The story of newcomer-indigenous contact was not always one of battle, conquest, and dispossession, although these were the most common occurrences. occurrences. Indigenous peoples were not always averse to the arrival and settlement by outsiders. The colonial powers had metal tools, new military technology, and other material goods, making them valuable as trading partners. Colonial governments, for their part, learned from bitter direct experience or from the costly errors of their rivals that extended military campaigns against the original inhabitants carried enormous costs and rarely resulted in a peaceful settlement and devel­opment frontier. As time passed, and particularly by the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, arguments were being mounted that empires had to both enrich the colonial power and contribute to the well-being of the colonized people - it was the white man's burden to share God's beneficence with the rest of the world. On both sides, therefore, there were reasons for more gentle patterns of occupation and coexistence. While these relationships often resulted in significant disruptions in indigenous lifeways and economic activity, they represented a very different attempt by newcomers and aboriginal peoples alike to respond to the changing realities of an inter-cultural world.

The demarcation between periods and sites of conflict and those of cooperation follow no singular logic. Colonial nations which, in one area of the world, experienced violent confrontations with indigenous societies responded very differently in other locations. Indigenous peo­ples who, in early stages of contact, engaged in bitter conflict with the newcomers, managed more flexible and mutually beneficial relations with the same colonial powers a few decades later. In some instances, the changed approach reflected the realization of the consequences of conflict or, more positively, illustrated a growing understanding of each other. There was no simple pattern from the colonizer's perspective. The Spanish and Portuguese, the first to establish substantial overseas colonies, moved initially with brutality and certainty, only belatedly coming to the realization that their approach to colonization beggared their treasury and slowed the economic development of their overseas holdings. The French had reasonably positive relations with First Nations in northern North America and bitter conflicts in Africa. The British managed to establish respectful relationships in substantial portions of East Africa, waged bitter war against the Maori, and engaged in genocidal behaviour in several of the colonies of British North America. Belgium, late into the colonial game, entered with a vengeance, establishing an unenviable track record of destruction and conquest in central Africa.

Indigenous response to newcomers went through similar patterns. Some, like the Beothuk of Newfoundland, feared the newcomers from the beginning, made very little contact, and perished from starvation, disease, and separation from their traditional harvesting territories. Many of the small tribal societies in the Amazon basin, Australia, Central America, the high Arctic, Siberia, and the mountainous districts of Southeast Asia took comparable approaches, remaining in the safety of their forbidding environments, protected by the difficult terrain from destructive contact with the outsiders. Others fought with the colonial powers until circumstances forced a reconsideration of their approach. The Japanese worried about the potential aggressiveness of the Ainu:

[They] are a sturdy tribe. Although they seem to be ignorant, it is said that, having solved the problem of death, they have strong characters. If they are not treated with care, they will probably cause trouble in the future. Just recently, a [man] committed suicide because of his anger. We must remember the old adage that a rat when driven into a corner may attack a cat.(1)

For a few, like the Maori of New Zealand, demonstrations of military prowess earned the begrudging respect of the colonizers and resulted in a negotiated relationship which, on paper, held the promise of a rea­sonable future within a colonial regime. Others, like the Sioux, fought successfully against the newcomers but realized that, even in victory, they had nonetheless lost their land and control over their future. The Aborigines of Cape York, Australia, routinely fought with newcomers, with their acts of violence typically resulting in an equally strong or stronger reaction. Throughout Australia, a series of localized massacres and bitter battles marked the expansion of the ranching and farming frontier. Situations changed with the size of the colonial population, the aggressiveness of the newcomers, and the policies of governments. The indigenous response also shifted over time, as groups oscillated between fleeing from the intruders, fighting with them, welcoming and supporting the newcomers, or seeking a political or administrative accommo­dation. Some groups, like the Jahai of Malaysia, shied away from direct and extended contact with outsiders, using geography and distance to protect themselves from unwelcome changes.

The expansion into indigenous territories typically involved the search for wealth and opportunity, and the original inhabitants were often viewed as pivotal to the securing of the much-desired resources. The initial colonial efforts in Central and North America, for example, revolved around attempts to use aboriginal labour to produce valuable crops, minerals, or other forms of wealth for the colonial powers.

