29 April 2007

that's delicious ethno-centrism

Oh, the Portuguese. This is a lovely, typical White Man's account of a primitive people. Case in point: "the people of Europe have the advantage of them in colour but not in other things" (57) -- obviously the statement of a man (and product of a culture) who considers himself fundamentally superior to anyone who looks different.

There's more, too. Everything about what he says makes the Ethiopians seem unbearably primitive. For example, he describes in great detail the clothing of the poorest people, and the ridiculous attention "they" lavish on their hair. I especially enjoyed his long tirade about circumcision, and how (he explains) they just sort of, you know, do it because they didn't see a reason to stop, and not because they actually think it's valuable.

Overall, the whole tone of the piece imparts a real sense of disdain -- and I laughed out loud when he actually said it on p. 84!! Not outright, of course (he dodges it a bit), but it's obvious without being quotable.

In a very general sense, I feel like this is a totally natural human reaction, though it's far from commendable. We mentioned in the beginning of the term that religion can be used to impart a sense of group identity -- in this case, many of the "primitives" are actually of the same religion, so it can't be used to divide. Then other factors have to be used, and color is the obvious one. But even beyond that, it seems to me like the author really goes out of his way to emphasize (particularly through the dry narrative style) that though these people are technically Christian, they're still really just despicable heathens to his superior European eyes.

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