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Edward William Lane was born on September 1801 in Hereford, England. He was a British national popularly known for his massive contribution in the research about the people of ancient Near East. He was an excellent lexicographer and a translator. Lane’s father, Dr. Theusand Lane, died when Edward Lane was still a young boy.
He was left an orphan at a tender age of 13 years, and his uncle, Gainsborough took care of him. The uncle sent him to a school at Bath to learn grammar. He was later transferred to Hereford which was considered a better school. At this early stage of learning, Lane showed a strong interest in Mathematics.
Although the teachers ignored this talent as just a normal case of a genius student, his uncle was convinced that he had some special academic capacity that put him above any other average learner. When he completed his elementary learning, Lane visited Cambridge. The uncle wanted him to continue with his education at this school which then had a good reputation. However, he did not join Cambridge. Instead, he decided to join his brother in London (Lane 26).
While in London, Lane started developing a special interest in Arabic. He thought that there was something unique about the Arabs, making them have their own unique cultural practices. Through his own initiatives, he started learning Arabic. It was not easy for him to learn Arabic because he did not have a teacher to guide him. However, he was able to learn this language. He went to Alexandria in Egypt in 1825 aged 24 years.
He then moved to Cairo later in the same year. It was while staying in Cairo that he developed a strong interest in studying way of life of people in this region. He started by translating books and other works of literature in this society from Arabic to English. From 1960, he started publishing several books, most of which were based on the lifestyle of the people of Egypt. This research will focus on Edward Lanes work in order determine his view on the orients as demonstrated in his book, ‘Description of Egypt.’
Lane’s views on the Orient
As a young scholar, Lane had developed a strong interest in understanding the orients. As Lane (90) notes, his scholarly work about the orients made him one of the most successful Arab scholars of his time. He dedicated his time in analyzing people, customs, traditions, manners, and other practices of the orients in order to eliminate what he believed was a misconception about these people by the Western society.
Lane was convinced that there had been an unfair prejudice against the orient by the Western powers, and for this reason, he believed that the best he could do would be to offer an insight into the actual practices of these people. As Said (67) says, the West viewed the orients from two main perspectives. The orients were known for their production of oil and for terrorism.
In the Western society, especially in his home country England and also in the United States, the orients were either terrorists or suppliers of oil. Lane believed that this was a misguided conception of an otherwise sober people who were determined to lead a peaceful life with their neighbors and other people around the world. He dug into the culture, traditions, and manners of the orients in order to dispel some of the long held myths about the orients.
The orient’s culture, traditions and beliefs
When Lane entered Cairo, he was convinced that the orients were not as bad people as they had been depicted by the Western society. He believed that they were just as good as people from the West. His affection for the orients was demonstrated when he changed his dressing code from what he used to wear, to a new attire that was common in this region.
During this time, the orients were known for their unique dressing code. The dressing code itself was a source of prejudice from the Western culture. As a man who had grown up in a Western culture, Lane knew all the criticism that the society in the West had towards the orients.
However, he had a different view of these people. He believed in them, and that is why he changed his dress-code to reflect the lifestyle of these people. As demonstrated in his book, ‘Description of Egypt’, Lane shows a strong desire to give a true analysis of the orients in order to dispel some of the beliefs that the society had associated them with over the years.
As a man who had been raised in a British society, Lane decided to change his lifestyle and become an orient, from speech, dress code, practices, and in language. He notes that when he changed his mannerism to reflect that of the oriental, these people easily accepted him as part of their members of the society. He noted that the orients, just like people from the West, had normal beliefs and practices that were based on environmental factors.
Just like the Western societies, the orients had developed mistrust with the people of the West. He had to disguise himself as part of the orients in order be accepted in this society. He notes that the orients were even more tolerant in their mannerism than the Western societies. In the United States and Europe, Lane explains that the mistrust that they had towards the orients was deeply rooted and it would not be able to convince them otherwise.
However, the orients were warm and welcoming. They easily accepted him as part of them when he adopted their culture. In explaining the mannerism of the orients, Lane says that they had been subject of prejudice from the Western societies. This lack of trust by the West, and constant prejudice made them develop some form of defense mechanism that made them mistrust the West in equal measures.
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The People of Egypt
Most of Lane’s work was based on the people of Egypt. He was trying to reconstruct the ancient Near East cultural practices in order to determine any relationship it had with the terrorism tag that the modern generation had earned. The more he studied the Egyptian culture, language, dress-code, and mannerism, the more he came to approve of them over other Western cultural practices.
In fact he was keen to dissociate himself from the Europeans in Cairo who insisted on retaining the Western mannerisms. He argued that the Egyptian attire, just like that of many other orients in the Middle East, was full of respect as opposed to that of people from the Western culture. In his book, Lane was more sympathetic of the people of Egypt than being a defender of their culture.
Although he did all he could to identify himself with them, deep within himself he still believed that he was not part of them. He believed that he was from the West, but had a calling to defend the people from the East. He praised the communal structure of the people of Egypt. He was also pleased by the willingness of members of this society to offer help to other members of the society who were facing varying problems. This was very rare in the Western society where people were preoccupied with personal gains.
Edward Lane was one of the most accomplished British oriental scholars of his time. He did extensive analysis of the orients to determine their cultural practices, beliefs, and general way of life. He concluded that the orients were not as bad as the West was trying to portray them to be.
Lane’s view of the orients is closely shared by Edward Said who believed that the orients were people of good ethics as opposed to what the West were trying to depict of them. Just like Lane, Said was critical of the West’s perception that the orients were either terrorists or suppliers of oil. Said noted that this was a narrow thinking, which lacked facts that could be used to support it. Instead, Said says that orients are normal people with ethics just like the people of the West. This is an opinion strongly held by Lane in most of his books.
Lane, Edward. Description of Egypt: Notes and Views in Egypt and Nubia, Made During the Years 1825, 26, 27, and 28; Chiefly Consisting of a Series of Descriptions and Delineations of the Monuments, Scenery & C. of Those Countries. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2000. Print.
Lane, Edward. Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians. New York: Cosimo Classics, 2010. Print.
Said, Edward. Orientalism. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1995. Print.