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Old 08-03-2021, 09:29 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Nite
Yeah that's not a thing.
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Originally Posted by J.R.R. Tolkien
There is only one bright spot and that is the growing habit of disgruntled men of dynamiting factories and power-stations; I hope that, encouraged now as ‘patriotism’, may remain a habit! But it won’t do any good, if it is not universal.
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Old 08-03-2021, 09:53 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Note: As this is the history of the USA, I have avoided mentioning or concentrating on any tribes who settled in Canada. This article only concerns those who moved into North America (possibly from Canada) and stayed there.


Tribe*: Yupik (including Central Alaskan, Siberian and Alutiiq)
Territory**: Alaska
Current Status: Still around
Population*** (approx): 35,589


* Note: I struggled with how to categorise the various peoples; began with race, but that didn't sound right, and so I've gone with tribes. It may not be exactly correct, but for my purposes I think it does the job.

** As tribes, nations, peoples and even confederacies got moved and pushed around America by the government, many ended up far from their homeland, and insofar as I can, I'm trying to restrict this to the lands they settled in originally. Sometimes this isn't possible, as Wiki does not always differentiate between where the particular tribe began and where they ended up, but I've tried to concentrate, where I can, on what the descendants of these people would consider their ancestral homelands.

*** Population, on the other hand, refers to now; how many are left alive in America today.


An offshoot of the eskimo and aleut peoples, the Yupik’s main subsistence is on fish. Often racist cartoons of eskimos sitting outside their igloos with a line dangling into a hole punched in the ice may not be too far from the truth. After all, there would be little available game in a frozen wilderness like Alaska, at least the region the Yupik settled in, and the only available food would be fish from the sea, and seals too, whose oil they used in their lamps. The original Yupiks would have been a form of hunter-gatherers, following the source of food across the frozen wastes, only all getting together in winter in the communal house or qasgiq to dance, sing and tell stories.

Unlike many other Native American tribes, the Yupik kept the sexes separate, women in one house, men in the other, though there were often interconnecting tunnels between the two. They also practiced a form of role-reversal I’ve not heard of before (certainly not in so-called civilised society) where for from between three and six weeks boys would be sent to the ena, or women’s house, to learn skills such as cooking, tanning, sowing etc while the girls would transfer to the qasgiq and learn how to hunt, fish and use weapons.

Tribe: Inuit
Territory: Alaska (mostly Canada, but we’re just concerned with American settlements here)
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 148,863

If, like me, you think inuit is another word for eskimo, take my advice: don’t use the word around any inuits, as it’s considered offensive to them. They are a separate society from the eskimos, and their grouping with the other culture was more or less a result of we white men’s tendency to lump races together if they look the same to us. I’ll chance quoting a risque (though not really in the seventies) passage from the classic comedy Fawlty Towers, which illustrates in sad if comedic vein the way colonial whites saw blacks, or indeed anyone else.

The Major is telling Basil about a woman he once knew. In his typical rambling style, he goes on about how much he was attracted to her.
Major: “I must have been keen on her, because I took her to see, ah, India!”
Fawlty: “India?”
Major: “At the Oval!” (The Oval being an English cricket ground, which makes the joke that he took this unnamed woman to see a cricket match between England and India). “And the strange thing was, all through the match she kept referring to the Indians as niggers.”
Fawlty: “They do get confused, don’t they? I see it with Sybil all the time.”
Major: “No, no, no! I told her. That’s the West Indians! These chaps are wogs!”

Sure, you can frown now, but in the context it’s framed it’s mildly amusing. However it does show how the Englishmen and women of the Major’s generation (he’s about seventy, eighty at the time, which, if the programme’s original date is taken as being the time he made this speech, would have had him a young man around about 1890, just in time for things like “the Scramble for Africa” and the Boer War) saw all black and brown people as one race, something that still goes on today sadly.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah: stay out of my booze. But back to the inuits. They seem to have been one of the first societies, not to domesticate dogs surely, but to use them as transport. We’re all familiar with the idea of huskies pulling sleds across the ice, and when you think about it, well, there weren’t any horses and you can’t exactly harness up a seal or a polar bear to your sledge now can you? This innovation - possibly as important for them as the invention of the wheel was for the rest of the world - allowed them to become one of the largest of the circumpolar peoples, resulting perhaps in their still being around and going strong in places like Greenland, Denmark and, as already mentioned, Canada, as well as Alaska.

Nobody would suggest, and neither will I, that everything was rosy before the white man stuck his nose in - just like the Native American tribes, the inuit had disputes and even wars with other peoples long before Columbus had even picked up a map. They’re human after all, and we humans just can’t stop finding reasons to hate and fight with each other. But these wars would of course have of necessity been primitive and very limited (no cannon or gatling guns on the frozen Arctic wastes!) though possibly quite brutal in their way. The first non-Arctic people they came in contact with was the Vikings, though there are no records existing to show how these meetings went.

Next came the Little Ice Age, in 1350, which forced Canadian inuits south as the whales they hunted began to seek warmer waters, and given that they would have been encroaching on the territory of the Alaskan lads, there was a probably a bit of name calling and pushing and shoving, maybe a war or two. Just a few friendly disagreements.


Tribe: Alaskan Athabascans
Territory: Alaska
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 6,400

The oldest of the Alaskan people, I can’t see any figures for how long they’ve been around, but they appear to have originated in Alaska, which is odd, as the other peoples in that region all seem to have come from Russia, from Siberia. At any rate, they are another hunter-gatherer folk, fishing in inland creeks and waterways, with their only domestic animal - I guess pet - being the dog. They are a matrilineal society, meaning their children are more identified with the mother than the father (which I guess is different from a matriarchal society, where the women are in charge).

Tribe: Ahtna
Territory: Alaska
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 1,427

Though their name translates as “ice people” they are often called “Copper Indians”, due to their ancestral homeland being the Copper River. Again I see no mention of where they came from, though they are said to have moved into Alaska about 2,000 years ago, but then again this seems to have been from one area of the state to another, which they occupied for 7,000. There aren’t that many of them, about less than 1,500 in total. Whether eskimos actually live in ice houses called igloos or not I don’t know, but the Ahtna live in houses, often half-underground, made of wood covered with bark and animal skins. They travel in moose-hide boats by water and toboggan by land.

While many would consider them uncivilised and “savage”, they knew enough to keep an eye on the numbers of predators - wolves, bears, eagles - and cut them down so that the natural prey of these animals, the moose, caribou, sheep and rabbits would not be hunted to extinction and leave them without any means of sustenance. Oddly enough, wolves seem to have been sacred to their forefathers, and often the hide of a killed wolf would be propped up and offered sacrifices. A kind of “sorry dude, no hard feelings” idea? Weird. They originally had no currency and bartered for goods.


Tribe: Gwich’in
Territory: Alaska
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 4,375

There are only three clans of these people left, the third one reserved for those degenerates who marry within their own clan, something the Gwich’in consider on a par with incest, though it does not seem to be a crime as such. Nevertheless, this third clan is looked down upon as a lower stratum of Gwich’in society. They seem to have a fairly well-developed sense of morality, prizing kindness, intelligence, hard work, generosity and mercy among the most desirable of traits, and things to aspire to. Their gods, or legendary heroes, seem to be mostly of the trickster variety, the tales of them rife with buffoonery and humour. They believe that once animals could talk to men, and vice versa. They believe they and their main source of food, the caribou, were once one entity, and the animal holds very special significance for them as a cultural symbol, almost as much as the buffalo was to the Native Americans. In fact, they describe themselves as “the caribou people”.


Tribe: Tanana
Territory: Alaska
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 900

Another matrilineal hunter-gatherer society, they had no tribal organisation but were fiercely territorial. They hunted caribou, moose, sheep and small animals, and were semi-nomadic, following the season shifts of their quarry. It seems they traded with the Ahtna for copper, which the Tanana used in their tools and weapons. These guys live and hunt in a subarctic boreal forest, and also hunt waterfowl such as swans, ducks and geese. They used, or use, canoes to approach the birds and then shoot them with bows and arrows. They also eat fruit and berries, roots and tubers and other plants, or use them for decoration and medicine. Unlike some of the other Arctic peoples, the Tanana seem to welcome, and even require, cross-cousin marriage. That isn’t marrying your uncle’s daughter who has a bad temper, by the way, but marrying the child of the opposite sex of the parent. Yeah. Still sounds incestuous to me.

No real surprise to see that the main religion here is animism, and like the Native Americans they revere the earth, the sky, the waters and the animals. The shaman or medicine man is the central figure in their worship, their high priest if you will, as is the case again with most of the Native American tribes. The basic belief that “everything is nature is fundamentally spiritual and must be treated with respect” is something you really can’t argue with, and surely a good motto for a good life. This belief in the power of animals and inanimate objects extended to the practice of, having killed a wolf, apologising to it and explaining that it was necessary to feed one’s family.

There are a lot of important taboos in Tananan culture, mostly centred around ethics of hunting. Otters, wolves, wolverines, ravens, cranes, foxes and dogs are off the menu, as are bears for women of child-bearing age, and dogs may not be fed the bones of slain animals lest it bring bad luck to the clan in hunting. They also had an odd tradition that the only animal allowed to be domesticated was the dog. At midwinter the clans would get together in a gathering called the potlatch, which could go on for a week and covered anything from a marriage ceremony to a funeral one, though the funeral potlatches only took place a year after the death, and were more a way of honouring the dead than burying him or her.

Unlike many of their Alaskan brethren, the Tanana don’t tend to use dogs to pull sleds, though they do often use sleds. However they pull these themselves. Mostly they just walk everywhere, in snow shoes.


Tribe: Haida
Territory: Alaska
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 10,764

Thought to have been one of the most warlike of the Alaskan peoples, the Haida are said to have practiced slavery, something that has not been mentioned with the others so far. They were also known for their seamanship and trading skills, with one anthropologist likening them to the Vikings. They also host potlatches, including funeral ones, and they carve totem poles as well as ornate jewellery and woven art. They wore transformation masks, masks carved to represent an animal becoming another animal, or a spiritual being, which were meant to illustrate their journey into the afterlife. The Haida believed in reincarnation and transformation of the spirit. They were one of the few Arctic peoples to embrace the idea of the vision quest, a spiritual - and physical - journey undertaken by young adults to determine their future by meeting the animal which would be their spirit guide. Their main god seems to take the form of a raven (making this bird sacred to them) and is or was called Ne-Kilst-lass.

The Haida were greatly feared as a fighting force. They often took revenge on enemies for decades-old insults or grievances, or to raid them for slaves. When victorious, it was customary to burn down the enemy’s village and slaughter everyone in it. Warriors who had fallen in the victory were ceremonially burned, along with their slaves. They used daggers, bow and arrows and wore a highly effective form of armour, but never carried shields.

Tribe: Tsimshian
Territory: Alaska
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 8.162

Not at all nomadic, the Tsimshian people built longhouses of cedar wood and in fact towns sprung up, making them perhaps one of the first of the Alaskan peoples we’ve read about to consider such a premise. They lived mostly on salmon, fishing in the rivers and the sea. Their religion sounds very like Christianity: they worshipped a “Lord in Heaven”, who would send sacred messengers to them in times of need, and they believed charity and purification of the body was the way to the afterlife. Their potlatch is called a yaawk (sounds like someone ate too much salmon if you ask me!) and their main material for manufacturing was red cedar, which they used to make clothes, tools, houses and to cover canoes.

