Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Maurice Herzog, Contemporary Colonizer?

     Herzog’s description of his ascent of the Annapurna is clearly directed towards the western reader. As he progresses through previously undiscovered parts of the Himalayas, the mountaineer compares the Himalayan mountain range to the Alps: “the ridge narrowed and put us in mind of our own splendid Chamonix aiguilles.” (77) Herzog, in comparing the Asian mountain range to the European one, writes from a western imperialistic standpoint. I can’t help but compare Maurice Herzog’s Annapurna to Christopher Columbus’s Letter on The First Voyage. Although Herzog demonstrates a stronger sense of respect towards the Sherpa and other inhabitants of the Himalayas, his narrative nonetheless can sometimes appear to be pretentious.

     The mountaineer further reasserts this idea of western supremacy as he, along with his team starts naming newly discovered land. The western mountaineers demonstrate a sense of entitlement as they decide to name a pass the “Pass of April 27.” (70) The mountaineers’ necessity to name passes, picks or other valleys in the Himalayas is problematic. They act similarly to Columbus who in the 15th century took possession of the Americas and started christening the conquered land without any regards towards the native populations.

     Today, Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas is highly criticized, however, Maurice Herzog remains an untouchable hero in the western world. It makes me wonder when an outsider has the authority to name a place? When does someone get ownership of a place? Can Herzog’s naming be accepted because he was the first person to set foot in the area, colonizing the land but not the people?

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