Oroonoko: The Perception on Natives

Pg. 57-59

Oh! Here’s our tiguamy, and we shall now know whether those things can speak .”

Really it’s not just this quote that I’m looking at, but the entire scene of interactions between the narrator’s group and the natives between pages 57-59. I just thought this part was really interesting and it was almost like the reactions and views were reversed. We all know that Europeans more than often had a very low opinion of people that are not of their own, but this section seems to show that it also happened with people who were the “others”.

When the narrator and her group went to explore and observe the the natives nearby, the situation ended up reversing. It was the natives who questioned their ability to speak or think intelligently. They were in awe of the foreign attire that the women were wearing – and probably thought they were dumb to wear such heavy materials in the heat that was common there. Throughout the section, the narrator’s expectations were proven false (from the reaction they received, to her image of the warriors) and the natives seemed to have had a much better, more intellectual depiction.

Whether or not this was just a figment of her imagination or an actual experience from the writer, the fact that this portion of the novella is written as such shows that to some degree people of the time understood that the natives of these new colonies were intellectual to a certain extent. I feel like it would impossible otherwise for such depictions to come about, if the consensus was that they were completely uncultured, or incapable of acting as a society. The questions these natives were wondering in this book, were the exact ones the Europeans were thinking, so it is understandable to think that she viewed the natives as someone who had some intellectual capacity. Of course this is very romanticized and still has that sense of European superiority throughout – she did say she expected the native warriors to look like beasts – it is still a different take on natives that I never came upon before.

I definitely think that since the story was so short, I was more focused on the actual storyline when I first read it. However, after our discussions in class I was compelled to look at it differently and try to find the nuances that everyone picked up on. This book is definitely richer than people would think at first glance.

3 thoughts on “Oroonoko: The Perception on Natives

  1. Hi Hilary! I found this section of the book interesting as well. The tables were definitely turned, so to speak, in that the native peoples were actually commenting on the Europeans in an intellectual manner. The book, and as you mentioned, most books of that era, placed characters of European decent greater in all capacities to natives, so whenever these pages came about, I was a bit shocked to find this description there as well. It leaves the reader compelled to wonder if this was a factual depiction or not. What historians have recorded from that time period from European travelers places non-Europeans at such a primitive level of understanding, but from what has been found over time is that the native peoples were in actuality quite advanced in their own ways of life. Since it was not the same way of life as the Europeans lived, the natives were often misrepresented in texts of the day as nonintellectuals. It would be interesting to see if there were any other sources from this time stating the thoughts of the native people in a similar way…Anyways, great post!

  2. Aphra Behn’s, Oroonoko, really did illuminate the native’s perspective as for me, as well. Also, Oroonoko is not your general novella. Generally, the rhetoric during the 17th century, was that historians often time read, and encountered prejudice narratives, which presented the construct, of the 17th century sophisticated European male, seeking to spread his religion, while claiming land and resource for the Monarch.
    Yet, the novella from Aphra Behn has further interested me, for the fact that, she has taken profound care with her pen, in striving to please the king, while maintaining the truth of a lynching.
    In closing, even though the story was short, I think it was perfect in its character. From the way Imoinda morality was written about, to the thoughts the natives had reflected in Oroonoko. It was one of the stories where you say, “hey, I have never seen or read anything of that nature, what is the deeper story here?”
    I think that’s what Hilary has done in her blog here, because she examines the interaction of the Native and European’s of the 17th century, which, I agree, was reversed from previous narratives and frameworks of the 17th century.
    In closing, even though the story of Oroonoko and his wife Imoinda, breaks my heart every time I think or read of it. The intimate narrative, provided by Aphra Behn, has been written so profoundly, that the burden of virtue within it, outweighs the burdens of colonialism outside.

  3. This was a very interesting scene in the book. I would agree that the narrator believed that the Natives had intellectual capacity. It seems as though that in every reading all foreign settlers believe that natives will look like beasts. It’s crazy to think that these two different types of people were brought together. Two different cultures with two completely different ways of life. It would have been very interesting to be placed in this situation as I would have no idea what to expect when meeting the native population.

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