Early contact descriptions of Europeans

Chinese author describes Dutch in the early 16th century:

During the reign of Ching-ti (thing-tee) (1506), foreigners from the west, called Fah-lan-ki (fah-lahn-kee, Franks), who said they had tribute, abruptly entered the Bogue (entrance of the West River), and by their exceedingly loud guns, shook the place far and near. This was reported at court, and an order was given to drive them away at once, and to stop trading with them. At this time also the Dutch came to Macao (mah-cow) in two or three large ships. Their clothes and their hair were red; their bodies were tall; they had blue eyes, sunk deep in their head. Their feet were one cubit and two-tenths long; and they frightened the people by their strange appearance.

An 18th century Japanese visitor on Dutch ship (from The Japanese Discovery of Europe, 1720 – 1830):

When we went aboard, the captain and many others took off their hats to salute us. They have dark, sallow faces, yellow hair, and green eyes. They seem to appear from nowhere, and just like goblins and demons. Who would not run away from them in fright?

Aztec reports of the first Spanish soldiers (From Broken Spears):

When the sacrifice was finished, the messengers reported to the king. They told him how they had made the journey, and what they had seen, and what food the strangers ate. Motecuhzoma was astonished and terrified by their report, and the description of the strangers’ food astonished him above all else.

He was also terrified to learn how the cannon roared, how its noise resounded, how it caused one to faint and grow deaf. The messengers told him: “A thing like a ball of stone comes out of its entrails: it comes out shooting sparks and raining fire. The smoke that comes out with it has a pestilent odor, like that of rotten mud. This odor penetrates even to the brain and causes the greatest discomfort. If the cannon is aimed against a mountain, the mountain splits and cracks open. If it is aimed against a tree, it shatters the tree into splinters. This is a most unnatural sight, as if the tree had exploded from within.”

The messengers also said: “Their trappings and arms are all made of iron. They dress in iron and wear iron casques on their heads. Their swords are iron; their bows are iron; their shields are iron; their spears are iron. Their deer carry them on their backs wherever they wish to go. These deer, our lord, are as tall as the roof of a house.

“The strangers’ bodies are completely covered, so that only their faces can be seen. Their skin is white, as if it were made of lime. They have yellow hair, though some of them have black. Their beards are long and yellow, and their moustaches are also yellow. Their hair is curly, with very fine strands.

“As for their food, it is like human food. It is large and white, and not heavy. It is something like straw, but with the taste of a cornstalk, of the pith of a cornstalk. It is a little sweet, as if it were flavored with honey; it tastes of honey, it is sweet- tasting food.

Their dogs are enormous, with flat ears and long, dangling tongues. The color of their eyes is a burning yellow; their eyes flash fire and shoot off sparks. Their bellies are hollow, their flanks long and narrow. They are tireless and very powerful. They bound here and there panting, with their tongues hanging out. And they are spotted like an ocelot.

When Motecuhzoma heard this report, he was filled with terror. It was as if his heart had fainted, as if it had shriveled. It was as if he were conquered by despair.

When they reached the city, they went directly to the king’s palace and spoke to him with all due reverence and humility: “Our lord and king, it is true that strange people have come to the shores of the great sea. They were fishing from a small boat, some with rods and others with a net. They fished until late and then they went back to their two great towers and climbed up into them. There were about fifteen of these people, some with blue jackets, others with red, others with black or green, and still others with jackets of a soiled color, very ugly, like our ichtilmatli. There were also a few without jackets. On their heads they wore red kerchiefs, or bonnets of a fine scarlet color, and some wore large round hats like small comales, which must have been sunshades. They have very light skin, much lighter than ours, They all have long beards, and their hair comes only to their ears.”