I offer thanks to
relatives, and ancestors whose strength of purpose
led me to my own. A special thanks to my co-author,
Rev. Marilyn A. Riedel, for her deep love and dedication to me and this project.
Without her tireless effort and selfless interest,
this liberating history of Oregon would never have been written.
SAN FRANCISCO, Jan.uary 6, 2002:
Female tavern owners in early 20th-century Bolivia. A Polish
for Jewish children. A medieval Catalan women's monastery. These
typical fare at the American Historical Association's annual
Jan.uary4 to 6. That's no surprise. Over the last few decades,
research has become more and more specialized. As Gale Stokes, a
who was at the convention, put it, "There's a sense of grinding the nuts into an ever finer powder."
Also in attendance, however, was David Christian, a 55-year-old history professor at San Diego State
University, who has been bucking the trend and urging his colleagues to do the same by thinking big--very big.
Mr. Christian announced his campaign 10 years ago with an essay called "The Case for 'Big History'" in The Journal of World History. "Unfortunately," he wrote, "historians have become so absorbed in detailed research that they have tended to neglect the job of building larger-scale maps of the past."
To understand the last few thousand years of human history, he insisted, scholars need to understand the rest of the past as well, up to and including the Big Bang--in short, the whole 14-billion-year span of time itself.
Over the last decade, as science has made inroads in the humanities, Mr. Christian's big history approach has gained ma handful of adherents. Half a dozen college courses on big history have cropped up around the world. But most historians had not paid much attention until he pitched the idea at the convention on a panel that also featured Carlo Ginzburg and Jacques Revel, two leading scholars of what is big history's methodological antithesis: microhistory.
"What we normally define as history doesn't interest me," Mr. Christian told an audience of a couple hundred scholars. "It's a constraint."
As Mr. Christian described it, big history differs from more conventional approaches in several crucial respects. One is that its practitioners draw on a variety of fields--cosmology, geology, archaeology and evolutionary biology as well as history.
More important, big history involves what Mr. Christian, referring to the title of a recent book by Mr. Revel, called "the play of scales." Like a photographer armed with a galaxy-size zoom lens, a big historian moves back and forth across several large time scales--the human, the geological and the cosmological. Through these radical shifts in perspective, Mr. Christian predicted, big history will yield "new insights into familiar historical problems, from the nature/nurture debate to environmental history to the fundamental nature of change itself."
Although most historians haven't reached back to the Big Bang, others have certainly tried elements of Mr. Christian's approach. The French historian Fernand Braudel, for example, combined detailed analyses of daily life with sweeping investigations of large-scale historical forces like geology and climate. More recently, world historians and other scholars have tackled large puzzles--like why world power came to be centered in the West--by examining evidence from several fields, including biology, genetics and the environment. The physiologist Jared Diamond's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Guns, Germs and Steel" is one example. Few scholars, however, have ventured into the murky terrain of the prehuman past.
One of the best illustrations of big history, Mr. Christian said, is "Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (Cambridge University Press, 1986) by Alfred W. Crosby, an emeritus professor of American studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
Why, Mr. Crosby wondered, have people of European descent been so successful at scattering themselves around the world? Unsatisfied with traditional explanations crediting the military superiority of European conquerors, he turned to geological history instead.
Working back 180 million years to the time when the supercontinent Pangea was beginning to break into smaller land masses, Mr. Crosby concluded that the conditions for European victory were being established even then: the plants, animals and microbes that evolved in Europe gave its human inhabitants a decisive advantage when they spread to the New World, South America, Australia and New Zealand.
"Europeans came from the biggest chunk of Pangea," Mr. Crosby said in a telephone interview. "And it was the development of life forms there that enabled them to develop a civilization there with many more big
domesticated animals and prominent diseases. The peoples they conquered just didn't have the biological means to cope."
Then there is Mr. Christian's own work, which contains tantalizing hints of what big history might eventually look like. In "The Case for 'Big History,'" for example, he looks at estimated rates of population increase to challenge the notion that growth is a characteristic feature of human societies. For 250,000 years, he argues, the growth rate was virtually negligible. Only during the last 10,000 years did the human population really take off, exploding from 10 million then to nearly 5 billion today. His conclusion? "Growth, far from being the normal condition of humanity, is an aberration."
This, Mr. Christian argues, raises important new questions like: is a capacity for spectacular growth something that distinguishes humans from other species?
But many historians remain skeptical. "I strongly doubt that plate tectonics and the Big Bang might contribute to our understanding of history," Mr. Revel said after listening to Mr. Christian's talk at the convention.
One reason microhistory became popular in the first place, said Michael Steinberg, a professor of history at Cornell University who was in the audience, was skepticism about older forms of big history, what he called "large national narratives about civilization becoming modern and leaving barbarism behind."
A cheerful, self-deprecating proselytizer, Mr. Christian is unfazed by such objections. Big history fulfills an
important social need, he says. Just as creation myths provided ancient cultures with an account of the origins of life and their place in a larger story, big history can provide the same service, although more scientifically.
"Today nothing like a modern creation myth is taught," he said. "I think this is dangerous. It means that students never get a sense of reality as a coherent whole."
Mr. Christian, who said he turned to big history not long after completing "an incredibly obscure and in retrospect pointless" Ph.D. in Russian history, hopes that a book he is writing on big history, to be published next year by the University of California Press - "a nightmare project, as you can imagine" - will convince some of the skeptics.
"There is an allergy to the general," he said. "But if historians don't tell stories at the scales of creation
myths, someone else will."
In Stone and Bone
human cultural evolution has been “Man-the-Hunter.” The
originated in the club-wielding man-ape, aggressive and
widely accepted as scientific fact and so vividly secure in
as to seem self-evident.
--Professor Ruth Belier, University of Wisconsin
For man without
is no heaven in the sky or on earth. Without woman there
would be no
no moon, no agriculture, and no fire.
The story of the human race begins
female. Woman carried the original human chromosome as she does
day; her evolutionary adaptation ensured the survival and
species; her work of mothering provided the cerebral spur for
and social organization. Yet for generations of historians,
anthropologists and biologists, the sole star of the dawn story
man. Man the hunter, man the tool-maker, man the lord of
the primeval savannah in solitary splendor through every known
of the origin of our species. In reality, however, woman was
on with the task of securing a future for humanity—for it was
her skills, her biology that held the key to the destiny of the
For, as scientists acknowledge, "Women are the race itself, the strong primary sex, and man the biological afterthought." In human cell structure, woman's is the basic "X" chromosome; a female baby simply collects another "X" at the moment of conception, while the creation of a male requires the branching off of the divergent "Y" chromosome, seen by some as a genetic error, a "deformed and broken "X." The woman's egg, several hundred times bigger than the sperm that fertilizes it, carries all the genetic messages the child will ever receive. Women therefore are the original, the first sex, the biological norm from which males are only a deviation. Historian Amaury de Riencourt sums it up:
Far from being an incomplete form of maleness, according to a tradition stretching from the biblical Genesis through Aristotle (384-322 BCE) to Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), femaleness is the norm, the fundamental form of life.
How are we going to tell father? For
Calder, “the first lords of the universe were globules of
may only have been protoplasmal molecules or start-up bacilli,
were male. Yet in contradiction to this age-old bias of biology
startling discovery, debated by the American Anthropological
in 1987, that every single person on the planet is descended
primitive hominid, and that this common ancestor was a woman.
latest techniques of gene research into DNA, the molecular
gene inheritance, scientists working independently at Oxford,
University of California at Berkeley, and Emory University in
succeeded in isolating one DNA "fingerprint" that is common to
of the human race. This has remained constant for millennia
divergence of races and populations throughout the world—and it
female. This research points directly to one woman as the
fount" for the whole of the human race. She lived out of Africa
across the face of the globe, giving rise to all the people
This work on the woman who could have been our grandmother Eve is still in its infancy, and controversial in its implications. Not least of the problems it poses for the sons of Adam is its implicit dismissal of the Christian myth—for the "gene fount mother" necessarily had a mother herself, and the identity or numbers of her sexual partners were irrelevant, since hers was the only cell that counted. Indisputable, however, is the central role of women in the evolution of the species. In terms of the DNA message that a new individual needs in order to become a human being, the essential genetic information is only ever contributed by and transmitted through the female. In that sense, each and every one of us is a child of Eve, carrying within our bodies the living fossil evidence of the first women who roamed the African plain side by side with their men.
As this suggests, nothing could be further from the truth of the role played by early woman than the "hunter's mate" stereotype of the dim huddled figure beside the fire in the cave. From around 500,000 BCE, when Femina Erecta first stood alongside Homo erectus in some sun-drenched primordial gorge, many changes took place before both together became sapiens. And there is continuous evidence from a number of different sites throughout the Pleistocene age of women's critical involvement in all aspects of the tribe's survival and evolution generally thought of, like hunting, as reserved to men.
The early woman was in fact intensively occupied from dawn to dusk. Hers was not a long life—like their mates, most hominid females, according to scientific analysis of fossil remains, died before they were 20. Only a handful survived to 30, and it was quite exceptional to reach 40. But in this short span, the first women evolved a huge range of activities and skills. On archaeological evidence, as well as that of existing Stone Age cultures, women were busy with and adept in:
* Food Gathering;
* Child Care;
* Making garments, slings and containers from animal skins;
* Weaving grasses, reeds and bark strips for baskets;
* Construction of shelters, temporary or permanent;
* Toolmaking for a variety of uses, not simply agricultural—stone scrapers for skins, and sharp stone blades for cutting out animal sinews for garment making; and
* Medical application of plants and herbs for everything from healing to abortion.
In earliest times, women's gathering
not only to keep the tribe alive—it helped propel the race
its faltering passage towards civilization. For successful
and developed skills of discrimination, evaluation and memory,
of seeds, nutshells and grasses discovered at primitive sites in
indicate that careful and knowledgeable selection, rather than
dictated the choice. This work also provided the impetus for the
human experiments with technology. Anthropologists' fixation on
hunter has designated the first tools as weapons of the hunt.
hunting was a much later development, earlier still would have
bones, stones or lengths of wood used as aids to gathering for
up roots and tubers, or for pulverizing wood vegetation for ease
All these were women's tools, and the discovery of digging
fire-hardened points at primitive sites indicates the
of these female dawn foragers, who had worked out that putting
sticks into a low fire to dry and harden would provide them with
efficient tools for the work they had to do.
Unlike the worked flint heads of axes, spears and arrows, however, very few of the earlier tools have survived to tell the tale of women's ingenuity and resourcefulness. Sticks also lacked the grisly glamour of the the killing-tools in the eyes of archaeologists, and had no part to play in the unfolding drama of Man the Hunter. Archaeology is likewise silent on the subject of another female invention, the early woman gatherer's "swag bag," the container she must have devised to carry back to the camp all she had found, foraged, caught or dug up in the course of her day's hunting.
Woman's work of gathering would inevitably take on a wider and more urgent dimension when she had infants to feed as well as herself.
The prime centrality of this work of mothering in the story of evolution has yet to be acknowledged. A man plank in the importance of Man the Hunter in the history of the human race has always been the undisputed claim that cooperative hunting among males called for more skill in communication and social organization, and hence provided the evolutionary spur to more complex development, even the origins of human society. The counter argument is briskly set out by Sally Slocum:
The need to organize for feeding after weaning, learning to hand the more complex socioemotional bonds that were developing, the new skills and cultural inventions surrounding more extensive gathering—all would demand larger brains. Too much attention has been given to skills required by hunting, and too little to the skills required for gathering and the raising of dependent young.
But once up and running through the
open spaces of popular belief, Man the Hunter has proved a hard
to bring down, and few seem to have noticed that for millennia
on through the generations entirely alone. For woman is nowhere
story. Aside from her burgeoning sexual apparatus, early woman
to have missed out completely on the evolutionary bonanza. "The
male increased in body size, muscular strength and speed, as
well as in
intelligence, imagination and knowledge," pronounced a leading
"in all of which the female hardly shared." Countless other
anthropologists, archaeologists and biologists worldwide all
claim in different ways. Man, it seems, single-handedly
evolving for the rest of the human race. Meanwhile early woman,
dependent, lounged about the home base, the Primordial Airhead
Hunting did not mean fighting. On the contrary, the whole purpose of group organization was to ensure that primitive man did not have to face and do battle with his prey. The first humans, as Myra Shackley shows, worked together to avoid this, "driving animals over cliffs to their deaths (as certainly happened at the Upper Paleolithic site of Solutre) or using fire to stampede them into boggy ground (the method used at Torralba and Ambrona)."
Men and women relied on each others' skills, before, during and after the hunt. The anthropologist Constable cites the Stone Age Yukaghir of Siberia, whose men formed an advance party to check out the traps for prey, while the women came up behind to take charge of dismembering the carcass and transporting it to the home site. Since carcasses were used as food, clothes, shelter, bone tools and bead ornaments, most of which the women would be producing, they had a vested interest in the dismemberment. As Myra Shackley reminds us:
Apart from their use as food, animals were hunted for their hides, bones and sinews, useful in the manufacture of clothing, tents, traps, and the numerous odds and ends of life. Suitable skins would have been dried and cured and softened with animal fats. Clothes could be tailored by cutting the hides with stone tools and assembling the garment by lacing with sinews through holes bored with a stone tool or bone awl... There is no reason to suppose that Neanderthal clothes were as primitive as many illustrators have made them out to be... The remains of a ostrich shells on Mousterian sites in the Neger desert suggest the Neanderthal was using them as water containers, as Bushmen do today... what use was made of the exotic feathers? There is no need to suppose that because there is a lack of archaeological evidence for personal adornment no attention was paid to it.
Hunting man, then, was not a fearless
aggressor, hero of a thousand fatal encounters. The only
call on man’s aggression was as protector: infant caring and
are the only sexual divisions of labor that invariably obtain in
or primitive groups. When the first men fought or killed, then,
so not for sport, thrill or pleasure, but in mortal fear, under
attack, and fighting for survival.
Because group protection was so important a part of man's work, it is essential to question the accepted division by sex of emotional labor, in which all tender and caring feelings are attributed to women, leaving men outside the circle of the campfire as great hairy brutes existing only to fight or fornicate. In reality the first men, like the first women, only became human when they learned how to care for others.
This is not to say that women of prehistory were not subjected to violence, even death. A female victim of a cannibalistic murder which took place between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago was discovered at Ehringsdorf in Germany. She was an early Neanderthaler who had been clubbed to death with a stone axe. After death her head was separated from her body, and the base of her skull opened to extract the brains. Near her lay the remains of a ten-year-old child who had died at the same time.
Nor was prehistory any stranger to sexual violence. An extraordinary bone carving in the shape of a knife from Isturitz in the Basses-Pyrénées shows a harpooned bison graphically vomiting blood as it wallows in its death throes. On the other side of the blade a woman similarly harpooned crawls forward on her hands and knees while a male figure crouches lecherously behind her, clearly intent on sexual penetration from the rear, although the droop of her breasts and the swelling of her belly show that she is pregnant. In a bizarre definition of primitive man's idea of foreplay, the French anthropologist G. H. Luquet interprets this gruesome object as a "love charm."
But interestingly, women of primitive societies are often less subjugated than a modern, particularly a Western, observer might expect. Far from being broken-down slaves to their men's drives and needs, women in early societies often had a better chance of freedom, dignity and significance than many of their female descendants in more "advanced" societies. The key lies in the nature of the tribe's relation to its surroundings. Where sheer subsistence is a struggle and survival is the order of the day, women's equality is very marked. Women in these cultures play too vital a role to be kept down or out of action, and their knowledge and experience are a cherished tribal resource. As the major food providers, holding the secret of survival, women have, and know they have, freedom, power and status.
And there was more. Evidence from existing Stone Age cultures conclusively shows that women can take on the roles of counselors, wise women, leaders, storytellers, doctors, magicians and lawgivers. Additionally, they never forfeit their own unique power based on woman's special magic of fertility and birth, with all the manna attendant upon that. All the prehistoric evidence confirms women's special status as women within the tribe. Among numerous representations of women performing religious rituals, a rock painting from Tanzoumaitak, Tassili N'Ajjer, shows two women dancing ceremoniously among a flock of goats, richly ornamented with necklaces, bracelets and bead headdresses, while in one of the most famous of prehistoric paintings, the so-called "White Lady" of the Drakenberg Mountain caves of South Africa leads men and women in a ritual tribal dance.
From the very beginning then, the role of the first women was wider, their contribution to human evolution immeasurably more significant, than has ever been accepted. Dawn Woman, with her mother and grandmother, her sisters and her aunts, and even with a little help from her hunting man, managed to accomplish almost everything that subsequently made Homo think himself sapiens. There is every sign that man himself recognized this. In universal images ranging from the very awakening of European consciousness to the aboriginal "dreamtime" myths on the other side of the world, woman commands the sacred rituals and is party to the most secret mysteries of tribal life.
Gondwanaland and the Peopling of Africa
E. B. Du Bois (1866-1963) is a
scholar and educator whose stature as an historian is
Following is a selection from his book, The World and Africa on the African Environment, Mildred Bain and Erwin Lewis, editors, From Freedom to Freedom; African Roots in American Soil; Selected Readings based on Roots: The Saga of an American Family, Forward by Alex Haley (Random House, New York, 1977):
Seers say that for... Two thousand
years this world out of fiery mist has whirled about the sun in
metal and viscous crusted ball. That crust congealed and
solids from the liquids, rose and fell in bulging ridges above
sea. Five times the mass of land called Africa emerged and
beneath the oceans. At last, at least a thousand million years
of rigid rock lifted its crystal back above the waters and
About three hundred million years ago, Primal Africa was connected with South American, India, and Australia. As the ocean basins dropped, the eastern half of Africa slowly raised into a broad, flat arch.
