chapter  1
Pages 28

The end of the fifteenth century marked a beginning in the Americas, at least in the historical sense, of continuities and ruptures. For many indigenous groups, it was the beginning of the end as European colonialism, notably the onslaught of imported diseases, resulted in rapid cultural disintegration and depopulation across broad regions. Native peoples had witnessed rapid change before Europe invaded the Americas, but the magnitude of social and cultural disruption and the staggering population losses in the aftermath of 1492 makes the contact period circa 1500 to 1750, stand out as a signal episode of cultural change throughout the hemisphere. For most native peoples, “contact” was not the beginning of the end but merely a beginning, a conjuncture in native histories. Change often occurred over many generations and centuries, often in the absence of any direct foreign influence. Most indigenous peoples survived and, although many lost their lands, their unique cultures, and a staggering number of lives, they were not helpless to turn the tides of change. They actively sought to cope with and comprehend their “new world,” to resist the forces of domination, and to capture the economic, spiritual, and

political power of the foreign interlopers. In many areas, such as the humid tropical forests of Amazonia, however, the complex histories of native peoples are hidden, indigenous voices muted, due to a general lack of archaeology, early written documents, or indigenous memories that pertain to the “olden days” of early or even precolonial times.