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What Do Authors Illuminate About Their Own Culture In Describing “Others” Upon Their Cross Cultural Encounters?

What Do Authors Illuminate About Their Own Culture In Describing “Others” Upon Their Cross Cultural Encounters?

Introduction

There are varieties of cross cultural encounters especially in writings of most authors. When authors represent people from formerly unknown cultures and communities, they often illuminate as much about their own societies as those they were ostensibly writing about. The essay will discuss what Cornelius Tacitus, Usama ibn Munqidh, Alvise da Cadmasto, Michel de Montaigne, and Daniel Defoe illuminate about their own cultures when representing “others.” The essay will analyses particular historical circumstances that led the authors to write the influence in their representation.

Cornelius Tacitus

How an individual views other cultures can show much a lot how a person sees one’s own. In the article by Cornelius Tacitus, “Germania,” the author provides insights that are valuable into the views of the Roman Empire of the frontiers people in addition to self-perception and own values of the romans. Tacitus, as a roman sees the world and other cultures in martial terms. Tacitus people are on a conquest campaign, and any person or group of people who cannot be subordinate to them are enemies according to them. Tacitus states that they are “savage”[1] and barbarians[2] and they are leading an uncivilized, strange and wild lives. For the statement of Tacitus, it is evident that other groups of people who have different cultures different from the romans were not civilized. The author describes the conquered communities and societies from the perspective of the roman society which Tacitus describes.

In Germania, Tacitus refers to the Fenni people, a hunter and a gatherer population of the Stone Age from his description as “disgustingly poor and astoundingly savage.”[3]Moreover, the authors characterize the Germans as “indolent” and as poor farmers who “do not sufficiently work hard at agriculture”.[4] This was an evidently biased interpretation by Tacitus on the pastoralism culture who had less knowledge on agriculture than the romans. Moreover, the author stresses the Germans tribes’ contentiousness. Stating that nothing helped them more in fighting them than their inability in cooperation.

The perception of Tacitus on the primitives as possessing sexual morality that is superior is described in Germania. In his description, he noted that they severely cracked down on adultery and had no seductive games, unlike in rime which was fashionable. Moreover, he says that the German women are not pampered but are exacted to sharing in the hardships of their husbands and for their legacies preservations; “they live by the temptations uncorrupted of the excitement of the banquets or the public shows.”[5] From the readers’ perspective, this extrapolated as perhaps being Bacchanalian character. Furthermore, Tacitus scorns the comfortable civilization and the indulgences of the wealthy. “He retorts that the barbarians my lead ignorant, simple lives but here is ignorance a defense that is surer than any prohibitions.”[6]

Alvise da Cadmasto “Portuguese West African Trade”

Alvise da Cadmasto was a Venetian or an explorer and a trader who described the West African trade by the Portuguese in the late 15th century. He sailed to canary, Madeira Islands and past Cape Verd to river Gambia in 1455 discovering Cape Verde in 1456.[7] As a sailor and an author of his documented records, Alvise da Cadmasto represented the West Africans cultures he met in West Africa by illuminating much about his own society. Alvise da Cadmasto In his documented records describes African Muslims who were at the center of the Atlantic slave trade in his own society than the Africans he was describing.

Paraphrasing from his documented records, Alvise da Cadmasto wrote that behind the Cauo Bianco on the land, there is another place in called Hoden accessible after six days when travelling by camel. The place is frequented by the Arabs and is not also walled, and it also acts as a market place where the Timbuktu caravans arrive.[8] Moreover, the place is also a market mid-point for the people from the land of the black people on their route to Barbary. Alvise da Cadmasto further describes the natives’ food by saying that the foods of the people were major barley, dates which were sufficient since they also grew some, but not in abundance. Moreover, he wrote that they drink the camel’s milk and also milk from other animals because they do not have wine. The people of West Africa also have goats and cows but not many because the land is dry. Their cows and oxen, when compared to there, are very small.[9] From the description by Alvise da Cadmasto on people from formerly unknown cultures and communities of West Africa, it is vivid the author was more like talking and describing his own how society than the Africans. For example, Alvise da Cadmasto describes the oxen and the cows as not many and were also small in size when compared to the ones in his own home. Moreover, he mentions an inland area as the land of the blacks to indicate that he was of the white skin. Similarly, on his description of the foods, he was specific on the kind of milk the people of West Africa took, that is for the camels and other camels. This indicates that in his own home society, they took milk from other animals but not camels. Moreover, he asserted that they were taking milk because they lack wine. This shows that back in his own society; people take wines in plenty than milk.

