‘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 clearly skilful they lacked the knowledge to understand the value of their possessions, (at least to the Western world. Bacon also suggests in his mention of ‘Egyptian design’ and ‘Chinese work’ that he suspects influences from these other civilisations which we know were seen by the British in the early Nineteenth century as primitive and barbaric. These lines in the text are important in cross-cultural encounters as it clearly tells the reader about the early 20th century British attitude towards Africa. My definition of a cross-cultural encounter is that it can provide an opportunity for growth by placing a civilisation in a situation where our understanding of ourselves and the world, and of how we believe things “are” or “should be,” is challenged.
Bacon, it appears is limited to the confines of his own conditioning, and views Benin through his limited mindset, but this is probably due to the British Empire legitimizing its actions. On face value, we can see the typical Victorian racial stereotyping in the text. However, once you read past this, look at what the source is unwittingly telling us, and put the text into context, it does provide some valuable insight to the British views on the African people and the cross-cultural encounters between Britain and Africa at the time it was written. Word Count: 519 Bibliography