Many of the small tribal societies in the Amazon basin, Australia, Central America, the high Arctic, Siberia, and the mountainous districts of Southeast Asia took comparable approaches, remaining in the safety of their forbidding environments, protected by the difficult terrain from destructive contact with the outsiders. Others fought with the colonial powers until circumstances forced a reconsideration of their approach. The Japanese worried about the potential aggressiveness of the Ainu:

[They] are a sturdy tribe. Although they seem to be ignorant, it is said that, having solved the problem of death, they have strong characters. If they are not treated with care, they will probably cause trouble in the future. Just recently, a [man] committed suicide because of his anger. We must remember the old adage that a rat when driven into a corner may attack a cat.(2)

For a few, like the Maori of New Zealand, demonstrations of military prowess earned the begrudging respect of the colonizers and resulted in a negotiated relationship which, on paper, held the promise of a rea­sonable future within a colonial regime. Others, like the Sioux, fought successfully against the newcomers but realized that, even in victory, they had nonetheless lost their land and control over their future. The Aborigines of Cape York, Australia, routinely fought with newcomers, with their acts of violence typically resulting in an equally strong or stronger reaction. Throughout Australia, a series of localized massacres and bitter battles marked the expansion of the ranching and farming frontier. Situations changed with the size of the colonial population, the aggressiveness of the newcomers, and the policies of governments. The indigenous response also shifted over time, as groups oscillated between fleeing from the intruders, fighting with them, welcoming and supporting the newcomers, or seeking a political or administrative accommodation. Some groups, like the Jahai of Malaysia, shied away from direct and extended contact with outsiders, using geography and distance to protect themselves from unwelcome changes.

The expansion into indigenous territories typically involved the search for wealth and opportunity, and the original inhabitants were often viewed as pivotal to the securing of the much-desired resources. The initial colonial efforts in Central and North America, for example, revolved around attempts to use aboriginal labour to produce valuable crops, minerals, or other forms of wealth for the colonial powers. The model established in Central America and portions of South America did not transfer well to the more mobile peoples of North America and much of South America, however. These indigenous peoples did not accept the forcible transition into a commercial workforce. In these cases, much of the economic potential remained unrealized until additional laborers - slaves, indentured servants, and immigrant workers - were imported.

In those parts of the world where the emerging colonial economy drew heavily on traditional indigenous skills of harvesting and traveling, more mutually beneficial relationships developed. The North American fur trade rested on strong and sustained relations between fur traders and indigenous trappers and traders, although much less so during the westward extension of the United States than in the French and British areas to the north. Similar patterns of contact and mutual support emerged during the eastward expansion of Russia into Siberia and with the reindeer-herding Sami people of northern Scandinavia. Russian authorities levied an economically debilitating iasak (tribute or tax) on the indigenous peoples, requiring them to provide large quantities of furs to the authorities. They encouraged the development of commercial reindeer herding and, later, commercial fishing, providing the indige­nous peoples of the North with an entrée into the market economy expanding from the west. The Ainu of Japan likewise traded extensively with the Japanese, although they often complained about the imbalance in the exchange:

Lord Matsumae's methods of trade are unfair. We are obliged to buy rice in sacks containing only seven or eight shb where they used to contain two to.

Furthermore, if one bundle of shells is found to be short the next year he charges twenty bundles for it and if one is unable to produce them, his child is taken in ransom. Since all is carried out in the same manner it is a great hardship on the people Bikuni.(3)

The development of the Basho contracting system, comparable to chartered European companies, changed the trading system for the Ainu in the late eighteenth century, but did not strengthen the Ainu hand decisively. In parts of the South Pacific, the early colonial economies relied on indigenous help with fishing, cultivation of crops, and other resource activities. These relationships, while serving to draw the indigenous peoples into colonial and even global trading networks, often proved of lasting duration, sustained in some parts of the world into the post World War II era.

