Who is primitive?

Amal Chatterjee
10 min readDec 1, 2021

Source : Google photo of Bushmen of Kalahari who are simple, self sufficient and happy

Synopsis : Some people call others primitive and treat them as subhuman who need to be shown what civilized people can offer them to improve their lives starting with a Bible. Such self-proclaimed people have brought misery to others who are not like them so they try to justify themselves with words like manifest destiny. But the notion of primitiveness is as obsolete as it was when it was first mentioned. All people have a right to live the way they want and believe in what they want to believe.

Michener wrote in his novel Hawaii how the inhabitants of the Polynesian Islands in the Pacific Ocean sailed thousands of kilometers in their dugout canoes to reach the Hawaii islands centuries ago without a compass or any other navigation aid. Their ancestors taught them how to navigate through the ocean using just the stars as their guide.

They knew the stars, the constellations and the true north guided by the Pole star so they sailed the open sea using their knowledge and a rock solid faith in the wisdom of their forefathers who had learned it from theirs.

Thus the celestial navigation knowledge was passed on to them generation after generation that made them excellent seafarers .Even today they sail in their home made canoes from one island to another using their ancient knowledge.

When they arrived in Hawaii, they found the islands rich in soil and with abundant rainfall that made them grow their food easily .The sea provided them with all the fish and the forest teeming with wild pigs and other animals so they had plenty of food all year round. They found a safe haven in Hawaii where they lived happily until the Christian missionaries arrived to save their heathen souls from purgatory.

In one chapter Michener wrote about a missionary woman who was pregnant and was having a hard time giving birth so the Hawaiian women came to help because they were excellent midwives and knew how to help a pregnant woman at the time of child birth.

But they were not allowed to enter the tent so they waited patiently to be called to assist but it did not happen. The pastor did not believe that these so called primitive women had the skills as midwife so they were ignored while the pastor read from a handbook how to deliver a baby because it was his first time to do so. The woman cried in pain and heaved but the baby would not come because it was stuck while the Hawaiian women pleaded that they could help and save the baby and the mother but the pastor would not listen.

When the baby was finally delivered, it was still born because the baby did not get the oxygen right away so died. The women waiting outside heard that the baby was still born because the pastor did not know how to deliver a baby so they cried .Their collective wailing could melt a stone but the missionary heart was tougher so it had no effect.

The Protestant missionaries denigrated the Hawaiians in every way possible and laughed at them when they told them how their ancestors came to Hawaii in dugout canoes with the help of celestial navigation centuries ago. To the missionaries such tales were just fiction because they did not believe that the primitive people of Hawaii had the knowledge or the sophistication required to navigate through the open seas so long ago.

They came from the mainland to convert these heathens to their brand of Christianity to save their corrupt souls that had no religion so they looked down on them and ridiculed their rich culture as primitive. They had come to educate them and show them the true religion so they worked hard on them to convert them. Later they wrote to the US Congress to declare Hawaii as a state of the United States to legitimize their role in civilizing the primitive people.

These tough missionaries had a low opinion of anyone who was not white so they showed that they were openly racists and considered themselves as superior to those who were not white. They believed that only the whites had developed the knowledge of navigation and had built modern ships that could cross any ocean using compass and charts that they had prepared. They did not believe that the Hawaiians had any knowledge of medicine although the Hawaiians had a very rich knowledge of plants that they used to cure many illnesses. This knowledge came down to them through generations but the missionaries did not believe them.

They said that Hawaiians had no written language so how could they be called civilized therefore it became their duty to teach them the alphabets so that they could read the Bible. They set up schools for them with heavy emphasis on religion and building churches everywhere. You will notice that the missionaries do this all over the world wherever they go to civilize the native people.

There was such a fellow who went to a forbidden island in the Andaman and Nicobar in the Bay of Bengal where some tribes live. He was warned that the islanders do not like outsiders and kill them before they even land on their shores but he ignored their advice and went ahead in his boat to spread the religion among the natives because that was his mission.

Later the river patrol boat found his body on the beach full of arrows and had difficulty in retrieving it because the islanders did not let anyone to approach them. This news was reported in most of the news media that eulogized the missionary and his valiant effort to bring Christianity to the primitive people but never mentioned that the islanders had a right to live in their own way.

Gauguin captured the sad mood of the Tahitian women in his painting showing the pernicious effect of evangelization by the missionaries there who ignored the rich culture of the Tahitians.

