Death by Diseases

When the Spanish arrived in the Americas they brought with them a host of diseases that the indigenous people had never come in contact with. Among these diseases was smallpox, which was very contagious and fatal. In Tenochtitla'n, because of the initial effort needed to defend themselves against the Spanish, the Aztecs, had not had time to harvest their crops, (such as corn and chiles) and so they eventually pushed themselves into a state of famine. Other indigenous groups, that had already been defeated by the Spanish were forced to work so hard for their new masters that their health fell into a very poor state.

"The disease was very destructive. Many people died from it. Soon, nobody could walk. They could remain laid up in their beds. No one could move. No one could turn their necks. No one could move their body; they couldn't sleep face down, nor sleep on their backs, nor move about. When someone did move they began to shout in pain. Many died from the oozing, harsh, clumpy sores that covered their bodies. Many others ended up full of pot marks or scars over their face. Some ended up blind for life.

Before the Spanish arrived in the Americas there were at least 20 million people living in the Americas. 50 years later there were only 2.6 million. More than 17 million people died in just fifty years. Translated today, that's about all the population of Australia. In terms of MesoAmerica, the area we now know as stretching from central Mexico to parts of Central America, lost about 90% of its population primarily due to the Spanish invasion.

The arrival of the Europeans in the West Indies proved to be most disastrous. On the island that came to be known as Hispaniola (La Espanola, in Spanish), it was estimated that the population of the indigenous people dropped from 1 million to just 30,000 in just twenty years, due to diseases, mistreatment, and overwork. Stop here and discuss:

1. Imagine that your country was invaded by another and 90% of the people alive were killed. In the United States of 1999, with a population around 260 million people, that would mean that 234 million would die. How would the culture change? What would the remaining people do to survive?

Other study guides:
Leaders Punished
Second Class Citizens
Spanish Imposed
Violence Continues
Catholicism Imposed
Destruction of Histories
Architecture Destroyed
Death by Diseases

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