First contact (anthropology)
In anthropology, first contact is the first meeting of two cultures previously unaware of one another. Notable examples of first contact are those between the Spanish Empire and the Arawak (and ultimately all of the Americas) in 1492; and the Aboriginal Australians with Europeans in 1788 when the First Fleet arrived in Sydney.
Such contact is sometimes described as a "discovery", such as the British and United States did with the legal theory using a "Doctrine of Discovery. It is generally the more technologically complex society that is able to travel to new geographic regions to make contact with those more isolated, less technologically developed societies. However, some object to the application of such a word to human beings, which is why "first contact" is generally preferred. The use of the term "discovery" tends to occur more in reference to geography than cultures; for an example of a common discovery debate, see Discoverer of the Americas.
The historical record indicates that when one culture is significantly more technologically advanced than the other, this side will be favored by the disruptive nature of conflict, often with dire consequences for the other society. However the introduction of disease plays a critical role in this process. More isolated peoples who lived across broader territories in low density succumbed to the illnesses brought from the comparatively higher density of Europe. The Indigenous populations simply had not had the time to develop immunity to the multiple foreign diseases, all introduced at once, for which the more urbanised European populations had had many years to develop some population immunity to. Furthermore, this process was enhanced via the colonisers' intentional spread of disease as a biological weapon, one notable example of this being in North America with the colonisers giving Native American tribes smallpox-infested blankets as gifts.
Marshall Sahlins' work Islands of History uses an ethnohistorical perspective to attempt to come to grips with the way that non-European peoples saw the first contact phenomenon. In it he argues that native people, while being changed by contact with Europeans, nonetheless did so through their own cultural frame of reference.
Numerous important instances of first contact have occurred without detailed contemporary recording recordings across Eurasia and Africa. Including the 330 BC invasions of Alexander the Great from Persia to India and the establishment of Romano-Chinese relations in the 100s AD, however, well established trade routes from prehistoric times meant that many of these cultures would have been aware of the other before meeting.
|Year||Date||indigenous||Name||Exploring group||Location||Country||Description of first contact|
|1492||12 October||Taíno, Galibi and Ciboney etc.||Christopher Columbus||Spanish Empire||Unknown||Bahamas and Cuba||Friendly permission to leave 39 men behind given.|
|1595||21 July||Polynesians||Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira||Spanish Empire||Marquesas Islands||French Polynesia||Initially friendly, but turning violent in the first encounter and leading to 200 local deaths in the first two weeks.|
|1642||19 December||Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri||Abel Tasman||Dutch||Tasman District||New Zealand||Four Dutch killed, one Māori wounded, no other communication.|
|1788||21 January||Cadigal and Bidjigal etc.||First Fleet||Great Britain||Sydney||Australia||Friendly, reserved, one aborigine likely beaten.|
|1791||29 November||Moriori||William R. Broughton||Great Britain||Chatham Island||New Zealand||Shows of aggression by Moriori followed quickly by peaceful relations. Then a fight leading to the death of one Moriori.|
|1930||Papuan people||Mick Leahy||Australian||New Guinea Highlands||Papua New Guinea||Friendly, some Highland people thought they were ancestors and attempted to rub off their white skins.|
- Cargo cult
- Culture war
- Outside Context Problem
- Uncontacted peoples
- First contact (science fiction) – Science fiction theme about the first meeting between humans and extraterrestrial life
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