Assimiilation And Assimilation

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One of the ways in which encounters between conquistadores like Columbus and the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas took shape was the process of assimilation. Assimilation involved attempts by the conquistadores to ‘civilise’ the indigenous populations through spreading European customs and faith. The process itself was based on perceived cultural and religious distinctions, which affected debates over the meaning of the ‘human’. The colonisers’ ignorance towards and dismissal of indigenous customs shows this. For example, Todorov’s interpretation of Columbus’s journals suggests a belief that they were “deprived of all cultural property”, having no religion or law, though Columbus goes on to contradict himself and describes “idolatrous” practices (Todorov, 1984, p.35). Similarly, Hall states that Europeans believed there was an “absence of government and civil society” when there were in fact “highly elaborated social structures” different from European structures (Hall, 1992, p.211). Even when they recognise Native Americans as having their own customs, European settlers often present them as being ‘lesser’ to European customs. Bartolome de las Casas defended indigenous peoples’ living practises as showing a capacity for human reasoning while simultaneously arguing the need to “Christianize them”; indigenous people have morals and rituals, but need to be trained into having European or Christian morals instead (Bogues, 2014, p.214). Fifteenth-century
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