What Is Tribal About Redbones and other Portuguese Ethnic “Assimilato” Groups?


Race and ethnic relations may follow many different patterns, ranging from harmonious co-existence to outright conflict. George Simpson and Milton Yinger (1972) have provided a useful typology of six basic patterns of intergroup hostility or co-operation. This typology covers virtually all the possible patterns of race and ethnic relations, and each pattern exists or has existed in some part of the world.

1. Assimilation. In some cases a minority group is simply eliminated by being assimilated into the dominant group. This process may involve cultural assimilation, racial assimilation, or both. Cultural assimilation occurs when the minority group abandons its distinctive cultural traits and adopts those of the dominant culture; racial assimilation occurs when the physical differences between the groups disappear as a result of inbreeding. Brazil is probably the best contemporary example of a country following a policy of assimilation. With the exception of some isolated Indian groups, the various racial and ethnic groups within the society interbreed fairly freely.

Portugal attempted a policy of assimilation in the African colonies that it ruled until the mid-seventies. The Portuguese even created a special status, “assimilado” for those Africans or people of mixed race who were considered sufficiently Portuguese in color or culture to share the privileges of the dominant group.

2. Pluralism. Some minorities do not want to lose their group identity; their members have a strong consciousness of kind and pride in their own heritage, and are loyal to their own group. The dominant group in the society may also be willing to permit or even to encourage cultural variation within the broader confines of national unity. Tanzania, for example, is a pluralistic society that respects the cultural distinctions among its African, Asian, European, and Middle Eastern peoples. In Switzerland four ethnic groups, speaking German, French, Italian, and Romanche, retain their sense of group identity while living together amicably in the society as a whole.

3. Legal protection of minorities. In some societies, significant sections of the dominant group may have hostile attitudes toward minority groups, but the minorities may enjoy the protection of the government. In such cases the government may find it necessary to introduce legal measures to protect the interests and rights of the minorities. In Britain, for example, the Race Relations Act of 1965 makes it illegal to discriminate against any person on racial grounds in employment or housing. It is also a criminal offense to publish or even to utter publicly any sentiments that might encourage hostility between racial and ethnic groups in the population.

4. Population transfer In some situations of intense hostility between groups, the problem is “solved” by removing the minority from the scene altogether. This policy was adopted, for example, by President Amin of Uganda, who simply ordered Asian residents to leave the country in which they had lived for generations. In a few cases, population transfer may involve outright partition of a territory. Hostility between Hindus and Muslims in India was so intense that the entire subcontinent was divided between them in such a way that a new Muslim state, Pakistan, was created. There are signs that Cyprus is becoming permanently divided into Greek and Turkish territories, and Lebanon into Muslim and Christian territories. Voluntary and forced population transfers have been taking place in both countries.

5. Continued subjugation In some cases the dominant group has every intention of maintaining its privilege over the minority group indefinitely. It may be fully willing to use force to achieve this objective, and it may even physically segregate the members of the various groups. Historically, continued subjugation has been a very common policy. In the early colonial empires, for example, it was implicitly assumed that colonial domination over the subject peoples was to be a permanent state of affairs. The climate of world opinion is now such that few countries dare to endorse openly a policy of continued subjugation, but the pattern does persist in some cases. The outstanding example is South Africa, where, under the policy of apartheid, the white minority proposes to keep its power over the black majority forever, and has openly declared its willingness to use all necessary force to achieve this goal. Less overt policies of continued subjugation are found in several Latin American countries, where dominant Hispanic groups continue to oppress the indigenous Indian minorities.

