Warrior guide - Americas

This instalment of my warrior guides will cover the Americas, which means the primary focus lies on Native Americans and indigenous people like the Aztecs and Maya, for example. Unfortunately most of their stories are quite similar: relatively primitive people who's lives are destroyed by European colonists. Iron and steel was non existent or uncommon, horses had died out thousands of years before, and communities were often quite small in comparison to the more developed world at the time. So the European colonists had superior weaponry, and a (relative) immunity to the diseases they brought, resulting in their ability to conquer vast amounts of land, as well as sometimes wipe out nearly entire civilizations and ethnicities.

I obviously still want to cover their stories, even if they're quite similar to each other. Partially just to tell a small part of their story, but also because, from a story telling point of view, they can still offer unique insights, sources of inspiration, and other elements to a story in any form.


Active around:
- 12th century - 19th century (but still a US minority today)

Strengths and/or special features:
- Long history of conflicts
- Nomadic lifestyle
- Acquired horses early

The first conflicts were tribal, but these were relatively small and fought with primitive weapons like you'd find across the world during stone ages and similar periods. But once Europeans arrived, things changed. Trade with the Spanish brought metal and reintroduced horses to America, which had died out thousands of years earlier. The Apache and Spanish lived in relative peace for a while. They traded with each other, but also raided each other from time to time. This was all very small scale though, often between towns. Things escalated when the slave trade was on the rise, leading the Spanish to raid the Apache for slaves.

On the very relative bright side, because of the early period of relative peace, the Apache were able to adapt metal and horses quite early, something South American natives often couldn't, for example. But the Spanish were persistent and well organized, and eventually managed to keep the Apache relatively under control, largely due to the heavy loss of life on the side of the Apache. This also led to a peace treaty in 1786, and led to many Apache settling in or around existing towns.

Unfortunately this peace didn't last. When Mexico became independent in 1821, rations to the Apache communities halted, forcing them to return to their old hunting lifestyles. This raised tensions, caused raids, and deteriorated relations quickly.
In 1835, the government of Sonora put a bounty on Apache scalps. This obviously only further escalated tensions, and the Apache continued their raids on Mexican towns and trappers. These were all very small scale though, often only involving a dozen or so people on both sides.


Active around:
- 14th - 16th century

Strengths and/or special features:
- Specialized warriors
- Society revolved around war
- Every boy was trained in war

The Aztecs dominated large parts of middle America, and included a range of different ethnic groups. To paraphrase their culture and go straight to warfare: Aztec culture was heavily focused on war for two purposes. The first was general expansion of their territories, the second was for religious and social reasons. Sacrifices were needed for religious ceremonies, and commoners could climb in social status only through warfare, so wars offered them those chances.

Boys were trained from a young age, but would be farmers and traders outside of times of war. During times of war all warriors could prove themselves and potentially become elite warriors as either Eagle or Jaguar warriors.
Both types were achieved by capturing enough enemies or performing similar great deeds for Aztec society, but Eagle warriors were dressed in feathers, and Jaguar warriors in Jaguar motifs. These were related to the Aztec gods.


Active around:
- 18th - 19th century during the Comanche Wars (but still a US minority today)

Strengths and/or special features:
- Dominant tribe in their region
- Lords of the Southern Plains
- Fought against Mexico, the United States, and the Spanish

The Comanche are a Native Americans who dominated the regions of what's Texas, New Mexico, northern Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas today. The Comanche weren't one tribe or nation like some of the other Native Americans, but they did recognise each other and generally didn't fight each other. As a result there were different types of Comanche, but they generally shared the same common goals. Other tribes were fought by them however, as were foreign invaders. They were at war at one point or another with virtually everybody they've encountered.

By the time European settlers became more and more prominent in Comanche territory, the knowledge of the value of Comanche land became more and more widespread. This resulted in the Comanche Wars, which lasted for nearly 170 years. The Comanche fought the Europeans mainly through raids, which were small scale in comparison to wars fought throughout history, but were successful enough to disrupt European expansion for nearly 2 centuries.

The main downfall of the Comanche was disease at first as smallpox and cholera decimated their populations, but also because of the mass decline of buffalo, which disrupted the Comanche's hunter way of life.

Photo by Jorge Mahecha

Guecha Warrior

Active around:
- 15th - 16th century

Strengths and/or special features:
- Merit and physique based rank
- Ornamented with gold, body paint and feathers. Earrings marked amount of enemies they defeated.
- Used poison darts.

Guecha warriors were elite warriors part of the Muisca people who inhabited parts of what's now Columbia. Muisca society was mostly made up of farmers and traders, but the Guecha warriors formed the warrior caste of their society. Guecha warriors weren't picked based on social status though, they were picked entirely based on their abilities and prowess in combat. Being a Guecha offered you a social status above the common folk, but below the priests.

