In the late medieval through Victorian times exotic humans are an increasingly common element of heraldic achievements – as charges, crests and supporters. Of course, by exotic I mean any person not completely identical in mannerisms, appearance and dress to the nationals of whatever country produced the coat of arms.
The inclusion of exotic humans on a coat of arms was generally indicative of adventures (or misadventures) in the homelands of those exotic peoples – more often than not, to include the killing of a great many of the locals. To be sure, European exploration, colonization and conquest were rarely pretty things from the vantage point of the natives.
Africans depicted on coats of arms are often related to the Reconquista of Spain and Portugal – in this context they are usually referred to a Blackamoor– the African Muslims who occupied the Iberian Peninsula for some seven centuries. Some are also related to conquest and colonization of North Africa after the time of the Reconquista. Blackamoors are often depicted with some sort of Arabic headdress and with the curved scymitar sword.
As to the artistic representation of Africans in traditional heraldry, many early depictions showed them looking much the same as Northern Europeans, only with brown or black skin. Later representations gained more stereotypical African features.
See the entry for Savage for more Eurocentric misrepresentations of people from outside what medieval Christians considered to be the civilized world.
African. See Man.
A Glossary of Terms Used in Heraldry; Parker & Company (1894).
Originally posted 2010-01-11 12:05:42.