Tribe: Eskimo
Territory: Alaska
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 183,500

Although seen by many races as a sort of ethnic slur these days, the word eskimo is still in use, and it covers such people as the Yupik, Inuit and Aleut. For those of us who don’t know any better, including me, eskimo is the word we use to describe anyone living in the Arctic Circle, at the North Pole, or living on any sort of frozen wasteland. Interestingly, though it might have been thought to have been apocryphal, the idea that eskimos have over fifty words for snow has been accepted by academics. But Captain Kirk still never said “Beam me up, Scotty” and the people who tried to overturn democracy on January 6 2021 were all Trump supporters.
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Old 08-03-2021, 07:45 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Note: Tenses were a real problem for me here. Did I write about a tribe who was still extant as in the present tense, or past? Given that this is meant to be an exploration of the peoples who came before the whites, and we're talking about the past, I've gone with the latter. If such things as rituals and things are still practiced, it's mostly still shown as being in the past, as I'm trying to concentrate on that timeline. Sometimes I may forget and wander into writing in the present tense; if so, bear with me. I catch these instances where I can, but one or two are bound to slip through.

Tribe: Abenaki (Tarrentine) including the Eastern, Western Abenaki and the Kennebec
Territory: New Brunswick, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 9,775 (less than a third in the USA, all the rest in Canada)

The Abenaki seem to have been the enemies of the Iroqouis, who warred against them and invaded their lands. Despite this, they were described by priests as "temperate in the use of liquor, ingenious, docile and not profane." They were also said to be “not cannibals”. Well, that’s a relief, isn’t it? They cultivated crops (not something your average cannibal might do I would think), hunted game and fished, and also ate plants. These are the first tribe we come across who were patrilineal, as I imagine most Native American tribes were, but we will see. They lived in small villages of about 100 people, more easily defended than large settlements, but also more easily overrun by superior numbers.

Here, too, we find the first of these people who lived in actual wigwams, so it wasn’t just an invention of Hollywood. We all know what wigwams are, right? Conical tents that… oh wait. Shit. No. Wigwams are, apparently, permanent dome-shaped structures, whereas the ones we see on the movies (but which are often referred to - inaccurately and incorrectly, it would seem - as wigwams) are in fact teepees. An Abenaki with a piece of leather attached to his scalp, his head otherwise shaved except for the ponytail denoted a married man, while single men kept their hair loose, but tied it into the ponytail when they acquired a mate but were not yet married. Before he could get married he had to secure the agreement of everyone in the tribe, though how they resolved getting that last holdout to agree I don’t know: ritual combat? Running a race? Kicking the crap out of each other? Most likely the last I’d imagine.

The men were the hunters (no surprise there) and the women the farmers, planting the crops. A pretty democratic society, these people. All decisions had to be made by consensus of the whole tribe, each clan of which elected a spokesperson, and a facilitator would weigh the arguments and if there was not consensus, send them back again to be reviewed. In any decision to be made, the Three Truths had to be taken into consideration:
One - Peace: is this preserved?
Two - Righteousness: Is this moral?
Three - Power: Does it preserve the integrity of the group?

The Abenaki had a high moral code and taught their children through stories, never punishing them but using mythology and fables to show them the error of their ways. As you might possibly expect, their main god is a Great Spirit who created the world, mostly while dreaming, and, rather interestingly, first created a giant turtle who carries the world on its back. Sound familiar? They believe there were three ages, the Ancient Age, during which men and animals were equal, the Golden Age, when men began to separate themselves from animals and the Present Age. Most of their gods and heroes, in common with much Native American mythology, are both animal spirits and tricksters.


Tribe: Mohicans (Housatonic)
Territory: Massachusetts, New York
Current Status: Still around (so much for The Last of the Mohicans, huh?)
Population (approx): 3,000

Their chief was advised by a council of elders and the Mohicans were another matrilineal society, they hunted and fished and in times of war were familiar with stockades to protect their villages. Their main enemy appears to have been the Mohawk tribe, with whom they were constantly at war.

Tribe(s): Illinois Confederacy
Territory: Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Michigan
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 2,925

This was a confederacy of about twelve tribes, made up of the Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Peoria, Tamaroa, Moingwena, Michigamea, Chepoussa, Chinkoa, Coiracoentanon, Esperminkia, Maroa and Tapouara tribes. Only five of these tribes still remain today, all amalgamated under the Peoria name. They had a lot of enemies, including the famous Lakota-Sioux, Pawnee, Osage, Arikara, Shawnee, Quapaw and Chickasaw. The Illinois tribes were polygamous and so men could have several wives, but the first wife maintained a lot of power in the family. Women also held positions of trust and honour, such as shamans or priests. Although they were sometimes allowed to hunt, women were forbidden from carrying weapons. Guess they had to nag the animals to death, then!

Women were accorded great respect if they had many children and were faithful to their husband, and if they were not, the consequences could be dire, such as having parts of their face cut off. Doesn’t say what happened to unfaithful men, if anything. High-fives from other men, probably. A man’s reputation rested on his hunting ability, and the more respected he was the more wives he could have. Outside of this though they seem to have had a somewhat relaxed and enlightened attitude to gender stereotypes, as some of their men dressed as women, and if a boy displayed feminine tendencies when growing up he was treated, dressed and tattooed as a girl.

These are the first tribes we hear of who hunted the bison or buffalo, which was the main quarry of the Plains Natives, and which would forever be tied and linked to them by Hollywood, though interestingly, at least until the arrival of white settlers, the Illinois tribes would hunt the bison on foot, using bow and arrow to bring them down. Also interestingly, the main aim of the Illinois in battle was to take prisoners, not kill the enemy. They gained many slaves this way. When they won, that was, of course. When their own fell in battle, the war chief was required to compensate their families and lead reprisal attacks.

Tribe(s): Iroquois Confederacy
Territory: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Oklahoma, West Virginia
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 32,550

Also known as the Five Nations, this league comprised some of the most powerful and best-known Native American tribes - the Seneca, the Mohawk, the Cayuga, as well as the Oneida and Onondaga tribes. The league, or confederacy, was formed in order to bring together the five - later, with the addition of the Tuscarora, six - tribes who were constantly warring against each other and other tribes also. With a totally egalitarian society, there was no servitude or forced leadership within the Five Nations, and to some degree as the later Five Families of the Mafia would be organised, all decisions were by consensus and all the council of fifty had to agree to them. The consolidation of the tribes and the subsequent cessation of hostilities between them allowed the Iroquois to become one of the strongest, most powerful and most feared tribes in America.

A strange custom was that of raiding another tribe to take captives, either to replace one of their own dead or to be tortured. Either process was supposed to unleash the grief that a mourning family would feel on the death of a member, and such raids were known as “mourning wars.” Due to this desire for captives to swell their own ranks, and the use of wooden body armour, as well as relatively primitive weapons with little real killing power, many of the battles the Iroquois fought resulted in few actual deaths, being more a show of strength and superiority than actual war, and also a sort of courting ritual for those who wished to take wives, as women admired the valour and courage of a warrior. Conversely, any man who was unlucky enough to be branded a coward by the clan mothers was forever destined to remain single, as no woman would marry a man without bravery and honour to his name.

One thing it seems Hollywood got right, at least in the case of the Iroquois, was the tying of a captive to a pole and dancing around it. Captured prisoners would be stripped naked - regardless of sex or age - tortured by being burned mostly, and then have to dance naked for the village, whose inhabitants would decide if the captive was worthy or not of adoption. If not, the sorrow and grief assuaged by their torture, they would be given a quick death.

Okay, reading further, not a quick death. Not at all. The rejected captive would be returned to the prisoner pole, tortured for a full day, including having parts of them chopped off, then would be scalped alive (you know what that is of course) before hot sand was applied to the skull. Finally, their heart would be cut out and they would, obviously, mercifully, die. Hey, that’s a whole lot of grief assuaged, guys! Couldn’t you just have scalped them and let them die? What’s with all the torture? Not quite the worst of it (though the captive, being dead now, wouldn’t care) as the body and heart would be cut up and everyone would tuck in. Yep, they were cannibals, at least of these captives. Time heals all, I guess, but apparently if you can’t wait that long, then brutal ritualistic slow torture does it better.
Spoiler for Spoilered as the drawing is a little graphic:

The Iroquois did not accept losses in battle, as it diminished the community, and so, despite their ferocity, killing one or two of their number could rout a whole war party. Those who did die were said to spend eternity as angry ghosts wandering the world in search of revenge for their death, and their bodies were not buried in community cemeteries, as the tribe did not want angry ghosts hanging around making trouble. In battle, they relied on sneak attacks and ambushes, and retreated if outnumbered. They were also known to prosecute a scorched-earth policy, by burning their crops to deny the enemy sustenance as they retreated to their villages for a siege. If the enemy was very powerful, they would even burn the village and leg it into the woods, hiding until the foe went away.

They lived in villages but would move as resources ran out, and transport themselves to other areas, where they would build new villages. These consisted of twenty to thirty longhouses surrounded by palisades, and sometimes with ditches dug around them, leading later settlers to characterise them as castles. Up to eighteen families could live in one of these longhouses, so in ways the white folks weren’t all that wrong. They were also very defensible, often built on a hill with good commanding views of the surrounding territory, and near to water. The Iroquois were, however, despite their warlike tendencies, mostly farmers and fishermen, and made medicines from plants and herbs.

Children and youth of the Iroquois went naked, while adults merely covered their loins with a patch of leather or hide, though they did wear moccasins, which became very fashionable among civilised whites much later, and are still worn today for their comfort. Original moccasins were made of deer hide, though now of course they’re synthetically manufactured. Women wore their hair long and tied at the back, while men wore the style which has come to be known, and favoured among punk rockers and others, as the mohawk. Men painted their faces while women did not, in a reversal of western civilisation. Being a matriarchal society, the Five Nations did not allow any one person to own land, believing it all belonged to the creator spirit, but women were said to be its stewards and wardens. With a lot of power among the tribes, clan mothers chose the leaders and could, if he became corrupt or lost the faith or support of the people, dismiss him and choose another.

The Iroquois had three different societies for practicing medicine. The False Face Society wore masks carved from living trees, used to frighten away bad spirits, while the Husk Face Society worked their healing through dreams and divinations. Finally, the Secret Medicine Society used rituals and dances to spread their healing powers. They believed that when someone died, their soul went through trials and journeys to reach the afterlife, or sky world, and this took a year, so that twelve months after the death they celebrated the soul’s arrival in the sky world. They seem to have invented the game of lacrosse, as it was one of their favourite sports. They also played the snow-snake game, which involved throwing, or rather sliding, a five to seven foot pole across the snow to see who could get it the furthest, and the peach stone game, which was a form of gambling, something like an ancient form of dice-rolling similar maybe to craps or Yahtzee.

The wampum belt was very important to the Iroquois; it could signify many things, from condolence for a loved one gone to a treaty signed. Wampum belts were made of elm bark with purple and white mollusk beads. They also symbolised the office of the clan mothers who wore them.

