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Indians and Europeans - Contact/relationship Between

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Autor:   •  March 1, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  2,531 Words (11 Pages)  •  2,645 Views

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The geographical separation of the European and Indian settlements fostered their early societies to grow up drastically different to one another. When contact was finally made, inevitable misunderstanding followed, sprung from their individually formed world views. The Indians were initially seen as savages by the Europeans due to their apparent primitive practices, and many missionaries made it their concern to civilise them into something closer to their European ideal. Bruce Beresford's film Black Robe helps visually illustrate the difficulty of doing so and depicts some consequences that following such a 'civilising' attempt by a Jesuit, Father Laforgue or 'Black Robe'. Problems arose however mainly due to the obvious cultural clash between the two; their differences of views seem to have been too great to coexist together and remain unaltered. The Indian culture is shown to suffer the most detriment from contact with the whites: European trade contact caused problems by encouraging Indian dependency and abuse on their goods; views and practices on religion were so different that European missionaries' attempts to convert the Indians to their Christianity often failed, and those converted only divided the community and weakened the fabric of Indian culture; and finally, communication between the two was thick with misunderstanding, and the attempt by the Europeans to 'correct' the Indians with literacy and the written word only wore away at their traditional customs and identity.

Upon contact between the Europeans and the Indians, communication methods proved to be greatly different, leaving plenty of room for misinterpretation and misunderstanding. The first record of contact between the Europeans and the Indians of pre-British Columbia was recorded in July 1774 in the journals of two Franciscan friars, Thomas de la Pena and Juan Crespi, who were aboard the Santiago. A group of native Haida paddled out to the ship and threw feathers all about over the water. Although meaning could in this case be presumed as peaceful, as it was, the ambiguity within each side's communication was ever-present and loomed over negotiations and interaction, allowing room for doubt and suspicion. In Black Robe, Father Laforgue introduces the Indians to the written word by an example of a written message that is able to be relayed to another without the use of voice. The Indians were amazed, yet fearful; they claimed that he must be a demon. The sign language such as the feathers on the water was not used for the European's sake and to aid their lack of understanding, it was used throughout their people as well; speaking was reserved for comfortable situations where the relationship is established and understood. In Black Robe, when the Indian Chief is introduced to Black Robe, he remains silent but gestures his cooperation with a firm hug. Silent exchanges often took place between the two peoples and the Indian were often noted as being faithful to their pledged word, even to his own detriment. In the film, the Indian Chief pledged that he would deliver Black Robe to the Huron village, and although he initially abandons him upon suspicion of his identity as a demon, he returns to keep his word, resigning that: "I may be stupid, but I agreed to take them to the Huron mission."

Communicative learning for the European most often would be individual by the use of literacy and books- wherein the author was detached from the reader, the distance allowing objective, colder views on the subject. The availability of books ruled out the importance of remembrance; there was no urgency or immediate need to memorise as it could be 'looked up' at a time when convenient. Wilcome E. Washburn, author of The Indian in America explains that the 'the white world view is visual rather than oral, static rather than dynamic, abstract rather than eventful.' The native Indians therefore were oral, dynamic and eventful, learning through group communication which bound together their internal social structure. Story-tellers were very much a part of the content, their deliverance inspiring empathy, emotion and closeness. The very fact that nothing was written down but all remembered emphasises the importance placed on this oral tradition. The Europeans, however, saw oral tradition as primitive and took steps to 'correct' their practice of communication, sometimes being severely understood by the natives. Black Robe in the film introduces them to the written word by an example of a letter and the message that is able to be relayed to his assistant without the use of voice. The Indians were amazed, yet fearful; claiming that he must be a demon. The conflict of communication between the two peoples resulted in continual misunderstanding and tragedy, from both the inability to understand the other parties view. Oral tradition is what encouraged community and fostered the respect of elders and the pride in one's culture. With the introduction of literacy, the need of remembrance and thus the importance of oral tradition declined, degrading a large part of the social fabric of the Indians.

By observing the Indian's lack of written record, the Early European explorers assumed they lived by no religious code or law. This was not the case, however; the Indian's religious foundation was strongly influenced by nature and dreaming. A Seneca Jesuit missionary in the seventeenth century complained that the Indians have 'only a single divinity - the dream. To it they render their submission, and follow its orders with the utmost exactness'. The dream as an unconscious force within the Indian acted to link man with the higher power and larger force of the universe. In the film Black Robe, the Algonquin chief is shown to have a reoccurring dream of what turns out to be images seen at his death and beyond. As he lay dying, his instruction to his daughter was understood: to be left alone and Black Robe to be journey onward alone. The importance to obey the dream's 'wishes' is described earlier in the film by the Algonquin guides as 'more real than death or battle' and that it 'must be understood and obeyed.'

Contrastingly, the ruling religion of the European missionaries were for men to understand and obey God and his Word, the Bible, and Black Robe in the film remarks tiresomely about the Indian's stubborn idea of the dream being real and the seen-world as just an illusion. Previously it is made known that the Indians had been instructed by Black Robe to give up the dream as a spiritual guide, to only have one wife and to stop killing their enemies. The Huron Chief however, complained that: "If we obey... we will no longer be Hurons. And soon our enemies will know our weakness and wipe us from


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