Guecha warriors would wear their hair short, to make them more difficult to catch in battle, but they would also wear jewelry and other adornments. Battles of tens of thousands of warriors from the northern and southern Muisca took place in 1470 and around 1490. Battle was waged with clubs, poisoned darts and blow guns, spears, slingshots, shields, and cotton clothing to defend themselves against poison darts.

Inca Empire

Active around:
- 1438 - 1533

Strengths and/or special features:
- Largest pre-Columbian America empire
- Possibly largest 16th century empire
- Lacked many elements present in other empires

The Inca Empire was a very successful empire despite not having the wheel, iron or steel, a writing system, animals they could ride and animals that could pull ploughs and such. Money also wasn't used, goods were simply traded and tax consisted of labour obligations.
Every able male was also required to be prepared for war and, during times of war, take part in them. Their weaponry consisted of armor made of wood and hides, and weapons made of wood, bone, bronze, copper and stone.

The Incas were well organized and were able to mobilize an army quickly, but because of their bronze age weaponry they were no match for the Spanish. The Inca Empire had already weakened because of disease and a civil war over succession of the throne too, but this wasn't the only way the Inca people were their own enemies. While the Spanish did have superior technology, they were defeated by other indigenous people before and after, so technology alone wouldn't necessarily win battles. Many of the Inca elite welcomed the Spanish as liberators however, and willingly sided with them to share rule over their people. Disease would also continue to be a great enemy that aided in their downfall.


Active around:
- 16th - 18th century (but still a US and Canadian minority today)

Strengths and/or special features:
- League of Native American tribes
- Well organised
- Strength through unity and numbers

The Iroquois League was a unification of five Native American nations (later six): Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Seneca, with the later addition of the Tuscarora. The exact origin is disputed, but it offered them relative peace and stability, as well as safety against other tribes outside of this league.
The Iroquois possessed skill in agriculture, which allowed for part of their population to focus more on the warrior side of life. This in turn resulted in the Iroquois driving away many other tribes in their area, the Great Lakes. Some tribes were simply absorbed through warfare into these 6 clans, and others were adopted at times as well.

A big event, from a warfare point of view, was the Beaver Wars, which lasted from 1629 until 1701. This war was a long lasting struggle for economic dominance over the region. The Iroquois wanted dominance, and successfully took it from many tribes and the French. Furs were valuable to the Europeans, so having dominance over them allowed for better trade and access to European goods.

The Beaver Wars were brutal and among the bloodiest conflicts in North American history; the Iroquois destroyed tribal confederacies that included the Huron, Eerie, Susquehannock, and the Neutral people.
Weapons were standard for this region at this time, but trade allowed for access to European weapons as well, including rifles.

Island Caribs

Active around:
- 13th century - 17th century (still a tiny minority today)

Strengths and/or special features:
- Cannibals
- Skilled sailors
- Conquered the Caribbean

Not a whole lot is known about the Island Caribs, but by the time Columbus encountered them they had control of the majority of the Caribbean, which were named after the Island Caribs. They had taken many of the islands from the Taíno (mentioned further below), and had done so through apparently a mastery of warfare. They were skilled boat builder and sailors, which helped travel from one island to the next, but this all changed quickly when the Europeans arrived.

The Island Caribs were cannibals, which they partook in during war related rituals. This, among other things, was cause for the European colonists to believe the Caribs were savages, and warfare caused a great amount of deaths on the Caribs' side.
Many Carib islands were taken and the Caribs were displaced or killed. Today there are still 3000 living Caribs on a Carib territory in Dominica however, but the last person who knew the Island Carib language died in 1930.


Active around:
- 16th-19th century (but still an ethnicty today)

Strengths and/or special features:
- Long conflict with the Inca Empire
- Long conflict with the Spanish
- Celebrations were a weakneess

The Mapuche people were a tribe living in what's Chili today. Their earliest, major conflicts were with the Inca Empire. At the time, the Mapuche people didn't have an organised state society, something the Inca did, but despite being mostly small tribes, the Mapuche managed to keep the Inca at bay, and were never conquered by them.
Since metallurgy wasn't big in South America, these battles were fought primarily with wood, bone, and stone. Copper was used sparcely too though.

Eventually the Mapuche came into contact with the Spanish in the 16th century, which sparked another long lasting conflict that echoed the conflict with the Inca empire in a way. Both the Inca and Spanish were more advanced than the Mapuche, for example, and both were more powerful in terms of empire size as well. The Mapuche managed to keep the Spanish at bay for a little while too.