The arrival of newcomers also ushered in an era of personal contact between colonial and indigenous peoples. With few exceptions, the overwhelming majority of the colonial populations were young men. The dispatch of hundreds of sailors, fishermen, loggers, soldiers, miners, and officials to the far distant fringes of the empire resulted in the creation of incomplete, fragmented societies. The convict societies in several parts of Australia, likewise, shared few social characteristics with the more comprehensive and balanced society of the homeland. Some settlements, like the early communities along the east coast of British North America, Boer communities in South Africa, and British colonies in New Zealand and South Australia, brought men, women, and children, with the goal of providing greater social stability and perma­nence. But these were exceptions. Most initial colonies were peopled by large groups of young men, with few women among their number.

Although the colonial societies had both legal and social strictures governing relations with indigenous women, the distance from the mother country and the full control of church, state, and community values prevented the full implementation of these rules. Young men, far from the social controls of their communities, sought sexual comfort and companionship from indigenous women. These relationships ranged widely in character, from exploitative and destructive contacts, in which rape and the use of coercion was commonplace, to lasting and mutually beneficial arrangements. Aztec historian Chimalpahin wrote of these experiences:

Women who came from Spain ... married men of Mexico, and from there came the mestizos. Equally, the daughters of some of our most esteemed Princes, as well as some young women of the servant class, were impregnated by Spaniards and thus more mestizos were born - a thing which happens every day. Some of these keep their mixed origins a secret and hide the fact that they have come from us, the Natives ... . Other mestizos, in contrast, do us honour and are proud to have come from native blood.(4)

Many French and British fur traders in North America entered into formal, if not always permanent, relationships with aboriginal women. Often, these unions solidified commercial or political arrangements. Maori women, likewise, became the partners and wives of non-indigenous men in New Zealand, establishing a pattern of interracial marriage which became a crucial long-term characteristic of the society. Australian Aboriginal women, in contrast, were shunned by almost all non-indigenous Aus non-indigenous Australian people, resulting in a long and bitter history of abandoned women and children. Japanese traders from the mainland imposed themselves on the Ainu women or took them as mistresses, causing dismay among the Ainu men. Many Ainu women married Japanese and, in most instances, integrated into Japanese society, further eroding Ainu culture. Across most of Africa and among the slave populations in the Americas sexual and personal relationships across racial lines were rarely tolerated by the dominant society. These social regulations did not mean, however, that non-indigenous men did not find ways, consensual or otherwise, to satisfy their sexual needs with local women. They did so, in many instances, by generating self-serving images and profiles of indigenous women which labeled them as licentious and sexually promiscuous, and thus limited their personal and collective liability for the difficulties inflicted upon the women and removed their responsibility for the progeny of these typically short-term unions.

Interracial sex and social relations had profound effects on many indigenous and colonial societies. The unions marginalized indigenous women and created additional competition for these women within the aboriginal societies. The sextlalization of social relations - with short-term liaisons, rape, and the birth of mixed-race children being key features of indigenous-colonial relations - drove a firm wedge between the groups. Indigenous men were often angered by the treatment of women from their communities and were generally excluded from any comparable relationships with non-indigenous women. Colonial women, in turn, typically blamed their aboriginal counterparts for the failings of the flesh which befell their men folk. Across the Canadian west, for example, observers often complained about aboriginal immorality and portrayed the women as sexual predators who preyed upon the newcomer men. Settlers urged government officials, particu­larly the police, to keep the women away from towns. As one writer noted, First Nations women were "of abandoned character who were there for the worst purposes." The mixed-race children from these liaisons were rarely raised with contact with their fathers and often found themselves shunned by the colonial society. Indigenous communities were typically more receptive, although mixed-race people often inhabited an awkward and uncertain social space in the evolving order. In Africa, the reality and mythology of black-and-white sex played a prominent role in ethnic relations. Black men were general viewed as sexual predators, a key element in the "black peril" that sat at the core of the colonial order. Many men were persecuted, often without reason, for alleged breaches of the social expectations regarding black-and white sex. As one scholar wrote of the situation:

All the world over, both men and women, though perhaps more often and more violently women, who have been kept in stricter bonds, attribute to some dark and shadowy figure which they fear and hate the desires they disapprove of most strongly in themselves. And for Rhodesians that dark and shadowy fig­ure was ready made in the person of "the native," at the same time scapegoat and shadow, while those cellars of the mind were rejected desires were stowed were also the repository for fears, fears that remembered the rebellions in Matabeleland and Mashonaland. And when desire emerged, fear was not far away. So it was that almost every white Rhodesian spoke with horror of the African's lustful immorality, his utter lack of restraint. And he took elaborate precautions to safeguard his women against these tendencies. (5)