The eastern side of this arch gave way, forming the Indian Ocean; and the roof of the arch fell in where the great Rift Valley appeared. This enormous crack extends six thousand miles...all the great East African lakes lie in the main rift, and doubtless the Red Sea and the Sea of Galilee...
Whither does humanity first show itself on the earths crust, on what continent are the oldest hominid fossils? In Africa. But Africa wasn't always just Africa; it formed along with South America and Asia an ancient united continent, or Gondwanaland.
One can see from the map how Africa broke from South America and Europe from North America.
Africa, including Madagascar is three times the size of Europe, four times the size of the US, and the whole of Europe, India, China and the US. could be held in its borders.
The story of the earth [including the first humans who walked upright can be read like leaves in a giant book of ancient layered rock, where petrified bone, shell, and plant life reveal historical insights to the early life of the first human beings.
Human life originated on the continent of Africa 3.5 million years ago, as best as science can determine. Many theories may agree about the land of Pangia being the first land mass out of the water splitting above molten lava, drifting apart of giant continental plates shaped to the present day and bounded by water, crushed mountain plates, whose dynamos and engine of heat bubble up into spewing volcanoes. But as to how human beings became indigenous and diffused throughout the world continents is more undecided, ranging from lower sea levels from the ice age that exposed bridges for migration to another land mass, to migration by ocean going vessel and trade.
African Presence in America
There has been a change in scholarly
on recognizing black people and their very early presence in
phenomenal 11 colossal heads of black Africans in La Benta, San
and Tres Zapotes in Mexico enjoy decreasing skepticism. The 1964
meeting of the International Congress of Americanists agreed
skeletons have been substantially reported in pre-Christian and
layers of diggings in America.
Peter Martyr d'Anghera, the first historian on America, tells of a meeting between Balboa (1475-1519) and his Spanish explorers and the blacks of Darien (Panama). This was in 1513. The blacks lived a day's march up into the mountains from Quarequa. They had been shipwrecked and had made their own settlement in the mountains. They had become a fierce people. They were at war constantly with the Indians at Quarequa. They were captured in battle by the Indians, and they also took Indians captive. There has been no general revelation of these facts; however, these blacks were the first to have been seen in the Indes. Among the Spanish shipwrecks of African vessels on the American coast were nothing new.
Some solid examples of pre-Columbian black African presence in America are clay, gold and stone portraiture showing black African strain. These were unearthed in Central and South America. Some of the unmistakable African resemblance has been dated from 800 to 700 BCE.
It has been confirmed that Abubakari II, Emperor of the Kingdom of Mali did reach America with some of his 2,000 vessels in 1310. The last of the pre-Columbian potters, the Mixtecs, have left behind clay sculptures of African faces which include the flared nostrils, the bone formation of the cheeks and the darkened grain of the skin. Some include the Gambian earrings which can be definitely tied to the sub-community of early Ghana and later Mali. Cadamosto (1432-1488) saw the earrings on warrior boatmen in Africa. Clothing, jewelry and various artifacts attest the black presence in Mexico. Among these have been found the caduceus, and upright design of entwined serpents. This was a religious symbol in ancient Kush and was adopted by the Egyptians. Physicians in America associate this symbol with their profession.
Peruvian records and tradition tell of black men coming from the east and conquering the Andes Mountains. Terracottas with negroid faces, denoting varying pre-Columbian periods, are scattered throughout South and Central America.
There is evidence of black Africans appearing in Mexico just before and after Christ and of the Olmecs and the Aztecs venerating blacks as deities.
A priest of the Dominican order, Gregoria Garcia, spent nine years in Peru in the 1500s. He mentioned an island off Cartagena, Columbia, as the first point of encounter between blacks and the Spanish explorers in the New World.
Both Darien (Panama) and Columbia lie within the end currents which moved swiftly and forcefully from Africa to America. This can well account for early purposeful and unplanned landings of Africans.
Alphonze de Quatrefages, anthropologist at the Museum of National History in Paris, identified in his book The Human Species (1905) that black inhabitants were found in small numbers and isolated areas in America. Some examples were the Jamassi of Florida, the Charus of Brazil, the black Caribs of Saint Vincent on the Gulf of Mexico and the black Zuni of present-day Arizona and Mexico.
In Columbus' Journal of the Third Voyage he said he wanted to find out about the black people the Indians had told him about. Indians were found farming yams and taro, an African food, while the Portuguese explorers in Africa saw natives cultivating maize, an American Indian product.
Africans Discover Europe 45,000 BCE
It was 45,000 years ago when a
people called the Grimaldi discovered the continent now known as
In an unbroken stream of migrations over many centuries they
from the Cape in South Africa. On their way, some stopped to
develop tribes and nations. Most moved on to settle in Chad, the
and North Africa.
At that time there was no Straits of Gibraltar and so they walked on dry land into Spain and France. Others walked on land from Africa into Italy, moving northward into Lombardy.
Along the thousands of miles to Europe, the Grimaldi left evidence of their culture such as pendants for ornaments, stone implements for working in the environment and symbols of communication. They also left musical instruments and the first bow and arrow. After they reached Europe, they dispersed into Bulgaria, Switzerland, Illyria and Southern Europe on the Adriatic Sea and in Brittany. The last, Brittany, is today's England, Wales and Scotland.
How did these black Grimaldi look? Their noses were very large and flat at the base. Their facial and head characteristics resembled the Koramus people of South Africa and the bushmen who were to come many thousands of years later. The have been compared in appearance to modern blacks. Some wore their hair in styles that resemble today's cornrows, that is plaits arranged in parallel lines across the head. Others wore a style similar to today's peppercorns, when the hair is put into little black rolls or heads. In another style, they fastened their hair into short, close-growing clusters.
These blacks were accomplished and cultured, bringing with them arts and survival skills that gave new life to the stale and stagnant Neanderthal period of Europe. During the later Paleolithic period, the Grimaldi were the most powerful and influential force on the continent.
The Grimaldi contributed greatly to the early or first arts of Europe. Their statuettes uncovered by archaeologists reveal extraordinary workmanship. They are definitely the oldest sculpture created by man. The statue of the "Venus of Willendorf" found in Austria, has been called by Graham Clarke, writing in the Dawn of Civilization, "the first signs of art on earth." These meaningful discoveries also show the extent of their migration. Pieces of Grimaldi sculpture have been found in Southern Siberia and Russia.
However, touring exhibits of "Ice Age Art" from Europe do not make any mention of the art of the Grimaldi. No explanation for this has been offered, most likely on account of racism.
The Grimaldi disappeared! Where did they go? The authorities on prehistoric Europe and prehistoric peoples have no sound answers. It may be that some historians vigorously tried to promote the non-black Cro-Magnon over the Grimaldi; even though the Cro-Magnons came much later and could be descendants of the Grimaldi.
The Grimaldi disappeared around 12,000 BCE. There are several theories offered as to why this occurred. One claims that the Cro-Magnons exterminated them. Another suggests intermarriage, or race mixing causing the Grimaldi to lose their black color. Still another infers that the Grimaldi moved to other parts of the world, mixed with other peoples, and became other nations.
Nevertheless, diggings on the European continent are evidence the Grimaldi were its earliest inhabitants. The opening of Grimaldi graves and other excavations have revealed skeletons and artifacts in layers below those of the Cro-Magnons.
The Grimaldi left the bow and arrow and other useful tools. These artifacts enabled thousands of generations of barbaric people of Europe to survive through prehistory until the coming of the Romans.
Before the Dawn of History
During recent history blacks have
only with Africa. The knowledge that blacks made extensive
far away parts of the world for many centuries have been hidden,
or diverted. Actually there is evidence even before written
blacks were world travelers.
Scholars in this century have been able to find concrete and abundant evidence for numerous black colonies outside Africa. There were blacks on the Australian continent when it was first sighted by the Spanish in 1604—Australia is 8,000 miles from Africa. American WWII service men were greeted by blacks on the Solomon Islands off New Guinea—again thousands of miles from Africa. The Nakis, a colony of blacks, were discovered in 1923 in Southern China by Dr. Joseph Rock, a representative of the US Department of Agriculture. On the Adamese Islands, a part of the Republic of India, descendants of negrito people have been found. Though few are aware of it, blacks have inhabited the Phillipines for hundreds of years.
Movements of blacks in prehistory provides new insights into their contributions to the Old World and the New World.
It is well that blacks were the first human beings on earth and it is possible that during their migrations throughout the unknown world, they helped lay the framework of civilization. In the Western Hemisphere, Indians, or Native Americans, followed black Asians across the Bering Straits. They found the blacks prospering in a society more viable than their own. As happened in the other hemisphere and on other prehistoric continents, there were killings, warfare and intermarriage for thousands of years until the blacks were finally extinct. Skeletal remains of blacks unearthed in Central America, South America and in Arizona predate the Zuni Indians.
The African earth has surrendered to archaeologists and anthropologists the earliest remains of man and his ancestors. Man originated in Africa. Scholars have dug up skeletons in Africa as old as 175,000 years, while sites in Europe including Italy, England, Russia and Scandinavia have yielded bones no more than 20,000 years old.
Proof of black habitation has been uncovered in Western Asia. Discoveries dating back 6,000 years before Christ show black settlers called Natufians in Palestine. Gerald Massey, a French anthropologist, claims that "the sole race that can be traced among the aborigines all over the earth, or below it, is the dark race of negrito type." Prehistoric India was occupied by blacks who were followed by the pre-Dravidians and later the Dravidians. Blacks were indigenous peoples of prehistoric China, Japan, Australia and the Islands of the Pacific 50,000 years ago. The fossil remains, artifacts uncovered and the art left to scholars strongly suggest that prehistoric black families perfected the first foundation of civilization.
There is no question today about black involvement in prehistoric and ancient Egypt, first known as Kemit meaning "land of the blacks." The blacks in Kush (Ethiopia) and Egypt developed and planted and nurtured the seeds of the world's greatest civilization.
Babylon was founded and maintained by blacks. The ancient people of Sumeria have been referred to as Assyric-Babylonian and have been described as people with shaven heads and black faces.
Ancient Chinese text suggests that blacks laid the foundation of civilization there. J. A. Rogers in his Sex and Race, said "Blacks penetrated into the Far North of China and showed themselves in the face of Tarter." black civilizations were found in India, in the valleys of the Indus River and the Ganges River. The Ganges River was named after an Ethiopian general who carried his conquest of India to that point.
The black Grimaldis were the major inhabitants and the rulers of Europe for tens of thousands of years. They produced the first known art and invented the technique for sculpture. The statue of the Venus of Willendorf was made by the Grimaldis.
Irish folklore mentions small black people, called the Firbolg. Gerald Massey (1828-1907), Gedfrey Higgins and David MacRitchie, all British writers, have written about ancient blacks in England and Ireland. Ancient Welsh folk tales also mention black people. England and Spain were included in the migrations of blacks. After these thousands of years of surviving and being extinguished, of creating and inventing, blacks came into the dawn of history with more to offer than any other group of people on earth.
Scientists and Builders
It has been very unfortunate
many European and American researchers have strongly implied
invented nothing and explored nothing. These implications have
naturally with the standard and historical stereotypes,
misleading writings. Even liberal writers have given the
for having only a limited and simple technology.
However, the reliable techniques of carbon-dating, along with recent discoveries, may discredit some of the incorrect statements on the African technology by biased, archaeologists and anthropologists. The often-used words such as primitive and sub-social may have to be retracted.
Recent discoveries have proved that African cultures achieved levels of technical development comparable with, or superior to, European cultures.
The embalming or mummification technique did not originate with the Egyptians. It began with the black Nubians. (Even though the Egyptians were black, too). This closely guarded technique, which still remains a mystery, followed other Kushite contributions which flowed up the Nile to Egypt. During an expedition, a Professor F. Mori found the remains of an African child in Southwest Libya. The remains could be dated back to 3,500 BCE, two centuries before the first Egyptian kingdom. The child's body was preserved and bound in the same manner as those of the pharaohs found later in Egypt.
The first Babylonians were black, without question. Ancient literature has made dramatic references to Babylonian ships. As they sailed through the night, their masts were illuminated with cold lights. The phrase rules out fire light of any kind. Cold light would be more closely associated with battery-powered light.
Recently, Peter Schmidt, an anthropologist, and his companion, metallurgist Donald Avery, were among the Haya people of Tanzania. They found proof that Africans were producing medium carbon steel in preheated, forced draft furnaces over 2,000 years ago. When Africans were forced by social, civil and natural circumstances to stop this advanced process, it was not rediscovered and practiced for 1,900 years until German-born metallurgist Karl Wilhelm Siemens (1823-1883) produced the same high-grade carbon steel.
To further support the existence of this highly advanced process, scholars have studied natives in the Lake Victoria region of Tanzania whose oral tradition describes the existence of prehistoric iron smelting. Some of the Africans accompanied the researchers to the sites of ancient furnaces and showed them how the heat was built up and maintained, a process far superior to the technique Europeans had accomplished.
Medieval West Africans devised metal implements so delicately refined they could be used by surgeons to perform surgery on the eyes, especially for the removal of cataracts.
One of the marvels Greek historian Herodotus mentioned during his tour of Egypt was the practice of medicine. No doctor was allowed a general practice. Each had to specialize. There were specialists for eyes, nose, ears, throat, intestines, stomach, teeth, and head. There were stringent sanitary laws which regulated the diagnosis and treatment of ailments. The method of capping teeth was a general procedure. In the first of this book, Imhotep, black physician to Zoser, king of Egypt, was discussed. He treated 200 known ailments.
In Northwestern Kenya, as early as 300 BCE, black Africans built an astronomical site at Namoratuntga. An accurate, complex, prehistoric calendar was devised. It was based on perfect astronomical alignments. When researchers recently climbed the eastern edge of Losidak Range at the Lake Turkana basin, they found 19 basalt pillars arrange in patterns which related to the position of certain stars and constellations.
It is a remarkable coincidence that they relate to the ancient Eastern Kushite calendar. This calendar was based on the rising of seven stars and constellations in conjunction with various phases of the moon. The calendar was calculated on a 364-day year of 12 months.
There is no question as to the professionalism of African builders. Recent discoveries in the Lake Chad region of West Africa have revealed deserted towns and cities. These areas were inhabited by hundreds, even thousands of people, probably thousands of years ago. There were temples, public buildings, palaces and memorials. All evidence shows these were built by people of great skill.
The miraculous stone towers of Zimbabwe show the artistry of their brick masons. The bricks were uniquely crafted with 12-corners of 12-sides and were laid symmetrically in triangular geometric forms, without mortar in a single joint or in a single layer. This is similar to the slab fitting of the old Egyptian pyramids. There were openings for ventilation in these Zimbabwean structures. Today towers stand in that country as physical testimony to the genius of its architects, builders and engineers and the scientific knowledge among them. Their superior techniques of architecture and building were enhanced by their ability to solve problems. They considered the weight of a building they constructed, along with the water levels below it, so that the water could support the structure. This knowledge of hydrographies further illustrates the skills of Zimbabwe.
Ancient Ghana was known for the extensive weaving of cloth. It was a skill handed down for hundreds of years from father to son. As late as the 18th Century, Kente cloth, which was to become famous, was first woven by Nana Tolh. The cloth became a symbol of royalty during the Dekyria Dynasty in 1741. During this time, the Ashanti were the dominant West African nation.
An ancient Nubian incense burner has been found on the Nile between Egypt and the Sudan. It has been carbon-dated at 3,500 BCE which precedes any organized Egyptian kingdom. Inscriptions on the burner indicate direct Sudanese influences on ancient Egypt. The crowned insignia and royal insignia, which later appeared in Egypt, were found on the incense burner.
When count Christian Volney of France saw the Egyptians in 1785, he said that the black people being enslaved in Europe and American were the same color and characteristics of the Egyptians tilling the fields of Egypt, and that these were the people who had passed great civilization and culture down to the present through the Greeks, Romans and Europeans. Clearly blacks contributed to Egyptian culture.
Therefore, some of the scientific accomplishments of the Egyptians might be added to the list. These included a method of hatching eggs without the hen, a process of dyeing cloth, staining materials, and using metallic oxides to change hues and produce colors which they applied to glass and porcelain.
Africans were not minor technologists.
Were Egyptians "Hamites?"
Aided by faith, Moses led the
people out of Egypt. If the Egyptians persecuted the Israelites
Bible said, and if the Egyptians were negroes, sons of Ham
as the Bible said, we can no longer ignore the historical causes
curse upon Ham. The curse entered Jewish literature much later
period of persecution, when Moses, in the Book of Genesis, said
addressed Abraham in a dream: "Know for certain that your
be strangers in a land not their own; they shall be subjected to
and shall be oppressed four hundred years."
Here we have reached the historical background of the curse upon Ham. It is not by chance that this curse on the father of Mesraim, Phut, Kush, and Canaan, fell only on Canaan, who dwelt in a land that the Jews have coveted throughout their history.
