Noble Savages - June 07, 2011 (L05)

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8 Jun 2011

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Noble Savages
- “Noble savage is an European notion because it was conceived using Eurocentric views
oOriginated around the Renaissance period (14th 17th c.)
Cultural movement = Rebirth in the interest of Classical thinking, art, architecture,
etc. (Greek and Roman aesthetics, philosophies, etc.)
Dark and Middle Ages = periods in which the Catholic Churchs hegemony
squashed the Classical/Hellenistic culture of the ancient world
Europeans beginning to question again, figure out alternative ways of thinking about
things (i.e., deviating somewhat from Catholic way of thinking)
-Renaissance witnessed the evolution of the way people perceive the world
o1492 and forward, from the sailing of Columbus, the Europeans forced to conceptualize a
world that is bigger than they thought (esp. with the discovery of the New World with people
who live in a wholly different way)
oEuropeans were impressed because of the similarities between them and the occupants of
the newly discovered lands (taxation, ruling group, trade, etc.) but they were found lacking
because they were not organized in distinct societies like the Europeans
-Spanish to the west, the Portuguese to the south to Africa = continually found new people living so
differently from them
-This voyages resulted into a shift of European self-conception they are now wondering where to
place themselves within a world that is inhabited by others not like them
-Monogenist vs. Polygenist
oMono: all humans came from a single origin (Adam and Eve) created only once. Eden is
an historic place, the Bible is literally history. Problem = how did their descendants end up
living in many different places when they supposedly originated somewhere in the Middle
East? Also, if the Bible IS history, then that means the world is very young (ca. 6000-7000
years old).
oPoly: think that God probably made more than one kind of people that live apart, and look
different from each other (Thus, they eliminated the problem that plague the monogenists).
Their belief that god created different people led to the belief that they were also created for
different purposes. (Hamitic myth tie-in and a supporting reason for concept of White
E.g., Africans created to be labourers, Europeans created to be dominants
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- Monogenists tend to have more support because they stuck to the more popular view even though
they have to explain more (back in those times, people are highly religious, and the polygenists
way of thinking can get one arrested for heresy)
- Monogenists adapted the concept of Evolution because it explains why people were so different
oProcess of gradual, constant change that is progressive
oStill biologically similar, but it is social evolution that landed you at different stages of
-The three stages of development outlined by Social Evolution:
oSavagery, Barbarism, and Civilisation
-Through the application of reason (new ideas, tech, etc.), people progress from savagery to
-To determine what it means to be a savage, the Europeans, because they are civilised, listed the
characteristics that define them so, and deduced that without all of those things, they would be
savages, and with some, barbarians.
oThey did not have empirical data to prove their definition true all assumptions
-Supposedly according to the Europeans, savages lack these:
oMorals, king/gov’t, arts, occupation (official titles), traffic (shipping, trade, navigation),
agriculture and husbandry, wealth, law, labour, weapons, clothes,
-Define savagery according to Thomas Hobbes = life of a savage is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish
and short
oAllow Europeans to act towards natives in that supremacist way savages as inferior
oReason for a civilizing mission
-Define savagery from Rousseau = noble savage (coined term)
oLacking these things is paradise (Eden)
oAn Adam-and-Eve-like existence (no sin, innocent, no worries, well-taken care of)
oHis image tapped into our tendency to romanticized our past (golden age treatment)
simple, stable, less challenging
oAdam and Eve exemplify the lacks of civilization
oNoble savage lived in perfect harmony, not brutish or nasty
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