Thesis: Both Burton and Kingsley adopt roles as innocent travellers in the name of science, but their European roots heavily influence their perspectives on their travels. Through their European eyes of nomenclature and constant surveillance, Burton and Kingsley naturalize and justify expansionist’s ambitions by classifying natives and their cultures.
Pratt believes that with the publication of Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae, there arose what is known as the “Eurocentered planetary consciousness” (29). This obsession with classification and knowledge paired with imperial desires of power, transformed naturalists and travel writers into something much more—becoming “handmaidens to an empire”. As Pratt Suggests, there is a “mutual engagement between natural history and European economic political expansionism” (38). The taxonomical eye of these travel writers analyzes and categorizes humans in regards to each other, as well as to Europeans.
Both Burton and Kingsley portray themselves as “benign” by employing the rhetoric strategy of “anti-conquest” (Pratt). Burton and Kingsley both “undertake[s] to do virtually nothing in or to the world,” other than examine it. For example, Kingsley wants to study fish, beetles, and examine specimens, while Burton wants to map the big white blot known as Arabia. Consequently, the writers present themselves as “benign” and their eyes, “seem to be able to do little but gaze” (Pratt 60).
This is seen by both writers as well as their adoption of the subjective narrative. Pratt asserts that, “the moving eye of travelers reduces their presence” (Pratt 59). It is from this constant observing of the land that not only separates the traveler from the story, but also the natives from their lands.
For example. Kingsley describes a tribe as, “a bright, active, energetic sort of African, who by their pugnacious and predatory conduct do much to make one cease to regret and deplore the sloth and lethargy of the rest of the West Coast tribes” (Kingsley 103). The coast tribes have had contact with Europeans while the inland tribes have not. Her claim makes the reader believe the inland tribes are more savage and hostile while the tribes who have been in contact with Europeans are not. She goes on to describe another tribe as “far inferior to the true Negro” (208). These classifications scientifically justify racial inferiority and differences in the eyes of imperialists.
This accords with Pratt’s view that applying the taxonomical approach to humans paves the way for mass exploitation. That being said, Kingsley might appear and act like Pratt’s “innocent and benign naturalist,” but she is far from it. Similarly, while discussing polygamy, Kingsley racially criticizes Africans when she declares, “Perhaps I should say it is impossible for the dilatory African woman, for I once had an Irish charwoman, who drank, who would have done the whole week’s work of an African village in an afternoon” (Kingsley 211). While this might have been a jovial jab since the Irish were perceived as “Europe’s blacks” in that time period, her assertion can still be seen as racial cataloging. She goes on to say that Africans are, “ingenious, particularly in dodging inconvenient moral principles” (Kingsley 213). I believe this is an example of Kingsley suggesting that…