Whence came this name Ham (Cham, Kam)? Where could Moses have found it? Right in Egypt where Moses was born, grew up and lived until the Exodus. In fact, we know that the Egyptians called their country Kemit, which means “black” in their language. The interpretation according to which Kemit designates the black soil of Egypt, rather than the black man and, by extension, the black race of the country of the blacks, stems from a gratuitous distortion by minds aware of what an exact interpretation of this word would imply. Hence, it is natural to find Kam in Hebrew, meaning heat, black, burned.
That being so, all apparent contradictions disappear and the logic of facts appears in all it's nudity. The inhabitants of Egypt, symbolized by their black color, Kemit or Ham of the Bible, would be accursed in the literature of the people they had oppressed. We can see that this biblical curse on Ham's offspring had an origin quite different from that generally given it today without the slightest historical foundation. What we can not understand however, is how it has been possible to make a white race of Kemit: Hamite, black, ebony, etc. (even in Egyptian). Obviously, according to the needs of the cause, Ham is cursed, blackened, and made into the ancestors of the negroes. This is what happens whenever one refers to contemporary social relations.
On the other hand, she is whitened whenever one seeks the origin of civilization, because there she is inhabiting the first civilized country in the world. So, the idea of Eastern and Western Hamites is conceived—nothing more than to deprive blacks of the moral advantage of Egyptian civilization and of other African civilizations like the Mandingo of Mali. The "handsome East African Hamitic type," the "official" interpretation becomes the "handsome type of the paleo-Mediterranean white race to which we owe all black civilization, including that of Egypt!"
It is impossible to link the notion of Hamite, as we labor to understand it in official textbooks, with the slightest historical, geographical, linguistic, or ethnic reality. No specialist is able to pinpoint the birthplace of the Hamites (scientifically speaking), the language they spoke, the migratory route they followed, the counties they settled, or the form of civilization they may have left. On the contrary, all the experts agree that this term has no serious content, and yet not one of them fails to use it as a kind of master-key to explain the slightest evidence of civilization in black Africa.
Kingdom of Mandingos
In the book, Mandingo, the writer perpetuates the very same specious paleo-European or white/non-negro stereotype of the "Hamite" Kingdom of Mandingos, the kingdom of Mali. From the first century after Christ until the Portuguese entered Africa in the 1500s as explorers, traders and enslavers, black kingdoms grew and prospered in Western Sudan and in the region of the Niger. Their civilizations flourished as magnificently as any in Europe. Their governments showed remarkable political and administrative sophistication, especially with trade and development. Mali's territory included the gold mine center and largest source of gold for Europe. Original trade with the Moroccans to the north was enhanced. Mali rule stretched from the Niger westward, then northward to the Sahara Desert and to the south to the Senegal River. The empire of the Mandingos of Mali added to their territory the Valley of the Niger, the Gambia and the Senegal. It developed into a seafaring nation, adding new trade routes to the old and dealing with cities north of the Mediterranean. Mali reached its peak during the reign of ambitious Mansa Musa, 1307 to 1332. Agriculture and the arts were encouraged, and the kingdom was well known in Europe and in Cairo for its building programs, its expertly governed kingdom and the sharpest armies in the world. The ships of Mali reached the Canary Islands off the Northwestern African Coast. In 1310, Abubakari II, headed 2,000 ships out of the Senegal River to the Atlantic Ocean and to the New World almost 200 years before Columbus. The Mandingos of Mali were the ancestors of fictional Kunta Kinte, who four centuries later, was enslaved and taken to America in chains.
Blacks in the New World
There are numerous documents
tell of the presence of blacks with Spanish explorers who came
World after and with Columbus (1451-1506). Pedro Nino
to have piloted the ship Capitania Hispania on the third voyage.
Blacks were with Pedro de Aviles Menéndez when he founded Saint Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in America. Vasco Nunez Balboa, who had blacks with him speaks of finding a colony of blacks in Panama in 1513. He marched across the bottom of the present US and reached the Pacific Ocean, where blacks built the first ships in America and planted and harvested the first wheat.
The Conquistadores found blacks dispersed in small tribes and villages throughout the New World. There were colonies of blacks in Northern Brazil called the Chares. There were others at Saint Vincent on the Gulf of Mexico, where black Caribs clustered around the mouth of the Orinoco River in present-day venezuela. There were blacks among the Yamassee Indians of Florida. In 1775, at the break of the American revolution, Francisco Garces said he found a race of black men living side by side with the Zuni Indians of New Mexico. It was his contention that the blacks had inhabited there first. La Perouse (1741-1788), a French explorer, found blacks in today's California. He called them Ethiopians.
American Indian legends are numerous about black men who came from faraway places. According to Peruvian tradition, black men came and penetrated the Andes Mountains. Also in Peru, blacks were with Francisco Pizarro (1475-1541), who defeated the Incas of Peru and later destroyed them. In his report on The Third Voyage, Columbus mentioned he wanted to see the blacks the Indians told him about.
Seven years before Bartolome de Las Casas (1474-1566) had persuaded the Spanish Crown to allow each settler to bring 12 slaves to America, Balboa claims there were blacks in the Antilles. This was before any Spanish colony was organized.
Records show there were blacks with Ponce de Leon (1460-1521) and Hernando Cortez (1485-1547). To date, the story of Estevanico, or Little Seven, is the most popular.
Estevanico (1503-1539) was among the first Spanish explorers to see Texas, and he was alone when he discovered present day New Mexico and Arizona. He did this 45 years after Columbus touched the shores of the New World. First shipwrecked at Tampa Bay in Florida, Estevanico and his party took eight years to walk along the Gulf and across the northern half of the Mexican Territory, almost to the Pacific Ocean. Along with four other men, Estevanico was found almost starved in 1536 in Northwestern Mexico. He was then included in an expedition led by Franciscan friar Marcos de Niza (1495-1558). The black man pushed forward, leading 300 Indian bearers in search of the mythical Seven Cities of Cibola.
Estevanico was so impatient that his plans went awry. He mistook a pueblo for a sought-after fabled city and ignored the fatal warning of an angry Zuni Indian chief. He and most of his 300 Indian followers were killed on the spot. The few who escaped took the word back to the friar.
The story of Estevanico is still part of Zuni folklore.
Legacy of Fort Mose
For more than 175 years the remains of
first free black town in the North American colonies lay
forgotten in a
salt marsh north of St. Augustine, Florida. Known as Fort
Mose, after an Indian name for
was in 1738 the northernmost outpost protecting the capital of
Florida, a vast territory stretching west of the Gulf of Mexico
into what are today Georgia and South Carolina. The fort's
from a Spanish effort to destabilize the slave-based economy of
settlers in the Carolinas, particularly those in Charleston,
in 1670. The Spanish encouraged enslaved Africans to flee south,
them sanctuary if they converted to Catholicism. King Charles II
sanctioned the policy of granting runaways religious sanctuary
with a royal proclamation "giving liberty to all...the men as
women...so that by their example and by my liberality others
same." The effort reflected Spain's customary inclusion of
many levels of society, an outgrowth of 700 years of Moorish
of the Iberian Peninsula.
The first group of runaways—eight men, two women, and a nursing child—arrived in St. Augustine (354-430 CE) in 1687. By the early 1730s more than 100 fugitives arrived. In 1738 Governor Manuel de Montiano formed them into a military company and stationed men with their families at a frontier post two miles north of St. Augustine. Established on St. Teresa's (1515-1582) feast day, the post was named Garcia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose.
Fort Mose was abandoned in 1763 when Spain ceded its colony to Britainain, and St. Augustine's colonists and the residents of the fort moved to Cuba. Forty-nine years later the abandoned fort was used by a group of American adventurers, known as the Florida Patriots, in a battle with Spanish forces that had returned to Florida in 1784 as part of a settlement ending the American Revolution. The patriots were defeated and the fort was destroyed.
There were actually two forts named Mose. The site of the first lies under a foot of water in a tidal marsh created by rising sea levels and the blocking of drainage creeks by road construction. No excavations have been conducted, but thermal images of the area have revealed the outline of a ground disturbance that conforms to the shape and dimensions of the fort as described in maps and documents.
British general James Oglethorpe (1696-1785), who founded Georgia in 1739 and raided the first Fort Mose in 1740 left this description:
Fort Mose...being about 20 miles from Fort Diego within two miles distance and in full sight of St. Augustine (lying near the creek which runs up between that and Point Cartell up to Fort Diego) was made in the middle of a plantation for safety of negroes against Indians. It was four square with a flanker at each corner, banked round with earth, having a ditch without on all sides lined round with prickly palmetto royal and had a well and house within, and a lookout.
The first fort was badly damaged and
after a battle between British and Spanish forces in 1740. The
and their families lived in St. Augustine for 12 years before
a second Fort Mose, built on high ground along a tidal creek one
mile from the original compound.
The second fort had three 195-foot-long walls, probably about 10 feet tall, made of packed earth faced with clay and sod and panted with prickly pear cactus to discourage intruders. The fourth side faced a creek. Franciscan priest Father Juan Joseph de Solana described it in 1759 during an inspection tour of Spanish Florida:
The fort at Mose is situated on the banks of the river which runs to the north, and at a distance of three quarters of a league from the presidio, the path that faces the river has no protection of defense whatsoever and is formed by two small bastions which look landward on which are mounted two four-pound cannons and six swivel guns divided among them...The earthwork embankment is covered with thorns...the housing which it includes are some huts of thatch...
During the excavation, historian Jane
of Vanderbilt University dug into Spanish and Floridan archives
Census records, treasury accounts, militia lists, baptism and
records, death registers, official correspondence, and judicial
Her research yielded evidence of a diverse community made up of
from widely varied backgrounds: Mandingos, Congos, Carabalis,
Lucumis, Sambas, Gangas, Araras, and Guineans. Most residents
spoke some English, Spanish, and Indian languages in addition to
own. The common experiences of life in the Americas must have
bridge cultural and linguistic differences. The captain of the
garrison was Francisco Menéndez, a West African Mandingo
He had escaped from the Carolinas with the aid of the Yamassee
and in 1726, prior to the establishment of Fort Mose, was
black company at the St. Augustine garrisons. Menéndez
by the Spaniards as the Cassique, or chief, of the community.
No identifiable African artifacts have been found at Fort Mose. The many fragments of green glass bottles suggest that the people at Fort Mose also drank wine or rum, and clay pipe fragments attest tobacco smoking, a practice with roots in American Indian traditions. Buttons, buckles, pins, and thimbles indicate that clothes were probably European in style, although by no means elegant. Buttons, for example, were stamped out at the fort from animal bone. Musketballs and gunflints were also found.
Documentary evidence shows that a wood and thatch Catholic chapel was located in the fort, and was administered by a Franciscan missionary. Father Solana described it as
...ten varas long and six wide [approximately 25 feet by 15 feet], the walls which are under construction are made of wood and the sacristy, which is furnished, and in which the priest lives, is a very small room and serves as the chapel for the fort.
Lander's research revealed that many
from Fort Mose served as sailors and crewmen on Spanish ships
12-year stay in St. Augustine.
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994, Fort Mose is now the premier site on the Florida Black Heritage Trail, a tangible reminder of the people who risked and often lost their lives in their struggle to attain freedom.
Mutiny on the Amistad
Let me take you back to 1839—just a
of years before Gilbert Knapp set foot on the banks of the Root
said this place was now his.
That sounds not quite right—to say a place belongs to you. It may be impossible for us to understand what the world felt like back then. It's hard to contemplate the feeling of incredible confidence that seemed so natural (looking at them from this great distance) to successful white men of the time.
I don’t think they were arrogant, at least not in the boastful way we think of that word these days. My guess is that they saw the world as a big, unbounded and unfinished wilderness, a place that was given to them by God. And their job was to turn this earth into some vision of an endless, cultivated, European countryside.
That vision so dominated their imagination that the way they treated non-Europeans must have seemed peripheral. To them, Native Americans and slaves were tools to help them complete their work.
What we don't take seriously can become our greatest evil.
In January of 1839, 53 Mendi people were kidnapped from their homeland near modern day Sierra Leone, West Africa. Those people made the Middle Passage, the horrific journey across the Atlantic stacked like cargo into a Spanish slave ship.
When they arrived in Havana, the slave traders said they were native Cuban slaves, a legal slight precipitated by recent laws against importing slaves. It was a time when people were having second thoughts about slavery—it was still legal to own another human being, but kidnapping Africans from their homeland was illegal.
So, through this trick, the shipload of Mendis were sold at auction and then loaded back into another ship to said around the island of Cuba to a plantation. Ironically, the name of this second ship was La Amistad—Spanish for "friendship."
Inside the ship there was confusion and despair...and then hope. One of them, Sengbe Pieh, discovered a loose spike and used it to unshackle himself and his companions. He was to become known as Cinque; he and the others revolted and mutinied. They killed the ship's captain and cook.
The Africans forced the two Cuban men who had purchased them in Havana to sail the ship back toward Africa. This they did every day. At night the Cuban men secretly changed the ship's course toward the north.
As a result, 63 days later they were still at sea when they were spotted off Montauk Point, Long Island by the navy. A federal brig towed them into harbor at New London, Connecticut.
The legal battles that ensued were dramatic. Charges of murder and piracy were brought against the Africans and they were thrown into jail as "salvage" property. President Martin Van Buren (1784-1862) pulled off political moves that make contemporary presidents seem as innocent as kittens. He overturned their first acquittal in order to win the votes of Southerners in the election of 1840.
Up to that moment in history the abolitionist movement was quite unorganized. This incident became their catalyst. They formed the Amistad Committee. First, they found decent food for the imprisoned Africans. Ten they found a translator who could let those in prison tell their own harrow story. Finally, they rallied John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) former president, to their aid. Adams, 74 and nearly blind, came out of retirement to argue this case all the way to the supreme court.
In March of 1841, the court said the Africans were free people and should be repatriated back to their homeland.
Within a year, the Mendi people were on an Africa-bound boat in the company of five missionaries. In Sierra Leone these missionaries established a colony which became the basis of Sierra Leone’s independence from England. The education the abolitionists had provided to the Mendi African people while they were in jail evolved, over time, into the foundation of many American black colleges.
I first hear this story two months ago and it captured my imagination at several levels.
First of all, why haven’t I heart it before? Why is ist that every grammar school kid can lisp the name of Columbus's three ships, but this pivotal story of slavery and injustice, abolition and the passionately human pursuit of freedom has been relegated to the attic of American history?
...segregation, race violence and economic
of African Americans generally got short shift [in school text
According to James W. Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me,
made the connection between the federal government’s decision to
reconstruction in 1877 and the civil rights crisis of the
they involve the same issues, voting rights and black political
Not any more. New texts like The Americans, forthcoming from McDougal Littell, discuss the historical links between slavery, Jim Crow and the civil-rights movement. The book also presents disturbing facts about race violence in America. Here are two that every American should know. Between 1885 and 1900, at least 2,500 blacks were lynched or murdered as the KKK consolidated its hold on the post-Reconstruction South. In 1741, 14 slaves were burned at the stake and 18 others were hanged because of fears of slave revolt—in New York City.
That "vision" of America, the one that
Europeans had, is like blinders that block out more than it lets
We forget that there were two sides to the first Thanksgiving
the land Gilbert Knapp called "his" was actually inhabited by
And that slavery, an inescapable part of America's early years,
What Amistad shows us is that we can look squarely at slavery and still see those qualities we call essentially "American." There was bravery, cleverness, love of freedom. There was a yearning for home. There was nobility in the Africans and also in the white Americans who organized themselves into the powerful abolition movement.
Stories like the Amistad story demand that we look honestly at our past. It’s not always easy to take off the blinders. But how will we know how to put together a decent future until we face up to and try to understand our troubled past?
Clovis Point Cultures
The land bridge connecting Siberia and
was exposed when sufficient water was trapped in glaciers and
to lower the sea level by about 155 feet. By 25,000 BCE This
expanse, known as Beringia, was above water, and it remained so
11,000 BCE. A recent study of pollen, plant fragments, and
from core samples by Scott Elias of the University of Colorado
colleagues concluded that Beringia was not a treeless tundra, as
thought, but was covered with birch, heath, and shrub willow.
and insects indicate that the summer was warmer than today.
Once across the land bridge, one could travel south either between the coastal mountains and the Rockies or along the eastern edge of the Rockies. But the Laurentide ice sheet, covering much of Northern North America, and the Cordilleran ice sheet, straddling the Rockies, blocked the eastern route from 30,000 BCE. And the coastal route from at least 20,000 BCE. Only after the ice retreated, about 13,000 BCE, was the way south clear. Could the first Americans have skirted the ice by following the coast in boats? Some pockets along the shore may have been free of ice, affording landing places, but the Cordilleran ice sheet covered some 2,000 miles of coast, making such a journey virtually impossible.
Scholars have tried to link particular archaeological cultures, identified by types of stone tools, with various groups arriving in the Americas. But the picture is unclear. The familiar Paleoindian tradition, generally dated between 11,200 and 8,500 BCE, begins with fluted points called Clovis after their original findspot in New Mexico. Beyond Clovis are several sites claimed to be earlier in date, including Meadowcroft (Pennsylvania), Monte Verde (Chile), and Pedra Furada (Brazil). Various sites in Alaska are contemporary with or even somewhat earlier than Clovis but lack fluted points.
