European Colonization and its Effects on Ethnic Groups

Cultural anthropologists define colonialism as the influence and domination of one country by another with the aim of exploiting its resources. Colonialism entails the capture of territory, and consequent political, cultural, economic and religious suppression. Ethnic group on the other hand is a large group of people who are brought together by a common race, country, tribe, religion, language or cultural background.  

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Back in the 15thy century before the spread of cities, people of different cultural and ethnic background used to come into contact with each other mainly because of trade. These contacts had little impact on their way of life for generation to generation. Even with the increase of military and economic activities followed by growth of towns, slaves and displaced people were permitted to maintain their cultural identity. Colonization of Asia, America, Africa and the pacific by the European powers otherwise known as the European colonization was unique in many ways. Anthropologists and Historians describe European colonization as the most invasive form of colonization.

European colonization started in 15th century, led by Portuguese and Spanish exploration of the America, Coasts of Africa, Middle East and Asia. Regardless of their earlier attempts, it was until the 17th century that other European nations successfully established their colonial empires overseas. Towards the end of 18th century and early 19th century saw most of the European colonies in America attaining independence. This led to the shift of attention to the South Africa and South East Asia where coastal enclaves were already established. 19th century also saw the scramble and partition of Africa. The scramble for Africa was largely influenced by the industrial revolution in the 19th century; this was also known as the era of imperialism.  In the 1st world war colonies were distributed among the victors, but it was until after the second world war that decolonization (struggle for independence) began in earnest.

The European powers brought military, political, religious and cultural transformation in their colonies on a scale that was extraordinary. The domination of the colonies by the European powers led to ethnic increased awareness even by groups which were unaware of the existence of others. In other words, European colonization played a major role in the conception of ethnicity.  The subsequent political boundary review by the colonialists brought together different rival ethnic groups.  As a result many ethnic groups lost their political independence, giving rise to tribal clashes which is present in the world today.

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The colonialists viewed the cultures and religious practices of the natives as substandard and inappropriate. Therefore, the colonialists forced the natives to learn their languages and their way of life resulting into extinction of some culture. The natives lost their customs, diets, dressings by embracing the colonialist’s way of life.  At the moment the world has become poorer for the loss of native culture. The indigenous art forms and religions have become extinct taking with them the identities of many ethnic communities.

The loss of culture and change of global perceptions brought new stands towards the natural environment. Originally, the natives regarded the natural environment as sacred entity which had to be protected and cared for in exchange for the living it created. On the other hand, the European colonialists brought in the idea of exploitation of the natural environment for economic purpose. This has caused massive environmental degradation and depletion of natural resources.

Possibly the worst effect of European colonization was the devastation and to extreme cases extinction of some ethnic groups through military conquests and diseases.  For instance, a number of indigenous groups of America were killed and forced away with arrival of European colonialists in the American continent.  Those who remained were relocated away from their resource base and forced to rely on the government for survival.  In Africa, the Europeans discovered more than they originally ventured for. African slave trade changed the history as the European colonial powers exploited them to the fullest. Millions of Africans were detached from the native homes to other continents far a wide.  The African slaves were disconnected from their cultures and were denied the freedom to exercise their way of life in the foreign land.   

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Generally, the colonialists based their belief that their civilization and values were more superior to those of the natives in their colonies. Anthropologists link this to racisms and pseudo-scientific theories dating back to 17th century. In terms of race, proto-socialism Darwinism placed Caucasians on top of other races giving them natural dominance over non-European populations. Europeans forced their ways of life and their values among their colonies resulting into the loss of cultural identities by the native communities.  According to the historians and Anthropologists, European colonization is to blame for most of the problems facing the world today. These include ethnic clashes, environmental degradation and high level of poverty. Poverty in this case not only refers to lack of economic power but also the loss of cultural values and identity.

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