The Cosmic Race
On 4th November 1942, nearly a month after his arrival in America, Colombus wrote in his diary: ‘they believe that in that region (Caribbean) there were one eyed people, others with canine jaws who usually eat men.’ Colombus recorded the name of those people as canniba. However seven days later, on December the 11th, he wrote something different: ‘canniba is nothing else than the name given to the people from the Great Can’. This confusion is what let to the distortion of the word cannibal. Since then the distorted image of the Caribbean-Cannibal, the savage, has been arbitrarily used to refer to the people of non European stock. In 1515 Thomas Moro published his ‘Utopia’, a social satire, where the issue of slavery is presented as an essential feature: “the man beast at the margins of civilisation ought to be exterminated because of his brutality.” However, the fact is that those definitions helped to eliminate not just the inhabitants of the Great Can, who characterised themselves as skilful, ferocious warriors but also the extermination of other tribes such as the Araucano whom the Europeans described as timid and peaceful people. Some European humanists, such as Bartolome de las Casas, advocated the defence of the Indians. However incidental, those altruistic efforts are early protests, which can help us to discover the origins of racist attitudes in modern societies.
In 1580 Montaigne wrote the following about de Cannibals: “their natural virtues are kept alive and vigorous. These are the true and useful properties”. In 1603 the English version of Montaigne’s book was translated by Giovanni Floro, a personal friend of Shakespeare. The English writer read Floro’s translation and even wrote notes in his own text. This proves that Shakepeare’s “The Tempest” was influenced by Montaigne’s work. Gonzalo, for instance, one of the protagonists in the drama quotes entire lines of the book translated by Floro. Montaigne and Shakespeare held different views of the Cannibal. For Montaigne there is nothing barbarian about these people: ‘everyone calls barbaric anything which is not proper to their own costumes’. For Shakespeare the Cannibal is a savage, a slave, a deformed being. He assumed the option presented by the emergent bourgeoisie. If a utopic feature exists in Shakespeare’s work it is not in the Cannibal, (Caliban), but in Gonzalo, the humanist. However, Shakespeare seems to propose the view of ‘reconciliation’. This is obvious in “The Tempest” where Prospero advises his daughter Miranda that life would be very difficult without Caliban: (Act 1 Scene 2) ‘We cannot miss him: he does make our fire. Fetch in our wood, and serves in offices that profit us’. In 1978 Ernest Renan published his “Caliban continuation of the tempest”. There Caliban represents the people but in a negative way. This time, Caliban plots against his teacher, Prospero, succeeds and takes power. Later incompetence and corruption will remove him from such authority. Then Prospero, defender of the status quo, would await vengeance while in the shade, Ariel, the good student vanishes. Many urban intellectuals regard Latin Americans as barbarian, backward people. Meanwhile the North Americans have exterminated the indigenous population and ostracised black people. The USA, it could be said, provided the Nazis with a model of extermination which Hitler put into practice in Europe. Racist interpretations are still used by certain intellectuals.
We need to be alert and not allow them to brainwash the minds of our youth. The struggle against racism has to be active in the core of schools, colleges and universities, in their curricula. Perhaps we ought to remind them that modern Latin American culture and ethnicity descends from indigenous people and the contributions made by African, Asians and European émigrés. Latin American politicians were clear about this from their beginning of their struggle for independence. A Mexican philosopher argued in 1921 than in Latin America a new race, made with the virtues of all former races, was brewing. I would say that after all races in the America’s were encountered, a final race started to sprout on our planet. Jose Vascocelos called it – The Cosmic Race.