The Myth of the Noble Savage

Although most academic books and even standardized textbooks for American “students” in public schools no longer explicitly condescend to minorities in this country, there is a certain sense of condescension that still underlies the Left’s rhetoric when it comes to non-European peoples. Jacques Delacroix has given as good an explanation as any, so I’ll just outsource to him on that question, but what I’d like to do is highlight just how much human beings have in common.

When I was in Santa Cruz I found a fairly rare book that I had been looking for forever in one of that wonderful town’s many used bookstores, and it hasn’t disappointed. From Daniel K. Richter’s book The Ordeal of the Longhouse, a book about the Iroquois confederacy and how it dealt with the European factions that arrived in the Americas :

“[…] Champlain and a handful of French musketeers accompanied an army of Algonquins and Montagnais to somewhere near Ticonderoga, north of present-day Albany, to do battle with his native allies’ enemies, the Mohawks.  That hostile encounter was probably the first time [1609] an Iroquois had laid eyes on a European, but it certainly would not be the last (51).”

The French soldiers were essentially mercenaries at this point in time, and albeit mercenaries that had the blessing of the Crown.  Further along in the book, Richter writes on Iroquois slavery practices:

“[…] captives embarked on a period of probation […] during which new relatives and fellow villagers judged whether they had truly become Iroquois.  If an adoptee made every effort to assimilate, life could be good […] seventeenth-century Euro-Americans referred to […] captives as ‘slaves’, a word they used generally to describe all prisoners of war.  Like all villagers, adoptees performed labors from which others reciprocally profited.  And, like all slaves ghroughout human history, adoptees had experienced the ‘social death’ that ended their former lives and left their continued existence utterly dependent on the will of their captors […] ‘slaves’ were adoptees who were not measuring up and whose relatives assigned them the most menial tasks as punishments […] (69).”

I need to do a little more research on this, but slavery as we think of it nowadays (brutal and morally repugnant) was actually introduced into the world only at the beginning of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Prior to that horrific time period, most slaves – in all societies throughout the world – had legal rights and duties.  Weird, huh?  One more from Richter’s great book:

“Initially […] many of the domestic changes wrought by the trade occurred not only comfortably but with no ill effects that a reasonably observant person could have perceived.  Indeed, for the Iroquois, as for Europeans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, contact with a new world across the Atlantic brought great economic and cultural enrichment.  Had it not been for the horrors of epidemics and the ravages of increasingly dysfunctional warfare, the Age of Discovery might well have been a golden epoch for the Five Nations […] before the second decade of the seventeenth century, trade goods were more often treated as raw materials for native crafts than as completed products […] uses of trade goods for purposes their European makers could not have imagined demonstrate far more the persistence of old modes of material life than the creation of new ones […] as a semiregular Dutch presence on the upper Hudson made European goods vastly more plentiful, the reworking of European imports continued, but more items […] were used for purposes resembling the intentions of their makers.  Still, the phenomenon of material evolution rather than revolution persisted(76-79).”

Essentially, when new goods arrived in Europe and the Americas, there was a demand for them. Guns and steel for the Iroquois, food and furs for the Europeans. The Indians of the Americas didn’t try to resist all of the goods being brought to their lands by European traders. In fact, they wanted as many goods from Europeans as they could get.

What they fought against was political domination, not some esoteric myth of economic subordination constructed by ultra Left-wing academics.

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