Do Clovis points mark the entry of the first Americans, or were they developed later? Clovis and other fluted points have been found throughout the Americans, but Alaskan Clovis points are not among the oldest, as one might expect if they arrived with the first Americans. South American sites with fluted “fish-tailed” points are as early as the first Clovis sites, although most appear to date after 11,000 BCE. Were fluted points first made to the south later spreading to Alaska? A fluted point found at Uptar in Siberia, 1,200 miles from Beringia, is provocative, but it is not well dated; we know only that it was made sometimes before 8,300 BCE. It could be a Clovis predecessor or descendant, or a coincidental use of fluting.
Is there solid evidence for a pre-Clovis occupation of the Americas? A lower level in Meadowcroft, excavated by James Adovasio, has been dated between 11,300 and 19,600 BCE, but some dispute the dates, saying that coal particles in groundwater contaminated the samples, making them appear older than they are. Critics also note that the small sample of plant and animal remains suggest a temperate rather than a cold climate, which is what one would expect if the dates are correct. Monte Verde, a waterlogged site with excellent preservation, is the strongest pre-Clovis candidate. The remains include stone tools (but no fluted points), bones of extinct animals, remains of rectangular huts, and even a human footprint preserved in the damp clay. Archaeologists await final publication of the site by excavator Tom Dillehay. The dates from the site’s main level range from 13,565 to about 12,000 BCE, but another level many be even older. At Pedra Furada the debate centers on whether flanked stones from levels dated to 50,000 BCE. Are artifacts or were created naturally when quartz and quartzite cobbles eroded and fell from a layer in the 330-foot cliff above the site. The site's excavators, Niede Guidon and Fabio Parenti, say some are artifacts; others, such as Adovasio Dillehay, and Paleoindian specialist David Meltzer, are doubtful. The two groups argued the matter in recent issues of the journal Antiquity, but the exchange resolved nothing.
In Alaska several distinct stone tool assemblages are known from different sites, but their relationships to one another are unclear. The so-called Nenana Complex (11,300-8,500 BCE), known from sites in central Alaska, is marked by bifacial triangular or tear-shaped points. The Paleoindian (10,600-6,500 BCE), extending from Alaska to the Pacific Northwest, has characteristic wedge-shaped microcores and microblades. Fluted points appear to be slightly later (10,000 BCE). Complicating the picture are hunting camps—Broken Mammoth, Mead, Swan Point—in the Tanana Valley near Fairbanks, dated circa 11,700, that have microblade assemblages. The contemporary Mesa site, on the North Slope, has lanceolate points with carefully ground bases. For it now may be best to call these the Northern Paleoindians tradition, as the University of Alaska's Charles Holmes and David Yesner have done; a "very early, but highly varied, cultural tradition, perhaps the earliest to arrive in the Americas" according to Brian Fagan (Archaeology, July/August 1993). Paleoindian cultures in South America may also be more complex than previously thought. Excavations by Anna Roosevelt at Pedra Pintada in Northern Brazil, dated 11,000 BCE, have yielded artifacts and remains showing an early adaptation to a tropical climate (Archaeology, July/August 1996).
While recent excavations and discoveries have made it clear that Paleoindian cultures are far more diverse than once thought, they offer no conclusive evidence concerning the arrival of the first Americans.
Clues from Paint Pigments
In a new study, Texas A&M University chemists Ronnie Reese, Marian Hyman, and Marvin Rowe and biologists James Derr and Scott Davis applied DNA analysis to the paints used on rock art in the Lower Pecos region, at the confluences of the Pecos, Devils, and Rio Grande rivers in Southwestern Texas. Rock art was an essential component of many ancient symbolic, religious, and artistic systems, and the materials used for preparing paints may have had special significance. In the Lower Pecos area a variety of minerals were used in pictographs. Dark and light red, black, yellow, and orange pigments are common, prepared from iron and manganese oxides and hydroxides. White is rare. Until now, however, virtually nothing was known about the organic substances that served as binders for the pigments. Many readily available materials may have been used—blood, urine, milk, eggs, vegetable juices, or animal fats—but no chemical or biological analysis had been attempted. The Texas A & M researchers used samples from two Pecos River-style pictographs in Seminole Canyon that had been directly dated to circa 2,950 to 4,200 years ago. The site was chosen because the pictographs there have undergone severe exfoliation for more than 50 percent have spalled from the limestone wall. The pigment layer, sandwiched between the limestone and later calcite and gypsum deposits, was intact. Nuclear DNA recovered from it proved to be closely related to that of deer and bison. The binder may have been bone morrow, which would be a good source for DNA; blood is questionable since mammalian red blood cells lack nuclei (only scarcer white blood cells have them). Now that the general identity of the organic component has been established, part of the sequence that is more susecptible to diagnosis will be examined to determine which animal was used.
Tuberculosis in the New World
Study of ancient microbial DNA may clarify the origins of disease causing organisms and how they spread. One of the first recoveries of DNA from an ancient disease-causing organism was made by Wilmar Salo and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine at Duluth. They identified DNA from the tuberculosis bacterium (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) in a 1,000-year-old mummy excavated in 1990 from a tomb in the Chiribaya cemeteries of Southern Peru. Lesions similar to those caused by tuberculosis had been well documented on ancient Indian skeletal remains since the 1940s, but there was still debate about whether the pathogen was actually M. Tuberculosis or something similar but unique to the New World. The body, of a woman of 40 to 50 year sold, had tubercular lesions in the right lung and lymph node. The researchers found M. Tuberculosis DNA in tissue from one of the lung's lymph nodes, proving that the disease was in North America before the arrival of Europeans.
Redating Serpent Mound 1000 BCE
New radiocarbon dates suggest
Mound, a one-quarter-mile-long
of a snake in South-Central Ohio, was built as many as 2,000
than previously thought. The effigy has been attributed to the
(1,000-100 BCE) based on the presence of Adena burials nearby.
people, who lived in an area stretching from the Midwest to the
Coast, collected and began domesticating plants, improved
storage, and buried their dead in mounds. Two samples of wood
were obtained from undisturbed parts of Serpent Mound. Both
of circa 1070 CE, suggesting that the effigy was actually built
of the Fort Ancient culture (900-1600 CE), a Mississippian group
in the central Ohio Valley. Mississippian people inhabited the
Cumberland, and Mississippi river valleys, built huge
maize, and were governed by powerful chiefs, ruling families, or
The Mississippian's centralized authority would have made
a large building project such as the construction of Serpent
evidence for the later date includes the remains of a Fort
100 yards south of the mound and rattlesnake motifs on
(ornaments worn on the chest) made from marine shell.
The new dates are the result of work by University of Pittsburgh archaeology student Robert V. Fletcher, who noticed that maps of the mound were out of date. He and a friend, Terry L. Cameron, began to remap the site on weekends. Serpent Mound had not been scientifically investigated since the late 1800s, when Frederick W. Putnam (1839-1915) of Harvard's Peabody Museum mapped the mound and excavated sections of the serpent's sinuous body and oval "head" which has also been described as an egg or an enlarged eye. Putnam attributed the creation of Serpent Mound to the Adena culture even though he found no Adena artifacts within the serpent itself. Fletcher and Cameron wanted more solid evidence with which to date the effigy, so they contacted archaeologists Bradley Lepper, a curator at the Ohio Historical Society, and Dee Anne Wymer of Bloomburg University, who took core samples and conducted the limited excavations that yielded the samples for dating.
Other studies indicate that features of Serpent Mound are aligned with both the summer solstice sunset and, less clearly, the winter solstice sunrise. A pile of burned stones once located inside the oval head area was several feet Northwest of its center, possibly to make a more precise alignment with the point of the "V" in the serpent’s "neck" and the summer solstice sunset. The 1070 CE date coincides roughly with two extraordinary astronomical events. Light from the supernova that produced the Crab Nebula first reached Earth in 1054 and remained visible, even during the day, for two weeks. The brightest appearance ever of Halley's Comet was recorded by Chinese astronomers in 1066. Could Serpent Mound have been a Indian response to such celestial events? "It is impossible to test whether or not the effigy mound represents a fiery serpent slithering across the sky," says Lepper, "but it is fun to speculate."
The existence of native peoples on the
continent can actually be traced back to Paleolithic times. For
the peopling of North America was dated by means of the stone
appeared so widely some twelve or fifteen thousand years ago,
Clovis points, which were associated with the hunting of
Presumably these were used by hunters who had crossed the land
once joined Alaska to Siberia. More recently it has been argued
a human presence in the landscape is hard to detect before the
of stone artifacts, people might have been living in America for
before the Clovis epoch. A growing body of evidence suggests
human activity, certainly about 25,000 years ago, and more
claims give dates of forty or fifty thousand years. Nor need the
settlers have been confined to entering via the land bridge, as
have navigated their way along the coasts in small vessels. Some
oldest confirmed occupation sites are to be found in South
that the families migrating from Siberia must have expanded
their huge new domain, presumably following herds of game. By
that civilizations were beginning to emerge in the Old World,
communities were often living in settled groups, at least for
the year, and there were far-flung trading routes.
By the 12th or 13th centuries, easterners were living in a series of complex and prosperous societies. The abundant forests provided wood for impressive long-houses, and some settlements grew into major fortified towns with imposing temples. These people left their mark on the landscape in the form of tombs with elaborate grave goods, and public ritual structures that would have been quite familiar to the ancient Europeans who built Stonehenge and megalithic monuments. The most impressive are the extensive mound sites, which can be seen as humbler versions of the pyramid temples of Central America, and some great earthwork complexes and geometric enclosures. The Moundsville Complex of West Virginia and the Serpent Mound of Ohio are among the finest surviving remnants of this cultural flowering.
The Hopewell culture flourished in the first few centuries of the Christian era, and mound building was revived in the Mississippian Age (800-1500 CE). By the 12th Century the largest mound settlements probably had several thousand residents at any given time, quite comparable to the middling towns of contemporary Europe. There is some debate about the exact correspondence between the archaeological perceptions of the mound builders and the historical tribes encountered by the early white settlers. However some of the tribal groups constituted powerful and long-enduring political realities, especially the Iroquois League of the Five Nations (later Six) based in the area of New York state. Formed in the 16th Century, this Federation remained a formidable military presence until the early years of the US. In the Southeast were complex tribes such as the Creek and the Cherokees.
Centralized settlements and even urban development were also found in the desert of the Southwest. This was a very difficult environment, critically dependent on climatic cycles and rainfall, and placing a high premium on the collection and saving of water. From about 1,000 CE, large village communities developed there and made resourceful use of natural features to create well-defined settlements or pueblos, at the center of which were kivas, round, partly underground chambers used for religious rituals. The Pueblo communities, which often lasted for several centuries, maintained links with the more celebrated cultures of Mexico. Today this area contains by far the largest and most heavily populated reservations in the US. The Navajo community in New Mexico and Utah today numbers almost 150,000, more than the next twenty biggest reservations combined.
Barry Fell in Saga America, identifies areas of settlements and points of entry via the river systems of the earliest, pre-Colombian, colonists from Europe, North Africa, and Eastern Asia. Some of the Amerindian tribes with whom the visitors are believed to have come in contact are also indicated. The Southeastern tribes are believed to have descended in part from the Mediterranean colonists of the Iberian, Cretan, and Phoenician and Philistine, Palestine and Israel; and by traders via the continental river systems and as coming from Italy, and the Southern Mediterranean (Carthage, Libya). The Iroquois are believed to have reached North America after most of these settlements had been made, possibly from South America around 1200 CE, and pressed up the Mississippi River into the Dakota and Algonquin nations. Libyans and Celts also settled the West coastal area among the Ute and Shoshone nations; and the Han and Taxila-Arab cultures sailed to California, and Mexico coasts for trade among the Aztec and Maya. The Greeks, Libyans, and Norse traded along the Mississippi River, with the latter trading and intermingling with Eskimo and Athapascan nations as well.
Fell bases this conclusion on findings of extensive ancient North American alphabets introduced by the maritime peoples of the Old World, prior to the universal Latin distributed during Roman times. These alphabets include Hieroglyphs, Nabatean, Kufic, Sabean, Greek, Libyan, Punic, Tiffing, Iberic, Ogam, Hebrew, and Punic.
He cites Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) who today, Fell believes, would be classified as a
decided radical with respect to his views on archeology and the ancient history of the Americas. During his term as president of the American Philosophical Society, he disclosed that earlier in his life, before he assumed the burdens of public office, he had personally excavated an ancient Indian mound in Virginia. More than that, he cultivated the acquaintance of leading Native Americans and had formed the opinion that their ancestors had come to America from overseas. He believed that a study of the Indian languages of America would disclose the places of origin. These views neither shocked his contemporaries, nor those of several later generations. Only after about 1860 did the dogma develop that all Amerindians descend from Asiatics who crossed Bering Strait, and that no visitors from Europe or Africa came to these shores before Columbus...Any who dispute the ivy-league infallibility on these matters are castigated in a manner reminiscent of old-time politics. Historians and archeologists are peculiarly prone to mistake dispassion for logic. Thus an opponent not only is mistaken, but in addition is deluded and has Neanderthal proclivities into the bargain. This makes for lively—though not always informative—public discussion.
President Jefferson is said to have
acquainted with nine languages, three of them Amerindian
impatient with academic conservatism, although he had respect
one of which he founded. Jefferson was intensely interested in
Indians and in the philosophical problems of how these people
to America. He realized that in their language there might be
clues to the matter, and during his presidency he instructed
Lewis (1774-1809) and William Clark (1770-1838) to make careful
words used in the languages of the various tribes through whose
the explorers would pass.
Jefferson himself, when on a visit to Vermont, was fascinated to observe that the Abenaki people wrote on pieces of smooth inner bark of the birch trees, and himself wrote several letters to his daughter on birch bark during his journey. His interest in the American Indian, he wrote to John Adams (1767-1848),
...began in boyhood when I was very familiar and acquired impressions of attachment for them which have never been obliterated. Before the revolution I was very much with them. I knew much the great Outacity, warrior and orator of the Cherokees. He was always the guest of my father on his journeys to and from Williamsburg. I was in his camp when he made his great farewell oration to his people, the evening before his departure for England. The moon was in full splendor, and to her he seemed to address himself in his prayers for his own safety on the voyage, and that of his people during his absence. His sounding voice, distinct articulation, animated action, and the solemn silence of his people at their several fires, filled me with awe and veneration, although I did not understand a word he uttered.
During the 1805 war against Barbary
consular offices were established in Tripoli and Algiers by the
with diplomatic officials who were selected on the basis of
ability. Jefferson further encouraged the collection of
these counsels. As late as 1823, consul William Shalar in
submitting a learned series of reports on the Burbur language
in the American Philosophical Society, of which Jefferson had
and now in old age, was still a member of its council. The
Shaler supplied resembled those that Jefferson had asked Lewis
His 50 years of carefully gathered linguistic notes and observations included native languages and dialects in preparation for a great intellectual work he planned to write during his retirement. These papers, stored in a trunk, were, tragically destroyed when a scoundrel stole the trunk aboard ship and realizing he couldn’t sell its contents threw it overboard into the James River. Thus, the comprehensive work which would have traced Indian origins by comparing their basic linguistic patterns to those of other cultures, would not be done since Jefferson died in 1826.
As time went by more explorers collected copies of the strange inscriptions. Scholars began to realize that at least two kinds of alphabet were evolved. One, commonly called Tiffing, is used by some of the Berber tribes to this day, and is relatively younger than a similar, but somewhat divergent, alphabet used in ancient times, and commonly called Libyan or Numidian. This ancient Libyan script was a mystery for 150 years. Later explorations disclosed that the Libyan alphabet had at one time been in use across the whole of North Africa, from Sudan in the east, westward to Morocco. Then examples of Libyan script were found engraved on megalithic dolmens in Spain, and on cliff faces in the Canary Islands, and then in recent times from the Americas and some Pacific islands. This was found to be Arabic, an earlier form of Punic, which can be easily read as it is similar to ancient Hebrew. Punic, spoken by the ancient Carthaginians, is a dialect of Phoenician (Lebanon and Canaan). The Arabic language was present in North Africa 800 years before the Islamic invasion of the 7th Century CE. The ancient Arabs were thus allies by language with the Phoenicians. The Arabic could be easily read in its Libyan alphabetic letters both in North Africa, and among other parts in the West and Southwest areas of the US.
Barry Fell began decipherment of the Libyan inscriptions recognized in America. Some texts were short graffiti left by explorers on cliff faces, and could be read as a dialect of Egyptian. But others, both in America and in North Africa, had no connection with ancient Egyptian, and were undeciphered until 1976. His success came through close consultation of his manuscripts with scholars at both universities in Libya and other parts of the Arab world for advice and comments. The collaborations verified Fell's work which has thrown a whole new light on the history of Southern Mediterranean lands, and their relationship to the Arab world and to the Americas.
Fell asks the question, "why have we in America been so slow to recognize the strong and widespread Iberian and Arab influence in the languages and cultures of the Americas?" He response is although Thomas Jefferson was far ahead of his time in his thoughts on North Africa and the Arabs and Berbers of the Barbary Coast, Jefferson was forced there by the attacks on American ships in that part of the world. This buccaneering was also practiced not only by the Greeks and Turks, and other Mediterranean peoples, but as an age old tradition, reaches back to the times of the Iliad. Homer makes frequent references to Phoenician slave women in the households of Greek chieftains in raids of peaceful communities.
