bushfire killing 2/3 of the tribes.
The Americans lost the right to use the universal land. Since the Europeans believed the land belonged to them, and each landowner was the only one entitled to its use, the Americans found themselves occupying the westward. Much to their shock and disbelief, they ended up in the areas considered as wasteland since no one had any interest in it.
Limitations Of The Exchange
Language: As West (38) portrays, “The greatest weakness of the trade was the language barrier. It took time for the trading parties to understand each other, and it sometimes required the services of middlemen to act as interpreters.
Quantity: The second item in the limitations list was the scale of measurability. It was hard to determine how much the item for the exchange equaled.
Performance warranty: There was no guarantee that the items exchanged would work to benefit the trading parties.
Continuation of Pre-Hispanic Cultural Influence
Extension of pre-Hispanic cultural influence is evident today. Smoking is the vice that has its roots in the pre-Hispanic age. The current mode of dressing is heavily influenced by the west. The modern society has embraced consumption of junk food, which is one of the borrowed concepts. Most of the modern music has developed from the pre-Hispanic age, not forgetting the language modifications on the rise in the modern age.
Exchange in contemporary times is quite different from the past. Whereas there are still communities that rely on the barter scheme of trade, the standard exchange medium is money.
The class size has a good organization that gives each student a chance to belong, interact, and most importantly, provide the learners with an environment conducive to learning. Given the opportunity to be in this class again, I would not wish for any changes; everything is perfect as it is.
Phillips, Christopher, N. Epic in American culture: Settlement to reconstruction. Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012. Print.
West, Elizabeth, J. African spirituality in black women’s fiction: Threaded visions of memory, community, nature, and being. Maryland: Lexington Books, 2011. Print.