Tribe: Kickapoo
Territory: Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Mexico
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 5,000

All right, I’ll just say it: it would be tempting to call these guys the shitkicker tribe, wouldn’t it? Okay, now we’ve got that out of our systems, let’s go on. Aw now come on! They had a chief in 1900 called Babe Shkit? This is just too funny. That's him in the picture, by the way.


Tribe(s): Lenni Lenape
Territory: Pennsylvania, Delaware, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Massachusetts
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 16,000

This covers a shitload of tribes, and I’m not joking. I count no less than fifteen separate tribes affiliated with the Lenape people, and I’m just not going to list them all. In addition to being matrilineal, these peoples were also matrilocal. What’s matrilocal, I hear you ask. Damned if I know. Oh wait, I do. It means that newly-married couples had to live with the wife’s mother. Nice. Never get rid of the mother-in-law and get our own place, will we? Lenape had a different way of hunting to other tribes: they didn’t run after their prey with bows and arrows, but would stand at a river, beating thighbones upon their palms to drive animals into the river (not sure why the animals would do this; maybe the sound scared them) or surround them in a circle and then set the brush on fire. Sounds like that might be a badly-calculated strategy, as fire is hard to control, and can turn on you in an instant, but there you go.They would also lasso and drown deer, and putting chestnuts in the river apparently made the fishies dizzy, and thereby easier to catch. None of this sounds particularly brave, but that’s what they did.

Women wore their hair long, while men shaved off all but a small round crest, about two centimetres in diameter. Men wore loincloths and women skirts made of animal hide, and also sometimes buckskin leggings (both sexes wore these) as well as mantles made from beaver or raccoon pelts in winter. They played pahsaheman, an ancient form of football with teams of up to a hundred, men against women. Men could only kick the ball while women could pick it up and carry it, GAA-style, and once a woman had the ball a man could not tackle her, though he could try to dislodge the ball from her grasp. In dances, men were exuberant and lively while the women were more demure.
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Old 08-12-2021, 09:27 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Tribe: Menominee
Territory: Wisconsin
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 8.700

Not at all warlike, the Menominee (doo-doo-bi-doo-doo - sorry) were known for being peaceful and getting on with other tribes, and were not involved in any wars or territorial conflicts, despite owning a huge territory of over ten thousand acres. You’d have to wonder, given how peaceful they are supposed to have been, why some other more warlike tribe did not try to take this land from them, but it doesn’t seem to have happened (until, of course, the biggest and most warlike of all tribes arrived in their land).


Tribe: Anishinaabeg (including Algonquin, Nipissing (hur hur), Ojibwe, Mississaugas, Saulteaux, Odawa, Potawatomi
Territory: Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Oklahoma, Kansas
Current Status:: Still around
Population (approx): in excess of 370,000

Yes that’s a shitload of peoples to put under the one banner, but come on: there are hundreds of separate tribes and I don’t intend to write about all of them. They’re all seen to come under the basic banner of the Anishinaabeg anyway, otherwise I’d be treating them separately. At any rate, it seems the Anishinaabeg consider the Abenaki to be their ancestors, and call them “the Fathers”, except for the Cree, but you know what they’re like.

Tribe: Assateague
Territory: Maryland
Current Status:: More or less extinct
Population (approx): 0

These fine chaps had the idea to removed the flesh and organs of the dead before they buried them, actually storing the bones of their ancestors in long huts for years. Charming. Although there may be some still living who can trace their heritage to the Assateagues, the tribe as such is no longer extant.

Tribe: Chowanoke
Territory: North Carolina
Current Status:: More or less extinct; current descendants trying to renew their tribes
Population (approx): Unknown

In their time the most powerful tribe in North Carolina, the Chowanoke had a leader and a noble class, according to evidence found by archaeologists, as well as temples and burial grounds.

Tribe: Choptank:
Territory: Maryland
Current Status:: Extinct
Population (approx): 0

Not much I can tell you, except that to my knowledge none of them ever chopped a tank.


Tribe: Shawnee
Territory: Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 14,000

A well-known name thanks to movies, the Shawnee practiced burial of their people in mounds (not literally practiced: I don’t mean they had dry runs with live specimens or anything! All right braves, that’s a wrap! We’ll pick it up again tomorrow!) and also built effigy mounds, one of which still stands in Ohio, the Great Serpent Mound in Adams County. They believed the Lenape people to be their grandfathers, their greatest and most famous leader being Tecumseh, whose name would be given to the great Civil War general Sherman. The Shawnee, unlike many of the tribes, were patrilineal, though for some reason their kings were chosen through the matrilineal line. Odd.


Tribe: Cherokee
Territory: North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Texas, Mexico, Oklahoma
Current Status: Very much still around
Population (approx): Over 1 million

Who hasn’t heard of these? Along with the Apaches and the Comanches they’re probably the best known tribes, again thanks to Hollywood, TV and books. Their names still exist - apart from in their own tribes - in products such as jeeps, aircraft and sports teams, and despite their usage in western movies as the bad guys, the Cherokee actually believed war to be a polluting activity, preferring to farm and hunt. For this reason they had two councils of elders, one, the “white” council, looked after their spiritual well-being, taking care of prayers, healing, purification and so forth, while the “red” council - staffed by younger men - was in charge of preparations for war. After the battles, the men had to be spiritually cleansed by the white council before they could be reintegrated back into society.

Though a matrilineal society, polygamy was practiced among the Cherokee, especially the elite men; this was not seen as a bad thing, nor did it disrespect women, who were held in very high regard among the tribe. Women owned the land and the home, farmed and chose the leaders of the tribe. They were also expected to keep the cultural history of the people alive, being its guardians. Cherokees are of course identified with the Trail of Tears, but that’s much later and we’ll be looking at that in detail when the time comes.

Tribe: Seminole
Territory: Florida, Oklahoma
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 18,600

They seem to be one of the younger tribes, only coming into being around 1700, and technically then not so much affected by the incursion of the white man, or to be more accurate, they didn’t enjoy the freedom that other tribes did, as they weren’t in existence at the time. Perhaps I’m reading this wrong, but they appear to be one of the very few tribes that actually increased rather than declined in population, beginning with about 4 ,000 - 6,000 of them in the nineteenth century and now with today almost five times that.

Tribe: Apalachee
Territory: Florida
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 300

It seems these fellas invented the modern game of football, including rules governing its (mis)conduct. Didn’t quite get it right though. They kicked the ball - made of dried mud covered with buckskin - against the goalpost (there was no net), and points were scored if you hit the post (unlike now, when it’s a goal opportunity missed) as well as if you could kick the ball into the nest which would be put atop the post, complete with a stuffed eagle. Whether the stuffed eagle was real or not I don’t know. I doubt the Apalachee, or any Native Americans, were familiar with taxidermy, so maybe it was an effigy? Anyway, you got more points if you kicked the ball up onto the goalpost and into the nest. But the best thing were the rules of strategy.

Players would fall upon whoever fell during the game, walk on him, kick him in the face, punch him, stuff dirt in his mouth and pull his arms and legs. A red card offence, surely, ref! Whoever had the ball was told (presumably by the chief/manager) to die before he let it go. Players would hide the ball in their mouths and be choked or punched to get them to release it. There were forty or fifty men per team, and bones were broken and even some deaths resulted. Many matches ended in full-scale riots. Just like today, then. As well as this, good players would be given the best houses, goods and excused from any misdemeanours in order to keep them on the team. So again, just like today.

“Welcome, and you join us at the start of the seventh round of the All-Nations postball tournament, where the two villages of Mudflat and Deerhide are fighting it out for the trophy. We’re all expecting great things from Kicks-in-the-Teeth, Mudflat Village’s to scorer, who has two deaths to his tally and has broken more bones than any other player in this tournament, some even on the opposition side. Bought from Riverside Village for the then-unheard of transfer fee of seven runner beans, Kicks-in-the-Teeth has had a controversial career, including four quashed convictions for robbery, which the village elders ordered hushed up lest he be tempted to move to the rival Deerhide team. That’s professional postball for you; the fans will forgive anything. Now, let’s settle back for what promises to be an entertaining, not to say necessarily lethal, final.”

As you’ve probably worked out by now, the name of this tribe gives rise to the cultural region now known as Appalachia.

Tribe: Blackfoot
Territory: Montana
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 130,000

An actual confederacy of originally three, now four Blackfoot-speaking nations, they occupied large swathes of what were then the Great Plains, and had warrior societies, into which only the bravest could be inducted. Blackfoot hunted the buffalo on horseback, though originally they had a less sophisticated method of killing the animals. This was called the buffalo jump, and involved the Blackfeet driving the herd over a cliff, where later they would descend and take what they needed from the mangled corpses. They also developed, or at least used, camouflage, draping buffalo skins over them to disguise their scent while they hunted the beasts. The women would process and prepare the carcasses for food and clothing and other uses.

Every part of the buffalo was used, nothing went to waste, not even its dung, which was used, dried, to light and fuel fires. The skins were draped over the sides of the teepees to keep them warm in winter and cool in the summer, and protected them against wind. The heart was usually eaten by the hunters soon after the animal was brought down, the stomach and bladder used for storing liquid, and the fat for making soap.

The Blackfoot were one of the warrior tribes mentioned earlier, and they placed great store upon bravery, using the method known as “counting coup”, which involved doing various brave things behind enemy lines, such as taking a weapon, killing an enemy or loosing a horse, all of which added to a warrior’s reputation. Among their enemies were some of the bigger and more well-known of the Plains tribes - the Crow, Cheyenne and Sioux.

In midsummer, all four nations would convene for the Sun Dance, a ceremony of spiritual healing. Here they would pray to the creator for good and successful hunting and health. Women were highly valued in the Blackfoot nation, weaving quilts, decorating shields, helping prepare their men for battle, taking care of the children and bringing them up in the traditions of the tribe, and of course as already mentioned, turning the buffalo the men brought home into everything from edible meat to clothing.

Marriage was a slightly more complex deal among the Blackfoot. Although a man could choose a wife, she had to accept him and her decision would also hinge on whether or not her prospective husband could impress her father with his deeds of bravery. The marriage had to be blessed by the girl’s father. One thing Hollywood got right is that some - not all - Native Americans did wear headdresses, and the Blackfoot were one of these, possibly due to its being so cold out on the Great Plains. The headdresses were usually made either from eagles’ feathers or from a bison horn attached to a felt hat.

Tribe: Cheyenne
Territory: Montana, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, Colorado
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 22,970

Another well-known tribe, also of the Great Plains, they too hunted the bison. One of their greatest prophets, known as Sweet Medicine, predicted the coming of the white man. It was believed he had received the sacred arrow bundle and the sacred buffalo hat which are two of the most important holy relics in the Cheyenne nation. In the beginning they ate fish and crops, but the prophet convinced them to switch to a diet of bison meat - and so began the hunt - as well as wild fruits and vegetables. Another warrior society, the Cheyenne are the first I’ve heard of who used the tomahawk, something made almost ubiquitous in western movies and series; among their enemies they numbered the Crow and Blackfoot, Sioux and Pawnee. They also took on the Apache and the Comanche, though they allied with the Arapaho. They would later ally with the Sioux in the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Tribe: Comanche
Territory: Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 17,000

Once the greatest and most powerful tribe on the southeast plains, the Comanches commanded a huge area and warred upon other tribes, and are believed to have been the first of the plains tribes to have acquired and used horses, which became absolutely integral and vital to their way of life, and turned them into even fiercer warriors than they already had been. They would also end up making something of a living as horse traders. Comanche boys learned to ride a horse literally before they could walk, and were expected and hoped to grow up and be great warriors, while girls were shown by their mother how to do household tasks and carried a doll made of deerskin that they must learn to make the clothes for, in preparation for their lives as a warrior’s wife. Comanches did not believe much in discipline, but instead led by example, though if punishment was required they would sometimes, um, dress up as ghosts and frighten the children, particularly with the story of Big Maneater Owl, who caught naughty children and ate them. How original.

