Who Are the Savages Here, Anyways?

Who Are the Savages Here, Anyways?

Examining our contribution to imperialism
11
views

Colonialism and imperialism partially stem from the desire to control territory and other people. External factors affect the origins of this endeavor, but often control is the underlying principle behind it. Why do some nations and empires decide to control others? By examining European colonists’ and imperialists’ attitudes from the fifteen-hundreds up until the end of the twentieth century, one can see the influence of Christianity, cultural chauvinism, economics, among others, on colonized and imperialized nations. This control over groups of people utilized various techniques such as forced conversion, violence, and exposure to opium. Above all, one type of success reigns supreme: the power of British culture. English is the language of commerce, Christianity remains the largest religion, and Shakespeare, the hallmark of Western culture, is taught in both the East and West as indication of how prominent the influence still is. This cultural influence remains and British colonies do not, which shows how colonialism and imperialism as an economic endeavor did not have a long term effect like it did as a cultural endeavor. Despite the long term success that colonialists and imperialists had with changing natives’ culture, this method is seen as more evil, futile, and extraneous than straight violence. The attitudes of Cortez, the Jesuits, Kipling, Farrell, Macaulay, and Conrad show how colonialism and imperialism fail in economic domination, succeed in cultural indoctrination, and ultimately create an evil worse than death.

In the sixteenth to seventeenth century, colonialism and imperialism focused on economic growth through exploitation of the natives and Christianization through conversion to Catholicism. Today, Christianity is the largest religion and Catholicism is the largest Christian denomination. This wide-spread influence stems from the way that conversion was dealt with in early colonialism. On one hand, Cortez the conquistador justifies his conquest by saying “And besides, we were only doing what as Christians we were under obligations to do, by warring against the enemies of our faith- by which means we secured to ourselves glory in another world…that they should also reflect that God was on our side” (Cortez). Essentially, what Cortez sets up is a two-fold idea that the Spanish have to bring Christianity to the natives because not only does the word need to be spread for the natives’ sake, but also to ensure salvation for the Spanish Christians. Additionally, a forced labor system known as encomienda arose under the pretense that in order to Christianize natives, their behavior had to be controlled. In other words, the Spanish had to find a way to justify cheap labor to make more money while sounding Christian. On the other hand, the Jesuits focused their efforts on Christianizing without an economic agenda. The Jesuits were encouraged to adapt to the natives’ culture in order to teach them more effectively (LeJeune). “Nevertheless, in the space of a few years about twelve thousands of them have been baptized,—most of whom, we hope, are now in Heaven, for having been most fervent and most constant in the Faith” reports Bressani in 1653 about the Jesuit’s success (Bressani). Despite the differing intentions that Cortez and the Jesuits had, both effectively caused a rise in Christianity. Both examples of this Christianization were done primarily in the name of God. Cortez killed many people, made natives slaves in everything excluding name, forced natives to convert to Christianity in the name of God. The Jesuits adapted to native culture and set up a bell system, regular mass, among other techniques to convert natives in the name of God. Whether through exploitation or sermonizing, Christianity played a huge role in early colonialism and imperialism as both a justification and a “necessity”.

Over time, Christianization shifts to a paternalistic attitude, hinting at cultural chauvinism. Much later, in 1899 Kipling penned the famous poem “White Man’s Burden”. The last stanza reads “Take up the White Man’s burden--/Have done with childish days--/The lightly proferred laurel,/The easy, ungrudged praise./Comes now, to search your manhood/Through all the thankless years/Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,/The judgment of your peers”. Christianity is not explicitly mentioned and one could argue that it is an implicit part of the poem. Whether or not Christianity is a part of the poem, the bigger idea that Kipling presents is a paternalistic attitude. Kipling portrays the “White Man” as the father to all of the natives, professing that colonialism and imperialism is a matter of manhood above all else. Furthermore, Kipling refers to the conquered natives as “half-devil and half-child”, echoing the father-son attitude and showing a new idea: superiority (Kipling). This idea of superiority is affirmed when Kipling writes “the blame of those ye better” (Kipling). For Kipling to make that conjecture, the underlying assumption is that there is something to better. At this point, colonialism and imperialism relied on controlling the lives of those who were conquered and that includes culture. Kipling shows how the British simply assumed that their culture was better and that their presence would provide betterment. The intrinsic quality of this idea shows how ingrained cultural chauvinism was in their own culture. The nature of the idea was so ordinary and common to them that it did not have to be defended.

