October 10, 2010

What if Indians conquered Europe?

The Invasion of Europe

By Zoltan GrossmanIt was 500 years ago that Callicoatl sailed across the ocean with three Aztec boats, and found a new continent, a new Eastern Hemisphere. The commemoration of this event is being marked with great fanfare and celebration. Every child has been taught the story: how Callicoatl convinced Montezuma II to support his journey, how the Aztec sailors nearly despaired on the journey, and how they "discovered" a strange white-skinned race in the "New World." But that is only part of the story. It is important that in this, the 500th anniversary of Callicoat's voyage, the record be set straight.What happened during this invasion:In the Pre-Callicoatlian era, great empires were ruled by the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Moors, and many other indigenous peoples of the Eastern Hemisphere. They contributed much to the world, as attested to by the great temples and pyramids they left behind. They had detailed knowledge of astronomy, law, agriculture, and religion. True, there were wars among these peoples, and persecution of those who did not follow the state religion. But they were no more oppressive than the empires of Montezuma II or the Inca Tupac Yupanki in the "Old World" 500 years ago. And, like in the Western Hemisphere, there were many peoples still living in harmony with the land, here in our hemisphere.

There were many other explorers who sailed to these shores, and even some who claimed to have arrived before Callicoatl--the Arawak, the Beothuk, and the Lenni-Lenape. But it was the Aztec flag of Anauak and the Inca flag of Tawantinsuyo that were first firmly planted on our soil. Soon after Callicoatl arrived, this land was named Omequauh after another Aztec-sponsored explorer. The Aztecs and Incas conquered and divided up South and Central Omequauh--the lands we call Africa, Iberia, and the islands of the Mediterranean Sea. Later, the Dakota and Ojibwe fought over and divided North Omequauh, my home continent, which we call "Europe."

Some great "European" leaders pulled together alliances of knights to resist the settlers, but our freedom fighters were never unified enough to prevail. Some of our Native peoples--among them the Irish, Corsicans, and Sardinians--were wiped out, their cultures lost to history.

You may know us as "Native Omequauhns," but we prefer to be called the "Original Europeans," or the "First Nations." We are not one people but many peoples, following different customs. We speak many tongues, which you may call "dialects," but we prefer to equate with your languages. We worship under different religions that were outlawed until recently, and are ridiculed to this day as mere superstition. The religion of my ancestors was known as "Christianity," and there are some of us who even today pray to a single god and his son.

Though we are commonly called "tribes," we have historically existed as nations, with our own borders, provinces, and capitals. The capital of my ancestors, London, was as great in its time as Cuzco or Tenochtitlan, until it was sacked by the invaders. My people, the York band of the English tribe, were once citizens of Yorkshire county (or province) in the English Nation (or "England"). Many of our peoples are not even called by their original names, but by derogatory names that others have given them. The Krauts, for instance, are more properly called the "Germans," or Deutsche in their own language. Similarly, the Frogs should be called the "French," or Français in their own tongue.
Now, in the modern era:The rebirth of our European cultures has also stimulated interest on the part of mainstream non-European society. Nowadays, some children playing "Warriors and Knights" actually want to be the knights. While this trend is welcome, we also find non-Europeans romanticizing our cultures, and trying to usurp them in the same way they usurped our land. We loathe seeing non-Europeans dressing up like our own priests, and conducting the sacred catechism ceremony, for the benefit of their own curiosity. We don't appreciate seeing ethnic Dakota wearing powdered wigs, or putting on ballroom dances. And we roll our eyes whenever one of these 'wannabes' says that their great-grandmother was a Swedish princess.

There was a time when our land would be stolen and our people divided and relocated, with only a passive response. But no more. The European Wars are being rekindled, as more nations are defending the lands our ancestors are buried under. Many remember the armed confrontations at the Long Fjord Norwegian Reservation about two decades ago, or at the Lake Balaton Hungarian Reservation two years ago. If our sovereignty is not recognized, these skirmishes are likely to continue.
Comment:   This reminds me of the art exhibit described in The Museum of Amexican History and The Conquest of Amexica. That exhibit went into more depth about the immediate consequences after the conquest. This essay gives a broader sense of how the conquest would've unfolded over time. So they complement each other.

A dubious scenario

Of course, a reverse conquest couldn't have happened like this. To put it mildly, it wouldn't have been a mirror image of the actual conquest. Here's why not:

1) Because of their disease-ridden livestock, crowded cities, and filthy personal habits, Europeans had much more exposure to disease. Which means they had much more immunity to disease also. Epidemics that wiped out 90% of the population probably wouldn't have swept through Europe.

If Native conquerors had arrived during the Black Plague, they might've been able to accomplish something. Assuming the Plague didn't wipe them out too, that is. Indeed, this might be the only scenario in which the Indians had a chance.

2) Even if Indians managed to cross the ocean first, the Europeans would've had metal and guns and the Indians wouldn't have. The conquest would've been a long slow process, not the lightning strikes of a Cortés or Pizarro.

Again, disease might be one factor that could've leveled the playing field. The only other thing I can think of is some sort of religious miracle. If Jesus had appeared and ordered the Pope to surrender all of Christendom to the pagans, would that have worked? I doubt it, but maybe.

3) Even if the conquest happened, Indians didn't have the same imperative to destroy other cultures and religions. I imagine a Native empire would've been like an Islamic empire: with an official religion and culture but with some tolerance for other religions and cultures.

Europeans would've been integrated into Native society, perhaps forcibly, rather than isolated on reservations. The evidence for this is that actual Native societies often integrated non-Indians (blacks, whites) without hate-based discrimination.

For more alternate histories, see Indians in Soy La Libertad and "What If" Stories About Indians. For more on the actual history involved, see Did Natives Discover Europe First?


dmarks said...

Something else that throws a monkey wrench into the works of straightforward alternate history is the idea of alliances.

This more powerful oceanic Aztec empire could have allied with Europe's enemies and gotten the guns/etc from them.

dmarks said...

...Looking at the history of what was going on in different places. The Ottoman Empire was in full flower in 1492. It is quite easy to imagine the Aztec armada making a deal with the Ottomans in which the Ottomans gained the best trade deals for the bounty of the New World, while the Aztecs get supplied with the best military technology and advisers of the day. Between them they'd have made short work of Europe.