Boys were expected to be able to ride and handle a horse before they were five years old, and were given small bow and arrow weapons to familiarise themselves with the real thing. As their fathers would most likely be out on a hunt or a raiding party, the boy would tend to identify more with his grandfather, who would be his mentor, trainer and teacher, and show him all the things he needed to know in order to grow up and be a brave warrior. No matter his age though, no boy was allowed go on a war party unless he had distinguished himself on a buffalo hunt. Then there was a great feast thrown for him by his father. Girls were taught at age twelve how to cook, sew clothes, prepare hides and other womanly duties, and were at this age considered eligible for marriage.

When a warrior died, his body was wrapped in blankets and placed on a horse, and taken to a secure cave or other burial site. On return, the rider who had taken the corpse on its last journey would slash his arms in honour of the deceased, and all of the dead man’s possessions would be burned by the village.

Horses were the status symbol within the Comanche nation, a man’s worth measured by how many horses he had. Raiding parties would often go in search of horses to steal, and other than the advantage horse-mounted attack gave the tribe, the animal was respected as it ate no meat, unlike dogs, and so the food that was to nourish the tribe did not have to be shared with the beast of burden. Another thing they took pride in was their hair, which they wore long and hardly ever cut, in two long braids. Unlike other plains natives they did not wear headdresses, or indeed anything on their heads. Women did the opposite to their men, wearing their hair short, apart from very young women, who might keep it long and braided until they were older.
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Tribe: Crow
Territory: Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 14,000

Enemies of the Cheyenne and Sioux, but allies of the Apache, the Crow became breeders of horses and thus the target for horse raids by, among others, the Blackfoot. They, too, hunted the bison, originally on foot and, somewhat like the Cheyenne, disguised, though with wolf pelts rather than those of buffalos. They killed the buffalo with spears and lances. Later of course they used horses and the hunts were much more successful and efficient. They lived in teepees and, though I can’t confirm if they were the only ones, they’re the first ones I’ve heard of who actually used fires inside the tent. Doesn’t sound very safe, but they appear to have done it anyway.

There was no sexual ambiguity among the Crow, unlike some of the other tribes we’ve read about. Men literally wore the trousers (breeches or leggings) and women wore dresses. Men wore their hair much longer than the women, sometimes being in danger of tripping over it! They also often wore it in the pompadour style, coloured white with paint. They could theoretically have been called the Bead People, as just about everything they had, from costumes to horses to teepees were decorated with beads, and they knew the importance of colour and its significance, reflecting this in the face and body paint they wore, and in the tattoos also.

Tribe: Apache
Territory: Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Mexico, Colorado
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 111,810

A by-word and catch-all term for “Indians” in western movies, Apache are probably the best-known of the Native American plains tribes, and actually comprised more than a dozen tribes affiliated with them. Historically they tended to live in high mountains, valleys and deserts and canyons. They are related to the Athabaskan peoples whom we met in the far colder climes of the Arctic. Very much nomadic, the Apache did not leave much behind archaeologically speaking to denote how they lived, but we do know they were a closely-linked community, living together and the tradition being if a man’s wife died that he married her sister, and if a woman’s husband died then her brother was expected to take over. How that worked if he was already married I don’t know, but most Native American tribes seemed not to have a problem with polygamy, so maybe it was just that, two wives.

Chiefs were chosen if they fulfilled the main criteria: industriousness, impartiality, generosity, forbearance, conscientiousness and eloquence in language. Oddly enough, for a warrior people, courage or honour or prowess in battle does not seem to have figured in the requirements for choosing a leader. Within the Apache culture all tribes were autonomous and independent, and certain tribes even fought against each other. Apache lived in three different types of dwelling, depending on the territory. Plains natives lived in teepees, those in the mountains and highland regions in a domed structure called a wickiup (sound like the research I do!) and the desert tribes preferred a hogan, which was an earthen dwelling which helped them keep cool.

Although the Apache hunted various animals, to some of the tribes certain of these were taboo, and not to be consumed. Among these were bear, turkey, coyote and owls. Apache used bow and arrow to hunt, and also whistles to lure their prey. The most famous Apache of all, and indeed one of the most famous Native Americans, was of course Geronimo, but we will meet him a lot later into this history.

Tribe: Conoy or Piscataway
Territory: Maryland, Virginia
Current Status:: Still around
Population (approx): 4,103

Another of the more permanent tribes, the Conoy were not hunter-gatherers but farmers, though they hunted of course for their food - wolves, bear, elk, deer, squirrels, beavers, turkey and more were their quarry. They lived in long houses protected by a wooden palisade, and they fished in the nearby rivers as well as using canoes to navigate them.

Tribe: Erie
Territory: Pennsylvania
Current Status:: Extinct
Population (approx): 0

After a hard and brutal war with the Iroquois, the Erie people’s villages were burned, which destroyed their stores of maize and eventually led to their total extinction.

Tribe: Ho-Chunk (including Winnebago):
Territory: Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota
Current Status:: Still around
Population (approx): 7,000

They were a hunter-gatherer people who followed the source of food, hunted and fished and used the local plants in their medicine. Like most Native American tribes, they did not just eat the game, but used its skin for coverings for their houses, for clothing and for making tools. They also followed the practice of Vision Quest, for the young boys, a rite of passage. Although now patrilineal, the Ho-Chunk are believed to have been originally matrilineal and they also practiced the custom of marrying outside of their clan, of which there were originally twelve, each associated with a spirit animal such as buffalo, eagle or bear.

Tribe: Navajo
Territory: Arizona, Utah, New Mexico
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 399,494

Related both to the Apache, and therefore the Athabaskan people, the Navajo are another matrilineal tribe, with property passing down the mother’s line to the wife, and she retaining the children by law if the parents separate. In the reverse of western tradition, a man intending to get married is expected to bring money, property or other forms of wealth in what is called bride wealth. The Navajo appear to be unique (at least, in what I’ve read so far) in building specific types of different dwellings, or hogans, for men and women. A male hogan is square or conical with a rectangular entrance, while the hogan of the female has eight sides. They are built of logs covered in mud, the entrance always facing east, to welcome the sun in the morning. The hogan is sacred and goes all the way back to their beginnings, when the Navajo trickster god Coyote is said to have built the first one for the First Man and First Woman.

Navajo belief seems to be centred around the idea of nomadism, of moving on; they teach that they began in one world, had to transition through two more before arriving here, in the fourth world. They strive to maintain the balance between man and nature, creating harmony in their own lives through their efforts. Like many of the tribes they perform dances as part of their ritual ceremonies, including the Night Chant, which is used to help people back to health.

Tribe: Sioux
Territory: Minnesota, Wisconsin
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 170,110

Another extremely famous tribe, not least due to the great chief Sitting Bull, who defeated General Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, the Sioux are in fact a Nation, made up of two major divisions, the Dakota and the Lakota. They see the natural and supernatural world as very much linked, and important to each other, and teach that all things must be accorded the same respect.

"We should understand well that all things are the works of the Great Spirit. We should know that He is within all things: the trees, the grasses, the rivers, the mountains, and all the four-legged animals, and the winged peoples; and even more important, we should understand that He is also above all these things and peoples. When we do understand all this deeply in our hearts, then we will fear, and love, and know the Great Spirit, and then we will be and act and live as He intends" - (Black Elk, The Sacred Pipe: Black elk’s Account of the Sacred Rites of the Oglala Sioux)

Kind of sounds like where Lucas may have got the idea for the Force, doesn’t it? Prayer and dreams can both invoke the spiritual world, and allow the Sioux to call upon their ancestors for aid or wisdom. Dreams were also believed to have the power to confer supernatural abilities on the dreamer. The ruling body of the Sioux was known as the Seven Council Fires, and they met in summer to discuss policy, choose new leaders, hear disputes and also to renew kinships between the tribes, which was a central tenet of their civilisation, in fact the most important. Leaders were chosen based on a mixture of virtues including bravery, fortitude, generosity and wisdom, and also based on their lineage.

The Sioux also had warrior societies, some of them used to train young warriors, some used as a sort of internal police force. Their burial practices were different from other tribes: they did not bury their dead but put the body on a platform raised over the ground, along with their personal effects, and mourned them for a year, speaking to the corpse as if it were still alive and offering it food. Must have got pretty rank after a few months, never mind a year! The body was always placed with its head towards the south, and the Ghost Dance was performed to aid the progress of its soul into the afterlife. Only if the person had been a victim of murder would they be placed directly in the ground. Perhaps they didn’t think someone who allowed himself to be murdered was likely to get into the afterlife? I really don’t know. Maybe it was seen as a sign of disgrace, to let your guard down and not die honourably in battle?

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, but the most famous names we know in Native American history come from the Sioux: Red Cloud, Crazy Horse and of course Sitting Bull.

Tribe: Honniasont
Territory: Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia
Current Status:: Extinct
Population (approx): 0

Nothing I can tell you about these guys.

Tribe: Unami (including Acquackanonk, Okehocking and Unalachtigo)
Territory: Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania
Current Status:: Extinct
Population (approx): 0

Not much information on these lads at all.

Tribe: Manahoac
Territory: Virginia
Current Status:: Extinct
Population (approx): 0

They were allies of the Monacan but not of the Powhatan, and buried their dead in burial mounds or barrows, unlike a lot of other tribes who tended to either bury corpses as they were or strip them of flesh and organs and then just cover the grave with a board. These burial mounds were not just for one person, but have been found with the remains of hundreds, even thousands of corpses inside. Hunter-gatherers, they lived along rivers and fished and farmed.

Tribe: Mascouten
Territory: Michigan
Current Status:: Extinct
Population (approx): 0 (There are descendants but they have been absorbed into the Kickapoo tribe)

Other than that they were called the Fire Nation, shrug.

Tribe: Massachusett
Territory: Massachusetts, duh!
Current Status:: Still around, barely
Population (approx):150

Occupying some of the most fertile and flat land in New England, the Massachusett were of course farmers as well as hunters.

Tribe: Meherrin
Territory: Virginia, North Carolina
Current Status:: Still around
Population (approx): 900

Connected to the Iroquois League and related to the Tuscarora.


Tribe: Arapaho
Territory: Colorado, Wyoming, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas
Current Status: Still around
Population (approx): 10.861

The Arapaho, like many or most of the tribes of the plains, centred around the notion of the warrior and had warrior societies, with leaders elected according to the ancient practice of counting coup, explained earlier. They decorated their bodies and horses with war paint, each warrior choosing his own personal colour and pattern which was specific to him and held special significance for him. They were enemies to, among (many) others, the Blackfoot, Pawnee, Navajo, Apache and Crow. They also fought against the Cheyenne and Sioux, but later became their allies.