In contrast, the vast majority of the offences of white men forcing themselves on black women went unpunished and often passed without comment. As Gabriel Mabeta wrote in 1925:

O black people? You my esteemed people! You my despised, pauperized and down trodden people! How many more years shall you sleep under a white man's foot? Wake up and rub your eyes and see what he is doing to your daughters. Let us defend our girls and die defending them. A white man has taken our country and has deprived us of all our rights, must he take our girls also? God forbid. A white man's flesh is not of iron, nor is his sinew of wire. Wake up and protect your women and girls ere we are submerged by a wave of half castes.(6)

These contradictory images and expectations were common along the indigenous-newcomer frontiers. Legal prohibitions and social conven­tions which attempted to prevent interracial sexual relations were a logical outgrowth of these conflicting assumptions about the contact experience.

Sexual relations also often had economic aspects, for the newcomers were frequently willing to pay sizeable sums for access to indigenous women. Edward Markham wrote of the situation in a New Zealand port:

Thirty to five and Thirty sail of Whalers come in for three weeks to the Bay and 400 and 500 Sailors require as many Women, and they have been out on year. I saw some who had been out Thirty Two months and of course the ladies are in great request ... . These young ladies go off to the Ships, and three weeks on board are spent much to their satisfaction, as they get from the Sailors a Fouling the Sailors a Fowling piece [shotgun] for the Father or Broth, Blankets, or Gowns. (7)

A major sex industry, complete with contracts for the use of Maori women, emerged on the South Pacific islands, as it did among the whalers in the western Arctic.

While "half-castes," "half-breeds," and other peoples of mixed newcomer-indigenous ancestry were generally scorned, a cultural group known as the Métis developed in what is now western Canada. With French Canadian fathers and aboriginal mothers, the Métis were defined initially by their participation in the fur trade as laborers and boatmen and, more comprehensively, by their participation in an elaborate buffalo hunt. People of English-indigenous parentage in the region did not establish themselves as a distinct culture, although some individuals and families integrated with the Métis people. The Métis became widely known for their military prowess - their victory over the Sioux at the Battle of Grand Couteau became a key element in their emerging national identity - their tightly organized buffalo hunt, unique language, and vibrant social life. They established themselves as cultural intermediaries between the newcomers, both French and English, and the indigenous peoples, among both of whom they had relatives and strong socio-economic connections.

Social relations were, not surprisingly, also conditioned by racial assumptions and images. Newcomer societies generally portrayed indige­nous women as promiscuous, an image which therefore freed them to mis­treat and abuse aboriginal females without guilt. The same set of social values made it very difficult for non-aboriginal men to take indigenous women as permanent partners - unless they opted to remain living beyond the edge of settled newcomer society. In the British North American fur trade, where extensive relations between indigenous women and newcomer men were commonplace, a few traders succeeded in tak­ing their aboriginal wives back to the settled colonies to the east or to Britain. Far more common was the process of "turning off" wives to remaining or incoming traders, leaving the new man to look after the women and young children from the relationship. Even these comparatively long-term relationships were quite rare. The vast majority of social and sexual relations between indigenous women and newcomer men were short-term in nature. It is worth noting, in a pattern similar to that of African men and non-African women in Europe and North America, that relations very rarely involved indigenous men and newcomer women.

Within most colonial situations, government attitudes changed when the indigenous peoples were no longer perceived as a collective threat to the functioning of the colony. Relationships that had been managed at arm's length, either through the comforting words of a treaty or through the protection of military power, shifted dramatically when the prospect of an armed conflict dimmed. When the British-French wars in North America ended, when peace was negotiated in New Zealand, and when military adventures weakened the tribal peoples of South Africa, colonial administrators shifted toward a policy of benevolence. Most indigenous communities initially viewed the overtures as signs of coop­eration and future partnership, only to discover that they had been pushed toward irrelevance. Only where indigenous peoples remained either economically important or militarily threatening did the colonial administrators continue to maintain a more equitable approach to abo­riginal affairs. The shift toward government management of indigenous affairs ushered in a radically different period in the history of aboriginal-newcomer relations.