The stereotype of Arabs being mainly wandering nomads, kept in some order by the Ottoman Empire; the lack of any translated literature from the Arabic into English until Edward Lane's 1840 rendition of the Arabian Nights; and until the young archeologist and military leader, Thomas Edward Lawrence ("of Arabia") wrote The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926), a romantic view of the Arab revolt from the Turks (1917-18) which he lead, there were no Arab materials to read in the US. Even the WWII invasions by Euro-Americans into North Africa did little to inform the world of the gifts and intelligence the Arabs and Berber peoples bring to the world, their history and culture bring and "are still dismissed by too many people without adequate understanding of the matters they spurn," says Fell.
He draws stunning comparisons of Berber and Arab life and culture with North American native peoples. The modern day agriculturalist Berbers are the forebears of the Pueblos whose pueblo structures and features are those built in the Southwest Pueblos. The nomadic pastoralists, the Arabs, who live in large family tents, and the women have tattooed chins are equivalent to the tipis of the Plains Indians and the tattooing of women's chins.
This 1880s piece catches the tragic
invasion and annihilation by white land grabbers, through the
eyes and beguiled ears of the Indians, as the covered wagon
their treatied fields, squatting, encroaching onto ancient
Trusting native peoples listened to the singing of "mystic mother tongue" speaking "alien names" from the east. No one "owned" the Mother Earth; they lived and moved freely in communities and among nations. Empire building sovereigns’ and the popes' treasuries, land, and natural resources were more treasured than life or freedom, itself.
The thunderous government-military war supporting land grabbers and special interests over Native American life struck down and eliminated their food supply—the buffalo; their game and mighty bear disappeared, their woodlands clearcut. The holocaust of buffalo shot from trains for sport, maybe hides, but rarely for food, were left by railroad companies and their construction crews to rot on the spot where they fell, miles and miles of stinking, rotting carcasses wasted for "sport," and not food.
Alienated from their land, their families, their culture and their religion and life itself, native peoples were ineluctably and deliberately exterminated in the millions by mass murder, European sexual contagion and disease, destroying their world and therefore degrading all of us implicitly in this deed! Denying like Cain our murdering deed, barely a remnant of Nations remain but the sparkling brook and blooming woods that overshadow white-faced graves!
Through the romanticizing glorifying of the Old West, white people remain in denial, ignorant of those Nations, the nature of their present day existence, successes, and remaining political and social barriers and problems, and ignorant of the hopes of Native American people living on and the 60 percent who live off the reservation!
We citizens don’t hear when, and see how political and civil constitutional rights of these sovereign nations are constantly challenged and continually eroded by vast state, regional, and national governmental bureaucracy, mining, corporate-business, gaming, and other special interest groups; and exacerbated by our uneducated, making money off stereotypical, insensitive naming of sports teams and mascots, and politically corrupting, unregulated campaign financing, of greedy legislators and wealthy congressional representatives who had personal wealth sufficient to buy and spend their way into office.
Seemingly, rather, we see only the romance of the artist's versions of the West: of braves, horses, landscapes, and yesteryears chiefs, in solemn dress and countenance, all speaking the same things in the same way, merrily gracing our book shelves or coffee tables!
We "WASPS" would not tolerate for one day these same economic and political forces maintaining and continuing the drain of taxes from urban ghettos and blight, and flight to rich suburbia, sucking away city, state and federal tax dollars for new schools, subdivisions, and roads, for corporate welfare, and deferred tax paid flight, like swooshes of giant vacuum cleaners, that sucks away money, taking wing and the jobs fly away with them, out of public transportation reach. No losing tax and job based starving community budget district can fill the potholes, enforce housing and rental codes, and provide or even upgrade education and school district facilities, or community outreach and services. We are all affected by the absence of quality of life concerns of our neighbors and neighborhoods.
These same economic and political forces are internationally at work exporting the pernicious "free trade" rush to the "bottom line," "economic development," "objective-management" mentality with seemingly no off setting balance for the "human line" of community well being, rewarding good community faith with good will investments. A fair trade agreement would prevent exporting American jobs and decreasing wages, and increasing environmental deforestation, development, and destruction to those countries facing economic inflation and destabilization of populations and resources. Pandering to conglomerates and well financed development-entrepreneurs with unrestrained economic, labor, government, and environmental access, low or no taxes (there or in the US!) exports the same cynicism we citizens experience of our own indigenous, disenfranchised, and all people in the minority, the underemployed and the working poor world—wide, we will recall these heartbreaking stories to our posterity—how we overcame the poverty of the body and of the spirit found in this liberating and healing history for the whole person, both spiritually personal, and socially political.! The following will more adequately describe some of the contemporary issues native peoples are faced with in the USA.
Deloria Challenges White World View
I’m intentionally reading again my
Christian books with new eyes, of a new spirituality that has
challenged not only my cultural imagination, but challenged me
emotional and intellectual depths. My mentor is none other than
Jr., Junior, a prodigiously
philosopher, theologian, prolific educator and activist of the
nations. I have learned so much about myth, metaphor, religion,
space, time, and history from this Native American perspective
that without “easing up” on myself from this virtually
comprehensive evaluation, I would have no new ground on which to
my writing, my critiques of our Western European selves and
Although these Western European characteristics will be spelled
completely in the narrative below, suffice it to say, the
on our particularly Western world view that is called
linear, historical and religious concepts, etc. The contemporary
of ancient-traditional nations for freedom, whose councils,
and communities were so democratic and remarkably freeing and
people's needs and wishes, our founders Adams, Jefferson, and
structured these valued principles into our Constitution as a
course, once these are reduced to concepts and put on to paper,
they can be easily burned, broken, ignored, or illegally
the value of paper is cheap.
Deloria’s many books go very deeply into my conscious and unconscious dreams. His most famous book and treatise, God is Red, basically lays out the general social systems and cultural philosophies and viewpoints of indigenous nations and compares them with the evolution and useful, instructive critique of how they clash with the deadly Western European masculinist, classist, and heterosexist ideology, its history and world view.
Time and Space
When the world views of the
Americans are contrasted with the imported assumptions of the
who have been unable to find roots in this land, a great
fundamental difference emerges. American Indians hold their
having the highest possible meaning, and all their statements
with this reference in mind. immigrants view the movement of
across the contingent as a steady progression of basically good
and experiences, thereby placing history as marks in a linear
highest value, as the best perspective or world view of reality.
tock of a clock or digital watch, paces our frantic lives into a
of activity, with no other perspective to change our spirits
realty of the here a now awarenesses of being present and
When one group is concerned with the philosophical problem of space and the other with the philosophical problem of time, then the statements of either group do not make sense when transferred from one context to the other without the proper consideration of what is happening.
Western European peoples have never learned to consider the nature of the world from a spatial point of view. And a singular difficulty faces peoples of Western European heritage in making a transition from thinking in terms of time to thinking in terms of space. The very essence of Western European identity involves the assumption that time proceeds in a linear fashion; further it assumes that at a particular point of the unraveling of this sequence, the peoples of Western Europe became guardians of mankind. The same ideology that sparked the Crusades, the Age of Exploration, the Age of Imperialism, and the recent crusade against Communist all involve the affirmation that time is peculiarly related to the destiny of the peoples of Western Europe. And later of course, the US.
It is particularly revealing that the first major doctrine enunciated as an anti-communist foreign policy was that of containment. In containment it was believed the spread of Communism would be restricted to certain geographical areas from which no further intrusions of Communist ideologies could emanate. The anachronistic nature of this theory should be apparent. Western political ideas came to depend on spatial restrictions of what was essentially non-spatial ideas. The inherent contradiction of opposing dissimilar definitions within a single theory proved fruitless to the colonial powers in Southeast Asia, Africa, and India. The determination of two American Presidents not to be the "first to lose a war," when winning that war in any final sense would have meant total destruction of a land and a people, would seem to indicate the extent to which Western European peoples—and particularly Americans—have taken the dimension of time as an absolute value. Our withdrawal from Southeast Asia would seem to show that in some collisions, history is clearly abrogated by geography... Napoleon and Hitler's attempts to conquer the vast interior of Russia subdued...the crest of historical change.
The Disclaimer of Colonialism
The disclaimer of colonialism in
has presented Western Europeans with a major dilemma. Deprived
traditional source of wealth from the undeveloped and formal
they now have little choice but to seek ways of channeling their
wealth through the various forms of social organization already
domestically. A certain stasis has been achieved, perhaps
which means a major shift in political thinking among Western
The creation of wealth today is more dependent on new technology
the exploitation of untapped resources. This is not to say that
of mineral and other resources will not continue. As undeveloped
continue their own growth, severe modifications of exploitation
as well as more sophisticated form of colonialism, if Western
countries are not to suffer economic collapse.
It is doubtful if very many Americans understand the fundamental nature of this shift from the colonialist attitude. At best it means a humanization of peoples who for centuries were considered merely producers of raw materials and consumers of those producers of those products they were allowed to share. At worst the end of one form of colonialism means the beginning of a movement to feudalize political systems around the globe so as to stabilize the economic conditions of the more affluent nations. Either approach means that the ecological problem is not dealt with, the problem of technological dehumanization is not reduced, and the breakdown of individual and community identity is not reversed.
There can be little doubt that a major part of the Western European world is now suffering etc.
...The disappearance of time itself is a limiting factor of our experience. In a world in which communications are nearly instantaneous and simultaneous experiences are possible, it must be space that in a fundamental way distinguishes us from one another, not time.
Not a Global Village
The world, therefore, is not a global villager so much as a series of non-homogeneous pockets of identity that must be thrust into eventual conflict, because they represent different arrangements of emotional energy. What these pockets of energy will produce, how they will understand themselves, and what mini-movements will emerge from them are among the unanswered questions of our time. If we believe that religion has a presence in human societies in any fundamental sense, then we can no longer speak of universal religions in the customary manner. Rather we must be prepared to confront religion and religious activities in new and novel ways. The absence of a homogeneous sense of time, a universal history, must certainly make its appearance if it has not already done so.
Religion and Geographic Location
Beneath the mini-movements on the
we will most certainly find the emergence of religious movements
out of time, movements that have been somehow triggered either
of the places in which they have originated or movements of
that seek to invoke some type of authentic religious experience
the identity of the emotional pocket. Already we are finding a
with the satanic in Southern California, long a hotbed of
coupled with a determined drive to return to the comforting and
debilitating religion of yesteryear.
What may be particularly unnerving will be the apparent contradiction in social issues as triggered by the various currents of emotion moving in particular locations. In the last election the presence of a marijuana proposition and a rigid smut proposition on the California ballot may have indicate that the redefinition of religious principles has already begun to manifest itself. The unfortunate factor in both propositions was that both depended for their validity on traditional assumptions of social reality. Neither attempted to effect a fundamental change in conceptions of reality, only to move backward or forward along the traditional time scale of values.
The Impact of Time and Space on Religions
The needed basic change depends
a realization of the revolutionary reorientation of definitions
occur when time is negated and space becomes more dominant.
often been seen as an evolutionary process in which mankind
conception of divinity by a gradual reduction of a pantheon to a
deity. The reality of religion thus becomes its ability to
universe, not to experience it. Creeds and beliefs replace
of whatever relationship may exist with higher powers. As time
less important in understanding religion, the whole monotheistic
is threatened. Yet our supernatural experiences do not
to a monotheistic conclusion.
So too with the related concepts of monotheism, that of revelation. In traditional terms a revelation occurs at a point in time, and succeeding generations are more dependent on their understanding of the original revelation than upon their immediate experience of deity. Almost all of the world religions are partially dependent on a revelation at some point in history. Contemporary people are more dependent on the validity of the original revelation of the religion in an educational sense than they are on their own immediate experience in a qualitative sense. For many religions this dependence means that belief replaces experience, and proofs of a logical nature are more relevant than additional revelations.
Revelations must somehow be phrased in the cultural beliefs, languages, and world views of the time in which they occurred. As times change and cultures become more sophisticated, sciences come to present a broader view of the universe, and languages become infused with foreign words and concepts, and the original revelation also takes on a different aspect. Revelation has generally been considered a specific body of truth related to a particular individual at a specific time. This glimpse into the eternal, as it were, is too often taken as universally valid for all times and places. If the universal nature of religions has not been the subject of debate, it should be our immediate concern.
In shifting from temporal concepts to spatial terms, we find that a revelation is not so much the period of time in which it occurs as the place it may occur. Revelation becomes a particular experience at a particular place, no universal truth emerging but an awareness arising that certain places have a qualitative holiness over and above other places. The universality of truth then becomes the relevance of the experience for a community of people, not its continual adjustment to evolving scientific and philosophical conceptions of the universe.
Holy places are well known in what have been classified as primitive religions. The vast majority of Indian tribal religions have a center at a particular place, be it river, mountain, plateau, valley, or other natural feature. Many of the smaller non universal religions also depend on as number of holy places for the practice of their religious activities. I part the affirmation of the existence of holy places confirms tribal peoples’ rootedness, which Western European man is peculiarly without. The development of shrines in the religious life of the practitioners of world religions would seem to indicate that this spatial dimension cannot be avoided as men seek religious experiences. Why then must theological reality be defined solely in temporal terms as in Christianity?
One of the features of Western European religious practice has been the dependence on teaching and preaching techniques. The Christian religion has been singularly involved with proclamations of its "good news." primarily through missionary activity and exhortations to its believers of the efficacy of its ethical system. It places a major reliance on the possibility of individual personality change in seeking followers. It has, however, been notoriously inept at invoking within its adherents a high standard of conduct.
Changing the conception of religious reality from temporal to spatial terms involves severely downgrading the teaching and preaching aspect of religious activity. Rearrangement of individual behavior patterns is incidental to communal involvement in ceremonies and the continual renewing of community relationships with the holy places of revelation. Ethics flow from the ongoing life of the community and are virtually indistinguishable from tribal or communal customs. There is little dependence, either on an individual or community basis, on the concept of progress. Value judgments involve present community reality and not reliance on past or future golden ages toward which the community is allegedly moving or from which the community has veered.
In conjunction with this notion, the severance of religious reality from the other aspects of community experience is not as distinct. A religion defined according to temporal considerations is placed continually on the defensive in maintaining its control over historical events. If, like the Hebrews of the Old Testament, political, economic, and cultural events can be interpreted as religious events, the religious time and the secular time can be made to appear to coincide. If, however, the separation becomes more or less permanent, as in Christianity and Western European concepts of history, then religion becomes a function of political interpretations as in the Manifest Destiny theories of American history, or it becomes secularized as an economic determinism as in Communist theories of history. Either way the religion soon becomes helpless to intervene in the events of real life, except in a peripheral and oblique manner.
The variety of mankind’s religious forms has often been understood as involving various stages of community existence. In a theological interpretation that sees time as predominant, the only relationship that can occur between religions is one of judging according to preconditions cultural values. From this type of attitude, stretching along a historical rime scale, religious reality is judged according to the cultural technology produced by the society. The ultimate nature of religious activity becomes secondary to the material productions demonstrable by the particular group.
Eliminating temporal considerations from an examination of religious activities, we are left with the question of the function of religion in societies. Do religions differ because they involve different relationships between a community and the lands on which it lives? One would be led to consider this relatively simple question for the first time in a new sense by observing the different religions in relation to the lands on which they live and not to their supposed position along an evolutionary scale. The rain dance of the Southwestern Indians, for example, is probably almost totally dependent upon the nature of the lands on which those Indians live. For example, one cannot imagine the Indians of the Pacific Northwest needing or having a rain dance. Instead, therefore, of attempting to find categories to explain the development of each religion over a period of time, we are led more to an examination of the nature of the lands upon which the community must exist. Religion thus becomes a present examination of community needs and values, not a progression of conceptual advances.
Time has an unusual limitation. It must begin and end at some real points, or it must be conceived as cyclical in nature, endlessly allowing the repetitions of patterns of possibilities. Judgment inevitably intrudes into the conception of religious reality whenever a temporal definition is used. Almost always the temporal consideration revolves around the problem of good and evil, and the inconsistencies that arise as this basic relationship is defined almost always turn religious beliefs into ineffectual systems of ethics.
Space has limitations that are primarily geographical and any sense of time arising within the religious experience becomes secondary to present geographical existence. The danger that appears to be lurking in spatial conceptions of religion is their effect of missionary activity on religion. Can it leave the land of its nativity and embark on a program of world or continental conquest without losing its religious essence in favor of purely political or economic considerations? Are ceremonies restricted to particular places, and do they become useless in a foreign land? These questions have never been raised in a fundamental manner within Western European religious circles, because of the preemption of temporal considerations by Christian theology.
The problem of religious imagery is also confounded when we shift from temporal patterns of explanation. The procedure by which religious imagery arises is still the subject of great debate among theologians. It is such a serious problem it has jumped the boundaries of religious thought and has also become the subject of psychoanalytical investigation. How do men conceive of the symbols, doctrines, insights, and sequences in which we find religious ideas expressed? How do we come to conceive deity in certain forms and not others?
The Lost Pyramids of Rock Lake
Even the rocks which seem to be dumb, as they swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people. —Chief Seattle, 1854
The Lake Mills Winnebago
Winnebago Indians resided in the Lake
area when the first white settlers arrived during the early
Ho-chun-ga-ra, or "Fish Eaters," as they sometimes referred to
preceded the European newcomers by perhaps two centuries, but
other tribes wandered back and forth across Southern Wisconsin
Of Siouan stock, the Winnebago maintained an oral heritage of all those tribes who came before them in a special body of folk memories called the Worak, recited histories of the region. It was distinct from the Wykuh, which dealt with religious and nature tales recounted only in wintertime.