Although their gender roles are set along traditional lines - men being hunters and warriors, women staying at home with the kids and doing the cooking etc - the Arapaho have a third gender, called Haux’xan or Two Spirit, which seems to conform to the modern idea of a woman born in a man’s body. These are not seen as freaks, rather, as divinely-touched beings with supernatural powers, and highly revered. There does not seem to be a female-to-male contemporary though. The Haux’xan assume the responsibilities and roles of women, dress like them and - oddly enough - are allowed/expected to marry men. Whether that indicates an acceptance of homosexuality in this tribe or not I really can’t say, though you can’t imagine any other way this would be accomplished. Perhaps, if the Haux’xan are seen as female in the eyes of males, they become so in their minds?

************************************************** *******

This is just supposed to be a small, representative sampling of some of the major (and a few minor) tribes of peoples who inhabited what would come to be known as America in the early period before Columbus. Of course there are hundreds of tribes and nations left out, but this isn’t intended to be the history of Native Americans, and the actual history of America itself is a huge undertaking, so we need to get to that without too much delay. I nevertheless wanted to be sure not to simply dive in at the discovery of America (or, as he believed it, the West Indies) by an Italian explorer as the starting point for the history of the country, since there is so much more to America than that. So hopefully this has given you an idea of the people living there prior to the arrival of the Santa Maria, Nina and Pinta, and some basis upon which to understand the culture and way of life we so callously rolled over and annihilated in our successful attempt to take the land away from those who had a prior, and more just, claim upon it than we did.
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Old 08-31-2021, 09:35 AM   #16 (permalink)
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Chapter II: Rolling Hills, Open Sky:
Pioneers of the Wild Frontier


“The world was full of rumors just then, a marvelous thing had happened: a new land had been discovered, and just when it was needed. The people had wandered to the end of the world, in quest of food and safety. Like sand in an hourglass, pouring grain by grain. Over many thousands of years, wandering bands of people drifted toward the end of one world and crossed over into another.”

Though you will find much anger among Native American tribes now at the concept - generally held - that their people originated in Asia and crossed over during one of the Ice Ages into what is now America, arguing that this makes them, in the words of one Lakota scholar, Vine Deloria Jr., “latecomers who had barely unpacked before Columbus came knocking on the door", it seems unlikely that they were always there. Other than Africa, where life is more or less now agreed to have begun, every race migrated from somewhere to somewhere. In my history of Ireland journal and my corresponding one on the history of England, I mark how each of those who believe themselves the original inhabitants came from other countries and settled there. It’s a familiar scenario, and there’s no reason to believe that it was any different for America.

Certainly, it makes more sense than the various origin myths espoused by some of the tribes, such as arriving through a giant log (Kiowa), being created by a trickster god (Crow) or even sung into existence, to the accompaniment of celestial objects getting it on with each other (Pawnee). While of course those are myths and despite the value each tribe puts upon them, I doubt there’s any member of those peoples still living now who truly believe this is how they came into being. But even if the accepted theory is true, I don’t quite get Mr. Deloria Jr.’s beef, as the last Ice Age, during which the huge ice land bridge known as Beringia stood and which may have provided a kind of “immigrant highway” for the people of Asia who sought out the new land, was about thirteen thousand years ago, so at least twelve thousand years before Columbus stood on the bow of the Santa Maria, intent on claiming the New World for Their Majesties, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Some even argue for a longer habitation, going back as far as thirty-five thousand years ago. Hardly johnny-come-latelys, as Deloria Jr. seems to grump his people would be seen.

Die Hard the Hunter: Surviving and Thriving in America

Whatever your opinions on hunting these days, when little if any of it is due to hunger or a requirement for meat, back when the first Native American tribes roamed the continent, hunting was quite literally a choice between life and death. Yes, you could farm and grow crops, and many did, but these things take time. You plant your seeds and then wait through the seasons for the harvest to spring up. And even then the food has to be prepared. Not a whole lot of fun if you’re starving as you wait. Hunting is immediate, in comparison. Go out today, get lucky and come home the same evening with enough meat to feed the family, maybe the tribe. One thing America had in abundance at this time was game, from the herds of buffalo and oxen and deer that covered the country to smaller quarry such as wolves, foxes, beavers and squirrels. And then of course there was bear.

But these animals had not survived as long as they had by being stupid; they were not going to come running into a trap. Anyone, I assume, who hunts will tell you that you have to stalk your prey, and have a certain amount of skill in order to succeed. So hunting became a necessary, a vital skill among the tribes; anyone - any man - who could not hunt likely did not eat, and certainly could not provide for his family. From a very early age, most tribes would train their male children in the art of hunting, and it became second nature. But another thing herds of animals do is have a tendency not to stay in one place, ranging across the plains and the prairie for food themselves, and they’ll go where their prey, or the grass they wish to eat, is, which meant that most tribes had to be nomads or semi-nomads, following the herds as they moved across the country, relocating their camps and villages in an effort to ensure they did not go hungry.

The first believed peoples in America, known as the Clovis, flourished around 13,000 years ago, and so were necessarily primitive, and restricted to very basic weapons made of bone, wood and stone for their hunting. However, even today (as I’m sure dedicated hunters will tell you) it’s not necessarily how powerful or effective your weapon is that gets you your kill, but how well you know both the territory and the habits of your quarry. The Clovis people studied their prey, and were able to tell to a reasonably certain degree which way they were going to go, what spooked them, when they watered and so on. All of this helped them greatly in their hunting exploits, indeed there are those who blame the sudden (in geological terms) extinction of a whole raft of species on over-hunting by the Clovis. Mammoths, short-faced Bears, sabre-tooth cats, mastodons, giant sloths, camels, lions, cheetahs and, um, giant beavers the size of bears, all disappeared around the end of the Pleistocene era, about ten thousand years ago.

Rather surprised to read that horses, too, became extinct at this time. I guess they mean they became extinct in America, and were not seen again until the sixteenth century when the Spanish explorers brought them to the New World. Odd though: I had no idea horses had ever been classified as extinct in any country, least of all America, if prehistoric America. Learn something new every day. One of the theories put forward as to why the Clovis were so successful in such a relatively short time - and against such large and, on the face of it, fierce predators - contends that none of these animals had, up to the arrival of the Clovis, seen a human, and had no idea what to expect. Their weapons were new to them, they were a new species and they had an intelligence and organisation the animals did not. And they were ruthless, and hungry. There was only one way that encounter was going to turn out.

It should be noted, in fairness, that most scientists now discount this “blitzkrieg theory” as it’s called, believing that climatic changes resulting in weather patterns altering and also the supply of food for these animals vanishing, as warm-weather short grasses replaced the tall-grass prairies on which the larger beasts had subsisted. The bow and arrow, which eventually became the hunting weapon of choice until the arrival of the Spanish with their guns, seems to have begun with our friends the Athabaskans, inuits and eskimos up in the Arctic anything from 9,000 to 6,000 BC, and didn’t reach the southern states, as it were, until nearly 600 AD, when they were found to be in use in Texas, and later California.

But unlike today, I assume, hunting was a spiritual as well as a physical activity. The Native American peoples had great respect, both for the land and for the animals who shared it with them. The idea that everything has a soul, or a spirit, including trees and grass and rocks, reflects in the mythology of the many tribes, most of whom worship or at least revere gods who are animals or take the shape of animals, such as eagle, bear, wolf and of course coyote. They would perform ritual dances and offer sacrifices to these gods before going on a hunt, in the hope the spirits, their ancestors, the gods and anyone else they looked up to would bless their venture, and they were always very careful to afford the creatures they killed the proper respect. As I noted earlier, many tribes did not allow the carcasses of animals slain in the hunt to be fed to dogs, which they believed disrespectful and which would then bring bad luck.

They were also very much aware of the worth of every kill, and wasted nothing if they could help it. Whereas today, a hunter might eat the cooked flesh of a deer or whatever hunters hunt these days, the Native Americans used everything, as I have already related, from skin and hide to sinews and even blood. In some ways, perhaps they believed that the spirit of the animal, which probably could not die anyway, lived on and protected, for instance, teepees covered in its skin, or warriors wearing its horns on their head, or whatever. At any rate, it would most likely have been seen to be a mark of disrespect again if they just ate the meat and threw the rest of the animal away, so they made sure everything had a purpose and could be used. This of course made them even more dependent on the animals they hunted, creating something of a cyclical sequence, a circle of death, if you will, that they took very seriously.

Then of course, there was the spirit guide.

Most people know the idea, that when a young warrior who was of age went on the mysterious often drug-induced trip known as the vision quest, it was usually to try to contact his spirit animal. For everyone this could be different: anything from a beaver to a snake or a bear to a wolf, an eagle or a spider. This animal was then inextricably linked to that warrior, would protect him and advise him, and became sacred to him.

One animal that thrived after the extinction of the larger ones by the Clovis (maybe) was the buffalo or bison, which spread out across the prairies and the Great Plains, running from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The buffalo soon became the Native Americans’ quarry of choice, a single animal quite possibly feeding a family of twelve for a week. Buffalo moved in herds, though, seldom found alone, and so rather than hunt singly or in small groups, the Native Americans would organise large parties, sometimes whole villages, sometimes one or more villages, to take part in a communal buffalo hunt, and share the kill. Doubtless there were many deaths. In the earlier parts of their existence on the Plains, the tribes hunted on foot, and given that buffalos weigh in the region of a ton and tend to move fast in all but stampeding herds, anyone who wasn’t quick enough, agile enough, or fell or slipped during a hunt was not likely to be going home to the village, nor was anyone likely to be helping him up.

In addition to hunting, the tribes practiced gathering of fruits, herbs, grasses, roots, tubers, seeds and plants, some for use in food or drink, some for medicinal purposes, and some for ceremonial purposes. They were also squashed and their juices used as ink to decorate shields, clothing, armour and utensils. Gathering these was the job of the women, as was preparing the meat which the hunters brought in. One can almost envisage a Native American stomping into his teepee, tired but happy, jerking a thumb outside the tent. “Kill’s outside, love, take care of it would you?” and putting his feet up while the little woman went to work. Probably not very accurate, but maybe not too far from the truth. Everyone in Native American society had their place and their responsibilities, and each took theirs very seriously. A woman would not have to be told to start skinning a deer or buffalo or antelope; she would know it was her duty to transform the dead animal into edible meat and other useful products.

Many of the tribes settled along the coast, and these mostly became fishermen, drawing their bounty from the sea and the many rivers that run through America. Fishing techniques would of course have been very basic - probably nets weighted down with stones, or the traditional figure of standing in a shallow river with a spear, ready for any unsuspecting marine life to swim by - though there were of course bigger game to be had if you could put to sea, or river, in a canoe: sea otters, seals, even whales were fished by these people. What exactly they did to land a whale I have no idea, but then after watching Moby Dick it seems the plan was always to go out in the smaller boats and finish off the whales - usually the smaller ones - so they probably did that.

