Sunday, January 21, 2007

Voyagers to the East, Part XII

For the previous entry in this series, click here.

Hoping to recoup his fortunes in the wake of the Roanoke fiasco, Sir Walter Raleigh in the 1590s decided to embark on a new American venture: searching for El Dorado. The Spanish had undertaken two unsuccessful expeditions to find the fabled city (more precisely, man) of gold – one of which is chronicled in this film – but Raleigh, who probably heard of El Dorado from Spaniards captured by English privateers, thought he could succeed where Pizarro and Aguirre had failed.

Raleigh believed that El Dorado could most likely be found on the Orinoco River in present-day Guiana, and in 1594 he sent a ship to explore the Guianan coast and gather intelligence. The vessel returned the following year with its logs, charts, and four Indian passengers, two from Guiana and two from Trinidad. Thomas Hariot set to work teaching the new visitors the English language and interrogating them about Guiana's geography, wildlife, and people. At least one of these translators accompanied Raleigh when he embarked for Guiana later that year.

Raleigh's 1595 Guiana expedition was short but (from our standpoint) consequential. After pausing to defeat the Spanish garrison on Trinidad, the adventurer and his 100 or so companions ascended the Orinoco River into present-day Venezuela, and made an alliance with Topiawari, the cacique (chief) of the Arromaia Indians. To seal the pact, Raleigh left behind two Englishmen to learn the Arromaian language, and took with him to England Topiawari's 19-year-old son, Cayowaroco, and 3-4 other South American Indians (from Guiana and Trinidad), to instruct them in the English language.

Two of the Native Americans from the 1594-95 expeditions, whom Raleigh and his associates renamed John Prevost and Henry, returned to Guiana in 1596 and 1597 with the English navigators Lawrence Keymis and Leonard Berry. These translators helped their captains establish diplomatic relations with other Guianan caciques, and by the early 17th century England had established a commercial presence on the northeast coast of South America. (Source: Alden Vaughan, "Sir Walter Raleigh's Indian Interpreters," pp. 358-365; see also Charles Nicholl, The Creature in the Map: A Journey to El Dorado [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.)

For the next entry in this series, click here.

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