‘In no more than 500 words, after reading the following text, what 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 Benin people and the Western world. Firstly, we must look at the context in which the passage was written - which in itself can give us an insight of the author’s view (and therefore a British view) of Benin. It is an extract from ‘Benin. The City of Blood’ written in 1897. The author was Commander R H Bacon, an intelligence officer in the Royal Navy documenting an expedition to capture Benin. It was written for a wide audience aimed at the ‘book reading public’ (Woods/Mackie, Cultural Encountersp23). Despite the author stating his intentions in writing as being to merely document the details and events that took place, the sensationalist title of the book and the language used in this passage give us not only an unwitting glimpse of Bacon’s feelings towards his encounter but also makes us question the bias nature of the source.
From some of the emotive language within the text, we can see it was written by someone using typical racial stereotypes. Bacon refers to the architecture as ‘forbidding’, ‘straggled’, and ‘roughly’ decorated and the artefacts that were recovered as ‘cheap rubbish’ and ‘cheap finery’. The picture that he paints is of a primitive, backwards and savage people, who lacked the guidance of a more ‘civilized’ race. This would appear to reflect (and of course influence) the view of the British as a whole at this time.
However, Bacon does go on to state that whilst there was little of what the Western society would consider of value ‘silver there was none, and gold there was none’ he does describe the bronze plaques which were discovered merely ‘buried in the dirt of ages’ as examples of ‘superb casting’, ‘wonderful delicacy of detail’ and ‘magnificently carved tusks’. Perhaps suggesting that whilst the ‘natives’ were...
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