The Worak was not a collection of fables, but the veritable tribal memory of past event, sometimes stretching back many generations. Primitive societies are generally ultraconservative in the preservation of their folklore, as exampled by Homer's Iliad, an oral tradition of events separated by at least 400 years from the bard. The Native American memory of Rock Lake and Astalan was enshrined in the Worak, which the Winnebago were willing to share with the whites until too many greedy individuals, hearing of the ancient civilizers, dug up Aztalan's mounds in search of nonexistent treasure.
Rev. Marilyn A. Riedel Researching Aztalan Mounds Near Madison, Wisconsin
Photos Courtesy of M. Constance Guardino III
The Winnebago hence forward kept the Worak
save for the rare confidence of a tribal elder in a trustworthy
When the first European settlers reached the shores of Rock Lake in the 1830s, they saw several little islands all surmounted by curious stone buildings. These were the "rock tepees" the Winnebago said belonged originally to the "old foreign chiefs." They were a tribe of powerful sorcerers, who allowed no one near the lake except on special occasions. Then everybody had to attend magical ceremonies down by the shore, always at night, when the moon and stars were worshiped as gods. To demonstrate the particular favor that was given to them by heaven, the ancient shamans paraded out across the face of the waters with blazing torches outstretched in both hands. They walked to the sacred islands which supported the temples and shrines of their most honored dead. But their procession across the lake was a trick, because only they know the exact positions of stone causeways lying just beneath the surface.
According to Dr. James Scherz, the Menominee have known for unknown centuries about the conical mounds at the bottom of Rock Lake. Tribal elders, the record keepers of their nation, say that at least some of the submerged monuments are the same as Northern Michigan's pokasawa pits, rough stone towers resembling firebreak, but of a spiritual significance the Menomenee are still reluctant to share with outsiders. This Native American tradition is in itself a wonderful proof of the existence of the controversial structures.
In 1990, Dr. Scherz was able to speak with a tribal elder and keeper of the Worak, who was quite literally on his deathbed. He told Dr. Scherz, who had won the old man's respect and confidence, that the large structure lying in the deeper part of Rock Lake was indeed a place of ancient worship once known as the Temple of the Moon Goddess, to whom the whole lake had been consecrated. The known lunar aspects of the site confirm the elder’s tradition. Just north of Rock Lake, a farmer plowing his field in the dried river bed uncovered a smooth, round stone decorated with tiny crescent moons. Remarkably, an identical stone was later discovered at the south end of the lake. Not far from the southeast shore, someone found a crescent moon masterfully carved from a single piece of obsidian.
Then there is the northern orientation of the Limnatis Temple of the Moon Goddess, an orientation associated with the lowest lunar rising at other prehistoric ceremonial centers in North America, such as Ohio's Octagon Mound. We recall, too, the celestial alignments discovered again by Dr. Scherz at the temple-mounds at Aztalan, astronomical coordinates which compliment Winnebago descriptions of moon and star worship at Rock Lake.
Rev. Marilyn A. Riedel Examines a Map of Aztalan Historian Connie Guardino on Crawfish River at Aztalan
Photos Courtesy of Rev. Marilyn A. Riedel and M. Constance Guardino III
The earliest known inhabitants of the
were the Mandans,
among the most interesting and skilled of all the indigenous
too, erected stockaded walls, although not so extensive or
as Aztalan's ramparts, and preserved intriguing traditions of
arrivals from a Great Flood.
But the Mandans were builders of neither the underwater necropolis of Rock Lake nor the ceremonial enclosure of Aztalan.
The Great Copper Mystery
The People of the Sea have not only mingled their blood and their strength with us all, but also are the traders who worked the mines of Michigan during the age of bronze. —L. Taylor Hansen
Someone took an awful lot of raw
North America a very long time ago. Who was responsible for this
they did with it represent an enigma of vast proportions that
have been puzzling over for more than a century, although most
are unaware of the story.
Beginning around 3,000 BCE, in excess of 500,000 tons of copper were mined in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, with most activity taking place at Isle Royale, an island in Lake Superior on the Canadian border. The mine abruptly and inexplicably shut down in 1,200 BCE, reopening no less mysteriously 2,300 years later. Until 1,320 CE, some additional 2,000 tons were removed, destination unknown. As before operations were suddenly suspended for no apparent cause. Tools—mauls, picks, hammers, shovels and levers—were left by their owners in place. Octave Du Temple, a foremost authority on early Michigan, asks, "Why did these miners leave their operations and implements as though planning on taking up their labors the next day, and yet mysteriously never returned?"
William P. F. Ferguson writes, "The work is of a colossal nature," and "amounted to the turning over the whole formation to their depth and moving many cubic acres—it would not be seriously extravagant to say cubic miles—of rock."
The prehistoric mines were no crude holes in the ground, but incredibly efficacious operations to extract staggering masses of raw material as quickly as possible. An average of 1,000 to 1,200 tons of ore were excavated per pit, yielding about l00,000 pounds of copper each. To achieve such prodigious yields, the miners employed simple techniques that enabled them to work with speed and efficiency. They created intense fires atop a copper-bearing vein, heated the rock to very high temperatures, then doused it with water. The rock fractured and stone tools were employed to extract the copper. Deep in the pits, a vinegar mixture was used to speed spalling and reduce smoke.
The ancient enterprise was a mind-boggling affair, including about 5,000 mines mostly along the Keweenaw Peninsula and the eastern end of Lake Superior above the St. Mary's River. On the northern shore, the diggings extended 150 miles, varying in width from four to seven miles, through the Trap Range, to include three Michigan counties, Keweenaw, Houghton and Ontonagon. At Isle Royale, the mining area was 40 miles long and averaged five miles across. The pits ran in practically a contiguous line for 30 miles through the Rockland region, as they did at greater intervals in the Ontonagon District. If all these pits were put end to end single file, they would form a man made trench more than five miles long, 20 feet wide and 30 feet deep.
Estimates of 10,000 men working the mines for 1,000 years seem credible, as does the conclusion that they were not slaves, because the miners carried away their dead. No ancient graves nor evidence of cremations have been found in the Upper Peninsula. Indeed, virtually all they left behind were their tools, literally millions of them. As far back as the 1840s, ten wagon loads of stone hammers were taken from a single location near Rockland. Those in McCargo Cove, on the north side of Isle Royale, amounts to 1,000 tons.
The Elder's History of Wisconsin Copper Culture
"I must die," the old man said without
"It will be a good thing. I am tired of carrying around this old
flesh and bones like a sack of dried leaves and kindling at the
autumn. Throw them into the fire to keep the young ones warm!"
sincerely. His face was a map of wrinkled leather, but a single,
sunken eye barely glistened from behind its heavily folded
the glint of a dagger's blade through a worn out buckskin
"I have the freedom of an old man about to die. If I go with my secrets, I might have to come back as a crow. You will not understand any of my cawing, no matter how hard I try to tell you. It will be too late then. Besides, I see the time coming when you white men must learn from us, else my people, your people, everyone—ssshhh!" And he made an apocalyptic gesture with his strong, gnarled hand. It looked as though it had grown naturally from the bough of some antediluvian oak.
"We were gathered in the elder's tent, somewhere in Northern Wisconsin, near the shores of Lake Superior. I cannot divulge his name, nor even mention the identity of his tribe. All I may relate is a paraphrase of some of the things he shared with us one winter, not long ago. We were quietly attentive, as his eyes, still fiercely eagle-like for all their 80-odd years, gazed beyond our time into the little fire around which we sat. He spoke not a word for long moments in the expectant silence, then suddenly but deliberately defined a broad circle in the near darkness with both hands before beginning in a voice younger and louder than before.
"When the start which men see in the night sky were not in the same places they are now, our fathers had already fished these waters for many turns. They were like children, no wiser than deer, but happy. The red metal of the ground and in streams they found and made into ornaments for their hair and hands. That was all it meant to them. But over the Sunrise Sea, in a big lodge on a great island, the Marine Men prayed to Wes-a-hee-sa, the Foolish Creator. 'Give us the red metal!' they cried to him. ‘In it there is much Manitou for us!' Their shamans were clever, their magic was strong. Wes-a-hee-sa turned his ear to them. He told them how to make big canoes and he led them across the waves from the Old Red Land, the island of the great lodge, to Turtle Island. They came to where now we sit.
Evil from the Sea
"Our fathers, when they saw the
ran away. They thought they were gods or evil spirits. Their
fire, their eyes like ice, their skin had no color. For their
made from the rainbow, but the men among them had faces like
few of their women came with them. They carried a magic stone.
threw it on the ground, it sang a song telling them where to dig
in the Earth Mother's breast. It was an evil thing to wound the
of us all. But, in time, even some of our fathers joined the
They stole the red metal and put it in their big canoes.
"Down the rivers they went, into the South. The waters were greater then than they are today. The Earth Mother, in her distress and anger, shrank them to prevent the foreign chiefs from returning. But in those days their big canoes could go anywhere. They went to a small lake, Tyranena. It was named after one of their chiefs from the Old Red Land. They made the lake shore a sacred burial ground and worshiped the moon as a powerful, divine woman. They performed evil magic with the red metal at this place. Then they put it back into the big canoes, which took it away to their great lodge over the Sunrise Sea.
"The Marine Men buried their dead in pits. When they were laid inside, side by side, in great numbers, stones were gathered, then stacked up over the graves in a big mound. Smaller mounds, like rock tepees, they piled up over chiefs and their families. The mounds and stone tepees they covered in white and painted many magic signs on them to imitate the dances of the stars. The dead were supposed to learn these dances, if they wanted to go to the place of the Great Spirit. Sun and moon exchanged places many times and the burial grounds grew to become a big town of dead people. Our fathers performed much heavy work for the Marine Men at this place. But one day the Earth Mother could bear her torment no longer and she pulled the old Red Land under the water. The great lodge with many Marine Men drowned. Then those who were over here were afraid. They fled from the many holes they made to find the red metal. But our fathers, seeing their chance, attacked them, killing many. The sinful foreign chiefs ran to Tyranena and their dead tribesmen, calling to their spirits for protection from the wrath of the Attiwandeton and Chippewa.
"One of their shamans spoke. 'The dead will not save us,' he said, 'unless we save them. They command you to preserve their graves from harm, or else they will become ghosts and have to ream the world forever.' How can we protect them, when we cannot even protect ourselves?,' they cried. 'You must dig a long row from the river to the lake!' This they did. And when it was done, the shaman opened a door from the ditch, which was higher than the lake. When he did this, the river ran faster and louder than a buffalo heard. A mighty waterfall of many thunders fell on Tyranena. The great flood rushed over the mounds and rock tepees with their honored dead. They were buried under the wall of waters.
After the Flood
"When the flood was complete,
shaman used his magic to conjure a great beast that would live
in the lake to guard the graves from desecration. This task
of the Marine Men fled Tyranena. As promised by the spirits of
they were protected from further harm. Some built big canoes and
over the Sunrise Sea, notwithstanding the destruction of the Old
"Others went south, onto the hot lands of valleys and mountains and jungles. They lived long with the people there. They became chiefs again and had sons by the native women. Their sons begat more sons, and on through many generations, until one day the Sun God told them to return to Tyranena.
"They honored the sacred lake by causing the figures of its spirit guardian to be made on the shore. Tyranena they now called the Lake of the Seven Caves, after the seven tribes which came up from the South. They used its shores for the burial of their dead under mounds of holy soil. Then they went to the river, where they built a great wall. They lived behind it and grew rich because all the people brought them food and hides. In exchange they gave the Indians words from the sky gods, who told them how to regulate their lives and their crops. All went well for some generations. They called their place of the big walls, Aztalan. Our fathers did not know what this name meant, so they just called it the Old City.
The Fall of Aztalan
"One day, the young chief of Aztalan
a bride from the people who lived outside the walls. According
law, this was a bad thing to do. But the man's passion prevailed
came to live in the Old City with her family. Her brothers
and honored them by eating human flesh. They won some of the
over to these death gods. There was much confusion. Then the Sun
again. He was very angry and told the people they had to leave
City. He blew hot winds, dried up all the water, and kept the
ripening as punishment. To purify the sacred ground they had
the Aztalaners burned the walls and set fire to everything. Then
going back into the valley lands of the far south. I heard they
a great people again, until white men came and killed them all.
"Now, this is the story we and other tribal elders know. It was given to us by our grandfathers from their grandfathers. We preserve it as a lesson for our people. These Marine Men and their sons insulted the gods with their profane greed. Each timer they suffered. Many died. They lost all they sought for. The time is coming again. Earth Mother and Sky Father warn us to become good children. They threaten us with the great punishment. It has happened before. It will happen again. That is the lesson of Tyranena and Aztalan."
Aztalan State Park contains one of Wisconsin's most important archaeological sites. It showcases an ancient Middle-Mississippian village and ceremonial complex that thrived between A.D. 1000 and 1300. Archaeologists theorize that the occupants may have cultural traditions in common with Cahokia, a large Middle-Mississippian settlement near East St. Louis, Illinois. The people who settled Aztalan built large, flat-topped pyramidal mounds and a stockade around their village. They hunted, fished, and farmed on the floodplain of the Crawfish River. Portions of the stockade and two mounds have been reconstructed in the park. The park is mostly open prairie, with 38 of its 172 acres in oak woods. It has an accessible, reservable picnic shelter; wells; and vault toilets. You can canoe, boat, and catch northern pike, catfish, and walleye in the Crawfish River, but the park does not have a boat launch. The park is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. A vehicle admission sticker is required. The Aztalan Museum, operated by the Lake Mills-Aztalan Historical Society, Inc., is just north of the park. It includes two pioneer church buildings and other structures from the 19th century and displays of pioneer life. The museum is open from noon to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays from mid-May through late September. Fees are $3 for adults, $1 for children, free for those under age 7. The Aztalan Historical Society sponsors a festival on the museum grounds each year on the Sunday closest to July 4, celebrating Aztalan's pioneer past. Photos courtesy of M. Constance Guardino III 1996
Myth as History
Fell's first book on ancient
(1976), some important advances have been made in archaeological
bearing on that topics.
Fell says we are faced, therefore, with what amounts to conclusive evidence that artifacts (including written inscriptions) of European peoples of the Bronze Age are found at American archaeological sites, and with these artifacts skeletons are occasionally found that conform to Europoid criteria. The recognition and confirmation of the inscriptions are due to epigraphers who have published their findings and who, in most cases, teach courses in linguistics or epigraphy at reputable universities. Thus, whether or not we can comprehend the sailing techniques of Bronze Age peoples, the fact seems inescapable that Bronze Age Europeans reached North America. His personal view is that the mild climate of the Bronze Age permitted navigation to take advantage of the westward-flowing currents and westward-blowing winds of the polar regions, and thus made the natural northern route to North America much easier to use than is the case today, when polar ice intrudes and savage weather occurs. Fell has sailed that route and appreciate its discomforts. They would have been much less severe in the Bronze Age while the attraction of North America for Scandinavian skippers would have been enhanced by the availability of copper in metallic form at a time when Europe was demanding copper for bronze alloys on a larger scale than ever before or since.
Thus the sum total evidence from burial sites, from the chance discovery of burial marker stones and boundary stones, from the other sources mentioned in this all adds up to a consistent and simple explanation of all the baffling facts; it is simply this—European colonists and traders have been visiting or settling in the Americas for thousands of years, have introduced their scripts and artifacts and skills, and have exported abroad American products such as copper.
Photo Courtesy of Rev. Marilyn A. Riedel
The Hero's Conflict with Giants
The episode in question
conflict with the giants; for example, that of Red Horn, a
Legend portrayed in forty cave paintings found at the Gottschall
Tradition portrayed them as men and women of tall stature and
physical strength, who lived behind the high walls of "a great
they engaged in many sporting events. Dr. Robert Salzer,
at Beloit College, believes these giants in Wisconsin oral
none other than the inhabitants of Aztalan. Indeed, their
center enclosed a large plaza, where games of all kinds were
giants were described in the legend as red haired, a provocative
which, together with their tall stature, suggests European
provenance is, in fact, emphasized when the last giant survivors
"across the seas." Appropriately, the few adult burials
revealed persons of exceptional height.
... Ritual beheading was among the many themes running throughout Aztalan, from the headless giant unearthed there to a nearby colossal earthwork depicting a decapitated figure. The Red Horn story not only connect Muscoda to Aztalan, buy suggests that a skull cult practiced at both sites evoked some ritual conception of regeneration and rebirth. As his cycle continues, it begins to describe the fate of Aztalan. In it, the giants were mostly killed in retributive wars and their corpses piled up walls of their city. "It made a big blaze, for the giants were very fat." Aztalan was, historically, destroyed by an all-consuming fire. Interestingly, Red Horn himself was portrayed as a mixed descendant of light-haired giants. His name was drawn from his own crop of red hair. And there is a curious passage in his legend, when hits on his hand, then moves it over his brother's hair, turns suddenly blond. The incident suggests that they wended from a racially alien people, whose red and yellow hair could only have belonged to prehistoric travelers from Europe. As Dr. James Scherz, who is a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, wrote, the Red Horn story "documents a real historic event, embellished for dramatic effect."
The wall paintings could not have been created before 2,000 BCE.