Whatever, the abundance of fish, especially salmon, one of the coastal First Americans’ food staples, particularly at the time of what was (and probably still is) called the salmon run, when the fish would return to their spawning grounds, led to the first real trading settlements. So many people would gather at these spawning grounds, particularly in The Dalles, a site upstream of the Columbia River, that this became a place for meeting, socialising, catching and eating the fish and for trading same, leading to the world’s first ever trade fair on the banks of the Columbia.

The first salmon of the season caught would traditionally be shared among the children of the village, and the bones of any eaten were to be thrown back into the river, as a gesture of respect to the fish’s spirit, to ensure the fishing would remain plentiful. Women were prohibited from touching salmon during their menstruation cycle, as it was believed the “unclean” blood would pollute the fish, though I doubt they were prevented from eating it. Not really sure.

Whales were dealt with in the same manner, ie the rituals had to be observed, as the Native Americans believed that a whale would only condescend to give up its life to hunters who had paid it the proper respect. After it had been killed, women would say special prayers for its spirit. Nothing was taken for granted; every fisherman knew that the caprices of wind, weather, heat, landslides of rock, or other natural disasters and phenomena could put paid to their fishing, cutting them off from their supply of food, so they took care to chant the right prayers, appeal to the spirits and the gods, and observe all the necessary rituals in the hope their food source would remain plentiful.

They were also all but horticulturalists, even ecologists, tending to the trees and plants, clearing away weeds and competing flora, using fire to clear paths and create growth, and providing enticing habitat for the animals they hunted. Just as with the fish and the buffalo, the Native Americans believed the plants, even the very grass they walked on, had a life of their own and deserved to be treated with respect. Respect was a reciprocal tool among these early peoples; if you treated something with regard then it would in turn work for you, so to speak. Respect cut both ways, as they saw it, and was a vital ingredient in ensuring their survival.
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Old 08-31-2021, 10:19 AM   #17 (permalink)
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Journeys of Survival: The Exigency of Movement and Migration

It seems to be generally accepted now that Athabaskan peoples such as the Eskimos and Inuits moved west around 1,700 years ago, perhaps as the boreal forest around Hudson Bay began to retreat due to climatic changes, bringing them into the more fertile and temperate regions beyond the Arctic Circle, and giving rise to such peoples as the Shawnee, Illinois, Foxes, Kickapoo, Miami and Menominee tribes, and later the Blackfoot and Cheyenne peoples. Those who had settled across what is now the border with Canada also migrated south, bringing them into our history, as they introduced the bow and arrow to America. These then would have been the historic ancestors of two of the bigger and more famous tribes of the Plains, the Apache and the Navajo.

As they moved across the continent, bigger tribes began to split and form newer ones, for various reasons, leading to the huge variety of Native American peoples who ended up inhabiting America, many of whom survive today, in one form or another. Western Sioux fragmented into Mandans, Hidastas and Crows, Eastern Sioux gave birth to Ioways, Missouris, Otos and Winnebagos. Given the tradition of storytelling and mythology that surrounds Native American history, and their lack of any written accounts, it’s hard to pin down exactly what happened (though the theory is pretty much discounted among archaeologists and scholars that some of them were, for instance, dropped onto the land by a huge eagle, or dreamed into life by a creator god). It is clear though, that the early history of these peoples involved much movement, transition, resettlement and migration as they progressed deeper across the continent, seeking the best farmland or hunting grounds or the most clement weather or abundant fishing. One thing is certain however: these peoples moved into a land unpopulated by other human beings, and displaced no other living civilisation. To paraphrase Woody somewhat, this land was most certainly their land.

However, lest it be somehow misinterpreted that these were all peace-loving, mi casa su casa kind of people, consider the village at Crow Creek, on the Missouri in North Dakota, where evidence exists that 486 men, women and indeed children were killed, mutilated and scalped around 1325, in an apparent attempt at a land-grab.

A Woman’s Place: Gender Roles Among Native Americans

When the first explorers encountered their first, as they called them, Indians, they were shocked and often revolted at how backward and savage they were, in their eyes. These were no civilised people, and though they used them initially to gain knowledge of the New World and often tricked them into believing the Spanish conquerors friendly, in the minds of Europeans there were only two things that could be done for these heathen: convert them, or exterminate them. It’s of course an example of the massive hubris of the white man that he believed - and still believes, mostly - himself to be the shining star in the human cosmos, the very pinnacle of evolution, the arbiter of class and the decider as to who should, and does, live or die. There’s an old saying that men fear the unknown, and men in fear often resort to violence to assuage that terror; if you can’t convert it, kill it, might be an appropriate axiom for early European settlers, and to be fair, we as a race haven’t really advanced all that far from that idea.

But the truth of it is, the Native American peoples were far more civilised than the Europeans, far cleverer and far more in tune with nature, and in terms of gender politics and sexual equality they were centuries ahead of the luddites who eventually claimed the title of Americans. Based on a rigid class system that had held for thousands of years, Europeans could see little use for or value in women, other than for the obvious. Women could not vote, could not own property, could not own businesses or have any sort of independent wealth of their own. In the eyes of class and gender-conscious Europe (and this includes England of course, and Ireland) women were created to serve men; they were to stay at home, bring up the children, look after the house. They were to be courted, protected, defended and bullied, they were to be devalued and overlooked, condescended to and thought little of beyond marriage and breeding children. Their interests were totally separate to those of men, their ideas not worth the time it took to listen to, their endurance all but absent from their frail bodies and minds believed equally fragile and empty.

It took until the late nineteenth century for women to achieve any sort of proper standing in society, and the twentieth before their voice would be heard in decisions that affected them, before they could start speaking for themselves instead of having men speak for them. In Native American culture though, which had been around for, as we noted above, in the region of fourteen thousand years, and possibly longer, women were not only highly valued but were often given not only an equal, but a superior standing in society. We’ve spoken before of the matrilineal nature of some tribes, and the idea of matrilocation. But we’ve only sort of nodded to them in passing before moving on. Let’s take a proper look at those concepts, and how they were implemented in the society of early Native American man.

Here’s how Wiki defines the term: Matrilineality is the tracing of kinship through the female line. It may also correlate with a social system in which each person is identified with their matriline – their mother's lineage – and which can involve the inheritance of property and/or titles. A matriline is a line of descent from a female ancestor to a descendant (of either sex) in which the individuals in all intervening generations are mothers – in other words, a "mother line". In a matrilineal descent system, an individual is considered to belong to the same descent group as their mother. This ancient matrilineal descent pattern is in contrast to the currently more popular pattern of patrilineal descent from which a family name is usually derived. The matriline of historical nobility was also called their enatic or uterine ancestry, corresponding to the patrilineal or "agnatic" ancestry.

So essentially here, the woman has all the power. All lineal descent goes through her family, not that of her husband, and it’s her female children who stand to inherit any land, property or other bequest. In Native American terms, some of this has to do with many of their spirits and gods being female, such as Sky Woman and Bright Shining Woman, Owl Woman and even Mother Corn or Corn Mother (depending on tribe), one of the most vital staples upon which the peoples of early America subsisted. Martilienal progression also led to the clan mothers, who, though not actual leaders or chiefs, were in effect the power behind the throne in many Native American tribes, being the ones who chose the leaders and who could, if they were seen not to live up to their responsibilities or to fail the people, be replaced at the clan mothers’ command.

There’s no need for surprise that such a “savage” people should value women more than the so-called civilised Europeans. The wonder is that women were trod upon for so long in the western nations. After all, if there is one great power in this universe, mightier than all, it is life. Without life, nothing exists. And women are the only ones who can give life, bring life into the world. Native Americans recognised and celebrated that fact; they knew that without their women they would be doomed to die out as a race, and being a highly spiritual people, the cycle of life and death was very important to them, possibly a reason why older people too were revered and respected, perhaps believed to be closer to communing with the spirits of their ancestors, whom they would soon join, than the younger in the tribe.

We’ve touched on the role of women in the creation of the world, too, in Native American myths. We’ve met Corn Mother, Mother Corn or in some versions First Mother, but there’s also Big Turtle, who created and carried the world on her back, Star Woman, Hard Being Woman and Spider Woman (no, seriously). In the myths of the Arctic Athabaskan peoples, Sedna is the daughter of the creator, Anguta, and it is she who creates the world. There are plenty more examples, but we don’t want to get too bogged down in legends and myth. The fact is that Native Americans recognised and valued the role women played in their society; they prepared the kill so that it could be eaten and preserved, they made the clothes the people wore, they made baskets and decorations. They were in charge of sowing crops and gathering herbs and other plants for use in medicine, and for ritual ceremonies too.

And of course, women took care of the children they had brought into the world. While it was the man’s duty to instruct and train the males, the females would be taught by their mothers and her sisters how to cook, clean, prepare meat and so forth. An interesting effect of the matrilineal society was that it was not the father, or husband, who was the most important male member of the family, but the uncle or brother-in-law, usually the eldest brother of the wife. This was because the clan the mother belonged to was the one through which the line of succession passed, and since, as in most Native American tribes, the husband was generally of another clan, he (or his clan) had a much weaker claim upon his children.

In other words, the line of female succession decided who would be mentor and almost father figure to her children (even if they already had a father); as mentioned previously, the father - and most likely the uncle too - would often be away hunting or raiding, so many times the task of training the boys fell to the grandfather, the father of the wife, who would be too old to join any such party. Land was managed, and in some tribes actually seen to be owned, by the women, and parcelled out as they thought fit among their family and extended family.

Clan mothers were generally not elected or chosen, but descended as a hereditary right through the female line, so the title would be passed from mother to her sisters and then to her daughters and on to their daughters, and so on. Clan mothers were often responsible for giving every clan member its name, and Faithkeepers were charged with arranging weddings, funerals and other ceremonial rites. Legend, at least Iroquois legend has it that the Great Peacemaker, the greatest prophet in their mythology/history, who brought together the Five Nations during the twelfth century, first converted a woman, Jigonhsasee, and thereby she became the first clan mother. The legend goes on to explain that before the formation of the Five Nations there was war between the Hunters, a cannibal tribe made up exclusively of men, and the Cultivators, all women, who knew the secret of farming. When some of the men joined the women and the Hunters were defeated, the Great Prophet decreed that from that day forth, men and women should be equal, and that the clan mother should not lead the clan, but should choose its leaders, in a sort of perhaps very early power-sharing arrangement.

The Great Prophet put it thus: The lineal descent of the People of the Five Nations shall run in the female line. Women shall be considered proprietors of the nation. They shall own the land and the soil. Men and women shall the status of the mother. (I’m assuming the missing word after “shall” is maybe “honour” or something like that).

The clan mothers also conduct what is known as the “cross-over ceremony”, which I guess is a coming of age/rite of passage/bar mitzvah thing, marking the end of childhood and the onset of adolescence. These involve fasting, meditation, teaching and a period of seclusion lasting twenty days. During this time, the clan mothers are on hand to provide advice and encouragement to the fasters. Once the ceremony reaches its end there is a big dance and festival to welcome the ex-children into the world of adolescence. We’ve heard of the “mourning wars” the Iroquois and other tribes would launch when a member of a clan died and they wished to find a replacement, or alternatively find someone to torture to death so as to assuage the clan’s grief. Well, those were apparently also under the control of the clan mothers, showing further the power of women to urge the men on to violent action by calling them cowards if they did not obey the order.

