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famous as
guide and friend of Yves Noël

Ili (second name unknown) was an Indigenous Ariddian (Wymgani) woman of the Lwi people, on the south-west coast of Ocea island. She became famous as a guide to francophone White Ariddian linguist and explorer Yves Noël in 1699.

Very little is known of Ili's early life. She had undoubtedly mastered several tasks necessary to participating in the daily life of her community, but if she had any specialist abilities they remain unknown. As does the year of her birth; Noël estimated that she was about 19 years of age when he met her in 1699, and notes, not very helpfully, that "the cheery young lady appeared to agree with my guess, laughing to indicate her approval".

Ili as Indigenous guide

Ili and her husband, Eh, vounteered to guide Noël into the heart of Ocea's forests, deep inland. In so doing they passed through familiar territory, encountering Indigenous communities known to them, before pressing on into the unknown.

Noël describes his relation with his guides as "one of friendly curiosity. The lady in particular, after answering any of my questions, would ask one in return of me, my family, my people or my distant land across the waters". Noël's descriptions of Ili and her husband, however, must be treated with caution. He was not free of the prejudices of his time, and portrays the two Wymgani, only slightly younger than himself, as often naïve, carefree, "primitive" and "blissfully ignorant of the many complexities and rituals of a civilised society". Ironically, Wymgani in the late seventeenth century knew far more about Europeans than the colonists did about the Ariddian Isles' Indigenous inhabitants, despite the latter's comparative lack of technological sophistication. Wymgani had been sea-faring explorers for centuries, encountering many foreign peoples in distant lands.

Noël recorded most of his conversations with Ili and Eh in great detail, and they helped him learn more of the Wymgani language, assisting him in his efforts to devise an alphabet to transcribe the language into writing. Ili herself was subsequently one of the first people to learn to read and write Wymgani.

Relationship with Yves Noël

Noël spent over six months living among Wymgani, and, although Eh died of disease, Ili remained with the linguist the entire while. When they parted ways, returning to their respective homes, the two remained in contact by writing a great number of letters, which were published after their deaths by Noël's family (Letters To And From An Untamed Savage Of the South Seas, 1755). Ili died in 1750, six years after Noël. By then she had raised a family of her own, having re-married, and given birth to three children. She has living descendents today, who trace their genealogy directly back to her.

Noël described Ili as "a delightful and lively creature, often smiling and amused by my alien behaviour, and my errors and foreign accent as I struggle with her language. She corrects me patiently for a while, but is easily distracted". Physically, he saw in her "the beauty of her race, a charm and delicacy of features and mind alike. She has the vitality of her child-like [sic] people, but her intelligence and the quickness of her wits often amazed me". He noted that she had dark brown hair rather than black, which is not unusual among Wymgani. "She has", he enthused, "the innocent beauty of a Native fairy princess" - a stereotypical image already commonly expressed in that era.

There has been some speculation as to whether Noël and Ili may have become romantically and/or sexually involved after Eh's death, but there is no evidence suggesting any such relationship, despite Noël's sometimes highly sexualised description of his female guide and "good friend". In particular, his affectionately renaming her "Felicity" ("Félicité"), even before Eh's death, has raised a number of questions. Some have viewed it as Noël's attempt to draw Ili into his European world, to conceptually "humanise" her by giving her a Western name. It has also been pointed out that, in French, "Félicitée" with an additional e (Noël used both spellings) means "congratulated", which appears to imply a paternalistic view, inscribing Ili within a relationship of father/daughter, Caucasian male/younger female brown "native". Noël used the nickname in his letters to her, and Ili often used it in return when signing her own letters. Since Ili spoke very little French (their letters are all in Wymgani), it is not known whether she was aware of any of the nickname's potential meanings.

After parting company with Noël, Ili lived out the remaining decades of her life amidst her people, the Lwi, very rarely venturing into the expanding colonial settlements. She was, however, something of a cultural hybrid, embracing literacy with great enthusiasm. Her letters to Yves Noël contain details of her daily life and the ceremonies of her community - priceless historic material - along with her own thoughts, musings and comments on various matters. The Letters To And From An Untamed Savage are often studied today in Ariddian schools and universities, in the fields of both history and literature.


  • Letters To And From An Untamed Savage Of the South Seas (1755: posthumous publication, by Noël's family, of her correspondance with Noël)