Exploration of these regions by European powers first began in the late 15th century and early 16th century, led by the Portuguese explorers. These regions became important sources of trading goods, particularly cotton, indigo and spices after the establishment of European trading companies designed for the specific purpose: the British East India Company and Dutch East India Company, among others, in the 17th century.
The New World was initially thought to be the easternmost part of the Indies by explorer Christopher Columbus, who had grossly underestimated the westerly distance from Europe to Asia. Later, to avoid confusion, the New World came to be called the "West Indies", while the original Indies came to be called the "East Indies".
The racial designation East Indian was once primarily used to describe people of all of the East Indies, but more recently, it has been used widely to refer to an Indian from India, in order to avoid the potential confusion from the term American Indian who were once simply referred to as Indians (see the Native American name controversy for more information).
Read more about this topic: Indies
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