The historical facts regarding the interaction of Africans and native Indians are not well documented. Still, there is great evidence in the form of artifacts, the religious systems and architecture that point to the possibility of Africans having interacted with the Americas people long before Europeans got there (Smallwood, 1999). The pyramids found in Egypt are similar to those found in Central America and the ancient form of writing used by Native Americans was similar to that of ancient Egyptians. Indeed, Columbus crew gave accounts of coming across people of African descent among the Indian tribes when they reached the Americas. Arabic records talk of Abu Bakari, the king of Mali who sent two sea expeditions across the Atlantic as early as the 1300s. Archeological evidence shows signs of the presence of East Africans in the Americas as early as 1200 BC (Smallwood, 1999).
As Europeans from Spain and Portugal conquered and settled in America, they enlisted the help of African soldiers and sailors. This led to further interaction between the Native Americans and Africans. The Europeans established farms in American colonies and enslaved the natives to provide labor. The natives, however, were decimated greatly by the European diseases and were not fit for such hard work. This led to the importation of slaves from West Africa, greatly increasing the number of Africans in Americas (Smallwood, 1999). The religion of Africans was very similar that one of American Indians and both faced oppression from the Europeans. The natives had lost their land to the conquistadors while the African were being forced to servitude against their will. Thus, they had a common enemy.
Escaped slaves were welcomed to Indian communities, where they intermarried and lived as freemen. The Europeans would on rare occasions intermarry with the Native Americans too. The interaction between these three races led to the existence of biracial and even tri-racial offspring. These offspring lived in communities together with the pure blood Indians that were called maroon communities (Smallwood, 1999). They mostly lived in dense forests, mountains and even swamps that were inaccessible to the Europeans. They were responsible for plotting many uprisings against the settlers and helped many slaves escape into freedom. They would then allow the former slaves join them in their communities (Smallwood, 1999).
Native Americans had as much hatred for slavery as Africans. They, therefore, were used by the union together with Africans to fight in the civil war. Some red Indians were so mixed that they resembled Africans and were grouped together with the black troops during that war (Smallwood, 1999). After the civil war was over, the government faced resistance from the Native Americans that were against the building of railways and towns in their territory. The government used black soldiers that had served in the war to fight the Indians. These soldiers came to be labeled the ‘buffalo soldiers’ by Indian tribes and in a way made the relations between Africans and Native Americans strained (Smallwood, 1999). Later on, black American scholars began to emphasize that the black community should identify with their African heritage while discarding the ties they had with Native Americans. This might explain why so little is known about the interaction between Africans and Native Americans.
Smallwood, A. D. (1999). A history of native american and african relations from 1502 to 1900. Negro History Bulletin, 62(2), 18-31.