Disarming History from Cultural Aggression and Genocide
Once the perspectives accepted until now by official science has been reversed, the history of humanity will become clear and the history of Africa can be written. But any undertaking in this field that adopts compromise as its point of departure as if it were possible to split the difference, or the truth, in half, would run the risk of producing nothing but alienation. Only a loyal, determined struggle to destroy cultural aggression and bring out the truth, whatever it may be, is revolutionary and consonant with real progress; it is the only approach which opens on to the universal. Humanitarian declarations are not called for and add nothing to real progress.
Liberating the Myth of History
Where does history begin? At
and introduction of writing, that marks the division between
and the historical documentation of human activity and
human history begins with the story of the discovery of human
their oldest, fossilized form, starting with Dr. Mary Leaky's
Gorge, Africa. Why not start where it all began—to the creation
(cosmology) and theories about earth's origin?
It seems to the authors, as they read, researched, and gathered material for this regional history of Oregon, End of the Trail (the Central Oregon Coast), they discovered who writes the history and who or what history is really about; for whom; and why it is or is not truthfully written, depending on what it is and is not designed to do. Until now!
That traditional, Western Euro-American history will domesticate, atrophy, dissolve, and sterilize ones "soul," it is essential to become consciously aware of this fact, to retrieve her or himself from it, and is the first and most important first step to restore historical consciousness. What worth, profit, or benefit did it provide (or fail to provide) the reader for lucid, liberating, and luminous living?
From the outset, the authors determined to question most strongly critique the system of logic and values that pass for American and Western history. How inclusive, progressive, and accurate or veracious was the history on its face? Did it resonate with what we know of our combined 115 years of historic, lived experience? Were we pulled beyond the political cliches, the patriotic slogans, and chronologies of vested interests into the diversity of communities and people's cultures, of the many changes and differences in the new "Big Picture?"— the realms of insight, discovery, or vision of a transformation of life?
We expect this work of history to be as thorough, as truthful, as thoughtful, and as honest and diversely creative of the full range of human history and experiences as we are aware of and capable of synthesizing that can be placed in a single volume of this size. In this way, we hope to motivate you and invite you on this journey to reflection and into action, if only to dialog with another, "pro and con."
So where will our American history begin? You will find this Oregon: End of the Trail interweaving or radiating like spokes from a hub variously reaching local with coastal and regional stories, and those connecting with significant national, world and the cosmically significant. Connecting to regional history, it covers all of the questions above will be explored in one form or another in creative, integrative ways in-depth stories, background, and other forms of historical communication.
Obviously, some readers will not want to know nor understand how uninformed, disinformed, and deceived they are, and how radical (to the root of) we found history to be. Nevertheless, we found these revelatory and astoundingly significant accounts and perspectives in their beauty and in their ugliness, just as typical of a functioning family that has no secrets to hide (or silence) because members trust, respect, can talk honestly and appropriately with one another. But the remaining 98 percent of typical families insist upon maintaining "family secrets" that remain literally locked inside the closets. No one likes to expose the truth to the light of day. Remarkably, if these secrets were no longer secret, the usual "crazy making," and the power plays could no longer be disruptive, divisive, or unhealthful to living. Similarly, what is historically or scientifically significant departs of their seeming dogma of theoretical tenets, omitted (or telescoped), or glossed over into footnotes, etc. defines a hegemony of elitist, divisive power and abuse, a denial people, their culture and heritage, religion, values, identities, and their very personhood and connection to life.
For an example, our generation was told, Africans had no history! Westerners taught African history was "not objective, correct, or without crude falsification." Similarly, Vine Deloria, Jr., critics Western science.
Readers of history know the reality euphemistically called the "Indian Reservation" functioned as a Concentration Camp: a prison of isolation arrived at by forced march to inhospitable climate, swamp, scrub land, or desert. The ethnic cleansing or genocide of tribal nations took the form of killing all fertile males forcing their widows into extra-tribal marriage along with the children and old people. Reservations were infested with white disease, slow starvation, and free flowing alcohol. Similar to China's war against Britain's importing the drug, opium, First Opium War, (1839-4182), American justice was executed by the US Army and by civilian terrorism and lynching mob action with impunity.
The naked truth as liberating history may be frightening, confusing, or hurting, but it can and must be the first step to freedom. For one very important example, one needs to know that the oral history and traditions of the Hebrew tribes, the later Jesus followers and nations of Islam were founded and originated in the first great culture and civilization of the world, black Africa. In fact we all are from one race, the African negro, which has been genetically and scientifically proven.
How can history be liberating—or not liberating? One may have heard about liberation theology, or of black liberation, women's liberation, gray liberation, gay liberation, sexual liberation, etc. On the personal level, many of us may be practicing another form of liberation—recovery from chemical, drug, relationship, sexual, gambling, and other personal or political fads in the tabloidized print and electronic media, and forms of compulsivity and obsession with tabloid news, politics, and justice disguised as sexual and religious McCarthyism.
Creation Myth as History
The most profound human
are the ones that give rise to creation myths: Who are we? Why
What is the purpose of our lives and our deaths? How should we
our place in the world, in time and space? These are central
of value and while they are influenced by issues of fact, they
in themselves factual questions; rather they involve attitudes
and reality. As such, the issues that they raise are addressed
Myths are narratives set in the historic past and dealing with the actions of the gods. Folk tales are narratives set in the historic past but told primarily for entertainment, and thus not necessarily believed to have happened; and legends are narratives set in the historic past and calling for belief or disbelief.
Myths proclaim such attitudes toward reality. They organize the way we perceive facts and understand ourselves and the world. Whether we adhere to them consciously or not, they remain pervasively influential. Think of the power of the first myth of Genesis 1-2:3 in the Old Testament. While the scientific claims is incorporates, so obviously at odds with modern ones, may be rejected, what about the Myth itself? Most Westerners, whether not they are practicing Jews or Christians, still show themselves to be the heirs of this tradition by holding to the view that people are sacred, the creatures of God. Declared unbelievers often dispense with the frankly religious language of this assertion by renouncing God, yet even they still cherish the consequence of the myth’s claim and affirm that people have inalienable rights (as if they were created by God). And, further, consider the beliefs that human beings are superior to all other creatures and are properly set above the rest of the physical world by intelligence and spirit with the obligation to govern it—these beliefs are still current and very powerful. Even the notion that time is properly organized into seven-day weeks, with one day for rest, remains widely accepted. These attitudes toward reality are all part of the first myth of Genesis. And whether people go to temple or church, whether they consider themselves religious, to the extent they reflect these attitudes in their daily behavior, they are still deeply Judeo-Christian.
But the power of a specific myth is not as important to realize as the power of myth itself. What is essential to understand is that they have been challenged not by new facts but by new attitudes toward facts; they have been challenged by new myths.
There is no escaping our dependence on myth. Without it, we cannot determine what things are, what to do with them, or how to be in relation to them. The fundamental structures of understanding that myths provide, even though in part dictated by matter and instinct, are nevertheless essentially arbitrary because they describe not just the "real" world of "fact" but our perception and experience of that world.
We need myths to determine and then evaluate the various facts presented to us. We need myths to answer the questions, "Who am I? How do I fit into the worlds of society and nature? How should I live?"
While all cultures have specific myths through which they respond to these kinds of questions, it is in their creation myths that the most basic answers are to be found. Not only are creation myths the most comprehensive of mythic statements, addressing themselves to the most comprehensive of mythic statements addressing themselves to the widest range of questions of meaning, but they are also the most profound. They deal with first causes, the essences of what their cultures perceive reality to be. In them people set forth their primary understanding of man and the world, time and space. And in them cultures express most directly, before they become involved in the fine points of sophisticated dogma, their understanding of and awe before the absolute reality, the most basic fact of being.
It is no accident that cultures think their creation myths the most sacred, for these myths are the ground on which all later myths stand. In them members of the group (and outsiders) can perceive the main elements of entire structures of value and meaning. Usually, we learn only covertly and piecemeal of the attitudes these myths announce openly and wholly.
And while many of these attitudes toward reality are conveyed by parents, others come from the culture at large, from education, laws, entertainment, and ritual. In a society as diverse and rapidly changing as ours, attitudes from different and occasionally conflicting myths are promulgated simultaneously. Even so, they are often accepted without question, by adults as well as by children, as "the way things are," as "facts."
Thus, because of the way in which domestic myths are transmitted, people often never learn that they are myths; people become submerged in their viewpoints, prisoners of their own traditions. They readily confuse attitudes toward reality (proclamations of value) with reality itself (statements of fact). Failing to see their own myths as myths, they consider all other myths as false. They do not understand that the truth of all myths is existential and not necessarily theoretical. That is, they forget that myths are true to the extent they are effective. In a sense, myths are self-fulfilling prophecies: they create facts of the values they propound. Thinking we are superior to other creatures, for instance, we set ourselves up as such and use them ruthlessly. People that think of themselves as brothers to the beasts live with them in harmony and respect.
The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory
Once while I was browsing through On
Issues, a feminist magazine, I happened upon an advertisement
"I Survived Five-Thousand Years of Patriarchal Hierarchies," it
(see Fig. 1.1). This same birthday for patriarchy, 5,000 years
was mentioned several times in a lecture I attended in 1992 in
City. I heard this number very frequently in the late 1980s and
I was researching the feminist spirituality movement, and five
is the most common age spiritual feminists assign to "the
Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised to hear it yet again.
the speaker was Gloria
Steinem, and I hadn't figured her
of this theory.
As I later learned, Steinem had been speculating about the origins of the patriarchy as early as 1972, when she told the readers of Wonder Woman this story:
Once upon a time, the many cultures of this world were all part of the gynocratic age. Paternity had not yet been discovered, and it was thought ...that women bore fruit like trees—when they were ripe. Childbirth was mysterious. It was vital. And it was envied. Women were worshipped because of it, were considered superior because of it.... Men were on the periphery—an interchangeable body of workers for, and worshippers of, the female center, the principle of life.
The discovery of paternity, of sexual cause and childbirth effect, was as cataclysmic for society as, say, the discovery of fire or the shattering of the atom. Gradually, the idea of male ownership of children took hold....
Gynocracy also suffered from the periodic invasions of nomadic tribes.... The conflict between the hunters and the growers was really the conflict between male-dominated and female-dominated cultures.
... women gradually lost their freedom, mystery, and superior position. For five thousand years or more, the gynocratic age had flowered in peace and productivity. Slowly, in varying stages and in different parts of the world, the social order was painfully reversed. Women became the underclass, marked by their visible differences.
In 1972, Steinem was a voice in the wilderness with her talk of a past gynocratic age; only a handful of feminists had even broached the topic. The second wave of feminism was young then, but for most feminists the patriarchy was old, unimaginably old.
Too old, some would say. The patriarchy is younger now, thanks to growing feminist acceptance of the idea that human society was matriarchal—or at least "woman-centered" and goddess-worshipping—from the Paleolithic era, 1.5 to 2 million years ago, until sometime around 3,000 BCE. There are almost as many versions of this story as there are storytellers, but these are its basic contours:
In a time before written records, society was centered around women. Women were revered for their mysterious life-giving powers, honored as incarnations and priestesses of the great goddess. They reared their children to carry on their line, created both art and technology, and made important decisions for their communities.
Then a great transformation
through a sudden cataclysm or a long, drawn-out sea change—and
was thereafter dominated by men. This is the culture and the
we know as
"patriarchy," and in which we live today.
What the future holds is not determined, and indeed depends most heavily on the actions that we take now: particularly as we become aware of our true history. But the pervasive hope is that the future will bring a time of peace, ecological balance, and harmony between the sexes, with women either recovering their past ascendancy, or at last establishing a truly egalitarian society under the aegis of the goddess.
Not everyone who discusses this theory believes that the history of human social life on Earth happened this way. There is substantial dissension. But the story is circulating widely. It is a tale that is told in Sunday school classrooms, at academic conferences, at neopagan festivals, on network television, at feminist political action meetings, and in the pages of everything from populist feminist works to children's books to archaeological tomes. For those with ears to hear it, the noise the theory of matriarchal prehistory makes as we move into a new millennium is deafening.
My first encounter with the theory that prehistory was matriarchal came in 1979 in a class titled "Minoan and Mycenaean Greece." While on site at Knossos, our professor—an archaeologist with the American School of Classical Studies in Athens—noted that the artifactual evidence on the island of Crete pointed toward Minoan society being matriarchal. I don't recall much of what he said in defense of this assertion or what he meant by "matriarchal." All of this is overshadowed in my memory by the reaction of the other members of the class to the professor's statement: they laughed. Some of them nervously, some derisively. One or two expressed doubt. The general sentiment went something like this: "As if women would ever have run things, could ever have run things ... and if they did, men surely had to put an end to it!" And, as my classmates gleefully noted, men did put an end to it, for it was a matter of historical record, they said, that the civilization of Minoan Crete was displaced by the apparently patriarchal Mycenaeans.
There were only a dozen or so of us there, ranging in age from teens to forties—Greeks, Turks, expatriate Americans—about evenly divided between women and men. The men's reactions held center stage (as men's reactions in college classes tended to do in 1979). I don't know what the other women in the class were thinking; they either laughed along with the men or said nothing. I felt the whole discussion amounted to cruel teasing of the playground variety, and I was annoyed with the professor for bringing it up and then letting it degenerate from archaeological observation to cheap joke. I left that interaction thinking, "Matriarchal? So what?" If a lot of snickering was all that prehistoric matriarchies could get me, who needed them?
Having thus washed my hands of the theory of prehistoric matriarchy, I didn't encounter it again until the early 1980s, when I was in graduate school doing research on feminist goddess-worship. I heard the theory constantly then, from everyone I interviewed, and in virtually every book I read that came out of the feminist spirituality movement. This matriarchy was no Cretan peculiarity, but a worldwide phenomenon that stretched back through prehistory to the very origins of the human race. These "matriarchies"—often called by other names—were not crude reversals of patriarchal power, but models of peace, plenty, harmony with nature, and, significantly, sex egalitarianism.
There was an answer here to my late adolescent question, "Matriarchal? So what?"—a thoroughly reasoned and passionately felt answer. Far from meaning nothing, the existence of prehistoric matriarchies meant everything to the women I met through my study of feminist spirituality. In both conversation and literature, I heard the evangelical tone of the converted: the theory of prehistoric matriarchy gave these individuals an understanding of how we came to this juncture in human history and what we could hope for in the future. It underwrote their politics, their ritual, their thealogy (or understanding of the goddess), and indeed, their entire worldview.
As a student of religion, I was fascinated with this theory, with its power to explain history, to set a feminist and ecological ethical agenda, and incredibly, to change lives. Of course I knew theoretically that this is precisely what myths do—and this narrative of matriarchal utopia and patriarchal takeover was surely a myth, at least in the scholarly sense: it was a tale told repeatedly and reverently, explaining things (namely, the origin of sexism) otherwise thought to be painfully inexplicable. But to see a myth developing and gaining ground before my own eyes—and more significantly, in my own peer group—was a revelation to me. Here was a myth that, however recently created, wielded tremendous psychological and spiritual power.
My phenomenological fascination with what I came to think of as "the myth of matriarchal prehistory" was sincere, and at times dominated my thinking. But it was accompanied by other, multiple fascinations. To begin with, once the memory of the derisive laughter at Knossos faded, I was intrigued with the idea of female rule or female "centeredness" in society. It was a reversal that had a sweet taste of power and revenge. More positively, it allowed me to imagine myself and other women as people whose biological sex did not immediately make the idea of their leadership, creativity, or autonomy either ridiculous or suspect. It provided a vocabulary for dreaming of utopia, and a license to claim that it was not mere fantasy, but a dream rooted in an ancient reality.
In other words, I had no trouble appreciating the myth's appeal. Except for one small problem—and one much larger problem—I might now be writing a book titled Matriarchal Prehistory: Our Glorious Past and Our Hope for the Future. But if I was intrigued with the newness and power of the myth, and with its bold gender reversals, I was at least as impressed by the fact that anyone took it seriously as history. Poking holes in the "evidence" for this myth was, to rely on cliché, like shooting fish in a barrel. After a long day of research in the library, I could go out with friends and entertain them with the latest argument I'd read for matriarchal prehistory, made up entirely—I pointed out—of a highly ideological reading of a couple of prehistoric artifacts accompanied by some dubious anthropology, perhaps a little astrology, and a fatuous premise ... or two or three.
When I picked up my research on feminist spirituality again in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I got to know many women involved in the movement, and I felt largely sympathetic toward their struggles to create a more female-friendly religion. But I continued to be appalled by the sheer credulousness they demonstrated toward their very dubious version of what happened in Western prehistory. The evidence available to us regarding gender relations in prehistory is sketchy and ambiguous, and always subject to the interpretation of biased individuals. But even with these limitations, what evidence we do have from prehistory cannot support the weight laid upon it by the matriarchal thesis. Theoretically, prehistory could have been matriarchal, but it probably wasn't, and nothing offered up in support of the matriarchal thesis is especially persuasive.
However, a myth does not need to be true—or even necessarily be believed to be true—to be powerful, to make a difference in how people think and live, and in what people value. Yet even as I tried to put aside the question of the myth's historicity, I remained uncomfortable with it. It exerted a magnetic appeal for me, but an even stronger magnetic repulsion. Eventually I had to admit that something was behind my constant bickering about the myth's historicity, something more than a lofty notion of intellectual honesty and the integrity of historical method. For certainly there are other myths that I have never felt driven to dispute: White lotus flowers blossomed in the footsteps of the newly born Shakyamuni? Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments carved into two stone tablets? Personally, I doubt that either of these things happened, but I would never waste my breath arguing these points with the faithful. Truth claims seem beside the point to me: what matters is why the story is told, the uses to which it is put and by whom.