Cultural chauvinism encouraged colonists and imperialists to disrespect, discount, and disdain native culture. Hari in Siege of Krishnapur takes Fleury on a tour of the Maharajah’s Palace, showing his own culture to Fleury. Fleury fancies himself a connoisseur of fine culture and is not impressed by Hari despite Hari’s ability to wield British technology better than people in the Residency and his collection of various rugs, parasols, and such. Hari, who tries to exist in both British and Indian culture, sharply remarks to Fleury that “I am very sad…that you, Fleury, should reveal yourself so frightfully backward” (Farrell 87). Hari wanted Fleury to validate his own culture and take interest, which Fleury did not do. Fleury frequently downplays Hari’s culture, which shows how Fleury does not care at all about what Indian culture is, he automatically thinks it is inferior and not worth learning about. To that point, Macaulay writes “And I certainly never met with any orientalist who ventured to maintain that the Arabic and Sanscrit poetry could be compared to that of the great European nations…all this historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit language is less valuable” (Macaulay). In sweeping generalizations and admissions of never having read anything in Sanscrit or Arabic, Macaulay literally says that their writing and culture is so inferior to European culture that it should not even be taught. Macaulay goes on to say “What we spend on the Arabic and Sanscrit Colleges is not merely a dead loss to the cause of truth. It is bounty-money paid to raise up champions of error” (Macaulay). Not only is non-European culture considered inferior, it is considered useless. Both Fleury and Macaulay think nothing of completely discounting someone else’s culture, which reflects the level of cultural chauvinism that Europeans, specifically Britons, had during this time.

Focus on cultural conversion led to emasculating criticism, which sparked a wholly economic type of imperialism and colonialism that championed money and materialism over human decency. Despite great cultural chauvinism, eventually focus on cultural conversion was considered futile because the natives were seen as so subhuman that they could not possibly take in “higher culture”. Dickens remarks “It is my opinion that if we retained in us anything of the noble savage, we could not get rid of it too soon” (Dickens). Gone is the Christian desire to convert, gone is the paternalistic desire to better, gone is the cultural chauvinist attitude to culturally convert, and here is the desire to rid the world of the “noble savage”. Not only is native culture seen as completely worthless at this point, the native or the “noble savage” is seen as completely worthless. Dickens harshly criticizes those who try to change the “noble savage”, saying that is a futile effort. By removing any sentimental, cultural connection with the colonized people, a new type of materialism is born- one without human decency. Marlow describes the atmosphere of those working in Africa as “The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it”, which shows the goal of their endeavor (Conrad 25). Marlow then narrates the cost of getting the ivory through a scene he relays “‘What a row the brute makes!’ said the indefatigable man with the moustaches, appearing near us. ‘Serves him right. Transgression- punishment- bang! Pitiless, pitiless. That’s the only way. This will prevent all conflagrations for the future’” (Conrad 27). Here, Conrad shows that when someone’s culture is discounted, all forms of violence taken against them, even for something as materialistic as ivory, are justifiable and not seen as flagrantly wrong. Arguably, in order to compensate for cultural conversion being considered a feminine idea, bouts of violence sprung up, no longer under the pretense of Christianization or paternalism, but for the purpose of making money. The colonists and imperialists consider the natives without morals and below civilization because of the way they live, but never consider how they will rape, pillage, and kill for kill for a sum of money (Dickens). Whatever semblance of a conscience that the colonists and imperialists have is shoved away, as seen by the Collector when says to Hari “You must forgive me for treating you so badly” (Conrad 135). The Collector is looking for justification for his actions and for someone to tell him that he can control people in this way if he can get money and power from it. The evolution of colonialism and imperialism sparks the idea that natives are subhuman and that actions taken against them do not matter in the long run.

