To understand the significance of stories of first contact in which native peoples around the world are said to have mistaken Europeans (or their goods) as gods or godlike, this article examines written and oral accounts of such encounters in the context within which they were transmitted. Noting that the source of many of these ideas is often native peoples, it suggests moving beyond the tendency to say they did or did not see Europeans as gods. Focusing in particular on a close reading of Henry Hudson's 1609 voyage up the river that now bears his name, it argues that the perceived disparity between native credulity and subsequent disenchantment is a function of misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the terminology employed. The native accounts never claimed the Europeans were gods in any Christian sense of the term. Instead, their words (in this case Manitou) reflected an understanding of the power and danger of the encounter that the actual experience confirmed. In this, it reminds us that there are several layers of interpretation—linguistic, religious, and ideological—that need to be taken into account when assessing these encounters. Also by incorporating what the native accounts have to say, a deeper understanding of its cultural significance in native terms can be created.
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Evan Haefeli; On First Contact and Apotheosis: Manitou and Men in North America. Ethnohistory 1 July 2007; 54 (3): 407–443. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00141801-2007-002
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