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Caroline Dodds Pennock: On Savage Shores (EBook, 2023, Weidenfeld & Nicolson) 4 stars

In this groundbreaking new history, Caroline Dodds Pennock recovers the long-marginalised stories of the Indigenous …

The idea of the Europeans as ‘white gods’ is a famous story, but it tends to appear only in retrospective sources looking back on events. It is a fabulously elaborated myth, which may well have been created by Indigenous people trying to understand their devastating losses (who could stand up against a divine invasion?) and it also suited the Europeans’ superiority complex quite beautifully, so I am deeply suspicious of claims that Columbus’s interpreters ran from house to house in every community crying ‘Come, and see the people from heaven!’ Of course, they may have done so – perhaps they wanted to please their captors, or perhaps Columbus misunderstood the meaning of their words – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they believed the Europeans were divine. Even if such a belief existed in those first confusing days, it could not have lasted. It’s hard to imagine the Taínos could believe the Europeans to be anything other than men, after several months spent with them, sharing the indignities of shipboard life. And yet the ‘white gods myth’ pops up constantly in accounts of colonial encounter.

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