Learning Unit #03 LectureTampa Bay, FL, prior to Spanish contact “What is Civilization?”
“There are many humorous things in the world; among them the white mans notion that he is less savage than the other savages.” – Mark Twain
Civilization: A Working Definition ‘Ethnocentrism’ (see Learning UnitOne) has long been an occupational ‘blind spot’ for social scientists, who not that long ago were defining ‘civilization’ by Euro/Americanstandards & making value judgments condemning themany societies that much in a sense similar to the concept’sdid not measure up. original (French) meaning: A society’s ability Nowadays, to meet the challenge posed by its however, social environment & transform nature to its scientists think of purposes. Hence, there is not one standard ‘civilization’ very for ‘civilization’ but multiple ‘civilizations.’
People who try to define "civilization" often list writing as a necessary ingredient. Yet many societies of impressive achievement have successfully transmitted information & data in other ways, including by memory Sky Woman, and word of mouth. In painted in fact, it has been said 1936, illustrates a creation storythat "the epics of almost common to every literary tradition many Native American preserve echoes from cultures thatan age of oral tradition." also shares similarities with the Genesis account.
In his descriptionsof the New Worldsinhabitants,Columbus variouslydescribes themas timid & fearful butalso eager to giveup their valuables--freely or in trade--often to theirdisadvantage. Thisslide & the next showthe natives (Tainos)doing both when theymeet Columbus andthe Spanish.Like all nativepeoples of theAmericas, the throughout the Caribbean and had systems ofTainos had a governance and beliefs that maintained harmonyvital economic life. between human and natural environments. TheThey could trade Tainos enjoyed a peaceful way of life and could feed
several million people without permanently wearingdown their surroundings. They had successfullymet the challenge of adapting their environmentto their will, which many contemporary socialscientists regard as thetrue measure of‘civilization.’Landing of Columbus at the Island of Guanahani, West Indies, Oct. 12, 1492
[Caution: Eurocentric Propaganda! This slide and the nextthree demonstrate how social scientists measured the peoplesof the world against a Eurocentric standard in the 19th & early20th centuries. ] In the Americas—as in much of the modern world—native peoples & their systems of life have been put down & misunderstood by Europeans & their descendants. Europeans’ ethnocentric worldview regards Indians as "primitives," according to the old rule of "least advanced" to "most
[Caution: Eurocentric Propaganda] advanced“ imposed by the standard of Western Civilization. The more"primitive" a people, the lower the place they were assigned on the scale of "civilization." Such an idea is hostile to the natural world, & it came over
[Caution: Eurocentric Propaganda]to the Americas with Europeans of the time; some of whom even died rather than perform manual labor, particularly tilling of the soil! The production and harvesting of food from sea, land, & forests were
[Caution: Eurocentric Propaganda]honored human activities among Native Americans. The contrast is direct with the Spanish (& general Western-European) belief that to work with land or nature directly, as a farmer and/or harvester, is a lowly activity suitable for lesser humans & lower classes.
This engravingwas made c.1600. The figureon the left isAmerigoVespucci, theItalian explorer &mapmaker whoshowed thatChristopherColumbus hadfound not Asia buta ‘new’ continent,which was then The Latin inscription reads:named “America” "Amerigo discovered (or, more literally, undressed) America,in his honor. The and once called, thenceforth shefigure on the right will always be awake (or, more literally, excited.)”(naked in thehammock) is a woman. The two are of course having an imaginary encounterrepresentation of in this artist’s creation. In line with existing European practice in“America” (the the visual arts, the ‘new’ continent was often depicted as a‘New World’) woman & surrounded with creatures & objects seen as typicallypersonified as a ‘American’: small monkeys, tapirs, cannibal feasts, a war club, & a hammock.
Tales of cannibals in the Americas have been handed down as historical fact since the earliest accounts by Christopher Columbus. However, Columbus never met a cannibal, and no evidence exists to support the idea that there were Native Americans who preyed on other humans for protein. Ritualized cannibalism as a religious rite DID exist among a number of Native American communities, most notably the Aztecs of central Mexico whose The belief in widespread cannibalism in thepriests consumed some New World enabled Europeans to claim the moral right to conquer Native Americans and organ parts of define their status as less-than-human.
high-ranking sacrificial victims, believing that they were absorbing their life- force. Even today, Christians should be familiar with the idea of cannibalism as a religious rite because they metaphorically eat the flesh and drink theblood of the Savior when they take communion. Some Native Americans weredoing something they understood to be similar in their religious practices, only literally. In fact, the best documented cases of cannibalism in the New World all involve Europeans eating other Europeans due to being shipwrecked or living in colonial settlements where food has run out.
On the left is Chartres Cathedral,arguably the finest, mostadvanced building in Europe at thetime of first contact between theOld and New Worlds. Above is aview of the Aztec capitalTenochtitlan, its skyline dominatedby arguably the finest, mostadvanced building in the Americas,the Great Temple of Huitzilopochtli.
The Aztecs more advanced agricultural practices meant that fewer individuals were needed to work the land and thus enabled them to live in cities larger and more densely populated than any in Europe at that time.Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, as it probably looked at the timethe Spanish arrived in the fall of 1519.
These images depict a sacrificial victim having his heart torn out by the Aztecs in the name oftheir religion. For the Aztecs, this activity was notonly normal but absolutely necessary in order for the motions of the stars and planets to continue.
A scene from the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, (August 24, 1572) when 10,000French Protestants were murdered byFrench Catholics inthe streets of Paris. During the sametime that they were damning Mesoamerican religions as ‘savage,’ Europeans werekilling each other in the name of the Christian religion and rationalizing the blood spilled. A larger version of this image appears on the next slide. Hypocritical, to say the least.
St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, Catholics Killing Protestants, Paris, France 1572
These images offer conflicting interpretations that portray Native Americans for a European audience in opposing ways. The one on the left depicts Native Americans as victims of Spanish cruelties. The one below presents contrary evidence of Native American resistance and retaliation (pouring the molten gold so prized by the Spanish down their throats!). Given that cruelties were committed by both sides, however, there is no doubt that far moremurderous atrocities were committed by the Spanish against the Indiansthan vice versa, and such actions by the Indians might even be considered justifiable retribution, given the lethal nature of the Spanish (later European) threat.
Depicting anindividualstandingwith armsakimbo‘ toldEuropean artviewers thatthe subjectwas animportant,upper-classperson.Theseindividualsoccupiedsimilarsocialstations intheirrespectivesocieties.Europeansequatednakednesswith being sinful & uncivilized & covered themselvesaccordingly--even wearing wool in tropical climates--to distinguish themselves from the natives.