restricted access 12 Ignoble Savages
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12 Ignoble Savages DINESH D'SOUZA The Embarrassment of Primitivism For the Europeans who first voyaged abroad, much of the rest of the world came as a shock for which they were poorly prepared. Early modern accounts, such as Richard Hakluyt's sixteenth century Principal Navigations or Samuel Purchas's seventeenth century Purchas His Pilgrimage and Hakluytus Posthumus, convey the stupefaction of the Europeans who encountered distant and unfamiliar peoples. Europeans who were even then making a transition into the modern era found themselves genuinely amazed and horrified at other cultures which appeared virtually static, confined from time immemorial in the nomadic or the agrarian stage. The consequence was that many Europeans viewed the nonwhite peoples of Africa, the Americas, and elsewhere as savages and barbarians, "beyond the pale of civilization," to borrow Metternich 's phrase. Significantly, it was the Portuguese who arrived on the shores of black Africa and not black Africans who voyaged to Europe. The Portuguese had the three-mast ship, the compass , the quadrant, the astrolabe, navigation charts, and a comparatively good knowledge of winds, currents, stars, and latitudes. The Portuguese knew, as did educated Europeans of the time, that the earth was not flat. When the Portuguese sailed abroad in the second half of the fifteenth century, they left an emerging modern European civilization which had almost a hundred universities; which had several hundred printing presses and some fifteen thousand book titles in circulation; which had cannons and body armor and gunpowder ; which used modern business methods such as checks, bills of exchange, insurance, and double-entry bookkeeping; which had mechanical clocks and precision instruments; which had harnessed the power of wind and water to grind grain, crush ore, mash pulp for paper, saw lumber and marble, and pump water; which had built Gothic cathedrals. This technical head start would soon produce a very large gap between Europe and the rest of the world. The enormous European lead is suggested by just a few European inventions and technological advances of the period, a list which could be vastly multiplied: the microscope (1590), the telescope (1608), the barometer (1643), the pendulum clock (1656), the thermometer (1714), the spinning jenny (1770), the steam engine (1781), vaccination (1796), the electric battery (1800). Essentially what happened, partly by historical accident, is that between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries, the most advanced civilization in the world crashed into the Reprinted with the permission of The Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, from THE END OF RACISM by Dinesh D'Souza. Copyright © 1995 by Dinesh D'Souza. Copyrighted Material 56 Dinesh D'Souza shores of sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas, two regions which were, by European standards , incomparably primitive. In many of the tribes of southern Africa and the Americas, the natives had no numbers that went beyond one or two. The Europeans, increasingly skeptical and rationalistic in their outlook, became disdainful of cultures that insisted upon patterning behavior on the miraculousness of everyday life: one could converse with rocks, daily events were controlled by ancestral spirits, dancing and shouting made it rain, diseases could be cured by wearing masks, women could give birth to animals, and so on. Southern Africa and the Americas were not the most primitive cultures in the world. Indeed between the sixth and the fifteenth centuries, Africa saw the rise of the kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai, which were large, rich in gold, and politically integrated. Foreigners frequently visited the trading centers of Benin and Kanem-Bornu. Undoubtedly it was a black African people who constructed the great monuments, including an ancient temple, in Zimbabwe. Parts of southern Africa enjoyed the benefits of Muslim literacy and learning. Ethiopia retained an ancient Christian civilization. In the Americas, the Maya, Inca, and Aztec civilizations were impressive for their sophisticated knowledge of the seasons and stars, an advanced calendar, elaborate techniques of weaving and ornamentation , and architectural brilliance that amazed the Spanish. Africa and the Americas were undoubtedly more developed than some of the monsoon forests of southeast Asia, some of the steppe and forest zones of northern Eurasia, and the islands off the coast of India and Australia, such as Tasmania and the Andaman and Nicobar islands, which were still in the paleolithic stage when Europeans arrived there in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. According to Robert Hughes in The Fatal Shore, before the Europeans arrived the aborigines of the Australias "had not invented the bow and arrow." Some tribes "had no conception of...