Replying to Nestor and more Marxist Pedagogy was on Brazilianindigenes

Gary MacLennan g.maclennan at
Fri May 25 17:18:48 MDT 2001


Because of my French and Latin studies I can already read Spanish to about
60-70% level. I simply just have to do the hard work to get it up to a
higher level.

God knows I would love to arrange a visit for you here.  But I am
struggling at present to get the university to fund myself for a trip to
Denmark for the Bhaskar conference. Such are the joys of being at the very
bottom of the pile.  But I will continue such complaining off list.

I have appended below a  copy of the email I sent my students on this
topic.  It contains the passage (again), what I call a checklist to guide
their critical reading and then my commentary on the passage from the
missionary's book.  It is an ill favoured thing but mine own.  I have
hesitated though to bother this list with what I teach because the list
fairly bristles with genius.

(I am not sure at all of the formatting thing.  That is simply beyond me.
It looks alright though on my computer. I beg Lou's forgiveness however if
it is unreadable.)

warmest of regards


                     Heading: Breaking out of the Eurocentric mindset
                     Added By: Gary MacLennan     g.maclennan at
                     Date: Fri, May 25 2001

                     Dear Students,

                     The argument behind the last lecture is that those of
us born in
                     Western Countries read texts from a Eurocentric point
of view. The
                     aim of the check list and the lecture is to help you
to break with
                     Eurocentric ways of approaching texts. By Eurocentric
here I wish
                     to mean primarily the core white nations of the world,
                     Europe of course but also the United States, Australia and

                     Consider the following text. It is an excerpt from
                     Cunningham's Under a Thatched Roof in a Brazilian
Jungle: A
                     missionary Story, Toronto: Evangelical Publishers,
1947: 86-7.

                     Cunningham describes how a group of indigenous women
came to
                     her house for a women's meeting and to sing hymns


                     One of the old men said, "I am going along to see what
they [the
                     women] do and to hear what is said." He sat on a bench
by the
                     door and punctuated the lesson with his ejaculations and
                     comments. Much to my disappointment one of the warriors
                     sprawled himself out on the meeting-room table to
listen, insolent
                     to our remonstrations. His latest girl-wife, about
nine years of age,
                     was younger than his own small daughter who sat next
to her on the

                     Two of the women brought dresses, which had been given
to them.
                     We suggested that they put them on before the singing
of the first

                     "You've got the dress on backside foremost," commented
the old
                     man, "hurry up and put it on right."

                     When the change had been effected one showed great
                     "How can I sit down with this dress on?" The other
proceeded to
                     demonstrate the correct method, lifting the skirt up
to the waist
                     before sitting reluctantly on one of the benches…

                     They listened with interest to the Creation story,
even though
                     half-way through the lesson baked potatoes were
produced out of
                     their gourds which they ate blissfully, throwing the
skins on the
                     floor. The undesired meeting concluded after all the
hymns had been
                     sung, some of them over and over again. The old man
                     that the meeting had been good and the audience all
                     that they be given some grated manioc root as payment
for having
                     come and listened!.

                     "Is it all right to take our dress off now?" asked the
two clothed
                     women. "What don't you keep them on and wear them all
the time
                     like I do?" I suggested.

                     They hung their heads. "We Indian women don't decorate
                     ourselves with clothes like you do. We decorate
ourselves with
                     paint. We are ashamed to have other see us in these
                     clothes. Well take them off now and keep them safely
and bring
                     them with us the next time we come to sing." They
struggled out of
                     their "strange decoration" (as they termed the
frocks), and carried
                     them away in their arms.

                     That they enjoyed the meetings one could not doubt,
but what new
                     thing had penetrated hear or even head we could only
wonder, and
                     trust that something might have done so. The spirit
world was real
                     to them; but it was the world of evil spirits who came
to terrify them
                     at night with strange noises, to chase them when
someone died,
                     even to kill them by strange diseases and maladies.
They have no
                     word for peace, pardon, love or salvation, and no
                     of their need of a Saviour. Brazilians call these
creatures animals.
                     Can it be that Christ's salvation is for such a people.

                     Ok so let us now go to our check list and see if it
helps us:

                     A multi-ethnic/cultural approach.

                     1 Is there more than one ethnic grouping within the text?

                     2. If the answer is 'no' next ask

                     a] What is the basis for this absence? b] Is the
society, within which
                     the text is set, genuinely mono-cultural or does the
author not wish
                     to acknowledge the multi-cultural nature of the society.

