Posted by: cochinblogger | October 23, 2010

The Midnight Bell

I could hardly believe my eyes when I came across the following quote from Hegel’s writings (from his Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction, Appendix I) in the book The Essential Hegel by Paul Strathern:

When the Jesuits and Catholic missionaries first set out to teach the Indians European culture and manners … they went among the tribes and laid down daily routines for them as if they were schoolchildren; and no matter how idle the natives were, they duly obeyed. The missionaries also built storehouses, and showed the Indians how to use them, so that they could provide for their future needs. The missionaries chose the best methods of civilizing their charges, treating them much as if they were children. I even recall that one missionary used to ring a bell at midnight to remind them to perform their marital duties, because otherwise it would never have occurred to them to do so. These rules had the (highly beneficial) effect of arousing their needs, these being the origin of all human activity.

I had to laugh at the idea of the missionary ringing the bell at midnight to remind the Indians “to perform their marital duties, because otherwise it would never have occurred to them to do so.” How did they reproduce before the missionaries arrived?? And I thought for a moment that Hegel was referring to subcontinental Indians, but then reasoned that judging from our population, we did not require any midnight bells. 🙂

Though we bristle with righteous indignation at this mentality of more than a century ago, are we any better ourselves? I was struck by a Survival International ad on the back cover of a recent magazine that featured a smiling Jarawa, the endangered tribals of the Andaman islands, with the telling copy:

No war; no poverty; no drug abuse; no corruption; no pollution; no overpopulation; no prisons; and we call them primitive?

The ad includes this URL: Survival International. It’s well worth a visit.



  1. yes, can such people/societies be called primitive, when dominant and our so called industrious society wedges human beings between the devil and the dark blue (not deep blue)…..where ever we turn theres things to cuss about, and fret though i like the way through all of this there’s a fascination for what you kind find around you like the shooter and lepidoptera that flit by- cheers to a more civilised society for the likes of us to live in.

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