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Hybrid cultures redux: when civilizations merge


Suppose there were a continent positioned right in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. At some point in prehistory it gets colonized by two waves of human migrants, one from Africa and the other from the Americas. Each of these two waves brings with it a distinct established culture, but eventually they encounter one another and merge together to produce one hybrid culture which evolves into a larger civilization. As the hybrid nation expands, it grows prosperous as a commercial intermediary between the civilizations of Africa and the Americas, both of which also contribute more cultural influences and immigrants.

How would you go around constructing a hybrid civilization like what I've described? Obviously it would have to incorporate characteristics of both African and Native American civilizations, but you'd still have to figure out the right balance between these two continents. It might not be so hard if they set up a racist power structure where one race dominates the other, but for this hypothetical I'd prefer to go with more harmonious and egalitarian race relations. How would you decide which elements of the hybrid were derived from Africa and which from the Americas?


Article Team
North America was colonized by many cultures. And all those cultures interacted, positively and negatively, and developed into what it is today. You can use that as an example and decide how you want things to go.


Myth Weaver

1) Migrations seldom, if ever, happen without cause. What prompted these people to take a long dangerous voyage into the unknown? Especially in large numbers? Did they belong to a dissident religion (worshipping only one god instead of the local pantheon)? Did they choose the wrong side in a civil war and have to flee? Was there a prolonged drought or famine? Thing is, something major must have happened in the first place to prompt these moves. Given the likely causes, they're not to likely to be thrilled with the homeland.

2) Different geography forces changes. If these people came from a desert realm where every stream and spring was an object of contention and a drought a major disaster, then setting up shop in a land with abundant water will make a difference in their culture. Likewise different soils and different crops means changes to the national diet and ultimately the culture as well.

Then there is diffusionism, an archaeological theory arguing there was far more contact in antiquity between widely separated cultures. One aspect of this theory points out alleged similarities between the cultures of Mesoamerica and ancient Egypt, and suggests there was occasional contact between the two.
I agree with ThinkerX's points.

Other factors I'd consider are:
1) timeframe for arrival - who came first, how big was the gap between them, how much of a head start did they get to use the continent's resources? Was it a 50 years apart, few hundred years, or 1000? Like New Zealand they may have had a population explosion on the back of wiping out Indigenous megafauna (e.g. the moas), which would make it hard for the new migrants to dominate them unless the next two factors come into play.
2) how sustained was the migration - did they come from tentative seafarers (e.g. Vikings) that then stopped as the parent civilisation contracted, or did it come in a sustained fashion from a swelling population once the new land was discovered. Look at Greenland and how the isolated norse got wiped out by climate and overtaken by eskimos. An isolated civilisation would more likely be dominated by one backed up by its homeland.
3) what were the relative technologies - did both have similar access to crops, domestic animals, metallurgy or was it different. eg Americans didn't have horses or metallurgy, Europeans did.
4) what are the resources that they could fight over. Is it just land for crops, or are there rare minerals or spices etc that one or both sides would want/need that would exacerbate conflict.

Hope this helps!


Fiery Keeper of the Hat
I think one of your challenges here would be trying to maintain the "Africas" and "Americas" cultural identities on the new landscape, otherwise it wouldn't be much different from any other place on earth, where neighboring countries can be of very different cultures and fight each other.

The thing is, the geography was a tremendous part of shaping the way those cultures behave. And it's unlikely that many of these cultures would settle on a continent, and maintain much of the feel of their original cultures, unless the landscape was similar. But Africa and the Americas can be very different places.

Which begs the question - which African and Americas cultures were you hoping to draw from? How different is the geography of the new continent? What aspects of those cultures is going to hold up and which will change in that new landscape?

It's hard to imagine tee pees and buffalo working well in the congo. But that might adapt more reasonably to the savanna.

But if the Africans are better suited to the savanna, wouldn't those from the Americas just copy many of their techniques?
Most initial colonization happens using waterborne travel as ships/canoes etc are faster and less prone to disruption and obstacles - the coast gets colonized first, followed by the navigable rivers and banks - leaving the interior until last. The merged cultures are likley to follow a similar pattern with ideas becoming less combined and more like the original colonists the further you go from navigable.

K.S. Crooks

First Africa and South America are very large continents. You need to specify where these people are coming from and how the two societies operate originally. What are the reasons for each group to leave their homes? Knowing this can help establish how organized they are, what they are bringing with them, what skills and knowledge they poses. What types of weapons can they make.

If you want them to be civil with each other early in their meeting then they need to have a similar level of technology, weapons in particular. When the two groups meet it helps if they have a reason to help each other either due to the environment or a third party. How will they overcome the language barrier? Often the basics of life and other universal things are what allows people to begin a dialogue (food, water, shelter, sun, moon, ocean, etc.).

Next I would consider the strengths that each group has. The combined society will begin with the best that each group has to offer. For each group are they farmers, fishers, hunters? What types of homes do they build? How do they decide who is in charge? How do they settle disputes? Also consider that the environment they now live in will shape how they can do things. Are there mountains, forests, a volcano, desert? What resource will they have and are some of them new to one or both groups?
Hope this helps.

e r i

I agree with what people have said above, and would like to add my two cents.

Did these groups who came in contact come in contact as equals? Was one group more technologically advanced or techno-culturally advanced (e.g. writing, astronomy, functioning bureaucracy etc.)? These kinds of things would affect which elements of each culture would be adopted, and which ones abandoned. Did group A happily abandon their own technologies in the face of superior technologies, or were they forced to due to circumstance? Was one group more aggressive over the other? What there a forced incorporation of one group into another? Or was there relatively peaceful longterm merger through marriage, the forging of alliances, and trace?

So I would be thinking about the dynamic between the two groups and how they "made contact" with each other. And extrapolate the potential cultural-technological consequences from that.


Big thing- cultures rarely have this idealistic melting pot you describe. In North America, indigenous populations were basically wiped out and thus American culture is basically European- predominantly English. If you look at Turkey, it used to be predominantly Greek and Armenian Christians before the Turks arrived. Often, cultures eliminate one another, perhaps picking up a few things from the defeated.

A good study for a more harmonious interaction might be England. The Celts are conquered by Rome. They retain their religion, language, and customs, however, with only the ruling class changing over. After the Romans left, the Anglo-Saxons came in a mass-migration. Their culture, religion, etc. supplanted the Celtic identity, confining the Celts to Wales and Cornwall. Again, neither of these are good examples of cultural synthesis; but 1066 onward is an excellent one.

So, the Norman invaders eliminated the Saxon nobility and established their own ruling class. For hundreds of years, French was the language of nobility, English the common language- a product of 1066. Heck, William I's direct successors basically ran the country from France! Being king in England was just a good way to mess with the kings of France.

But modern day English culture contains a fusion of Saxon and Norman cultural characteristics, with bits and pieces from elsewhere. Although English is a Germanic language, the Norman conquerors brought Latin words and today over half of our language is derived from Latin. The days of the week come from the old Saxon Gods, while the months are Roman names.

I guess the point is, cultural blending isn't like taking red and blue and getting purple, its like sticking red and blue side-by-side. You'll pick up bits and pieces from each, with reactionaries on both sides and constant conflict. Perhaps you'll pick up another culture's religion and then conquer them (see Turks and Arabs). the process is incredibly unique and diverse.