                     3. If the answer is "Yes there is a number of ethnic
                     represented within the text next ask

                     a] What is the nature of the relationships between the
                     ethnic groupings? b] What transactions take place
between the
                     ethnic groupings? c] What is the division of roles
between the
                     ethnic groupings? d] What languages/dialects are
                     within the text? e] Is any one language/dialect/accent
regarded as
                     a source of humour, amusement, derision or anger? g]
What is the
                     ethnic position of the author in the text? Think of
this of the point
                     of view from which the text is written. Does the text
take the point of
                     view of one particular ethnic grouping? h] What
attitudes does the
                     author in the text display towards those characters
display towards
                     those characters from a different ethnic background?
i] If the author
                     displays an attitude of superiority, ask what is the
basis for this
                     superiority. ii] If the author of the text presents an
attitude where
                     all ethnic groupings appear equal, ask yourself is
this an accurate
                     reflection of the position in the world outside the
text, or is it an
                     attempt to evade the whole question of racial tension
or racial
                     prejudice? iii] If the author displays an inferior
attitude towards a
                     particular ethnic grouping, ask whether this
inferiority is based
                     within the ideology of Romanticism.


                     It is obvious that there is more than one ethnic
grouping here.
                     There are the Canadian missionaries and the Cayapo
women and
                     men, so we now proceed to 3 and try to work out which
of these
                     questions are most relevant to our purposes. Three d &
three e do
                     not appear very relevant because the remarks of the Cayapo
                     women are either translated or presented as if they
spoke English.
                     I would also argue that hi and hii are irrelevant to
our analysis as
                     the author clearly does not treat the Cayapo as her
equal, and
                     certainly does not regard them as her superior. We can
see this
                     most clearly when she says, without apparent surprise or
                     disapproval, "Brazilians call these creatures
animals". She also
                     wonders out loud if they can be saved when she says,
"Can it be
                     that Christ's salvation is for such a people?"

                     (Note here that I made an assertion about the text and
then I quoted
                     from the text to prove what I said. That is the
correct way to

                     So we will continue our analysis utilising three a, b,
c, g and hi.

                     The nature of the relationship.

                     Though it is not stated directly in the above passage
on can infer
                     that the relationship is that between a missionary and
people she
                     is hoping to "save". We might pause a while to
consider that apart
                     from suspecting that they are not worthy or capable of
                     what attitude is betrayed here by the author. What
right does she
                     have to take upon herself the task of "saving" people?
                     what does it mean for a people to be regarded as
damned and in
                     need of saving. I would suggest that it is not an
exaggeration to say
                     that it is very dangerous for a people to be regarded
as damned
                     and possibly incapable of salvation.

                     Another aspect of the relationship that is worth
noting that this
                     meeting is taking place on the territory of the
Cayapo. the
                     missionary is the stranger here but she acts as if she
has a right to
                     comment on and judge. Moreover in the case of the
dresses, the
                     author seems to feel free to try and change the
cultural customs of
                     the Cayapos.

                     Transactions and roles

                     The main actions performed here are singing, eating,
taking leave
                     and putting on and taking off dresses. Most of these
actions are
                     performed buy the Indians we are not told exactly what the
                     missionary does except to urge the women to stay
dressed. so we
                     can guess from the detail in the text that the role of
the Cayapo is to
                     perform for the author.

                     The ethnic position and attitudes of the author in the

                     The text is written from a very white centred view of
the world.
                     Eurocentric does not quite fit here as she is
Canadian, but that is
                     not overly important. The significant point is that
for the author her
                     culture is correct and every departure from it
represents damnable
                     deviance. She displays an attitude which veers between
                     patronising and downright hostility to the indigenous
people. Thus
                     she describes the husband as "insolent" and is shocked
by both
                     the fact of his polygamy and the age of his bride. The
episode with
                     regard to the dresses is patronising in the extreme.
The fact that
                     she wants the women to wear dresses shows a total
absence of
                     cultural sensitivity. She feels she is correct and the
native women
                     are wrong for not dressing as she does. So, to repeat,
this text is
                     written from the standpoint of the White person. Her
                     attitudes and prejudices are regarded by herself as
the norm and
                     everything that departs from them is barbarous.

                     The basis for her superiority.

                     Clearly Mrs Cunningham sees herself as superior. The
basis of this
                     superiority would appear to be two fold. She is
civilised in that she
                     wears a dress and presumably does not throw the peel
form the
                     potatoes she eats on the floor. More importantly
perhaps for Mrs
                     Cunningham is that she is saved while the Cayapo are
                     close to lost. their immortal souls are in danger and
it is just their
                     good luck that she has traveled thousands of miles up
the jungle to
                     save them for everlasting damnation.


                     There is much that could be said about Mrs
Cunningham's attitude
                     but we will confine ourselves here to pointing out
that we have
                     demonstrated that hers is an absolutist and
Eurocentric view of the
                     world. She is correct and the people she comes into
contact with are
                     wrong. They must change and adapt the customs of Mrs
                     Their fate is truly terrible if they do not. We might
pause again to
                     consider what it must be like to live in a land where
one's own
                     people have been for thousands and thousands of years
and to be
                     regarded by the newcomers as either "animals" or
potentially lost
                     souls. God help the Cayapo indeed.

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