European Diaspora in Pre-modern India: Perceptions of the Self and the Other in Cultural Encounters | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online


Early modern India (1500-1800 CE), particularly the littoral, witnessed a host of “nationalities” as migrants, expatriates, itinerant merchants, diasporic residents, communities, agents, adventurers, mercenaries, diplomats, envoys, missionaries, sailors and more. Europeans and Asians thronged and interacted with “natives” in cosmopolitan hubs like Delhi, Agra, Masulipatnam, Fort St. George, Golconda, Bijapur, Surat, and also scattered in various ports, like Daman, Bassein, Goa, Chaul, San Thomé etc. and smaller towns and the countryside. What were the perceptions of the self and the other for the European diaspora and itinerants in their purported identities of themselves as Portuguese, Dutch, English, French and/or European, the natives as “Moors” or “Gentus”? How do the constructs of nation, religion, class, ethnicity, language and race express in interstitial identities in contemporary European accounts? From ‘Passeur culturel’ Italian Manucci - a liaison person masquerading as a physician, to English mariner Thomas Bowrey’s experiments with cannabis and horror at brutal indigenous religious practices, French Abbé Carre’s accounts of quivering ‘conversion’ to Islam, lured by fabulous riches, French traveler/physician Bernier’s acutely alienating ‘othering’, European mercenaries employed by native rulers, what glimpses can we discern of the nature of cultural adaptations and transformations experienced and effected by the Europeans in their sojourns in pre-modern India? In terms of perceptions of the self and the other, how did European contemporary accounts compare, juxtaposed with vernacular and Sanskrit accounts with their references to ‘‘Hunas’’ (Europeans) with ‘‘svetavadanah’’ (White-faces)? Can such vicissitudes nuance our understanding of distinct cultural spheres and world-views in the global context of the pre-modern ethos?


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