16th Century and Cross-cultural Encounters

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Part 1 - Option B

In no more than 500 words, after reading the following text, how can it tell us about cross-cultural encounters?


This piece of text can offer a great deal of information on cross-cultural encounters between the Western world and the Benin people. It is an entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica from the entry on 'Negro', published in 1910-1911. The author was T.A. Joyce, an Assistant in the Department of Ethnography at the British Museum, at the time of publication. It was written aimed for educated people.

Upon reading the text, we can clearly see it was written by someone using racial stereotypes. Joyce refers to the natives as 'impressionable', 'vain', with 'servant dog-like fidelity' and performing acts of 'singular atrocity' (Brown, Cultural Encounters, p81). The picture that he paints is of a primitive, backwards and savage people, who need the guidance of a more 'civilized' race. This was the view of quite a significant amount of people during the time this text was written, and it has only been in more recent times that this picture is changing.

However, he does sate that the natives surpassed the Europeans in their sense of hearing, sight, hearing and topography and that with training, they could become skilful craftsmen. He refers to the bronze castings and ivory cups and horns that were created 'after their intercourse with the Portuguese of the 16th century'. This states that the natives could only produce skilful works with European encouragement. Joyce uses the evidence of the decline in bronze-work after the 16th century as argument for this statement.

Joyce also states that '... when that intercourse was interrupted, shows that the native craftsman was raised for a moment above his normal level by direct inspiration'. From this, we can understand that Joyce claims that the natives were inferior to European craftsman by stating that their skills improved above their normal abilities due to the European...
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