Introduction

From the earliest times that we have language written in a more convenient form than clay tablets, steles, or rune stones, we find travelers writing anecdotes about strange peoples. Herodotus (c.484 c.425 BC) was called not only the father of history but also the first travel writer. He was fascinated by the Scythians, whom he visited on the northern shore of the Black Sea, and so gave us the first description in western literature of a people living beyond the pale of civili­zation, as Casson puts it. He “describes the various tribes and how they live (by agriculture, grazing or hunting), how hard the winters are, how this affects horses very little but mules and donkeys very much” (Casson [1974] 1994: 108). We have Abu Rayhan al-Biruni, born in Uzbekistan but Persian in language and culture (c.973 c.1048 AD), sometimes named the first anthropologist, who focused in his description of India on caste, class system, rites and customs, cultural practice and women’s issues. And there is Ibn Khaldun of the fourteenth century from Morocco, historian and inventor of sociology, also writer about strange facts.

Cultures may have been in contact since time immemorial but the means of sharing such experiences long-distance and over time did not exist as it does today. It does not need much reflection to realize that such sharing as did then exist was based on features which struck the writer as noticeable and unusual. In other words, consciously or not, these descriptions were ...

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