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Dido, Optimization, Oral Tradition, Ox-hide Motif


This anthology of excerpts from histories and travel accounts composed during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries features representations of indigenous oral traditions about the founding of European colonies in Sri Lanka, Melaka, Gujarat, Cambodia, Manila, Jakarta, Taiwan, New York and the Cape of Good Hope. According to these accounts, the colonists first requested as much land as the hide of an ox could cover, and then cut that hide into strips and claimed all the land they could encircle. The “ox-hide measure” is a widely-attested folkloric motif. The introduction, however, questions assumptions about the reliability of oral traditions and looks to history instead of folklore for an explanation for the colonial parallels. It proposes that Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch colonists actually performed the “hide trick,” emulating the classical story of the Phoenician Queen Dido’s foundation of Carthage.


Published in Itinerario, Vol. 41, No. 1, 129–150.


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