Posted by: Democratic Thinker | November 26, 2013

Weekly Story: The Politeness of Savages

Weekly Story

 
 
Benjamin Franklin writes a small treatise on the savages of North America.


What it is that I offer you the second place in, I beg you to hear; and don’t believe anything I say, unless on reflection you judge it to be true.—Xenophon.

 

 
… they beheld a beautiful young woman descend from the clouds, and seat herself on that hill which you see yonder among the Blue Mountains.

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The Politeness of Savages.

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THE politeness of these savages in conversation is indeed carried to excess, since it does not permit them to contradict or deny the truth of what is asserted in their presence. By this means they indeed avoid disputes; but then it becomes difficult to know their minds, or what impression you make upon them. The missionaries who have attempted to convert them to Christianity, all complain of this as one of the great difficulties of their mission. The Indians hear with patience the truths of the gospel explained to them, and give their usual tokens of assent and approbation: you would think they were convinced. No such matter. It is mere civility.

A Swedish minister, having assembled the chiefs of the Susquehanna Indians, made a sermon to them, acquainting them with the principal historical facts on which our religion is founded; such as the fall of our first parents by eating an apple, the coming of Christ to repair the mischief, his miracles and suffering, &c.—When he had finished, an Indian orator stood up to thank him. “What you have told us,” says he, “is all very good. It is indeed bad to eat apples. It is better to make them all into cyder. We are much obliged by your kindness in coming so far, to tell us those things which you have heard from your mothers. In return, I will tell you some of those we have heard from ours.”

“In the beginning, our fathers had only the flesh of animals to subsist on, and if their hunting was unsuccessful, they were starving. Two of our young hunters having killed a deer, made a fire in the woods to broil some parts of it. When they were about to satisfy their hunger, they beheld a beautiful young woman descend from the clouds, and seat herself on that hill which you see yonder among the Blue Mountains. They said to each other, it is a spirit that perhaps has smelt our broiling venison, and wishes to eat of it: let us offer some to her. They presented her with the tongue: she was pleased with the taste of it, and said, your kindness shall be rewarded; come to this place after thirteen moons, and you shall find something that will be of great benefit in nourishing you and your children to the latest generations. They did so, and to their surprise found plants they had never seen before: but which, from that ancient time, have been constantly cultivated among us, to our great advantage. Where her right hand had touched the ground, they found maize; where her left hand had touched it they found kidney-beans; and where her backside had sat on it, they found tobacco.” The good missionary, disgusted with this idle tale, said, “What I delivered to you were sacred truths, but what you tell me is mere fable, fiction, and falsehood.” The Indian, offended, replied, “My brother, it seems your friends have not done you justice in your education; they have not well instructed you in the rules of common civility. You saw that we, who understand and practise those rules, believed all your stories, why do you refuse to believe ours?”

—Benjamin Frankin, from Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America (1784).


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