By juxtaposing violence with full cultural conversion, it is plain to see that loss of identity is more impactful, evil, and disgusting than loss of life. The Collector keeps Hari in the tiger shed with a phrenology book while the Britons fight to defend the Residency (Farrell 190). The Collector removed Hari completely from his culture, his home and in turn, Hari loses his identity and falls under the European pseudo-science of phrenology. Farrell specifically chose for Hari to identify with phrenology because from a modern perspective, phrenology is absolutely absurd and it is painful to see Hari in this state. Farrell sets the novel up to have the reader sympathize with Hari, especially when Fleury berates his culture. Hari’s loss of identity is a blow more devastating than the descriptions of warfare going on outside. “Indeed, all the sepoys had vanished by now or were lying dead or mortally wounded” describes the close of a battle scene (Farrell 200). Much of the violence and death is purposefully desensitized in attempt to mimic what the British thought of their killing. The sepoys are almost always described either as faceless bodies or sepoys, seldom if ever are their expressions described. As an audience, Farrell does not set us up to feel sympathetic towards those dying, but rather towards those dying. This principle can be applied to life too. Farrell argues that those who die rather than live to lose their culture are not to be pitied. Living with a new culture perpetuates the culture. It is people like Hari, changed forever by the British, who stick with British culture and inevitably spread it. The generations of colonized people do not have a choice in whether they perpetuate British culture because the culture was pressed, whether directly or indirectly, on them. Their lives are changed forever and what makes it disgusting is that they did not have a choice and that they still have to live through it.

Colonialism and imperialism bring up many moral dilemmas about how much control if any is acceptable. The British exhausted many methods of control and ended up being successful on many fronts. The absolute shame about this success is how long it takes to undo change. Will English not be the language of commerce? Will other religions balance out Christianity? Will Shakespeare ever leave bookshelves? Will Western influence ever fade or is it because of cruelty, violence, ruthlessness, and malice that it will still pervade every area of the world that was colonized by Europeans at one point? Many of the authors discussed in this paper argued that we cannot lose British and European culture for the sake of maintaining civilization. Now we know that we cannot lose any culture for the sake of maintaining civilization, but did European colonists and imperialists make it so we have already lost too much of other civilization’s culture that we cannot gain it back? This paper is primarily a literary analysis, but it also serves the function of raising the fundamental question: what are we doing that destroys other people’s cultures? Ultimately, we are all colonists and imperialists in some way, shape or form, and if we minimize our destruction, we will maximize human decency. Reflect on what happened to Hari, reflect on how impossible it is to regain culture, and reflect on how easy it is to descend into the heart of darkness. Lastly, remember that change and death are both permanent, but one you have to live with and the other, you do not.

Cover Image Credit: Penguin Publishing

Popular Right Now

30 Things I'd Rather Be Than 'Pretty'

Because "pretty" is so overrated.
45403
views

Nowadays, we put so much emphasis on our looks. We focus so much on the outside that we forget to really focus on what matters. I was inspired by a list that I found online of "Things I Would Rather Be Called Instead Of Pretty," so I made my own version. Here is a list of things that I would rather be than "pretty."

1. Captivating

I want one glance at me to completely steal your breath away.

2. Magnetic

I want people to feel drawn to me. I want something to be different about me that people recognize at first glance.

3. Raw

I want to be real. Vulnerable. Completely, genuinely myself.

4. Intoxicating

..and I want you addicted.

5. Humble

I want to recognize my abilities, but not be boastful or proud.

6. Exemplary

I want to stand out.

7. Loyal

I want to pride myself on sticking out the storm.

8. Fascinating

I want you to be hanging on every word I say.

9. Empathetic

I want to be able to feel your pain, so that I can help you heal.

10. Vivacious

I want to be the life of the party.