Indigenous Adaptations

In most instances, aboriginal people and communities exerted significant influence on the contact situation. In those instances where the newcomers swamped the local inhabitants, either militarily or numerically, indigenous people had little opportunity to respond, save by flight or military resistance. In the first instance, they lost control of their tra­ditional lands. They then, by relocating onto the lands of other peoples, imposed themselves on the aboriginal cultures whose territories they entered. Those who fought in such circumstances typically encountered a bitter and disastrous fate, characterized by sharp population loss, dispossession, and cultural disarray. As devastating as these occasions could be, they were relatively rare on the frontier between indigenous and newcomer societies.

Far more often, indigenous peoples adjusted to the arrival of outsiders. At the early stages, when aboriginal communities established their ini­tial assumptions about the non-indigenous peoples, numerical advantage rested with the indigenous cultures and, often, the military balance was either close to even, or to the aboriginal advantage. The passage of time - and particularly the expansion of settlement frontiers - typically tipped the balance toward the non-indigenous side of the power equation, significantly reducing the authority and bargaining power of the original inhabitants. Throughout, however, aboriginal communities responded as best they could to new and disconcerting changes in their human environment. With little direct experience and little evidence at hand about the motives, scale, and long-term impact of the newcomer expansion, aboriginal peoples generally responded to the immediate threats and opportunities, as they understood them within the frame of their society and community values.

For a significant number of indigenous populations, avoidance was the primary means of coping with the intrusions of newcomers. This tactic worked only if there were traditional or other lands available that were of no interest to the newcomers. Otherwise, flight from settlers and development proved to be only a temporary expedient. This transpired repeatedly along the southeast coast of Australia, where Aborigines retreated toward the outback in the face of settlement expansion, and along the east coast of North America, where indigenous peoples dis­covered that there were few places truly secure from incursions. Aboriginal populations in sub-Arctic and Arctic lands and in tropical jungle regions had more success, for non-indigenous interest tended to be highly focused and site-specific. The Beothuk of Newfoundland fled in the face of non-indigenous activities; the entire population died off by the nine­teenth century without ever establishing regular contact with the newcomers. Various groups in the Amazon, the Akuriyo of Surinam, the Jarawa of the Andaman Islands, and other residents of tropical areas used the veil of the jungle to avoid contact for hundreds of years. The Pygmies in the Belgian Congo refused efforts to settle them on plantations, and remained in the jungle areas that the Belgian settlers found both intractable and unattractive. Although the forests provided the Pygmies and others with protection for several generations, post World War II logging and industrial activity eventually placed these previously isolated lands in the path of development. Among the Nenets of central Siberia, the indigenous peoples resisted, and even revolted against, the intrusions of Russian and Soviet agents. Interestingly, the Nenets who had adopted sedentary lifestyles generally accommodated the Russian agendas and administrative systems. Those who remained on the land, following the reindeer herds as was their tradition, resisted more regularly and proved troublesome to the national government.

They identified a series of grievances against the Russian and, particularly, the Soviet governments - complaints which resonate with the global experience of indigenous peoples. The specific grievances included the equation, significantly reducing the authority and bargaining power of the original inhabitants. Throughout, however, aboriginal communities responded as best they could to new and disconcerting changes in their human environment. With little direct experience and little evidence at hand about the motives, scale, and long-term impact of the newcomer expansion, aboriginal peoples generally responded to the immediate threats and opportunities, as they understood them within the frame of their society and community values.

