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F I R S T I M P R E S S I O N S Initial English Confrontation with Africans WHEN THE ATLANTIC NATIONS OF EUROPE BEGANEXPANDING overseas in the sixteenth century, Portugal led the way in Africa and to the east while Spain founded a great empire in America. It was not until the reign of Elizabeth that Englishmen came to realize that overseas exploration and plantations could bring home wealth, power, glory, and fascinating information. By the early years of the seventeenth century Englishmen had developed a taste for empire and for tales of adventure and discovery. More than is usual in human affairs, one man, the great chronicler Richard Hakluyt, had roused enthusiasm for western planting and had stirred the nation with his monumental compilation, The Principal Navigations, Voyages , Traffiques and Discoveriesof the English Nation. Here was a work to widen a people's horizons. Its exhilarating accounts of voyages to all quarters of the globe (some by foreigners, in translation ) constituted a national hymn, a sermon, an adventure story, and a scientific treatise. It was these accounts, together with ones added during the first quarter of the seventeenth century by Hakluyt 's successor Samuel Purchas, which first acquainted Englishmen at home with the newly discovered lands of Africa. English voyagers did not touch upon the shores of West Africa until after 1550, nearly a century after Prince Henry the Navigator had mounted the sustained Portuguese thrust southward for a water passage to the Orient. Usually Englishmen came to Africa to trade goods with the natives; the principal hazards of these ventures proved to be climate, disease, and the jealous opposition of the "Portingals" who had long since entrenched themselves in forts along the coast. The earliest English descriptions of West Africa were written by adventurous traders, men who had no special interest in converting the natives or, except for the famous Hawkins [3] I [4] W H I T E O V E R B L A C K voyages, in otherwise laying hands on them. Extensive English participation in the slave trade did not develop until well into the seventeenth century. The first permanent English settlement on the African coast was at Kormantin in 1631, and the Royal African Company was not chartered for another forty years.1 Initially, therefore , English contact with Africans did not take place primarily in a context which prejudged the Negro as a slave, at least not as a slave of Englishmen. Rather, Englishmen met Negroes merely as another sort of men. Englishmen found the natives of Africa very different from themselves . Negroes looked different; their religion was un-Christian; their manner of living was anything but English; they seemed to be a particularly libidinous sort of people. All these clusters of perceptions were related to each other, though they may be spread apart for inspection, and they were related also to circumstancesof contact in Africa, to previously accumulated traditions concerning that strange and distant continent, and to certain special qualities of English societyon the eve of its expansion into the New World. 1. THE BLACKNESS WITHOUT The most arresting characteristic of the newly discovered African was his color. Travelers rarely failed to comment upon it; indeed when describing Negroes they frequently began with complexion and then moved on to dress (or rather lack of it) and manners. At Cape Verde, "These people are all blacke, and are called Negros, without any apparell, saving before their privities." 2 Robert Baker's narrative poem recounting his two voyages to the West African coast in 1562and 1563 first introduced the nativeswith these engaging lines: And entering in [a river], we see a number of blacke soules, 1. Kenneth G. Davies, The Royal African Company (London, 1957), 38-46; John W. Blake, trans, and ed., Europeans in West Africa, 1450-1560; Documents to Illustrate the Nature and Scope of Portuguese Enterprise in West Africa, the Abortive Attempt of Castilians to Create an Empire There, and the Early English Voyages to Barbary and Guinea (Works Issued by the Hakluyt Society, ad Ser., 87 [1942]), II, 254-60. 2. "The voyage made by M. John Hawkins . . . to the coast of Guinea and the Indies of Nova Hispania . . . 1564," in Richard Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation . . . , 12 vols., 1598 ed. (Glasgow, 1903-05), X, 15. See Katherine Beverly Oakes, Social Theory in the Early Literature of Voyage and Exploration in Africa (unpubl. Ph.D. diss., University of California...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469600765
Related ISBN
9780807834022
MARC Record
OCLC
861793501
Pages
696
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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