Roberta Edwards Lenkeit in the book Introducing Cultural Anthropology defines colonialism as the influence and domination of one nation over another for the purpose of exploiting resources. It involves the capture of territory, and subsequent political, economic, cultural and even religious subjugation. An ethnic group according to the Merriam Webster dictionary is a large group of people characterized by a common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background.
Prior to the 15th century and before the spread of cities, peoples of different cultures and ethnicities came into contact briefly (if ever) for the purpose of trade. Their short meetings left their ways of life largely unaltered. Life continued as usual from generation to generation. Even with the increased military and economic ...view middle of the document...
This domination of these newly “discovered” lands by European colonists brought about an ethnic awareness to groups that often were previously oblivious to the existence of others. In other words, ethnicity was created by the colonists.
The subsequent review of political boundaries by the colonists lumped together groups which were antagonistic towards each other. Ethnic groups lost their political autonomy, giving rise to tribal conflicts many of which persist today.
The cultures and religious practices of the natives were treated as inferior and irrelevant. They were forced to learn the language and adopt the way of life of their captors so much so that theirs became extinct. Their mode of dress, customs and diets gradually disappeared as they were replaced with those of the colonists. Today the world is poorer for the loss of indigenous culture. The art forms and religions have all but disappeared taking with them the identities of many of these ethnic communities.
This loss of culture and change in world view brought new attitudes towards the natural environment. Whereas most traditional ethnic cultures treated the environment as a living sacred entity which must be nurtured and cared for in exchange for the living it created, western colonists taught that the environment was a thing to be exploited for economic gain. The result is environmental degradation and resource depletion. A prime example is the deforestation still occurring in some sections of the Amazon region in South America.
Probably the worst effect of colonialism was the decimation and in some cases extinction, of ethnic groups through disease and military conquest. Many of the indigenous groups of the Americas, for example were killed or driven away when the Europeans arrived. Those who remain are sometimes relegated to “reservations” far removed from their original resource base, and where they are forced to rely on governments for their very existence.