6. Extermination. The extermination of entire populations, or genocide, has been attempted and even achieved in several parts of the world. The methods of genocide include systematic slaughter by force of arms and the deliberate spreading of infectious diseases, particularly smallpox, to peoples who have no natural immunity to them. Dutch settlers in South Africa entirely exterminated the Hottentots and came close to exterminating the San, who at one point in South African history were actually classified as “vermin.” British settlers on the island of Tasmania wiped out the local population, whom they hunted for sport and even for dog food. There is strong evidence that economic interests in Brazil, with the connivance of the Brazilian government, have slaughtered the Indian occupants of land that is wanted for agricultural development. Between 1933 and 1945 several million Jews were murdered in Germany. The most recent example of attempted genocide occurred in the African state of Burundi in 1972, when the dominant Tutsi tribe massacred nearly 100,000 members of the Hutu tribe.
These patterns are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and a society can adopt more than one of them at the same time. It is interesting to note that at some point in its history the United States has made use of every single one of these six strategies. Immigrant groups, particularly those from Scandinavia and other parts of northern Europe, have been assimilated into the mainstream of American life. There is a strong trend toward pluralism at present, with different groups, such as blacks and native Americans, asserting pride in their own cultural traditions. Legal protection of minorities has been entrenched in law through a series of civil rights acts. Population transfer was used extensively against the native Americans, who were often forced to leave their traditional territories and to settle on remote reserves. Continued subjugation was practiced against blacks, particularly through slavery in the South. Extermination was used against the native Americans, and several tribes were in fact hounded out of existence.

Robinson, I. (1977). Patterns of Race and Ethnic Relations, (pp.267-268). Sociology. New York: Worth.

European overseas expansion resulted in the Columbian Exchange, a series of interactions and adaptations among societies across the Atlantic.

  1. The arrival of Europeans in the Western Hemisphere in the 15th and 16th centuries triggered extensive demographic and social changes on both sides of the Atlantic. (PEO-4) (PEO-5) (ENV-1) (WXT-1) (WXT-4) (WOR-1)
  1. Spanish and Portuguese exploration and conquest of the Americas led to widespread deadly epidemics, the emergence of racially mixed populations, and a caste system defined by an intermixture among Spanish settlers, Africans, and Native Americans.
  • smallpox, Mestizo, Zambo
  1. Spanish and Portuguese traders reached West Africa and partnered with some African groups to exploit local resources and recruit slave labor for the Americas.
  1. The introduction of new crops and livestock by the Spanish had far-reaching effects on native settlement patterns, as well as on economic, social, and political development in the Western Hemisphere.
  • horses, cows
  1. In the economies of the Spanish colonies, Indian labor, used in the encomienda system to support plantation-based agriculture and extract precious metals and other resources, was gradually replaced by African slavery.
  • sugar, silver
  1. European expansion into the Western Hemisphere caused intense social/religious, political, and economic competition in Europe and the promotion of empire building. (ENV-1) (ENV-4) (WXT-1) (WOR-1) (POL-1)
  1. European exploration and conquest were fueled by a desire for new sources of wealth, increased power and status, European exploration and conquest were fueled by a desire for new sources of wealth, increased power and status, and converts to Christianity.
  1. New crops from the Americas stimulated European population growth, while new sources of mineral wealth facilitated the European shift from feudalism to capitalism.
  • corn, potatoes
  1. Improvements in technology and more organized methods for conducting international trade helped drive changes to economies in Europe and the Americas.
  • sextant, joint-stock companies

Contacts among American Indians, Africans, and Europeans challenged the worldviews of each group.

400px-ColonizationoftheamericasPower Point

Spanish French English Colonies


  1. European overseas expansion and sustained contacts with Africans and American Indians dramatically altered European views of social, political, and economic relationships among and between white and nonwhite peoples. (CUL-1)
  1. With little experience dealing with people who were different from themselves, Spanish and Portuguese explorers poorly understood the native peoples they encountered in the Americas, leading to debates over how American Indians should be treated and how “civilized” these groups were compared to European standards.
  • Juan de Sepúlveda, Bartolomé de Las Casas
  1. Many Europeans developed a belief in white superiority to justify their subjugation of Africans and American Indians, using several different rationales.
  1. Native peoples and Africans in the Americas strove to maintain their political and cultural autonomy in the face of European challenges to their independence and core beliefs. (ID-4) (POL-1) (CUL-1) (ENV-2)
  1. European attempts to change American Indian beliefs and worldviews on basic social issues such as religion, gender roles and the family, and the relationship of people with the natural environment led to American Indian resistance and conflict.
  • Spanish mission system, Pueblo, Juan de Oñate
  1. In spite of slavery, Africans’ cultural and linguistic adaptations to the Western Hemisphere resulted in varying degrees of cultural preservation and autonomy.
  • maroon communities in Brazil and the Caribbean, mixing of Christianity and traditional African religions.