Strange alliance: Pygmies in the colonial imaginary

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    Pygmies have long served, both in Western imagination and in Western science, as a sheet anchor for racial hierarchies and for putative sequences of human physical and social evolution. In the course of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Western exploration in Africa, Asia and the Pacific generated what might broadly be termed a colonial 'Pygmy mythology', composed of a set of characteristics deemed diagnostic of this diminutive 'race', articulated with an exceptional degree of confidence by travellers and metropolitan scientists alike. This paper charts the manner in which the three central tropes of racist denigration - the primordial, the infantile and the bestial - have been applied to excess in the description of Pygmies. Yet Pygmies have also been enlisted by colonial observers in an unlikely alliance, as third-party foils in arguments that seek to naturalize the conditions of colonial subjugation of non-Pygmy others. The impetus for this strange alliance is considered through reference to the recent re-discovery by the revisionist historian, Keith Windschuttle, of a Pygmy past in the rainforests of Queensland, Australia.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)133-151
    JournalWorld Archaeology
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2006


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