European colonization has typically been described in historical textbooks as a heroic effort by the different explorers to bring the values of progress, individualism, and freedom to the “New World”. Most people have argued against the heroism of the explorers by saying that they were not really the first ones to discover the Western Hemisphere. However, this is not the point. The real issue is whether or not the exploration of the New World brought a new and greater cultural revolution to the Americas, Africa, and Asia.
The European viewpoint on exploration, represented in traditional historical opinions, is that the tribal regions of Africa, the Americas and Latin America, were barbaric and in need of enlightenment. However, these civilizations were actually highly advanced. The Aztecs and Incas of South America were large empires built very similar to the European kingdoms. They had highly centralized kingdoms with a priestly caste that was organized around a religious system of rituals, complex ideas, and authority. Their beliefs were based upon a polytheistic religious system that included numerous animal and nature spirits. They had a professional army that had conquered numerous smaller tribal regions and had brought them into an empire system. These structures were similar to the ones in the European monarchies and the Hindu kingdoms in India.
Another charge often brought up against the tribal systems of Africa and Latin America was that they were barbaric and violent. For example, the Aztecs were known for widespread use of human sacrifice to appease their pantheon of gods. However, this assumes that all tribal and kingdom systems in Africa and Latin America were the same. Rather, many of the tribal groups were known for being incredibly peaceful and tolerant of differences. For example, Christopher Columbus first discovered the Arawak Indian tribes on the island of Hispanola. He described these inhabitants as incredibly peaceful and not knowledgeable about war or the elements of war. Native tribes in Africa and Latin America tended to form consensus forms of political decision-making. In this form of governance, the tribal elders would meet with a chief. But, the chief was more of a facilitator of a discussion. He would not make the decision for the group. Rather, the group would come to a decision that would incorporate the best elements of all of the individual members.
Another argument often used is that the tribal systems were not economically sustainable. Rather, as it is argued, tribes barely survived due to their dependence on agriculture and nomadic patterns of movement. But, actually, most native tribes found areas in their local environment that would support their needs for food, shelter, and family growth. They made sure to take from their local environment the proportionate amount needed in order to sustain their community’s development. They would then share their resources communally to ensure the survival of the community as well as the individual. It was true that some tribes eventually went extinct due to their inability to survive in certain geographies. An example was the Anasazi tribes in the Southwest of America. They eventually went extinct due to the droughts and lack of food and water in the deserts of the Southwest. However, these were exceptions. Also, you would need to compare this with the European death rates due to plagues, lack of hygiene, and lack of understanding of their local environments. Widespread European deaths were far greater at that time than with the Native tribes.
The Europeans did not bring individualism and progress to the “New World”. Rather, they brought disease that wiped out Native cultures. They destroyed local Native cultures by setting up systems of slavery. And, they used the local cultures as a tool for European fights between their empires.