They are Muhammadans (the essay thinks followers of Mohammed/Muslims) and very hostile to the Christians. They keep on wandering in the deserts and never settle down. These are the same men who travels to the land of the black people and to our nearer Barbary.[10] They have camels and are very many and carry silver and brass and other things from the land of the blacks and Timbuktu, and caravan back pepper and gold which they bring with them. They are brown in complexion and put on white cloaks with red stripes. Furthermore, their women also dress hence without shifts (the essay believes without changing clothes).the men wear turbans on their heads in the fashion of the Moorish and are always barefooted. Alvise da Cadmasto also states that in the sandy districts, there are several ostriches, leopards and lions and he has eaten ostrich eggs and found them good.[11] This description also portrays how Alvise da Cadmasto describes his own society instead of the local African society. In referring to the people as Muhammadans and very hostile to the Christians, the author painted the picture of his religion as a Christian. Moreover, he reordered that the West Africans wandered in the desert barefooted to indicate that to him and his society, walking barefoot over long distances was not the norm, and they wear shoes. The culture of Alvise da Cadmasto is also shown when he described the West Africans as wearing white cloaks and turbans in Moorish fashion. Moreover, their women never “dress without shifts.” The author showed his culture that in his home society, they never wore in Moorish style and that women changed clothes, unlike the West African women. Moreover, they do not take ostrich eggs back at home from his description that he ate ostrich eggs in Cape Verde and found that they were good.

Alvise da Cadmas to describe the method of trade in Africa from his excerpts that are barter trade, unlike his home country. He states that the Arab had many Berber horses which they exchanged through barter trade to the rulers of the land of the blacks, in exchange of about ten to fifteen slaves for one Berber horses. These slaves, Alvise da Cadmasto, describes were taken to the market of Hoden, mountains of Barcha, Sicily, Tunis, coast of Barbary and Argin.[12]

Alvise da Cadmasto also observed that the ruler of Senegal has a different culture to theirs. He derived his revenue from present, horses and from captured slaves. This was unlike his king back at his home country who had a large fleet of ships.[13]

Michel de Montaigne

Michel de Montaigne in his narrative of the “cannibals,” argued that the western societies judged other societies and cultures rarely on their own terms. Instead, they often project negative qualities on the other cultures which they observed and found some faults. This supports and affirms the argument of this essay that authors representing people from formerly unknown cultures and communities, they often illuminated as much about their own societies as those they were ostensibly writing about.

Michel de Montaigne used the cannibalism practices in Brazil to make a reflection upon the civilization of the Europeans, arguing for the misplaced understanding of the existing differences and careful cultural practices examination before declaring other people barbarous. Michel de Montaigne is sympathetic to the Native Americans and brings out their struggles with culture of the Europeans. The author is representing the Native Americans, but his depictions portray his own culture and perception. For instance, he idealizes America as Eden or rebirth that is magnificent, a second chance of life that is purer like that of a “noble savage.”[14]

When the Europeans encountered the indigenous Americans, several accounts from the Europeans came up describing them as barbaric for being primitive cannibals and being unclothed. In his essay, Michel de Montaigne disputes this and argues that in the Tupinamba Indians of Brazil naivety, there is much beauty. [15]He stated that “narrowly prying into their faults; we are so blinded in ours,” furthering his critique to the culture of the Europeans which he belongs to. He claims that the crime of the savages against nature is only about their simpler time. The author also laments the modernization and the urbanization of Europe, projecting his fantasy to the unchecked and unspoiled world by mankind on to the native and the Americas.

Another depiction of his culture when describing the natives is shown when Michel de Montaigne claimed that the Indians have “no intelligence of numbers, no knowledge of letters, no politic superiority nor a magistrates name, no service use, of poverty, of riches, no successions, no contracts, n occupation but idles, no partitions, no apparel but just natural, and no kindred respect but common.”[16] Given that all those listed things are all evidently corrupt institutions in his own society which he despises, he is making an assumption that the native Americans lacks the institutions and therefore concluding that the natives are indeed uncivilized and need to be converted to Christianity moreover, Michel de Montaigne states that the Indians has no words for falsehood, lying, dissimulations, treason, envy, covetousness, detraction and pardon.[17] This creates some form of utopia where the natives lack all the flaws of the human beings, and therefore loses humanity privileges.

Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”

Daniel Defoe in his narrative of “Robinson Crusoe” describes Crusoe as setting sail on a sea voyage from Queen’s Dock in august 1651.[18] He goes against the wishes of his parents who wishes that he pursues a law career. However after a boisterous journey, his sheep is wrecked by storm but because he had a strong lust for the sea, he sets out again in which he encounters another disaster.[19] Daniel Defoe tried to demonstrate how providence by God saves a sinner who is an outcast against the divine will by abandoning his family and also his religious training, because of a secret burning ambition lust for great things. From the story of “Robinson Crusoe,” it is evident that the author impersonated Crusoe character to narrate his culture of a prototype 18ceury Englishman whose life was connected with the religious beliefs of the protestants and the notion of being personally responsible. The character of Crusoe, the author, expressed this new type of Englishman as self-reliant, empirical, energetic, and sense of having a direct relationship with the almighty God.

The character Crusoe is also depicted as an economic man who is embodied in unwearies application and a diligence. In his small island, Crusoe recreates all the productive processes that are basic, establishes a little city, builds an empire in the tropical forest and then converts a heathen.[20] This is a complete narrative realism of the author, Daniel Defoe whose puritanism and his hatred for fiction made him write a narrative that is close as possible to the truth.in summary, a real depiction of the beliefs and cultures of the author was depicted in his book.

Usama ibn Munqudh “Arab opinion of the Crusaders”

The source which was a memoir of the author gives an insight to the reader about the impact crusaders made on the Muslim Levant and the form of interactions between both two sides which took place. The most significant and striking feature a reader gets about the presentation of Usama of the franks is the attitude ambiguity. Initially he seems hostile towards them by describing them as enemies or when he describes a death of a Frankish knight unidentified whom he refers to as Badrhawa, “may Allah render them helpless” or “may the mercy of Allah not rest his soul” or “may the curse of Allah be upon them.”[21] This indicates the hostility of the author towards them. However, his hostility contradicts his friendship claims with the franks. This suggests that his hostility is not genuine wholly. It is greater contact with the Franks; he claimed that he forged any relationships with them. For example, he refers to the Jerusalem Templers, “who were my friends.” Moreover, in his description of another Frankish knight from king Fulk army, he says that he was a close, intimate fellowship and kept close company. Moreover, he began calling him “my brother” since they had mutual friendship and amity.[22]

References

Cà Da Mosto, Alvise da, and G. R. Crone. 1937. The Voyages of Cadamosto and other documents on Western Africa in the second half of the fifteenth century. Translated and edited by G. R. Crone. [With maps.].

Defoe, Daniel, Tom Keymer, and James William Kelly. 2007. Robinson Crusoe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Montaigne, Michel de, Charles Cotton, and Salvador Dalí. 1947. Essays of Michel de Montaigne. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Tacitus, Cornelius, Eugen Fehrle, and Richard Hünnerkopf. 1959. Germania. Heidelberg: C. Winter.

Usamah. 1997. “An Arab Opinion of the Crusaders”. MISCELLANEA CONGREGALIA- UNISA. (27): 131-138.

 

[1] Tacitus, Cornelius, Eugen Fehrle, and Richard Hünnerkopf. 1959. Germania. Heidelberg: C. Winter.,p. 167

 

[2] Ibid., p. 67

[3] Ibid.,141

[4] Ibid., 123

[5] Ibid.,117

[6] Ibid.,123

[7] Cà Da Mosto, Alvise da, and G. R. Crone. 1937. The Voyages of Cadamosto and other documents on Western Africa in the second half of the fifteenth century. Translated and edited by G. R. Crone. [With maps.].

[8] Ibid.,56

[9] Ibid.,103

[10] Ibid.,127

[11] Ibid.,133

[12] Ibid.,144

[13] Ibid.,171

[14] Montaigne, Michel de, Charles Cotton, and Salvador Dalí. 1947. Essays of Michel de Montaigne. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday

[15] Ibid.,227

[16] Ibid.,241

[17] Ibid.,255

[18] Defoe, Daniel, Tom Keymer, and James William Kelly. 2007. Robinson Crusoe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[19] Ibid.,25

[20] Ibid.,71

[21] Usamah. 1997. “An Arab Opinion of the Crusaders”. MISCELLANEA CONGREGALIA- UNISA. (27): 131-138.

[22] [22] Ibid.,109

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