There is an interesting sidelight to my discussion of David Childress’s “research” this past week that I’d like to talk about, and it involves more fake quotations. Childress wears many hats, and one of them is that of publisher of Adventures Unlimited Press, his private book publishing house. There Childress self-publishes his own work and republishes the work of other authors on alternative themes, in at least one case without the author’s permission.
In 1998, journalism professor DeWayne B. Johnson sued Childress for republishing his 1950 master’s thesis “Flying Saucers: Fact of Fiction” without authorization or compensation. The case was settled out of court, with Childress paying out a large settlement. Childress didn’t just republish Johnson’s work; he embedded it in Flying Saucers over Los Angeles: The UFO Craze of the 1950s (1998), in which he annotated and commented on Johnson’s work (his favorite copy-and-paste methodology), added unrelated additional reporting by Kenn Thomas, and included an appendix of L.A. newspaper articles, almost certainly reproduced without the newspapers’ permission.
This is a rather indirect way of connecting Childress to Franco-German archaeologist Pierre Honoré, whose 1964 book In Quest of the White God I came across in researching Childress this week. Childress republished the book in 2007 as In Search of Quetzalcoatl. I assume he actually paid for permission this time. In the book, Honoré made some startling claims about “white” (Caucasian) people in the pre-Columbian Americas that have been repeated in every alternative author from Childress to Neo-Nazis, all reproducing the exact same words of the 1964 translation of Quest. He rests his case on just two quotations from Spanish sources. But his quotations appear to be distortions.
First, Honoré claims that Christopher Columbus reported “often” seeing Indians “nearly as white as Spaniards,” but he does not provide a source for his alleged quotation. There’s a good reason for that. This isn’t exactly what Columbus said. On his first voyage, there was a report (secondhand) that some of his sailors had seen two women with pale, white skin among the natives, all of whom they considered (against modern views) to have skins of varying shades of white since their skin color was roughly the same as the "swarthy" (brownish) Spaniards. On his second voyage, near Cuba, Columbus noted that his lookout in the crow’s nest reported briefly glimpsing just three native people (all in one group) wearing white garments, including “a man clad in a white coat or vest down to his knees, and two that carried him had them down to their feet, all three as white as Spaniards.” They vanished before anyone else saw them, and the “whiteness” seems to be more a result of sunlight reflecting off their clothes, or white makeup or paint (worn by many native groups, as Columbus himself noted in his journals) than any Caucasian skin. This, therefore, is not quite the same as saying that there was a vast population of Caucasians in the Indies, and Honoré is dishonest in claiming otherwise.
Honoré’s second quotation is still more problematic. Attributed to Pedro Pizarro, the cousin of the conquistador, it alleges that Pizarro recorded the presence of white men in Peru deemed the children of the gods. I have written about this quotation before, but I was mistaken in believing that Pizarro never said it; instead the trouble is that Honoré distorted the quotation so much that I wasn’t able to find it because of the significant differences.
Here is how Honoré gives the quotation:
Here is how it appears in the original and a standard (and literal) translation:
Note that Pizarro claims that all the men and women of this area of Peru appear white to him, of the “swarthy” variety. Since “whiteness” was not yet defined in the Victorian racial hierarchy, Pizarro did not mean to imply that these people were Caucasians, only that the natives had a variety of skin tones, some nearly as pale as Spaniards (which in many cases are not very pale by Teutonic standards). Commenting on this passage, translator Philip Ainsworth Means noted in 1921 that there were still native Peruvians alive in Means’ day that had this same coloration; no one has yet claimed the living men were Caucasians.
What interests me is the way Honoré has falsified Pizarro’s quotation to emphasize the paleness and to add imaginary blond hair, and thus unfairly give the impression that Pizarro (a) recognized Caucasians in the ruling class of Peru and (b) attributed them to white “gods.” In fact, Pizarro reported that everyone in this region was lighter in skin than the coastal peoples (true in most places around the world) and that the upper class claimed a divine right to rule through fictive divine kinship (also true of elites around the world, including no lesser “white” heroes than Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar).
Honoré fabricates Pizarro’s “claim” that the Peruvians “looked like” Spaniards, when he rather claimed that the native rulers’ skin was paler than Spaniards. (Does this make Spaniards non-white to Honoré?) In short, Honoré has subtly but perceptibly altered the quotation to force it to conform to his thesis about a far-flung race of white civilizing heroes.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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