In his Iroquois Culture and Commentary , Doug George-Kanentilio writes “In our society, women are the center of all things. Nature, we believe, has given women the ability to create; therefore it is only natural that women be in positions of power to protect this function. ... We traced our clans through women; a child born into the world assumed the clan membership of its mother. Our young women were expected to be physically strong. ... The young women received formal instruction in traditional planting. ... Since the Iroquois were absolutely dependent upon the crops they grew, whoever controlled this vital activity wielded great power within our communities.

It was our belief that since women were the givers of life they naturally regulated the feeding of our people. ... In all countries, real wealth stems from the control of land and its resources. Our Iroquois philosophers knew this as well as we knew natural law. To us it made sense for women to control the land since they were far more sensitive to the rhythms of the Mother Earth. We did not own the land but were custodians of it. Our women decided any and all issues involving territory, including where a community was to be built and how land was to be used. ...

In our political system, we mandated full equality. Our leaders were selected by a caucus of women before the appointments were subject to popular review....Our traditional governments are composed of an equal number of men and women. The men are chiefs and the women clan-mothers. ... As leaders, the women closely monitor the actions of the men and retain the right to veto any law they deem inappropriate. ... Our women not only hold the reigns of political and economic power, they also have the right to determine all issues involving the taking of human life. Declarations of war had to be approved by the women, while treaties of peace were subject to their deliberations.”


The Omnipresent Mother-in-Law: Matrilocal Tradition in Native American tribes

Oh yes, there was no escaping the dreaded mother-in-law if you were part of, or married into a matrilineal society. You were expected to move in with your new bride’s mother, and she and her sisters and aunts would be at you night and day, pointing out all your little inadequacies (hey, it’s cold out, you know?) to your wife. You’d probably kill - literally - for the chance to get away from the jabbering women on a hunt or raiding party. Hell, you might even hope you didn’t make it back!

But seriously, this was the tradition. The couple either lived in or near the wife’s mother’s house, and she, the mother, would be very involved in the raising of the children, who would always be brought up as part of her clan, not his. If a man misbehaved or brought shame upon his wife, he had no right to be in the house (whether they lived with or close to the mother) and could be ordered by law to leave the gaffe. Any children from the marriage remained, of course, the property or at least the responsibility of the woman, and the husband might never see them again if he strayed.

Finally, and linked to both the above, there is matrifocality, which occurs when the power of the household is centred in the hands of the mother; she makes all the big decisions, keeps the family together and is the main voice in the family. The husband may not even be very much involved in the family, almost seen as a visitor at times, and certainly would not be able to override any orders or edicts put down by the mother (who would be his mother-in-law): a fate worse than death for many men, especially on our side of the divide! But despite hysteria that such a “topsy-turvy” way of doing things would result in disaster, giving the women so much power that the men would become little more than subservient sperm donors, this method worked for tens of thousands of years for the Native Americans (not all, but many) and even then, the men remained proud and noble warriors, and any outsider coming into their society would view them as being the ones in charge. Further proof, perhaps, of the cunning way the clan mothers manipulated their power, or maybe just proof that women could be in charge without it going to their heads.
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Old 09-15-2021, 07:13 PM   #18 (permalink)
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A Kind of Magic: Ritual, Ceremony and Prayer in Early America

Another reason why explorers, and later, settlers, regarded the various Native American peoples as “savage” and “uncivilised” and “heathen” was that they could not, or would not, understand the processes by which these people lived. To a people who believed all of nature was tied together, that man was not all that far above the animals - that they, as mentioned, willingly gave themselves up to the human hunters thanks to the proper rituals being observed - and that even the grass and the trees and the sky had to be respected, it was vitally important that the proper ceremonial offerings be made, not only to ensure good hunting but to reaffirm their bond with animals, plants, the rocks and the earth, the trees and the rivers and the sky. A working dogma for almost every Native American tribe could have been “all is one”. They certainly believed themselves superior to animals, but only because the Great Spirit said so, and not in the same way as we do. We believe animals are there for our use and have no say in the matter. Native Americans worked on a sort of symbiotic relationship with, well, everything, but especially the animals they hunted.

It is a matter of huge hypocrisy (not that religion isn’t based on the nastiest and most violent form of hypocrisy anyway) that Spanish missionaries, and later English, German and others, took offence at the “barbaric” rituals observed by the various Native American tribes. In effect, what the people of America were doing when settlers first encountered them is exactly what those settlers were doing themselves, just in a more overt, and some would say honest way. What was the first thing Christopher Columbus reportedly did when he set foot on the land that would be known as America, and which he believed to be the West Indies? Knelt down and thanked God. To a higher civilisation, would this not be seen as a pointless, savage, uneducated ritual? What role had God played in their adventures? How could they believe he had guided them to their destination? Faith alone drove them, and this same faith in their gods was what spurred the Native Americans to be respectful and careful in their dealings with all other creatures.

However, having given thanks to his god, it was not so very long before Columbus was killing and making slaves of these new peoples, taking their resources and, quite literally, claiming their land in the name of his sovereigns. Native Americans made no such claims, and generally once they had made peace with or come to friendly terms with another people or tribe, kept those promises, which is why it must have seemed like such an amazing and disheartening betrayal to them when the men from across the sea did not keep their word, and this would forever colour the relationship between the two civilisations, the white man never failing to live down to the expectations of the red, culminating in the culling and ethnic cleansing of the latter by the former, and their subjugation as little better than slaves.

Fantastic Journey: The Vision Quest in Native American Belief

Although they would of course see many rituals, dances and other ceremonies be enacted while young, the first real encounter a Native American male would have with the actual powers that his people believed ruled and ordered their world would be through the medium of the vision quest. This word has, like Iroquois for those people, some distasteful connotations, as it is not the word they use for the spiritual journey, but in the world of the white man it has become more or less accepted as the umbrella catch-all term for what is a sacred rite of passage for Narive American youths, and so you’ll forgive me if I use it. What it’s called is though not as important as what it signifies, which is much more than a farewell to adolescence and ascension to adulthood in the nature of a boy’s first car, or kiss, or even the first time he has to be bailed out of jail. The vision quest was the point at which the boy’s future was, literally decided, revealed to him, his path in life laid out before him by the spirits of his ancestors and the gods, who would often appear in animal form, and came to be known as spirit guides and spirit animals.

In order to get a better understanding of the ideas behind the rituals of the Native Americans, particularly that of the vision quest, I’ve turned to Lee Irwin’s Dream Seekers: the Native American Visionary Traditions of the Great Plains, and here’s how he or she describes how the Natives saw and interacted with the world:

“One of the most fundamental aspects of the Plains religious topology is its implicit, undivided wholeness. This wholeness institutes the interactive relationships between many beings, both visible and invisible, whose homes are identified with particular ecological environments. The center of this wholeness is the earth itself, regarded as a living being-usually (but not always) a life-giving female. Human beings, the "two* leggeds," live on the earth in shared relationships with all other living creatures, particularly grazing and herding animals- the "'four-leggeds" or "grass-eaters." Below, or perhaps more accurately, within both the earth and the water, is another group of beings with special or unique abilities.

Above, yet another group of beings extends from the earth up through the sky, the home of the "wingeds," and into the celestial realm of the sun, moon, and stars. Thus there are three interpenetrating strata and their respective realms that constitute the wholeness of the natural world: the above realm, the middle realm, and the below realm. The relationship between these realms can best be described topologically as a distinctive contrast, more or less emphasized, between the above and the below, with the middle representing the mysterious realm in which all beings meet and interact.”

So if you followed all of that (wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t) it seems that the spirit world, to the Native Americans, was not some vague half-formed idea of Paradise or the afterlife as we know it, or indeed a vast drinking-hall to which entry was only granted if a Viking died a glorious death, or even the dark, murky world of terrifying more after-death than afterlife the ancient Greeks waited in fear of being called to. For the Native Americans, the spiritual world and the “real” world, the world of the now, the world they lived in, existed both independently and co-dependently. If you sinned in this one, your actions had - usually dire - consequences in the other. Your ancestors were watching you, not as some idea of ghosts floating about, but really, truly there, watching from the world to which they had gone after death, and to which you too must pass when your life was over. You did not want to upset them, and you really wanted to make them proud.

However, what I read tends to give me the idea that a vision quest was not the sort of meditation till you attain Nirvana kind of thing we might suppose, and more the idea of someone, quite young, who was seeking his way in life, looking for meaning and purpose, and seeking advice from his much older ancestors, in the way a young man might turn to his father or grandfather to dispense his wisdom of the world. Nor were these quests simply completed. Irwin titles the chapter which deals with them “Isolation and Suffering”, and so it was. The young warrior would be taken, or be directed to a place of solitude, usually a sacred place, there to remain for several days without food or water, praying and endeavouring to make contact with, be noticed by or form a relationship with the spirits. When one of these deigned to impart its wisdom and power, it most usually took the form of some animal, which was thereafter sacred to and connected with the individual. Often, the “spirit animal” would present the quester with items - special plants, herbs, songs etc - which would then aid his path through life.

Most often, these vision quests would take place on a hill or other high ground, often one sacred to a particular spirit, the idea being to get as close as possible to the spirit world, and also to make the quester visible to those who dwelt above by raising himself above ground level. The quest was usually undertaken in spring, as this was seen as a time of renewal and rebirth, when the spirits were at their most potent. Seen, too, as a time when animals and plants who had been hibernating or sleeping through the winter would wake up and again “come alive”, there could be no doubt about the strong symbolism of spring, and its power.
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Old 12-05-2021, 10:38 AM   #19 (permalink)
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Even those of us with the most rudimentary knowledge of Native Americans will be familiar with one tradition, the rain dance, though in truth there were several different dances important to the tribes, all of which served different purposes.

The Grass Dance

Honours the tribe’s ancestors (and also helps flatten the grass as the dancers stomp about) and in which the dancers, attired in bright colours and wearing stalks of sweetgrass in their belts (from which practice the name of the dance comes) sway in time like the movements of the grass on the prairie.

The Hoop Dance

This, on the other hand (and legs, and body) looks to be about the most ambitious multi-hula hoop challenge ever attempted, as various hoops, symbolising the never ending cycle of life, were used to tell stories and impart wisdom. The dance began with one hoop, representing the world, to which others were added, in turn signifying animals, the wind, humans, water and seasons. The hoops were used to create stylised shapes, and the Hoop Dance is still popular today.

The Snake Dance

By contrast, this one was practiced mostly by one people, the Hopi, and involved - you guessed it - live snakes. And not harmless ones either: most of the ones used in the ceremony were rattlesnakes. But the Hopi revere the snake, believing it to be the guardian of water, so precious a commodity, and consider them their brothers. Not quite sure what the snakes thought of it all. The Snake Dance was not a spontaneous event; the snakes were gathered and then watched over by the children of the tribe for sixteen days, then carried by the dancers in their mouths. After the dance the snakes were let free, in the four directions, to carry the prayers of the tribe to their ancestors. No figures exist for how many, if any, dancers have been bitten by a snake during the performance of this ritual.

