Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Archibald Lyall: Black and White Make Brown, 1938 (excerpt 2)

Soon the republication of Archibald Lyall's visit to the Cape Verde Islands and 'Portuguese Guinea' of 1936 - published as Black and White Make Brown in 1938 - is finished. As a teaser, I will pre-publish some excerpts here. [About life in Portuguese Guinea] "It is, in short, an idyllic existence, that of such jungle villages as Tuan. Even then I did not humbug myself into imagining that I would like to spend the rest of my life there, or that we sophisticated Europeans would ever be capable of adapting ourselves to the simple life, however enthusiastic we may be about it in theory; but the people who have never known anything else are perhaps the happiest in the world. They are beautifully mannered, absolutely natural and utterly innocent. (And by that I do not mean to imply that they have not known what we call ‘the facts of life’ ever since they could toddle. The very fact that they have, is one of the reasons for their innocence.) Their lives have very few complications. They have never heard of such a thing as jealousy. Nobody looks cross if you pay more attention to somebody else than to her. In this Utopian society the girls do not even know their ages, let alone lie about them. “How many rains have you?” I asked Cadi in the Creole phrase. She said: “I don’t know,” and skipped laughing away. No one had ever asked her that before. If civilisation lies in the solution of the problem of how to lead a good and happy life, then these ‘savages’ are ten times as civilized as the Europeans with their treadmill scramble for money and possessions, and their innumerable little fears about their positions and their reputations and their souls and their sins, and twenty times as civilised as the wretched, self-complicated, self-tortured Asiatics. As Van de Velde says, ‘To be happy is an art, and is meritorious in itself.’ He might have added that it is rapidly becoming a lost art."

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