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.”

Racial stratification in America’s future

The demographic makeup of the U.S. is changing rapidly, but the human capital of the populations that make it up is not.

A recent report (pdf) by United for a Fair Economy looked at socio-economic racial differences from 1980 until the present, and projected those trends into 2042, when the white population is expected to dip below 50% of the American population.

First, this is how fast the change is happening:

However, though the population share of these populations is booming, their relative wealth is not – meaning that this America of the future, if these trends hold, is going to be even more racially stratified than it is now. There has been remarkably little relative change, or even, in the case of Hispanics, negative change (obviously due to immigration), in some indicators:

The study summarizes what we can expect in 2042 if previous trends hold:

If we continue on the path that we have been on since 1980, in 2042 the median Black family will still earn only about 61 cents for every dollar of  income earned by the median White family, while Latinos will earn just 45 cents for every dollar of White median-family income. Meanwhile, Black  poverty rates will still be close to double that of Whites, and poverty for Latinos will have grown to be more than two-and-a-half times that of Whites. Blacks will face an unemployment rate that is 1.8 times that of Whites, while Latinos will face an unemployment rate that remains roughly 1.5 times that of Whites.

Prison populations will continue to be overwhelmingly Black and Latino. If the trends since 1980 continue, nearly 5 percent of the Black population and close to 2 percent of the Latino population will be in prison in 2042.

Remember, that in 2042, blacks and hispanics are projected to make up about 40% of the population. Consider what that means for the health of American society.

For another perspective on the future of racial stratification, we can look at racial stratification in marriages. The wealth and education of mixed race couples is generally intermediate to that of their respective races. Given that non-white populations are dramatically increasing, this suggests that we may be heading towards less of a black-white dichotomy, and more of a latin america style colour gradient in socio-economic status, with Eurasians at the top, and blacks at the bottom:

I wrote another post, on South Africa, looking at things from the similar perspective of demographic change on economic indicators.

Were the ancients tasteless?

I was just admiring some ancient sculptures…

The Dying Gaul

And your everyday busts…

… when I remembered reading about modern attempts to re-create the original colours. They’ve tried to detect the ancient pigments still remaining on the sculptures – which has lead to the following monstrosities:

Archer - Parthenon (c. 490 BC)

Caesar Augustus

Sarcophagus of Alexander

I sincerely hope there has been an error in here somewhere. The garishness is unbearable. Do I have to include the ancients among those cultures with a lack of taste (ie. Indians and their gods and temples)?

In hope of avoiding this, I went in search of somewhere where colours from the ancient world still remain. Consider the frescoes from Pompeii. They are really beautiful, I think. The first one I’ll show actually includes a painted statue, and I can’t see that it bears much resemblance to the above – it suggests painted statues might have had similar colour schemes to the frescoes:

And here a few other frescoes. Even if they have faded somewhat, or colours changed a little, they would never have been as gaudy as the statues above:

The Fresco: Pompei - Naples, Naples

My rationalization is that if they showed taste in their frescoes, they might not have engaged in such gaudiness in their statuary. In support of this theory, I offer this hideous Indian fresco, as one would expect given their other artwork:

But, I guess I’ll have to leave it up to the experts.

Floating islands

Pliny the younger recounted a visit he had made to see floating islands in a lake in Italy:

… I have lately been entertained with one of these curiosities, to which I was an entire stranger before. My wife’s grandfather desired I would look over his estate near Ameria. As I was walking over his grounds, I was shewn a lake that lies below them, called Vadimon, about which several very extraordinary things are told. I went up to this lake. It is perfectly circular in form, like a wheel lying on the ground; there is not the least curve or projection of the shore, but all is regular, even and just as if it had been hollowed and cut out by the hand of art. The water is of a clear sky-blue, though with somewhat of a greenish tinge; its smell is sulphurous, and its flavour has medicinal properties, and is deemed of great efficacy in all fractures of the limbs, which it is supposed to heal. Though of but moderate extent, yet the winds have a great effect upon it, throwing it into violent agitation. No vessels are suffered to sail here, as its waters are held sacred; but several floating islands swim about it, covered with reeds and rushes, and with whatever other plants the surrounding marshy ground and the edge itself of the lake produce in greater abundance. Each island has its peculiar shape and size, but the edges of all of them are worn away by their frequent collision with the shore and one another. They are all of the same height and motion; as their respective roots, which are formed like the keel of a boat, may be seen hanging not very far down in the water, and at an equal depth, on whichever side you stand. Sometimes they move in a cluster, and seem to form one entire little continent; sometimes they are dispersed into different quarters by the wind; at other times, when it is calm, they float up and down separately. You may frequently see one of the larger islands sailing along with a lesser joined to it, like a ship with its long boat; or, perhaps, seeming to strive which shall outswim the other: then again they are all driven to the same spot, and by joining themselves to the shore, sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other, lessen or restore the size of the lake in this part or that, accordingly, till at last, uniting in the centre, they restore it to its usual size. The sheep which graze upon the borders of this lake frequently go upon these islands to feed, without perceiving that they have left the shore, until they are alarmed by finding themselves surrounded with water; as though they had been forcibly conveyed and placed there. Afterwards, when the wind drives them back again, they as little perceive their return as their departure.

These floating islands still exist – not those specific ones, but elsewhere around the world. This picture is from Mexico (see more from the source):

Loktak lake in India:

Actually, there’s a whole book about them (that I haven’t read):