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Under Western Eyes

Sati and Witches in European Representations
  • Pompa Banerjee
Part of the Early Modern Cultural Studies book series (EMCSS)

Abstract

The scopic paradigms of viewing punishments that produced such different ways of viewing widowburning and witchburning suggest that European writers were employing specific rhetorical and visual strategies to represent sati to their audiences. There emerged a particular genre of writing about sati and the writers participated self-consciously in that tradition. Historians and brahmanical scholars have maintained that widowburning was the exception rather than the rule. But the almost mandatory inclusion of reports—preferably eyewitness accounts—of sati in early modern travelogues suggests that the rite was inseparable from European writers’ imaginings of India.1 Many early commentaries of sati offered remarkably detailed productions of the burning scene. Before the end of the sixteenth century, educated Europeans appeared to be familiar with most of the ingredients they thought were necessary for the ritual. Montaigne, who had never set foot in India, was able to reconstruct an account of widowburning in remarkable depth and particularity in his essay “Of Vertue.” Montaigne did not offer his description as an eyewitness testimony, but then he did not have to. The details of sati he provided appeared in scores of travel narratives. Witnesses registered the burning with somber specificity.

Keywords

Seventeenth Century Sixteenth Century Visual Strategy Eyewitness Account French Edition 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 7.
    For a discussion of the use of this trope in Victorian literature, see Garrett Stewart, “A Valediction For Bidding Mourning: Death and the Narratee in Brontë’s Vilette,” in Death and Representation, ed. Sarah Webster Goodwin and Elisabeth Bronfen (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 51–79.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    Bernard Cohn, “The Command of Language and the Language of Command,” Subaltern Studies: Writings on South Asian History and Society, Vol. 4, ed. Ranajit Guha (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 276–329, esp. 276.Google Scholar
  3. 12.
    Ania Loomba, “Dead Women Tell No Tales: Issues of Female Subjectivity, Subaltern Agency and Tradition in Colonial and Post-Colonial Writings on Widow Immolation in India,” History Workshop Journal 36 (1993), 209–27, esp. 209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Duarte Barbosa, A Description of the Coasts of East Africa and Malabar in the Beginning of the Sixteenth Century, trans. Henry E. J. Stanley (London: Hakluyt Society, rpt. 1970), 93.Google Scholar
  5. 17.
    See Spivak’s discussion of lost or distorted names of satis in colonial records in “The Rani of Sirmur,” in Europe and Its Others, Vol. 1, eds. Francis Barker et al. (Colchester: University of Essex, 1985), 128–51, esp. 143.Google Scholar
  6. 18.
    Thévenot visited India in 1666. The illustration is from Chapter XLIX (Des Mortuaires) of the Third part in M. de Thévenot, Voyages de M. de Thévenot tant en Europe qu’en Asie et en Afrique (Paris, 1689), which included his Relation de l’Indoustan, des nouveaux Mogols et des autres peuples et pays des Indes, first published posthumously in Paris in 1684.Google Scholar
  7. 23.
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  8. 24.
    See Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1986), 3, 22.Google Scholar
  9. 26.
    François Bernier, Voyages de François Bernier Docteur en Medicine de la Faculté de Montpelier: Contenant la Description des Etats du Grand Mogol, two vols. The illustration is from Tome 2nd (Amsterdam: Paul Marret, 1699).Google Scholar
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    Robert Kerr, ed., Cesar Frederick, Peregrinations in India, in A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels 7: 157–59.Google Scholar
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    Valerie Traub, Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama (London, Routledge, 1992), 32.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Pompa Banerjee 2003

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  • Pompa Banerjee

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