Source : Google photo of a painting by Gauguin of sad Tahitian women

Now you will notice that I used the word primitive a number of times so now I will discuss this idea of who is called primitive and who is not in more detail. James Michener has always been my most favorite writer because he wrote about such issues as racism of the missionaries in Hawaii in the most unbiased way and backed up his writing with infallible data that he researched on for many years before writing his masterpiece.

Long before the white people arrived in the United States of America, there were very civilized people with very rich culture who lived in complete harmony with the nature. They had lived there for many thousands of years so had adapted well to the land. They were mostly hunter gatherers who lived in exquisite animal skin tepees that they could dismantle quickly to move on following the seasons and the source of food.

Source : Google photo of Native Americans and their beautiful tepees

They made excellent clothes, shoes and jewelries and were expert hunters and fighters when they needed to fight to protect themselves from other tribes or from the white invaders who came to ravage their land and to kill them because they called them savage people. They were called Indians or Injuns and their pretty women were called squaws by the uneducated people called white trash.

The whites considered them less than human and an impediment to their rapacious desire to occupy as much territory as they could so they brought in armed soldiers and built numerous military posts surrounded by thick walls. When the Native Americans protested, they were killed. The whites introduced alcohol and venereal diseases to which these native people had no immunity so they died in large numbers. They died of cholera, small pox and other imported diseases because they had no immunity.

This self-proclaimed superiority of the white people over others was responsible for the slavery in America and other countries that led to the destruction of great people in the North, Central and South America on a scale never seen before in the history of mankind.

The whites proclaimed their manifest destiny to rule over less than human people, take their land and property, kill them at will if they resisted, and sexually molest their women and even children in order to destroy all that was dear to the natives. So they invaded many countries and took the possession using military means to begin the process of looting all they could find as precious like gold and silver.

This wealth was then shipped to the countries they represented like Spain or England. With the military conquest came the rabid missionaries to spread Christianity using any means including imprisonment and torture.

The bestselling book called Aztec written by Gary Jennings is worth reading here if you really want to know the gory details of how the Spaniards treated the proud Aztecs and decimated them and their rich culture after looting their gold. It was all because the white people called the Aztecs primitive who had never known Jesus so it was their duty to civilize them and turn them into the Bible thumping Christians. They succeeded beyond their expectations.

The white people invented the word Manifest destiny and used it to justify their behavior toward all the people they called primitive giving rise to the notion of racism that still prevails in many countries even today.

Their invasion of lands where people lived in peace and prosperity was justified by their greed for new land and resources in order to enrich their country so all the colonial powers like Spain, England among others became rich. It did not matter to the Kings and Queens of Europe how the riches were obtained as long as the ships loaded with gold and silver returned to fill their coffers. Many such ships foundered on their way so millions worth of gold and silver sunk in deep waters.

I have always deplored the notion that any human being is superior over others but it has been responsible for all the bloodshed in the history. They used brute military power to conquer land and dominate over people in order to loot their resources. These invaders called themselves Christians, wore gold cross in a chain on their necks, prayed in churches and brought with them the rabble priests to forcibly Christianize the heathen because as Christians they felt that it was their solemn duty to do so. The methods used were not important to them.

They brought so much wealth back to their kings and queens that they were given great titles, rewards and huge properties by their sovereigns who always lusted for more wealth. It did not matter to them how such wealth was acquired in the first place.

Children are taught even today wrongly that Columbus discovered America and other Spaniards brought Christianity to the primitive people everywhere. Pizarro, Hernán Cortés and Columbus are called great Conquistadores or great discoverers of new land and wealth but it took a writer like Gary Jennings to write about their cruelty.

They justified their cruelty by saying that they were sent by their sovereigns who financed their ships and their adventure who in return were expected to pay back their kings in riches so they had to first conquer the land and then collect the riches using whatever means necessary. When the king like Moctezuma was no longer useful to Cortes, he was garroted.

Source : Google photo of the People of Papua New Guinea who are happy in isolation

Today I was watching a video on the people who live in Papua New Guinea in isolated villages where they build beautiful bamboo houses and get all the food they need from the rivers teeming with fish. They are called primitive by the outsiders but they live happily and simply. They sing and dance. They make their own clothes and make shell jewelries. They live in complete harmony with the nature. Just because they do not have a written language or practice your brand of religion does not make them primitive.

Source : Google photo of beautiful bamboo houses in Papua New Guinea where isolated people live happily.

So primitive is an obsolete word that should never be used to describe people who have a rich culture of their own, rich history and who live simple but happy life. They definitely do not need the outsiders to tell them how to live, how to dress and which God to pray to.

What would our world look like without such rich diversity?

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Originally published at http://aumolc.wordpress.com on December 1, 2021.