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Log In Sign Up. Federico Ferretti. Tropicality, the unruly Atlantic and social utopias: the French explorer Henri Coudreau Federico Ferretti federico. French scholarship has shown that the travels of French explorers in Africa and the Pacific islands were far from automatically corresponding to a future French occupation Blais , Surun This paper addresses the figure of the nonconformist and unruly French explorer Henri Coudreau , who travelled for almost twenty years in Amazonia and the Guiana, publishing twelve books and more than thirty papers.
I also used these sources as biographical references, considering their autobiographical character. Thus, I considered not only discursive analysis, as I tried to compare the texts with the concrete practices Coudreau deployed, in order to better understand his contexts.
In both cases he was unpopular in colonial milieus in Paris and Cayenne, as his autonomous political and scientific agenda was considered an irregular activity which interfered abusively with the interests of the French state Puyo Coudreau, who had started his career in the context of official imperial missions for the French government, was increasingly marginalised and finally dismissed for his indiscipline.
If Coudreau was a classic example of the link between exploration and science, his case corroborates present-day critiques to interpretative models assuming the spreading of scientific knowledge from a centre to a periphery, what Michael F.
Other explorers, however, tended to depict Amerindians through the very thick lenses of their own ideologies. Unlike the latter, Crevaux was a very official and publically acknowledged explorer, decorated with the Legion of Honour and directly connected with the French government. He was also a solid Catholic, committed to evangelisation and certainly not empathetic towards indigenous beliefs. The expedition ended with his desertion.
Coudreau disobeyed the orders he had received and travelled quite a long distance in the opposite direction, going up the Amazon River in Brazilian territory to reach the border area of Colombia, Venezuela and British Guiana. What is important to underscore now is how, in this two-year journey in Amazonia, Coudreau discovered indigenous peoples and was marked by the encounter for the rest of his life. From July to March I lived, talked and even thought like an Indian.
Even if Coudreau never abandoned a Eurocentric terminology and some ethnocentric prejudices, his efforts to deal empathically with other cultures are clear from this first contact.
Coudreau also speaks about cases of rapes and murder by this civiliser, and the fact that Fernando eventually disappeared, probably killed by the Indians, does not seem to affect the French traveller. Some of his references suggest that, before meeting Reclus and starting his correspondence with him, he was already familiar with socialist and anarchist theories in particular Saint-Simonianism, as I explain in the next section.
All this suggests that by the s Coudreau had some acquaintance with French anarchists. The civilised man works, or makes others work, to satisfy fictitious needs. Who is the happiest? Nevertheless, Indians are happy… freer than every citizen of Europe or North America, without chiefs, without functionaries…. As they have no notion of progress, they do not struggle for progress — what else is there to be happy? Indian social equality was opposed to European social hierarchies, which Coudreau condemned.
Coudreau even quoted a famous phrase by the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, ironically enumerating the many constraints of bourgeois democracies.
Yet, unlike Diderot and Rousseau, Coudreau focused not on theoretical speculation, but on his empirical experience and one of his originalities lies in his questioning of the very idea of civilisation, a supposedly inevitable thing.
Returning to France in , Coudreau had a certain success with his books but he was then deemed persona non grata by the ministry of colonies. Of course, this prohibition would not be respected by the explorer, as I explain below.
There will be many white men upon the land of the destroyed Oyampis… New cities, that is big stone houses, will rise there. These houses will not belong to their inhabitants, like your malocas [barracks], which are yours; no, they will belong to sorts of very fat tamouchis [Indian chieftains], whom we call landlords. With private property, Coudreau warned, the state will establish its civil and military apparatus.
South America at that time was a secondary issue for French foreign politics, which were more focused on colonial endeavours in Africa. While this set of ideas was not foreign to some justifications of colonialism, it is worth noting that Coudreau was never helpful to French expansion in the region; on the contrary he was considered a maverick and an unwelcome troublemaker.
The Amazonian society would have been balanced by encouraging the migration of families rather than single males in order to avoid alcoholism and rape, and to target breeding between the local peoples and immigrants in the long term. But in his utopia of a free Amazonia, what stands out in the end is that it had to be realised as a spontaneous social movement and not by state intermediation. This suggests that Coudreau was already sympathetic in his first voyage to the decolonised South American republics, as he later shows by accepting a Brazilian appointment.
