In the 16th century Spaniards Herman Cortes and Christopher Columbus set out on endeavoring journeys in search of new worlds. Christopher Columbus encountered, in the Caribbean islands, a group of extremely simplistic Native Americans. Herman Cortes however encountered a much more advanced Native American group in Meso America; we formally know this area to be Mexico. In my essay I will be comparing and contrasting several aspects between both of these Native American Civilizations including sophistication, technology, housing, weapons, religion and their reaction to the Spaniards. Letters written by Columbus and Cortes will be used to make these comparisons.
Just as is typical today, I would assume first impressions and acceptance by new people were of great meaning to Columbus and Cortes. The Natives that Columbus encountered were very welcoming to the Spaniards. Columbus states in his writing on Tuesday, October 16 that there was a man whom had given such favorable account of them. The Indian man served Columbus with great numbers of canoes which delivered water and other things to the Spaniards on their ships. Columbus instructed that the Native Americans which boarded the ship be fed with molasses. Columbus states that when he sent the boat on shore for water “The natives with great good will directed the men where to find it, assisted them in carrying the casks full of it to the boat, and seemed to take great pleasure in serving us.”
Herman Cortes and his men also received a majestic welcoming in the Aztec capital. In the account of the dialogue of Cortes and the Aztec ruler Motechzoma, the first thing the ruler did was give necklaces to Cortes and his men. Motechzoma gave Cortes a standing welcome and, in fact, bowed before Cortes addressing him as Lord. At the end of the greeting between Cortes and the ruler, the Spaniards grasped the ruler’s hands and patted his back to show affection for him. In each instance, with Cortes and Columbus there seemed to be no animosity between the two groups; they both were profoundly welcomed. The Natives encountered by Columbus seemed to not be very warlike; although there were accounts about them having weapons. The warlike way in Cortes’ letter of the Aztecs was that the people were protected by their swords and sheltered by their shields.
The native’s encountered by Columbus and those encountered by Cortes were similar in how they treated the newly arrived Spaniards. They were greatly different, though, in their religious beliefs. The Aztecs seemed to be a very religious group of people. In Cortes’ letter he says, “This great city contains a large number of temples, or houses, for their idols.” Cortes says that those in priesthood wear black and do not curl or comb their hair their entire time in priesthood. Cortes says, “I said everything to them I could to divert them from their idolatries and draw then to a knowledge of our God.” The Aztecs would not convert though, showing the strength of their beliefs. In contrast, those Native Americans encountered by Christopher Columbus did not exemplify any religious beliefs or practices.
As mentioned in the past paragraph, the Aztecs had many temples and houses for their idols. The architectural structures of the Aztecs were of great sophistication. First, let me mention that their Province was built in the shape of a circle surrounded by rugged mountains. It is not stated in Cortes’ letter but it may have strategically been located there to be provided protection in battle by the surrounding land. In great sophistication, Cortes says, “The main streets are very wide and straight, the inferior ones were half land and half water, navigated by canoes.” The city was very strategically laid out and built in a fortified manner.
Cortes states that there is one temple that “surpasses the rest” and that “no human language can describe it.” Cortes describes one palace as having marble columns and floors of jasper. The Aztec city seems as a paradise in comparison to the one encountered by Columbus. The villages encountered by Columbus were very basic, and seemed poor. Columbus said “none of the villages I saw contained more than twelve or fifteen of them (houses),” In his account he compares the houses to tents. Therefore I take the Native American structures encountered by Columbus to be much less sophisticated.
Much like the structures the housing was drastically different. In his letter Cortes says, “This city contains many fine and magnificent houses.” Cortes says the apartments are large and spacious; some even have upper and lower levels. On the other hand the Native homes encountered by Columbus resembled tents. In his letter Columbus describes them as having very high chimneys. He added that the homes were well kept and neat.
As one would anticipate based off of what has been learned of the structures and sophistication, the weapons were drastically different. The Native Americans encountered by Columbus defended themselves with seemingly useless weapons possibly due to the fact that they did not possess iron. In his letter we are told that they used sticks or fishbone on the end of their javelins. Columbus says that they seemed unable to identify with the Spaniards weapons. When presented with a sword, the natives grabbed the wrong end, cutting themselves. In contrast the Aztecs were acknowledged by Cortes as having swords and shields to protect themselves.
The two civilizations that were encountered were obviously as different as night and day in regards to sophistication and technology. The Aztecs seemed to be both more sophisticated and technologically advanced. The organization of the markets and the discipline of their idol worship displayed great sophistication to me. Cortes states that their building structures had a system of pipes that delivered water throughout which was very advanced technology. The Natives encountered by Columbus seemed less sophisticated, as both men and women, went everywhere naked. They seemed to have little technology, based upon their lack of weapons and advanced architecture.
As I have discussed throughout various observations written in the letters by Christopher Columbus and Cortes, their encounter with Native Americans were almost entirely different. The Aztecs seemed to be head and shoulder above the Native Americans encountered by Columbus, both in sophistication and technology.
Courtney from Study Moose
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