IB History of the Americas I
September 9, 2017
Charles C. Mann, in his novel 1491, introduces a concept he called “Holmberg’s Mistake.” The concept is derived from Allan R. Holmberg's novel Nomads of the Longbow in which he describes the Sirionó people and their nomadic, impoverished lifestyles. His observations embodied the Sirionó as “[one of] the most culturally backwards peoples of the world” (8 Mann) who, before Columbus, had no prior history and "floated changelessly through the millennia" (8). In his book, he concluded that the Sirionó were uncivilized people who had no history before Columbus. But in fact, he was wrong. The reason for their poverty-stricken state was due to an epidemic devastating "more than 95 percent in less than a generation" (9). The consequence of such great losses resulted in a state of mental instability as the Sirionó lived in constant fear, and later, the effects became obvious as they passed through a genetic bottleneck.
Holmberg's "mistake" is his misunderstanding about the Sirionó, resulting in several repercussions. First and foremost, his discovery created a generalization adapted to ‘South American Natives’ in general and became a widely accepted truth in the academic field. The notion that South American Natives were “incurably vicious barbarians” (12) was embraced in society. The social repercussion of this impression is that “Natives” in society were viewed in a generally negative light. Due to such assumptions, Natives became a thing of ridicule in society and discriminated for their savage nature. In effect, such discrimination encouraged...