11. Reckless

I want to be crazy. Thrilling. Unpredictable. I want to keep you guessing, keep your heart pounding, and your blood rushing.

12. Philanthropic

I want to give.

13. Philosophical

I want to ask the tough questions that get you thinking about the purpose of our beating hearts.

14. Loving

When my name is spoken, I want my tenderness to come to mind.

15. Quaintrelle

I want my passion to ooze out of me.

16. Belesprit

I want to be quick. Witty. Always on my toes.

17. Conscientious

I want to always be thinking of others.

18. Passionate

...and I want people to know what my passions are.

19. Alluring

I want to be a woman who draws people in.

20. Kind

Simply put, I want to be pleasant and kind.

21. Selcouth

Even if you've known me your whole life, I want strange, yet marvelous. Rare and wondrous.

22. Pierian

From the way I move to the way I speak, I want to be poetic.

23. Esoteric

Do not mistake this. I do not want to be misunderstood. But rather I'd like to keep my circle small and close. I don't want to be an average, everyday person.

24. Authentic

I don't want anyone to ever question whether I am being genuine or telling the truth.

25. Novaturient

..about my own life. I never want to settle for good enough. Instead I always want to seek to make a positive change.

26. Observant

I want to take all of life in.

27. Peart

I want to be honestly in good spirits at all times.

28. Romantic

Sure, I want to be a little old school in this sense.

29. Elysian

I want to give you the same feeling that you get in paradise.

30. Curious

And I never want to stop searching for answers.
Cover Image Credit: Favim

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

To The Generation That Might Not Care, A Green New Deal Is Crucial

Take care of our planet and our future.

908
views

The reality of climate change and method to address the issue has been a source of contention in the United States for far too long. While Republicans trail behind Democrats a great deal in the percentage who believe long-term, irreversible climate change is a real problem, an equally if not more important gap to acknowledge is that between generations.

A universally taught science concept in elementary school is the difference between weather and climate. Weather is the day-to-day condition of the atmosphere — rainy, sunny, etc. Climate is the weather of a particular geographic location over a long period of time. The weather in an area may be snowy on a particular January day but might overall have a warm climate (Trump has yet to learn this concept).

The gap between generational support for not only believing in the reality of climate change but if the government should take steps to prevent further harm on our planet is apparent. A few reasons that older generations may not support aggressive climate change policies are that many are not going to see the lasting impact of their harmful actions, may not want to acknowledge that their way of life for a majority of their life was detrimental to the environment, or that they simply do not think it is the government's role to further regulate current practices and lifestyles in the name of the environment (an argument supported by many conservatives).

Data For Progress

The "Green New Deal," proposed earlier this month by Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward Markey is mainly a list of ideas and goals rather than a carefully laid-out plan, though aims to eliminate greenhouse emissions through the creation of millions of jobs in the renewable energy industry, moving toward public ownership (a major source of disagreement among Republicans and Democrats), and much more. This plan is a comprehensive overview of many sources of environmental degradation that our nation has not addressed, despite the majority of the nation believing the climate change is a real issue.

There will undoubtedly be a major shift in the operations of many companies due to aggressive climate change policies, which could have been avoided at a drastic level if our nation had chosen to make climate change prevention a priority. Unfortunately, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global temperatures will rise to an irreversible level in 12 years if the United States and other countries that greatly contribute to rising temperatures do not take action. A sense of urgency has been lacking for far too long is crucial.

Written into the recently proposed Green New Deal is a section detailing how it will attempt to remedy the inequality of those most directly impacted by climate change. Vulnerable communities, particularly communities of color, are not seeing an equitable distribution in disaster funding to prevent damage inflicted by the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters that have resulted as an increase in rising global temperatures — Which, regardless of your age, should be a glaring flaw in our current system.

I personally doubt that the entirety of the recently proposed Green New Deal will be enacted, however, I believe that anyone who values the quality of human life, clean air, clean water, food sources, for not just those in the United States, but around the world, should be supportive of a Green New Deal.

Related Content

Facebook Comments