some fifty of us soldiers clambered up and overturned the idols, which rolled down the steps and were smashed to pieces. Some of them were in the form of fearsome dragons as big as calves and others half-man half-dog and hideously ugly. When thy saw their idols shattered the Caciques and the papas who were with them wept and covered their eyes; and they prayed to their gods for pardon. (From
The Conquest of New Spain 1560s)
In "Of Cannibals," on the other hand, Michel de Montaigne suggests instead that travelers to foreign places might do well to suspend automatic negative judgment of native peoples, and seek instead, to regard them from within their own indigenous geographical, social, and economic contexts, instead of their own. As Montaigne further observes:
every one gives the title of barbarism to everything that is not in use in his own country. as, indeed, we have no other level of truth and reason, than the example and idea of the opinions and customs of the place wherein we live:
there is always the perfect religion, there the perfect government, there the most exact and accomplished usage of all things. They are savages at the same rate that we say fruit are wild, which nature produces of herself and by her own ordinary progress; whereas in truth, we ought rather to call those wild, whose natures we have changed by our artifice, and diverted from the common order. ("Of Cannibals")
Montaigne suggests that the seemingly horrific cannibalism of native peoples of Brazil, who happen to kill and eat their war enemies, is no more barbaric in reality than are various European killing practices. As he describes the Brazilians' cannibalism:
Every one for a trophy brings home the head of an enemy he has killed...
After having a long time treated their prisoners very well... he to whom the prisoner belongs, invites a great assembly... he ties a rope to one of the arms of the prisoner... And gives to the friend... The other arm... they two, in the presence of all... despatch [sic] him with their swords...they roast him, eat him...
A and send some chops to their absent friends. ("Of Cannibals")
Montaigne then suggests this practice is no more barbaric (and in fact, less so) than that of the Portuguese, of burying an enemy up to his waist, shooting him full of arrows, and then hanging him. Further, Montaigne finds it ironic, on the part of Europeans, that "seeing so clearly into their faults, we should be so blind to our own" ("Of Cannibals").
Similarly, in "Of the Custom of Wearing Clothes," Montaigne observes that civilizations that customarily wear clothes, or particular types or styles of clothes, tend to be surprised or puzzled by those from other nations or regions who do not, or who wear few or no clothes, although all human beings, everywhere, enter the world with no clothes at all. As he states:.".. where we are to distinguish the natural laws from those which have been imposed by man's invention [?]" Here, Montaigne's implicit argument is similar to that within "Of Cannibals"; that is, we accept and value what we ourselves do and believe proper, but often degrade, as "primitive," "uncivilized," or even "barbaric," clothing practices of other peoples or cultures, though they value their own as much as we do ours. Montaigne observes that: "Whereas I cannot endure to go unbuttoned or untied; my neighbouring [sic] labourers [sic] would think themselves in chains, if they were so braced." Moreover, suggests Montaigne it is unfair and ethnocentric to negatively judge others' apparel, when individuals from other nations or cultures might think very similarly of French apparel. The clothing practices and needs of every culture everywhere has always been distinct, throughout history, based on available materials; customs; weather conditions; aesthetic standards; protections needed (or not), etc. As in "Of Cannibals," Montaigne implies here that we must endeavor to respect and understand other's customary clothing distinctions, instead of seeing them from only one's own biased perspective.
The respective writings of Bernal Diaz de Castillo and Michel de Montaigne discussed here represent two very different European viewpoints about native peoples of the New World. Diaz's descriptions of natives encountered by the conquistadores of Mexico sound arrogant; derogatory, and ethnocentric, while Montaigne's descriptions of foreign peoples, in both "Of Cannibals" and "Of the Custom of Wearing Clothes," express open-mindedness and equanimity.