The Stomp Dance

This was performed at night, for the health of the community, and as part of the Green Corn Festival, of which more shortly. It seemed to have been a sort of early conga line, with the leader circling the fire and those who wished to join in following behind him, in order of age and experience, men and women in alternate positions. Another night time dance, it usually involved the taking of certain herbs, fasting and continued on till sunrise. And that brings us to one of the most popular and well-known, and perhaps feared, and certainly most depicted in movies, of the Native American tribal dances.

The War Dance

Surely needs little explanation, as it does exactly what it says on the tin. Surviving in some sort of semi-way in the Haka, performed by the South African rugby team before a match, it is designed to rile up the blood and to stoke feelings of bravery and resolution just before a battle or raid. The war dance could last all night, and usually involved painting of the face, smoking of pipes and the handling of sacred items. Animal masks would be worn to symbolise and conjure the spirits.

The Sun Dance

Performed at the summer solstice, the Sun Dance was a ceremony to allow the tribe to offer sacrifices and prayers for the continuing health of the family and community. Sometimes the body would be pierced, and often eagle feathers and buffalo skins would be used, as both animals are considered central to the dance. There is also one of the more important dances, the Ghost Dance, but as this only came into being in the nineteenth century, and as a direct result of oppression by the US Army and government, I’ll hold that one over until we get to that point in the timeline. For now, then, that leaves the big one.


The Rain Dance

It’s not hard to understand the idea behind the Rain Dance. For a people who lived on the plains, where the weather could be arid and dry, rain was a vital, life-giving gift, needed not only for the health of the people but for their crops too, and for their animals. Without it, all three would die, and of course given the already mentioned affinity of the Native American people for them, they would have been concerned for the welfare of the earth, the grass, the trees and so on almost as much as for their own. The Rain Dance, then, served as a petition to the spirits to send down rain to irrigate the fields and allow life to flourish on the plains. Usually, and not surprisingly, it was a spring dance, performed when the need for rain was greatest.

It was somewhat unique in that not only men participated in the dance, unlike others apart from the Stomp Dance, and although many different costumes and types of jewellery were used, feathers and the colour blue predominated, these signifying the wind and the rain, respectively.

Healing Rituals

Unlike western medicine, Native American rituals, while they could be and were used for individual purposes, such as curing a wound or treating a disease, were often also used as a sort of ceremonial healing of the tribe, village or community; a way of bringing harmony to, or back to, a large group, and re-establishing the ancient and important links between the people and the land. Sacred objects such as a medicine wheel or healing hoop would be used, and these communal healing ceremonies could take several days to conduct. Among the first of what are now called ethnobotanists in the world - in other words, people who studied, understood and knew how best to use plants, herbs and grasses in medicine - roots, tubers, plants and herbs all played a big part in Native American healing. They had, after all, no access to the sort of pharmaceuticals we have today, with the invention of things like penicillin hundreds of years away, and so they had to use what nature provided.

Of course, using the plants which grew in the ground was second nature to the Native Americans, who believed all life connected, and so were taking from Mother Earth her bounty, and using the spirits of the herbs and plants to help them heal and be better. One of the most widely-used herbs was sweetgrass, but they also used sage, bear berry, red cedar and even tobacco in their medicine. They also utilised sweat lodges, perhaps an early iteration of the sauna, in which sick or ailing individuals would sit, rubbing herbs upon their body, smoking a remedy and/or watching while a holy man conducted sacred rites to drive angry spirits away and make the man whole again.

Peyote was another thing used, ground down in tea for ceremonies such as baptisms, funerals and healing. The peyote is the dried fruit of a small cactus, and in current times has been used as a hallucinogenic, most famously by the band The Eagles while recording their first album in the desert. Perhaps they knew of the rites which lasted from sundown to sunup and utilised eagle feathers, as well as incense and fire, for cleansing mind and body. Apparently you can get just exactly the same high by taking LSD, not that I would know, Lucy.

Green Corn Festival


Probably best described as a harvest festival, this took place in midsummer and was, of course, inextricably tied in with the importance of corn as a staple of the Native American people. The ceremony would typically last three days and entailed dancing, singing, feasting, fasting (isn’t it odd how, with the removal - or addition - of one letter that word becomes its complete reverse?) and religious observation. No corn could be eaten until the Great Spirit had been appeased, and the Green Corn Festival also served as an opportunity for village committees and councils to meet and consider infractions and past sins of the village, which would usually be forgiven at this time. It was also a naming festival, where babies would be given names, and a time of coming of age for youth. Sports would also be played, and spiritual as well as physical purification practiced, including the burning of waste and the cleaning out of homes, while at the end of each of the three days a feast was held to celebrate the good harvest.
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Old 02-26-2022, 09:48 AM   #20 (permalink)
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Chapter III: Christopher Who?
The Pre-Columbian Discovery and Exploration of America


“Never have we praised somebody so highly for being so wrong” - Patrick Huyghe, Columbus Was Last: From 200,000 BC to 1492 - A Heretical History of Who Was First

“The very definition of culture hinges on accumulation, transmission, and cross-fertilization of knowledge.” - Professor Paul Shao, Iowa State University.

Note: While this journal is concerned only with the history of North America, the entire continent, including Canada and South America, need to be looked at in terms of who arrived there first, and when, so for this chapter only I will be expanding my reach to include South America, Mexico and, if necessary, Canada. Because the entire thing forms one giant landmass, the idea of people arriving in one part and either sailing to or just migrating into another has to be considered, so we can’t ignore if say Chinese sailors landed in Mexico or Indian ones in Peru or whatever. Only by looking at the full picture can we build up a proper narrative of what may, or may not have happened before Senor Colon.

Trust can be a very powerful thing. You trust your parents, when you're little, believing they know everything and that what they tell you is true. You trust your teachers, when you go to school - they are older and founts of knowledge, so what they tell you, what they teach you must be the truth. And you trust the history you learn. Well, why not? Who would lie about events that took place hundreds or even thousands of years ago?

And then you grow up, and you start to question these things, and you think to yourself that something may not sound right, and that possibly you have not been told the real truth about it. And there are many reasons why this will be so. Existing power structures wish to remain in place, control of the narrative is an effective tool for the control of the people, and sometimes the real truth is just something those in authority, those in whom you have, from an early age, placed your unquestioning trust, don’t want you to know.

For many years - hell, right up to yesterday, in fact - I, like so many others, believed the myth that America was discovered by an Italian navigator and explorer working for the king and queen of Spain. He may even have believed it himself, at the time. But the truth - the real truth - is that when Christopher Columbus first sighted land and placed his feet on the beach at what he called San Salvador in the Bahamas, he was in fact following the journeys and walking in the footsteps of men who had passed that way over ten times the length of his life. Columbus was not in any way the first man to walk on the shores of what became known as America, not even the first white man, just the first European.

But as in all things, history is not only written by the winners but almost invariably by the powerful, the rich and almost exclusively by the white race, and so the story was spread throughout the Christian world of the time that the brave Italian Cristobal Colon, or Christopher Columbus, had “discovered” America, also known (erroneously) as the West Indies and more popularly (and, at the time, accurately) as the New World. His was the fame, his was the glory, yet time was not kind to him and the country he “first discovered”, as the history books will tell you, and as we all know, did not end up carrying his name, but that of another Italian explorer. More of that in the next chapter, however.

It would probably be a little glib, though no loss true, to say that the various other people who walked on American land before the Italian Admiral of the Ocean have been forgotten, or willfully pushed to one side, by history, because they don’t matter, but in many cases this has to be seen as the case. Most, not all but most, were black, and we know what European expansionist white supermacist history thinks of blacks. If they have a role at all, black people take the part of the slaves brought back from Africa to create the enduring and annoyingly indelible stain of human trafficking practiced, not only by America it must be said, but practised by that country for the longest period. When other nations had given up - or been forced to outlaw - the heinous crime of slavery, Americans stubbornly clung to their outmoded and by now unfashionable and seen as reprehensible practice of holding human beings in bondage for their own enrichment.

And this, generally, is what history will tell us about the black man and black woman. The word SLAVE is written large in deeply-incised letters of blood and fire across the entire history of the black community, the people now often referred to as African-Americans, and even today that horrid legacy persists, while under certain recent administrations its inhuman and misshapen shadow has begun to crawl out of the dark caverns of history and stagger across the landscape of politics, crime and human rights.

But how much different would it be did people know how important black people were to the discovery of America? How humble might so-called “real Americans”, “patriots” and “pure Americans” feel if they knew that they were little more than what we call here blow-ins; Johnny Come Latelys arriving in the fifteenth and sixteenth century to a land which had known the tread of the red man for over ten thousand years, and that of the black for over five hundred? Not much difference, probably, knowing people today. All of what we are about to record here might very well be dismissed as “fake news” or “BLM propaganda”, or any of the other myriad and pathetic excuses certain people have to explain away that which they cannot contemplate, agree with, understand or expect. In desperation, such facts might just be ignored, as they have been so far for over a millennium. But history can’t be ignored. The truth will, eventually, out.

This is the truth.

It may surprise you.

That does not make it any less true.

Note: All of the following information is taken from They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America by Ivan Van Sertima. For those who may wish to examine his credentials, Van Sertima is a Professor teaching at Rutgers University. He is an anthropologist and linguist, and has written on this same subject for the New York Times. His book was written over forty years ago, in 1976, yet this is the first time I have ever heard of it. Not that I should necessarily know of such things, but if, as I assume it is, proof for his conclusions are given in this book, should that information not by now have been used to update or even let’s say correct the history of the discovery and exploration of America? Of course, such updates would not go down well in the Land of the Free now, I understand that; but if this is a deliberate attempt to keep the world in the dark about the critical and pivotal role black people had in the exploration of the United States of America, then I think it’s doing everyone a huge disservice.

There is, of course, and has been, a very fragile and delicately-balanced state of mutual distrust between whites and blacks in America for, well, as long as the latter were forcibly introduced to the country by the former. You might even characterise it as an uneasy truce, and in very recent times this truce has wavered, snapped and now looks to be about to bend and reverse what little progress has been made in race relations in America. Despite a black man having aspired to the highest office in the land, the racial divisions in America have never been wider, and truth to tell, they were never that narrow anyway, despite the fine work of people like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson and of course Barack Obama, so a suggestion now that America was discovered by black people would be likely to strike a fuse to the tinder box that is just waiting to go off, and thrust the country into a full-on racial war.

So maybe it can be understood that this information had not been made public. But as the slogan goes, and it’s very true of course, black lives matter too; so does black history. If their ancestors were here before the whites, today’s blacks should be told this, and be able to point with pride and even a little arrogance towards their brave forebears, claiming once and for all their unalienable right to be here.

But such things are for Americans to decide, and there’s nothing I can do to speed or engage in that process. All I can do is tell you what I’ve learned, which is, to me anyway, nothing short of earth-shattering.

Professor Van Sertima’s own work is based, in part, he says in the foreword, on that of another acamadecian, Professor Leo Wiener, whose own research resulted in a three volume discussion entitled Africa and the Discovery of America, itself published six years before he began writing his, so at least the tail-end of the 1960s, possibly a little further back, as I don’t know how long it took Van Sertima to write and publish his own book. But either way, we’re looking at a minimum now then of sixty years of the truth being ignored, or most likely suppressed.
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