The Mapuche hadn't changed much in terms of warfare since their Inca conflicts though, as weapons were still quite primitive, and tradition prevailed over tactics. A big tactical oversight was the tradition of having long lasting celebrations after a victory in battle, which prevented them from pressing onward while they had the advantage. Despite this, the Mapuche had varying degrees of success against the Spanish through rebellions.

Eventually, after making peace with the Spanish temporarily, the Mapuche learned how to use firearms and horses, helping them in their rebellions. While some form of peace was made in the 17th century, small rebellions continued into the 19th century.


Active around:
- 16th century - today

Strengths and/or special features:
- Escaped slaves & indigenous people
- Survivalists

Maroons were Africans who managed to escape slavery while in the Americas, as well as their descendants. After they escaped, they'd often reside with those native to the Americas, as well as other peoples who managed to escape slavery.
This mixture of people formed communities the best they could, all the while trying to avoid being recaptured and other conflicts, trying to grow food, as well as seek vengeance in some cases.

Because of the wide variety of both Africans and indigenous Americans, Maroon communities were incredibly diverse too. Creole languages formed, mixtures of cultures formed new ones, and some even managed to form independent communities.
There were those who fought against the slavers as well of course. One such community lived in Haiti. Slave rebellions led by various influential Maroons, like François Mackandal and Toussaint l'Ouverture, continued for years until reaching the point of the Haitian Revolution, which resulted in a successful insurrection by self-liberated slaves agains the French government. This was a long fight that lasted 13 years and resulted in the deaths of over 300,000 people, most of whom were Haitians, however.


Active around:
- 2000 BCE - 1697 CE

Strengths and/or special features:
- Ruled by a 'divine king'
- War was for the destruction of others, expanding, and captives to sacrifice
- Used obsidian in their weapons.

Maya civilization lasted for millenia in some form or another, and their warfare didn't change a huge amount during this time. Initially war was fought to destroy enemy civilizations, capture people to sacrifice, and to expand their own empire, but it later also became a method to secure trade routes. Little more is known about warfare during the earlier periods though. Despite depictions of war on their art, there were no reasons or other important details visible in this art.

By the time the Spanish encountered the Maya, war had become more about capturing people and less about destroying civilizations. Every able bodied male would be trained, making the Maya armies highly disciplined. However, since they weren't full time soldiers, they weren't as efficient as other armies of great empires. The lack of horses in South America also meant they were no match for the mounted conquistadors of Spain.

Spain had far superior technology, which included firearms and crossbows, but they were outnumbered and on foreign terrain. The war between both sides lasted for almost a century, and the Maya adapted well enough to some threats. For example, to deal with cavalry they dug trenches with pointed sticks. However, the Spanish were better equipped and organised, as well as resistant to the old world diseases that ravished the new world. So the Maya civilization ultimately fell.


Active around:
- 15th century (still an ethnicity today)

Strengths and/or special features:
- Mainly used wooden clubs
- Other weapons were primarily made of wood as well
- "They are very gentle and without knowledge of what is evil; nor do they murder or steal" - Columbus

The story of the Taíno people is a tragic one. They're the indigenous people of the Caribbean, who lived in relative peace for possibly millenia. There were minor conflicts of course, as is usually the case with (tribal) humans, but that was about it. Things changed quickly when the Spaniards encountered them. Initial contact was peaceful, Columbus even described them as noble, spiritual and "Your highness may believe that in all the world there can be no better people ... They love their neighbours as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are gentle and always laughing."

After this initial contact, during which they traded, Columbus started demanding tributes on his second voyage. Every person 14 years or older would have to bring gold or spun cotton every 3 months, if this wasn't provided, the Spanish would cut off their hands and leave them to bleed to death.
Obviously this trigged revolts from the Taíno, with mixed results, but the terror didn't end here. Knowing there are gold deposits, colonists quickly took control of much of the Caribbean, which resulted in conflicts that led to a genocide against the Taíno, as well as disease, terrible living conditions, rapes, and enslavements. The population that was estimated to be hundreds of thousands (up to a million), declined to a mere 35 thousands or less, and didn't start to increase again until the 20th century.

Wayuu People

Active around:
- 18th century (Guajiro Rebellions) (but still an ethnicty today)

Strengths and/or special features:
- Only ones to use horses
- Learned how to use firearms
- Fought against the Spanish

The Wayuu people, also called Guajiro among other names, were a tribe in the Guajira Peninsula in what's now northern Colombia and Venezuela. Like other tribes in South America, the Wayuu were faced with European settlers, but were never conquered during this time. During their rebellions they fought the Spanish, but these battles for fought with only about 2000 Wayuu people to put things in perspective of bigger battles of history.

The Wayuu people stood out among other tribes in this part of the world though, as they were the only ones to learn how to use firearms and horses against the Spanish. Horses had died out in South America, so, before being reintroduced by Europeans, horses weren't used in South American warfare.

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