Thursday, 17 October 2013
Blog Week 4
“The next day there came unto us divers boates, and in one of them the Kings brother, accompanied with fortie or fiftie men, very handsome and goodly people, and in their behaviour as mannerly and civill as any of Europe. His name was Granganimeo, and the king is called Wingina, the country Wingandacoa, and now by her Majestie Virginia. The maner of his comming was in this sort: hee left his boates altogether as the first man did a little from the shippes by the shore, and came along to the place over against the ships, followed with fortie men. When he came to the place over against the ships, followed with fortie men. When he came to the place, his servants spread a long matte upon the ground, on which he sate downe, and at the other ende of the matte foure others of his companie did the like, the rest of his men stood round about him, somewhat a farre off: when we came to the shore to him with our weapons, hee never mooved from his place, nor any of the other foure, nor never mistrusted any harme to be offred from us, but sitting still he beckoned us to come and sit by him, which we performed: and being set hee made all signes of joy and welcome, striking on his head and his breast and afterwardes on ours, to shewe wee were all one, smiling and making shewe the best he could of all love, and familiaritie. After hee had made a long speech unto us, wee presented him with divers things, which hee received very joyfully, and thankefully. None of the company durst speake one worde all the time: onely the foure which were at the other ende, spake one in the others eare very softly”
This extract is taken from the report to Sir Walter Raleigh, a leading figure at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, by two of his followers, Captain M. Philip Amadas and M. Arthur Barlowe, who explored parts of Virginia in 1584. It describes how following their encounter with three Native Americans the previous day, the brother of the King of their tribe visited their ships the next day bringing with him around 40 to 50 men. It is important as a first hand account of early contact between Europeans and Native Americans in the area, as well as providing an insight into the lives and traditions of its original inhabitants before their exposure to outside pressures.
The first part of the extract that needs highlighting is the statement by the Englishmen that the behaviour of the Native Americans was as “mannerly and civill as any of Europe”. This I believe significant as a lot of popular western history often portrays Native Americans as primitive people, as savages in need of being taught the basics of civilization. However, if we are to believe this extract, in the eyes of the two Captains the native people were nothing of the sort and were in fact no different in essentials to Europeans in terms of proper manners and politeness (the meaning of “civill”), suggesting that Europeans had a higher opinion of native Americans when they were interested in trading with them rather than taking their land.
Also interesting is the part that says, “When he came to the place, his servants spread a long matte upon the ground, on which he sate downe, and at the other ende of the matte foure others of his companie did the like, the rest of his men stood round about him, somewhat a farre off”. This is important in suggesting that indigenous peoples had a system of government that was similar in some ways to monarchies in Europe at the time, where King or Queens and their close relatives were revered and treated with the utmost respect, as seen by how the royal brother had servants roll out a mat on the ground for him, while most of the others kept a respectful distance.
In the light of subsequent clashes between English settlers and the native peoples, it is interesting to read that “when we came to the shore to him with our weapons hee never mooved from his place, nor any of the other foure, nor never mistrusted any harme to be offred from us… smiling and making shewe the best he could of all love, and familiaritie.” This again dispels any notion that the Native Americans were savages who enjoyed warfare and killing, and who had no idea about how to treat strangers. Instead it clearly depicts a Native American leader as someone trying his best to try and make the Europeans welcome, and being genuinely hospitable. It also provides a possible insight into why they were often overwhelmed by Europeans who took their lands and made them slaves, as the passage depicts them as people who too easily trusted others, suggesting that they could easily be manipulated. But we should note that these were the earliest contacts between the indigenous peoples of this area and the English, and that as yet there were few reasons for them to mistrust the newcomers. They did not yet understand that they were seeing the beginning of a process that would expose them to diseases to which they had no resistance, to unknown problems like alcohol, and to a European thirst for land that would lead them to be dispossessed of all they had.
But we do have to ask whether this report is accurate or not. It would have been in the interest of Amadas and Barlowe to make their expedition seem as successful as possible, and to suggest that they had been made so welcome that trade and other possibilities could follow without the need for costly fighting. Raleigh may even have wanted this kind of report to show the Queen how well he had been trying to advance his country’s interests.
“First Hand Accounts of Virginia, 1575-1705”pp 300, Project, University of Virginia, 2000, < http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/jamestown-browse?id=J1014> accessed 15 October 2013