Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Cultural Exchange

Here's a brief anecdote from the first voyage of John Davis, the 16th-century English explorer to whom I referred in my post of May 31st: when Davis first landed on the coast of Greenland in late July 1585, he encountered a large party of Inuit, who approached Davis's ship in ten canoes. Rather than attacking or kidnapping the Eskimos (that would occur on his second voyage), Davis instead urged his crewmen to use their "best policy to gain their friendship." That policy included music: as the canoemen approached, Davis and his officers "caused our musicians to play, ourselves dancing and making many signs of friendship." For the rest of the day, the two groups of strangers pantomimed one another's gestures, shook hands, and exchanged gifts of clothing. The next day (30 July 1585), one of the Inuit returned Davis's initial favor: he climbed a rock, displayed "a thing like a timbrel, which he did beat upon with a stick, making a noise like a small drum," and danced. (Albert Markham, ed., Voyages and Works of John Davis, Navigator [London, 1880], 7-8.) Regretably, we have no record of any subsequent attempts to create an Elizabethan/Eskimo fusion musical style.

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