For a significant number of indigenous populations, avoidance was the primary means of coping with the intrusions of newcomers. This tactic worked only if there were traditional or other lands available that were of no interest to the newcomers. Otherwise, flight from settlers and development proved to be only a temporary expedient. This transpired repeatedly along the southeast coast of Australia, where Aborigines retreated toward the outback in the face of settlement expansion, and along the east coast of North America, where indigenous peoples dis­covered that there were few places truly secure from incursions. Aboriginal populations in sub-Arctic and Arctic lands and in tropical jungle regions had more success, for non-indigenous interest tended to be highly focused and site-specific. The Beothuk of Newfoundland fled in the face of non-indigenous activities; the entire population died off by the nine­teenth century without ever establishing regular contact with the new­comers. Various groups in the Amazon, the Akuriyo of Surinam, the Jarawa of the Andaman Islands, and other residents of tropical areas used the veil of the jungle to avoid contact for hundreds of years. The Pygmies in the Belgian Congo refused efforts to settle them on planta­tions, and remained in the jungle areas that the Belgian settlers found both intractable and unattractive. Although the forests provided the Pygmies and others with protection for several generations, post World War II logging and industrial activity eventually placed these previously isolated lands in the path of development. Among the Nenets of central Siberia, the indigenous peoples resisted, and even revolted against, the intrusions of Russian and Soviet agents. Interestingly, the Nenets who had adopted sedentary lifestyles generally accommodated the Russian agendas and administrative systems. Those who remained on the land, following the reindeer herds as was their tradition, resisted more regularly and proved troublesome to the national government. They identified a series of grievances against the Russian and, particularly, the Soviet governments - complaints which resonate with the global experience of indigenous peoples. The specific grievances included the taking of their reindeer, the occupation of indigenous lands, persecution of shamans, forced labor processes, restrictions on political rights, and the removal of children to boarding schools, where they lost traditional knowledge and language skills.

Indigenous participation in the surplus economies was quite common across the globe. In some areas, such as the northern Canadian fur trade, the economic relationship was often mutually beneficial and supported by indigenous peoples. Likewise, the Maori of New Zealand participated actively in the whaling, mining, and early farming activities on the islands. The Maori were aggressive consumers and traders, demanding fair return from the storekeepers and finding ways to capitalize on the new technologies and material goods available to them. In many parts of North, Central and South America, newcomers attempted to press indigenous peoples into plantation work, an effort that also failed with many of the mobile societies in Africa. In the face of indigenous resistance, desperate employers, supported by their governments, intervened more directly. Across the South Pacific, for example, plantation operators used all measure of trickery and compulsion to secure Islander and Aborigine workers. Outrage in Britain about the mistreatment of indigenous peoples resulted in government intervention in the early twentieth century to stop the impressment of aboriginal labour.

The indigenous-newcomer economic exchange was often very uneven. Indigenous peoples typically had limited material needs and lacked the determination to enhance their financial position that dominated most newcomer communities. Companies found, however, that trading with indigenous peoples could be extremely lucrative, whether it be for furs in North America, spices and plants in South East Asia, fish products in various coastal regions, or precious stones and minerals in South Africa and across Australia and North America. The traders worked hard to generate demands for new products, and when they failed to interest the indigenous peoples in more material goods, they introduced consumables like tobacco (if not native to the area) and alcohol. New economic systems were implemented to tie individuals and communities to a specific trading firm, with many companies offering loans to the harvesters in order to ensure their commercial loyalty. Alcohol quickly became a highly desired trade good, quickly consumed and enticing to the indigenous peoples.

Numerous commentators observed that the indigenous peoples acquired a taste - and a demand for rum, whiskey, and other such drinks, creating a more diverse trading environment and introducing alcohol into the social and personal worlds of the first people. Some of the companies - the Hudson's Bay Company in Canada is perhaps the best example - worked fairly coop­eratively with indigenous peoples and struck a balance that, most often, served both partners in the trade. In most other areas, particularly under the influence of competitive trading conditions, companies were rapacious and aggressive in seeking commercial advantage. So, too, however, were indigenous peoples, who sought ways to exploit isolated traders, competitive options, and the newcomers' lack of familiarity with local conditions.

The key, however, is that indigenous communities did respond. Indigenous people reacted with wide variations to the intrusions and actions of newcomers. Some groups fled into traditional territories, using distance and geography to shield themselves from the newcomers. Others, more optimistic and enthusiastic about the outsiders, sought economic integration and settled among the new arrivals. Many groups expressed considerable faith in the new authorities and negotiated or signed treaties and other accords with the colonial powers. Many other groups dug in and resisted the occupation of their territories. And a large number of indigenous peoples went, in distinct phases, through most if not all of these stages, as they attempted to respond to the ever-changing and seemingly never-ending intrusions by outsiders. 

 

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