As the passage from Bacon relates, cross-cultural encounters are not always pleasant, and are not always approached with open-mindedness and a desire to learn. This short passage shows us several things about this kind of encounter. First, it shows the way the Benin people…
More generally, we can see that cross-cultural encounters do not always end well for everybody involved.
Before understanding what a cross-cultural encounter can do, it is important to understand what one is. In the broadest meaning, such an encounter could be described as any in which two different cultures meet. More specifically, it is one in which ideas that are different between cultures are exchanged, with varying results. In the case of Benin, one of the exchanges was “the discovery of Benin art by Europeans”. (Mackie 16) This can be seen in the last paragraph of the passage from Bacon, which states that some of the things found in the houses were “castings of wonderful delicacy of detail, and some magnificently carved tusks”.
In the background, we can see that the Benin were perhaps initially pleased by contact with the West. Presumably, they happily traded for the “glass walking sticks, old uniforms, absurd umbrellas” and so on that Bacon describes as being in most of the warehouses. However, the exchange obviously did not go well for the Benin. In the context Mackie gives us, we know that Bacon is an invader trying to bring Benin “firmly under British control”. (Mackie 17) Although it is not explicitly mentioned in the passage, some sense of this chilling reason behind the cross-cultural encounter can be seen in the way Bacon describes the Benin people.
Bacon was largely unimpressed with what he found, and so the cultural exchange which could have taken place was limited by the Europeans existing prejudices about the Benin people. The way the passage describes the Benin as “natives” who were tricked by “the usual cheap finery” reinforces the idea that the Europeans only wanted to manipulate this different culture for their own ends. The fact that the passage describes the Benin in very negative tones elsewhere, such as explaining the “ruined and uninhabited houses” as being ...
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