Was it inevitable for dominant cultures to assimilate others when Europeans first contacted First Nations and the Aeta people?

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In the first place, it is important that we, as students who are cognizant of the complexities of history, break ourselves from the anachronistic notion that certain cultures are “dominant” in comparison with others. The primary reason we do not want to think this way is because it carries with it an unquestionable sense of Eurocentrism and presumes that European (and American) cultural practices and worldviews are inherently superior to those of other parts of the world.

Certainly, Europe has historically been made up of empires that were powerful, and as a result, these empires were able to impose much of their socioeconomic and ideological assumptions on the peoples that they colonized. Examples of this are legion. To use the Aeta people of the Philippines as a case in point, we might think about what the consequences of US-imposed democratic systems was in the aftermath of the 1899 annexation. Many American historians have argued that, far from teaching the Filipino people how to organize a democratically-elected government, what US occupation really did was create a system in which corruption and bribery reigned supreme. The commission that President William McKinley established to set up a government in the Philippines was originally staffed only by American representatives. It would not be until Taft took office that the Filipinos would be allow to represent themselves in their own legislatures.

The imposition of American authority and ways of thinking did much to suppress the expression of indigenous cultures, such as that of the Aeta. However, it would be wrong to presume that Filipino natives or the native peoples that Europeans came into contact with anywhere in the world were completely powerless to resist the destruction of their own culture. Post-colonialist theory, particularly in the work of Dipesh Chakrabarty, has seriously challenged the commonly held notion that colonized peoples were merely helpless victims of European cultural hegemony. Rather, colonized peoples across the world played a major part in shaping the ways in which colonizing narratives could be played out. “Subaltern studies” is a branch of history devoted to understanding the agency that colonized people had when they made contact with European imperialists. It has revealed that in places like India, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Africa, and elsewhere, indigenous peoples were able to preserve their cultures and languages, and in many cases, they forced Europeans to adapt to local circumstances (as opposed to Europeans coming in and changing everything). The question is quite complex, and I would therefore say that no, nothing is history is “inevitable.”

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