“We are all born free and equal, these rights
belong to everybody, whatever our differences”. This is our understanding of
human rights today; whether or not a human has better skills than another, we
are all to be treated as equals, human rights cannot be taken away under any
circumstances or for any reason. Behn’s narrator, however, suggests that they “caress”
the Indians they encounter “as friends, and not to treat them as slaves”1
because they had skills that were of profit to the English. Their possession of
these skills is the only reason why they shoudn’t be made slaves in her view, “they
knowing all the places where to seek the best food of the country, and the
means of getting it”. Even so, the use of the word “caress” characterises the
Indians as though they are not human: yet we can treat these animals/creatures
who aren’t English as “friends”. From A
Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs Mary Rowlandson, gives a
completely different account of the behaviour of the indigenous peoples: “the
Indians” were “gaping before us with their guns, spears and hatchets to devour
us”. In comparison, Behn’s Oroonoko
highlights how welcoming the Indians were to the English coming on to their
land, which might be considered anti -slavery. Behn could have said they were
violent as the English arrived on their land, and the English could have had
the same attitude as Rowlandson when in Coramantien. Instead of being forceful,
however, she mentions that they dealt with them, “without daring to command
them”, because “their numbers so far surpassing ours in that continent”. If
that hadn’t been the case, though, perhaps Behn’s Indians might also have been
treated as common slaves.


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