October 9, 2013

“But even so, the idea that Hawaiians saw Cook as a God has ended up in a good many accounts of his demise. Why? Well one explanation is that it fits in with other stories of explorers. You’ve all probably heard that Tainos thought Columbus was a God and that the Aztecs supposedly thought Cortes was a God. And this just makes Captain Cook one in a long line of Europeans who were thought to be Gods by people who Europeans felt were savages. And making Cook a God also sets up a stark contrast between the Enlightened West and Primivtive Polynesia, because Captain Cook often appears in history books as a model man of the Enlightenment.  …  having him die at the hands of a people who were so obviously mistaken in thinking him a God make an argument for the superiority over the intellectualism of the Enlightenment verus the so called “Primitive Religion” of the colonies. But whenever a story seems to fit really well into such a framework, we need to ask ourselves, “Who’s telling that story?”

Very often in history, we make statements about people who haven’t written their own story. Whether it’s Hawaiians or Native Americans or working class people. And we try to imagine that we’re seeing the world as they have seen it. But the best we can really do is offer an approximation. So is it really possible to present a Hawaiian version of Captain Cook’s death? Or is the exercise inherently condescending and paternalistic? And most importantly, is our inability to escape our biases a good excuse for not even trying? As usual, those aren’t rhetorical questions.”

John Green – Crash Course World History #27  (Emphasis mine)


Great quote. As human beings we have bias for our worldview, our reality, our truths, everywhere in our lives – from the vast expanse of history to our daily interpretations.   Knowing it, embracing it, and accounting and compensating for it is the pathway to minimizing its deleterious impacts.

One comment

  1. Or maybe they just though they had to kill a God for the good of the world. Something you should think about in my Campaign ;)

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