chapter  5
In the Shadow of Empire: Colonialism and Ethnogenesis
Pages 36

Initial European colonialism in South America during the sixteenth century had predictable consequences for native peoples: catastrophic depopulation and cultural disruption. This is evident from all quarters of the New World where either early eyewitness reports or in-depth archaeology of terminal prehistoric occupations exist. In Amazonia, numerous native peoples, many dramatically different than any known today, were decimated by early contact situations (Porro 1996; Roosevelt 1991). Enslavement, punitive actions, forced relocations, and outright ethnocide prompted the dissolution or flight of many communities soon after initial contacts (Kiemen 1954). As elsewhere in the Americas, however, the vanguard of Europe’s expansion-the four horsemen of the apocalypse: Plague, Famine, War, and Death2-often ranged far ahead of the Europeans themselves. It was these indirect, invisible forces of colonialism more than direct interaction that shaped the destinies of most native Amazonians. Epidemic diseases, in particular, often diffusing unchecked even into areas remote from colonial activities, were responsible for staggering population losses (Dobyns 1983, 1993).