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This work of comparative history explores the array of ceremonies that the English, the Spanish, the French, the Portuguese and the Dutch performed to enact their taking possession of the New World. The book develops the historic cultural contexts of these ceremonies, and tackles the implications of these histories for contemporary nation-states of the post-colonial era.
Introduction; 1. Houses, gardens, and fences: signs of English possession in the New World; 2. Ceremonies: the theatrical rituals of French political possession; 3. The requirement: a protocol for conquest; 4. 'A New Sky and New Stars': Arabic and Hebrew science, Portuguese seamanship, and the discovery of America; 5. Sailing in the wake of the Portuguese; Conclusion: the habits of history.
Posted January 23, 2001
Patricia Seed's Ceremonies of Possessions concentrates on the top five colonizing empires that emerged from Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, their different methods of conquest and their claiming of lands. These five empires were the English, the French, the Spanish, the Portuguese and the Dutch. I, though, intend to concentrate more on the English, the French and the Spanish ceremonial methods and their individual sections in the book. I find them to be more interesting than the Portuguese or the Dutch. These empires celebrated their discoveries through customary rituals and ceremonies. 'Planting crosses, standards, banners, and coats of arms- marching in processions, picking up dirt, speaking certain words'(Page2), and through long, flamboyant speeches. Those who arranged these ceremonies or acts believed them to be the formalizers of control over the new lands. Professor Seed is interested on how the five empires differed in their ways of conquest hence comparing and contracting the English with the French, the French with the Spaniards and so on. Seed's unambiguous assumptions regarding the English Empire in the Americas, are that they showed possession, to themselves, to one another, and to everyone around them, by the fenced homes and gardens they built. 'Englishmen usually constructed their rights to occupy the New World on far more historically and culturally familiar grounds: building houses and fences and planting gardens' (Pg. 18). This to me is kind of comical in a sense because the English, not even asking or submitting the natives to any rules, simply reckoned something of the following: 'Hey honey, what do you think of this land here?' 'Oh, I love it,' said the wife. 'Well if you like it and I like it, why not build a home here?' And so they did. They laid out fences and started building themselves a house. The French overtaking ceremonies were different according to Seed's analysis. The French had a prearranged ritual ceremony by which they claimed possession over lands in the Americas. Seed bases her statement on a recorded arrival of a French ship with Sieur Razilly and his crewmen in 1612 at the mouth of the Amazon River in which the French first asked if they could land there. The Tupi Indians welcomed their arrival and recognized the French King 'as their sovereign Monarch' (Pg. 41) How touching, huh? The French were soooo nice to have asked instead of purging in with force as the Spaniards did. But still the French, I think took advantage of the Indians' kindness, as Seed points out later that same day 'a tree was cut to make a cross while a hymn was chanted' (Pg. 41). Those who orchestrated it convinced themselves that Indians who took part understood it and approved of it. One must understand something here; the Indians, I believe, were manipulated and sort of tricked into a French colonization. Tell me something, how the heck did those French sailors communicate with those Indians? Did the French know the native language, or did the Indians know French? Both are far-fetched notions and hard to believe. My point being that the Indians really didn't understand why the French had landed on their beach nor what they wanted, but the French supposed that the Indians wanted their presence. 'Such assurances were credible to an audience which, like many European ones, was willing to be convinced that natives the world over willingly desired Christianity' (Pg. 43). A form of media manipulation in that it sends back messages that the French society of the time desired to hear, not the whole truth, which could be different than what's been written in history. Maybe the history written is all bull. Maybe the Indians resisted the invasion, but were too puny to hold it back. The Spanish way of possessing the New World by far is the most exciting and most eloquent of all other forms. Once the Spaniards would land on a beach, they would walk up with a sense of belonging, style, colorful flags, horWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.