Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Unequal Trade

December 12th, 2012 · 1 Comment


If you have even a passing interest in colonialist cunning, you owe it to yourself to check out the National Museum of Australia’s dynamite exhibit on Aboriginal breastplates. These were baubles that the European arrivals provided to Down Under’s native inhabitants, ostensibly to honor certain individuals for being community leaders. But the givers desired something in return that was, of course, much more valuable than the metal that went into the trinkets:

By the 1830s it was common practice among pastoralists to present the Aboriginal man perceived to be the local leader with a gorget stating his position of authority in the vicinity of the settler’s new property. In return, the Aboriginal leader was expected to prevent his people from interrupting the settler’s pastoral endeavours and where possible to supply labour or information about the land.

This tactic reminds me so much of the genius maneuvering of King Louis XIV of France, who kept the aristocrats in line by having them scramble after petty jobs at Versailles. The powerful get that way by convincing their rivals to settle for things that only have the illusion of value.

That said, the Aboriginal breastplates are gorgeous works of art. Check out the whole gallery here, and read about the significance of all the kangaroo and emu motifs here.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Chris Labarthe

    In early 2001, Karl Rove floated a proposal to give each Dem congressman a breastplate bearing George W Bush’s nickname for him.

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