Coudreau was completely unfamiliar with diplomatic affairs and mocked the absurdity of establishing the right of one nation on the basis of an ancient diplomatic agreement. An ironic outcome of these debates was the use by the Swiss arbitrators of works by both Reclus and Coudreau, French geographers uninterested in claiming new colonial territories for France, to justify their decision to attribute all the disputed territory to Brazil.
Their position differed radically from that of the nationalist French geographers whose work helped in drafting the French memoranda in the dispute, men like Vidal de la Blache. An unpublished map by Coudreau conserved in the Reclus cartographical archive in Geneva was even used by the Swiss government Ferretti By the time the Swiss decision was made public December , Coudreau had already died of malaria during his last expedition on the Trombetas River in November What is most important to understand then is his attitude towards the possible uses of the contested territory.
The attempt was unanimously derided by later commenters, starting with Reclus. It is worth noting that Coudreau had no part in this undertaking because he had left the disputed territory in the summer of Coudreau before the new state was proclaimed; thus, his claims for the establishment of a free territory in Counani were indeed written before this experience Puyo , and Coudreau can be possibly seen as one of the inspirations of the Counani Republic, not one of its protagonists.
You will be, tell them, neither French nor Brazilian, that is your right. Hurrah for Counani! At a time when scientific positivism was a dominant ideology, a European geographer speaking against progress is surely worth considering as an original figure.
On the other hand, this utopia clearly stands in the field of socialism, with some anarchist touches. Thus, the ideal government is its total absence. Morier-Genoud and Cahen , it is possible to argue that the case of Coudreau shows all the problematic nature and ambiguity of migrations in imperial contexts.
At that time, the model of the decolonized Latin American republics interested European anarchists and anti-colonialists like Reclus, who visited Brazil in and endorsed the transformation of an ancient empire practising slavery into a federal and abolitionist republic Carris Cardoso In Brazil found itself with a new frontier dispute, this time with British Guiana. Some of those books were illustrated with the assistance of the Brussels Institute of Geography, which was directed by Reclus at the time and where the handwritten maps sent by Coudreau from Brazil were engraved and sized for inclusion in the volumes.
Coudreau to E. Reclus, 18 February , f. Reclus to Ch. Schiffer, 30 April They are fleeing civilisation, which showed itself to them solely in its mercantile form. And what about the mercantilism exercised between the strongest and the weakest which knows no limit? Coudreau Conclusion Henri Coudreau was certainly a very complex and contradictory figure who fits no one classification; although a far cry from the classical model of the European conqueror-explorer, he never achieved a full anti-colonialist and anti-Eurocentric discourse as did anarchist geographers like Reclus Ferretti, Nevertheless, his exposure to this critical thinking through his collaboration with Reclus and experience of living with Indian tribes progressively led him to shed great part of his initial Eurocentric and racist prejudices, and inspired his explicit questioning of the concept of civilisation.
It is certainly deserving of additional research focusing on the diversity of individual behaviours rather than essentialising the role of Western civilisation, far from being a consistent and linear field.
Chicago University Press, Chicago. CTHS, Paris. Guilford Press, New York. Bressey C Empire, race and the politics of anti-caste. Bloomsbury Academic, London. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. Burnett G It is impossible to make a step without the Indians: nineteenth-century geographical exploration and the Amerindians of British Guiana.
Ethnohistory 49 1 , Oxford University Press, Oxford. ABL, Rio de Janeiro. Princeton University Press, Princeton-Oxford. Clayton D Subaltern space. SAGE London. In Ferro M ed Le livre noir du colonialisme, Laffont, Paris. Coudreau H Le pays de Wargla. Viat, Paris. Danel, Lille. Challemel, Paris. Picard, Paris. Paris, Hachette. Coudreau H Voyage au Xingu. Lahure, Paris. Coudreau H and O , Voyage au Trombetas.
Crevaux J Le mendiant de l'Eldorado. Blackwell, Oxford. Driver F Imagining the tropics: views and visions of the tropical world, Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 25 1 , , Sage, London. Wiley-Blackwell, Malden-Oxford. Zed, London.
Coudreau, Henri Anatole 1859-1899
Their first expedition in ended tragically, as detailed in the book Voyage au Trombetas begun by Henri Coudreau, describing their voyage up the Trombetas tributary of the north bank of the Amazon. He was already sick and exhausted by the years spent in what he called the "green hell". Suffering from malarial fever, he died in his wife's arms on 10 November Aided by his traveling companions, she made a coffin from the planks of the boat and prepared a burial on a promontory overlooking lake Tapagem. After Henri Coudreau's death, Octavie continued the exploration work begun by her husband for seven years. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. French geographer and explorer.
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