April Nakagawa on Thomas Hariot's Report on Virginia

Published by admin_main on Wed 29 Sep, 2010

2. What picture of the natives does Hariot offer? What are their most important characteristics—the best ones and the worst? What seems to motivate the author's choices in this regard—in other words, how might the portrait he offers appeal to potential investors and colonists?

Hariot's view of the natives is an unmistakably and undeniably imperialist one. He begins, in the very first sentence, to address whether or not they pose a threat to British "inhabiting and planting," concluding that they are "not to be feared." Even more so, he says on page 939 that the natives will "fear and love" the British colonists; this is an important (and certainly a Machiavellian) focus, in that it breeds two key types of power for the colonists. These are a people to be controlled and manipulated. On page 940, Hariot goes on to state that they battle very little. The British weaponry is significantly more advanced than that of the natives and the British men have far more battle experience; with this in mind, Hariot rather arrogantly states that the natives' optimal choice, if any conflict between the two groups should arise, is to run away.

Hariot refers to the natives as "a people poor" who apparently do not understand the value of objects. He does, however, allow that they are intelligent in regard to their own context and circumstance. Hariot counters his slight generosity of description, however, by stating on page 940 that "they upon due consideration shall find our manner of knowledges and crafts to exceed theirs in perfection, and speed for doing or execution, by so much the more it is probable that they should desire our friendship and love, and have the greater respect for pleasing and obeying us." Here, the imperialist lens through which Hariot views the natives is especially evident; they are primitive people whose admiration for the advances of the colonists will make for easy manipulation—these people will pose little threat in terms of eradication to clear the way for British prosperity.

The native people also practice religion, which Hariot views to be a positive point, as it allows for their conversion to Christianity. Though they believe in multiple gods, there is a chief one who created the world; there is also a Heaven-like afterlife that one may reach only through having done good works in one's lifetime. Hariot seems to view these details as encouraging, as they draw a parallel to Christianity and will therefore allow for ease of conversion. He describes them as showing awe in the face of Hariot's "true religion" and as expressing great interest in it. Again, they are painted as inferior beings—heathens in need of British saving. If questioned about the morality of colonial conquest, Hariot would have surely provided the typical imperialistic response that colonization and conversion are ultimately for the good of the natives; they will be shown the spiritual error of their ways and be taught the correct "crafts, sciences, and arts" of the British. Hariot would undoubtedly argue that a British takeover is no such thing, but that it is in reality a humanitarian effort. On page 941, he provides a list of instruments that the natives had not seen before and therefore did not understand (clearly a mark of their inherent inferiority)—which leads them to conceive of the objects as divine creations. He attempts to color the natives as foolish and unintelligent by describing his constant explanations of the Bible's outline of Christianity being consistently misunderstood; the natives treated the physical book itself as an amulet, almost, and would "stroke over all their body with it," as said on page 942. He seems rather amused by their actions.

Though it was achingly clear that the settlers brought new diseases to the natives that ultimately crippled them, Hariot claims that the natives never assigned guilt to the settlers for fear of "offending or not pleasing us." Once again, the imperialist view asserts itself. He describes the settlers' exits from native towns as garnering no punishment or revenge—a clear indicator that Hariot is aware of the mistreatment and condescension that the natives underwent. He observes that entire villages were wiped out from the debilitating disease that had never seen before the appearance of the settlers. According to Hariot, some groups of natives began to see this as the work of the Christian God, and asked the colonists to use this power to wipe out rival factions; Hariot explained that the illness was not the work of God but the natives thanked him anyway at the death of their enemies, once again painting the natives as unable to comprehend Hariot's simple truths. He asks the reader to "excuse {their physicians'} ignorance in curing the disease" on page 943.

Hariot's intended portrait for investors and colonists in regard to the natives is enormously clear when he asserts on page 943 that "there is good hope they may be brought through discreet dealing and government to the embracing of the truth, and consequently to honor, obey, fear, and love us." The native people are made to look immensely primitive and gullible. These simple people will be easily manipulated in terms of any sort of trade or development that the British may be considering—according to Hariot, their apparent amazement and bafflement towards the visitors' items and religion, as well as their abilities to withstand the diseases that they themselves brought, will make for no threat whatsoever in imperializing the newfound country. Such a foolish people as this will be no match for the might of the British and will certainly not stand in the way of overseas British triumph.


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