During the next year of captivity, John managed to put aside his fear and misery, and had the presence of mind to observe and record the ways of the Nootka people. With the intellectual curiosity of an anthropologist, he described fishing and hunting methods, food preparation, clothing, housing, and social and seasonal customs. He learned as well, through his metalwork, making daggers, fish hooks and other metal implements according to the orders of Maquinna. Creating these tools as well as decorative jewelry-like trinkets for the general enjoyment of the people, offered one method of establishing common ground. In fact, John was responsible for introducing Maquinna to the use of steel harpoon heads in place of the shell heads which were constantly breaking. Immediately upon switching, Maquinna harpooned the first whale of the season. Needless to say, this improved relations between the king and his slave considerably.
Beyond that, John learned the language. Like Maquinna who understood the importance of learning English, John recognized that language was a powerful tool he could use to his advantage, and that its nuances told much about the culture he inhabited.
"The king finding that I was desirous of learning their language, was much delighted, and took great
pleasure in conversing with me. On one of these occasions, he explained to me his reasons for cutting
off our ship, saying that he bore no ill will to my countrymen, but that he had been several times
treated very ill by them."
Here John takes a noticeable pause in his narrative to make a philosophical point about diplomacy and inter-cultural relations. He is careful not to side with the Indians but at the same time, he tries to convey their side of the story.
"For though they are a thievish race," (he starts out rather undiplomatically), "yet I have no doubt
that many of the melancholy disasters have principally arisen from the imprudent conduct of some
of the captains and crews of the ships employed in this trade, in exasperating them by insulting,
plundering, and even killing them on slight grounds. This as nothing is more sacred with a savage
than the principle of revenge..."
Much like today's conflicts around the world, the animosities between Indians and Europeans mostly came about due to lack of communication between very different cultures, that combined with a strong desire for revenge. The young John R. very perceptively suggests that a certain amount of guarded civility would go a long way toward improving conditions for trade and profit to the benefit of all parties.
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