I have been a close observer of the myth of matriarchal prehistory for fifteen years now and have watched as it has moved from its somewhat parochial home in the feminist spirituality movement out into the feminist and cultural mainstream. But I haven't been able to cheer at the myth's increasing acceptance. My irritation with the historical claims made by the myth's partisans masks a deeper discontent with the myth's assumptions. There is a theory of sex and gender embedded in the myth of matriarchal prehistory, and it is neither original nor revolutionary. Women are defined quite narrowly as those who give birth and nurture, who identify themselves in terms of their relationships, and who are closely allied with the body, nature, and sex—usually for unavoidable reasons of their biological makeup. This image of women is drastically revalued in feminist matriarchal myth, such that it is not a mark of shame or subordination, but of pride and power. But this image is nevertheless quite conventional and, at least up until now, it has done an excellent job of serving patriarchal interests.
Indeed, the myth of matriarchal prehistory is not a feminist creation, in spite of the aggressively feminist spin it has carried over the past twenty-five years. Since the myth was revived from classical Greek sources in 1861 by Johann Jakob Bachofen, it has had—at best—a very mixed record where feminism is concerned. The majority of men who championed the myth of matriarchal prehistory during its first century (and they have mostly been men) have regarded patriarchy as an evolutionary advance over prehistoric matriarchies, in spite of some lingering nostalgia for women's equality or beneficent rule. Feminists of the latter half of the twentieth century are not the first to find in the myth of matriarchal prehistory a manifesto for feminist social change, but this has not been the dominant meaning attached to the myth of matriarchal prehistory, only the most recent.
Though there is nothing inherently feminist in matriarchal myth, this is no reason to disqualify it for feminist purposes. If the myth now functions in a feminist way, its antifeminist past can become merely a curious historical footnote. And it does function in a feminist way now, at least at a psychological level: there are ample testimonies to that. Many women—and some men too—have experienced the story of our matriarchal past as profoundly empowering, and as a firm foundation from which to call for, and believe in, a better future for us all.
Why then take the time and trouble to critique this myth, especially since it means running the risk of splitting feminist ranks, which are thin enough as it is? Simply put, it is my feminist movement too, and when I see it going down a road which, however inviting, looks like the wrong way to me, I feel an obligation to speak up. Whatever positive effects this myth has on individual women, they must be balanced against the historical and archaeological evidence the myth ignores or misinterprets and the sexist assumptions it leaves Undisturbed. The myth of matriarchal prehistory postures as "documented fact," as "to date the most scientifically plausible account of the available information." These claims can be—and will be here—shown to be false. Relying on matriarchal myth in the face of the evidence that challenges its veracity leaves feminists open to charges of vacuousness and irrelevance that we cannot afford to court. And the gendered stereotypes upon which matriarchal myth rests persistently work to flatten out differences among women; to exaggerate differences between women and men; and to hand women an identity that is symbolic, timeless, and archetypal, instead of giving them the freedom to craft identities that suit their individual temperaments, skills, preferences, and moral and political commitments.
In the course of my critique of feminist matriarchal myth, I do not intend to offer a substitute account of what happened between women and men in prehistoric times, or to determine whether patriarchy is a human universal or a recent historical phenomenon. These are questions that are hard to escape—feminist matriarchal myth was created largely in response to them—and intriguing to speculate upon. But the stories we spin out and the evidence we amass about the origins of sexism are fundamentally academic. They are not capable of telling us whether or how we might put an end to sexism. As I argue at the end of this book, these are moral and political questions; not scientific or historical ones.
The enemies of feminism have long posed issues of patriarchy and sexism in pseudoscientific and historical terms. It is not in feminist interests to join them at this game, especially when it is so (relatively) easy to undermine the ground rules. We know enough about biological sex differences to know that they are neither so striking nor so uniform that we either need to or ought to make our policy decisions in reference to them. And we know that cultures worldwide have demonstrated tremendous variability in constructing and regulating gender, indicating that we have significant freedom in making our own choices about what gender will mean for us. Certainly recent history, both technological and social, proves that innovation is possible: we are not forever condemned to find our future in our past. Discovering—or more to the point, inventing—prehistoric ages in which women and men lived in harmony and equality is a burden that feminists need not, and should not bear. Clinging to shopworn notions of gender and promoting a demonstrably fictional past can only hurt us over the long run as we work to create a future that helps all women, children, and men flourish.
In spite of overwhelming drawbacks,
of matriarchal prehistory continues to thrive. Any adequate
this myth must be based on a proper understanding of it: who
and what they stand to gain by doing so; how it has evolved and
how it is being disseminated; and exactly what this story claims
past and our future. It is to this descriptive task that the
Changing Myths: Levels of Truth or Faithing
As circumstances change and perceptions alter (often as in the case with our feelings about the ecosystem, because an old myth has been so successful that it produces a new reality and thereby engenders a new attitude towards it), cultures constantly revise their myths. Such revision is accomplished with remarkable ease if only the meaning of specific myths, not the words themselves, is altered. Our belief that "all men are created equal," for example, is still firm, even though we have come to include black men and all women in an originally more restrictive claim. Although much changed, the "fact" of equality is still considered to be unchallenged. When words as well as meanings are altered, people respond with more hesitation. Sometimes they live for a while with two different attitudes toward the same reality. Conflicting views of the proper attitude toward women, for example, can be seen side by side not only in any newspaper but also in the first book of the Old Testament. The myth of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:4-23, c900 BCE) speaks of the first woman as dependent on (and derivative of) the first man, while the myth of creation in six days (Genesis 1-2:3, c. 400 BCE) describes the genders as of equal origin.
Folklore as Personal Experience Stories
The seminal research of Sandra
only recently been recognized by folklorists as a narrative
story. It is also interesting to note that the reason Stahl
neglect of the form, folklorists "have considered the standard
genres more important or at least more interesting than such
as the personal narrative" and therefore "not really folklore or
not a folklore genre." Her defense of personal—experience
equally well to other Zuni conversational stories. Zuni has an
complex set of unspoken n rules governing who tells
to whom and when. One of the most basic expectations is the
have been a witness to his story or, at a minimum, have a
or family relationship with people who are the characters of the
Thus, to some extent, all Zuni conversational stories are
stories or personal experience stories once removed.
The power of American Indians to safely move back and forth between their world and Euro-American culture is in and through communication by storytelling.
Carl Jung: Telling Stories About the Other
The actual telling—the
of conversational stories is a complex, unspoken, ongoing
n audience and storyteller marked by false starts, silences,
understandings, communication. Conversational stories of the
in particular, are powerful, difficult, even dangerous dialogues
because they evoke the nonhuman and timeless—what Carl Jung
Other. Tellers of such stories call forth, in the poet Yeats's
world where time is not."
Carl Jung came from Vienna to Taos, New Mexico and spent some time experiencing what it meant to be a Taos American Indian. The experience profoundly affected his reality and suggested the challenge of fully grasping it. "Such a consciousness," Jung wrote, "would see the becoming and the passing away of things simultaneously with their momentary existence in the present, and not only that, it would also see what (the Other) was before their becoming and will be after their passing hence."
The Other defines the human. And for Southwestern Indians, conversational stories frequently are told to involve the audience in affirming, experiencing, and—perhaps to some extent—in controlling the Other.
One of the first American Indian stories of the Other we recorded was told by a Navajo woman who powerfully and chillingly evinced her culture. She said that she considered herself to be a very traditional Navajo; I consider her story to be a very traditional Navajo contemporary legend:
There's the lady who was noticed among
singers at a Squaw Dance singing, so this man went over and
you know, could take her some place, and she went, and when they
where they were going, she disappeared.
"She didn't talk. Here tracks were the tracks of a coyote along side the man’s tracks." The telling of this Navajo contemporary legend involves a three-part structure, plus silence. "There's the lady" is one of the introductory formulas frequently employed to indicate (or key) Navajo storytelling.
Soon there develops a sense of movement within the narration—much like the sense of motion in Navajo speech and ceremony. The first section of the story begins with an expletive, moves to a passive verb, uses four verbs indicating motion in quick succession, and concludes with the story's climax skillfully preceded by a doubled statement of location, "When they got there where they were going, she disappeared." There is a pause. Then there is a short section with an active verb.
There is another pause.
The pause is followed by the conclusion using a verb of being but an adverbial indicator of motion...
There is a pause.
A line follows: "She didn't speak." This calls into play another cluster of cultural beliefs... [She doesn't] speak because to do so would assert [her] humanity and cause [her] to reveal [her] true form.
There is another pause. Tension builds.
The narrator adds the final shock: "Her tracks were tracks of a coyote along side the man's tracks."
Coyote is, among other things, the animal figure in Navajo stories most often assumed... and this poor person has "gone with" coyote. Now, that's contamination!
Then there is silence. The story has successfully invoked the Navajo Other in the shadows of the room; chills run up and down the spines of the narrator and the audience.
Folklore of UFOs
Stories of unidentified flying objects
been reported frequently in Anglo-American folklore for at least
infrequently for much longer that. In fact, in an article
the April 1981 issue of Current Anthropology, the Russian
Valerie I. Snarov traced stories of airship sighting to the 9th
and noted a number of similarities between UFO stories—he called
prose"—and other traditional stories of unusual phenomena in the
as "World-Tree Tales" and "Rope Trick" tales. Such stories have
in many cultures in many times, and Zunis, too, tell stories of
sighting and encounters with UFOs.
Thomas E. Bullard's article "UFO Abduction Reports: The Supernatural Kidnap Narrative Returns in Technological Guise" traced the history of first-person of capture by alien beings as Anglo-American traditional narrative to 1961 and convincingly demonstrated their folkloric character.
Bullard concluded that in Anglo-American folklore the alien abduction stories in particular—and UFO stories in general—fill a vacancy caused when science evicted ghosts and witches from popular belief. They serve the same functions as the stories of "creatures lurking in the dark" that had been abandoned. At Zuni UFO stories may well have added to the stories of supernatural danger, but they have certainly not supplanted stories of witchcraft.
History, Mythology, and Super Humans
To the ancient Sumerians, we owe the
of the wheel, writing, arithmetic and geometry, and money. The
own legend, as recorded by the ancient historian Berossus
around 400 BCE, is that the arts of civilization were taught to
inhabitants" of the fertile crescent region by an unknown
possessed superhuman intelligence.
“There appeared, coming out of the sea where it touches Babylon, and intelligent creature that men called Oannes, who had the face and limbs of a man and who used human speech, but was covered with what appeared to be the skin of a great fish, the head of which was lifted above his own like a strange headdress. Images are preserved of him to this day.
This strange being, who took no human nourishment, would pass entire days in discussions, teaching men written language, the sciences, and the principle of arts and crafts, including city and temple construction, land survey and measurement, agriculture, and those arts which beautify life and constitute culture. But each night, beginning at sundown, this marvelous being would return to the sea and spend the night far beyond the shore. Finally he wrote a book on the origin of things and the principles of government which he left his students before his departure. The records add that "during later reigns of the prediluvian kings other appearances of similar beings were witnessed." The accurate recording of the event referred to is quite veiled as the only preserved records come from Syncellus in Greek and Eusebius in Latin, both quoting from Berossus, who is in turn quoting from more ancient texts. This article tracing the esoteric symbology of the winged gods appears in an excellent anthology by the editors of "The Journal for the Study of Consciousness."
In fact, we can explain
about how civilization began. We simply find a very complex
we uncover the ruins of earliest settlements a in the world and
up fairy tales to avoid asking ourselves hard questions about
of these ruins. It is at this point that I could well believe
of ancient astronauts as bringers of culture and technology.
as much sense as any other explanation. At least it enables us
the incredible technological advances that we see so early in
and it helps us avoid making totally stupid statements.
Today the ancient astronaut thesis is anathema to respectable scholarship because it has been put forward in an irresponsible manner. Popular writers have simply cited a catalog of strange, unexpected items such as the large stones in Baalbek, the lines of Nazca, the dry-cell pottery battery of Mesopotamia, and citations in Ezekiel about flying wheels. These writers screamed, "ancient astronauts!" without offering any prolonged argument that would illuminate us about exactly what these ancients did that was so important and how they have affected us today.
One writer, however, has tried to present a comprehensive view of an ancient astronaut invasion of the earth and its consequences. Zecharia Sitchin, in a four-book series, Earth Chronicles, reinterprets Near Eastern history with the bringing in of technology, the rise of the kingship and urban settlements, and the imperial wars as if this history were the result of an intrusion from a superior civilization—certainly food for the imagination. The books, The Twelfth Planet, The Stairway to Heaven, The Wars of Gods and Men, and The Lost Realm, have an internal logic to them and illuminate some of the ruins of ancient times as well as explain social and political ideas that have continued within Western civilization for which we have only the slightest explanation.
The basic theme is that a superior civilization, finding its atmosphere is thinning and its planet threatened with extinction, comes to earth to dig gold that it plans to suspend in the atmosphere of its home planet to save it. Highly trained astronauts, once they have landed on earth, are then forced to do heavy work in gold mines in Southern Africa. Finally, they rebel and demand that the head of the space mission allow them to create a "worker" to do the heavy work. After much genetic experimentation the space doctors with the cooperation of the space women produce a worker—a human being, Homo sapiens.
Soon the astronauts all want workers and the space women are occupied giving birth to workers. Space headquarters in lower Mesopotamia has domestic workers, and one day in the garden, an astronaut shows humans how to have sex. To his surprise, they discover they are fertile and that they are naked. The rest, as the preachers say, is history—human religious history in this instance. Temples are built to the respective astronauts who now adopt the posture of being gods in order to control the human population that is expanding at an incredible rate because humans rather like the idea of sex.
Some of Sitchin's ideas beg credibility. The preliminary cosmology describing the creation of the earth is difficult to believe and the mechanics of the Great Flood seem unlikely. So the narrative cannot be read uncritically. When it comes to explaining the origin of civilization and religious institutions, however, it has a lot to offer. It provides a context in which virgin birth, blood offerings, the jealousies of the gods, the erection of temples and resulting institution of a priesthood, and the description of heaven as a courtroom—royal and jurisprudential ring true.
More important, orthodox scholars had come amazingly close to reaching the same conclusions. Samuel Noah Kramer, the dean of Sumerian studies ad archaeology, in his book History Begins at Sumer, seemed to endorse the idea that the astronauts engaged in some kind of genetic engineering in order to create lesser creatures who could work for them. Kramer observed that "Sumerian, in line with their world view, had no exaggerated confidence in man and his destiny. They were firmly convinced that man was fashioned of clay and created for one purpose: To serve the gods by supplying them with food, drink and shelter, so they might have full leisure for their divine activities."
Oral Traditions and Creation
Every human society maintains its sense of identity with a set of stories which explain, at least to its satisfaction, how things came to be. A good many societies begin at a creation and carry forward a tenuous link of events which they consider to be historical—which is to say actual experiences of the group which often serve as precedents for determining present and future actions. Sometimes these stories incorporate moral teachings and what we have come to call religious traditions, the actions of the higher spiritual powers or invisible forces that were important actors in the more spectacular and memorable events of their history. A good many societies speak of catastrophic events or of the movement of their people from one planet to another. Monsters and strange creatures also appear in stories and beg credibility when these tales are recited.
The Hebrew-Christian Creation Myth
Of those societies that found a way to create a written record of the past, the Hebrews have been most influential, since it was the adoption of the Hebrew version of ancient events that came to be accepted, through the spread of Christianity, as the valid and incontestable explanation of how this planet came to be. Arguments about the great flood of Noah and the presence in geological strata of skeletons of animals not seen today opened the floodgates of controversy about the age of the Earth and directed the attention of Western thinkers toward the proposition that our planet might have a much different past. Eventually, the believers in biblical inerrancy were put to route by secular thinkers who substituted a seemingly infinite amount of time during which everything "evolved" for the shorter time scale of creation and religious history as it was represented in the Bible.
And Eurocentric Science-Evolution
Most Americans do not pause to look
at the developments of the past 200 years which make our society
unique. With the triumph of Darwinian evolution as the accepted
of the origin of our Earth—indeed, of the whole universe—we are
society to accept a purely mechanistic origin for ourselves and
life we find on planet Earth. Science tells us that this whole
of life, our deepest experiences, and our most cherished ideas
are really just the result of a fortunate combination of amino
to coalesce billions of years ago and that our most profound
are simply electrical impulses derived from the logical
that first accident. We thus stand alone against the cumulative
and wisdom of all other societies when maintaining this point of
We justify our position by accusing our ancestors and existing
of being superstitious and ignorant of the real causes of
Do we really have a basis for this belief?
Unfortunately, the discussion of the age of the Earth and the nature of past events was conducted wholly within the confines of Western civilization. Consequently, the traditions of all other peoples were shunted aside, since, if the Bible were shown to be Mythical fairy tales, and it was the confirmed word of God, the accounts of other peoples, non-Westerners, would be even less reliable. When secular science defeated Christian fundamentalism, in its victory it was able to promulgate the belief that all accounts of creation or of spectacular catastrophic events were superstitions devised by ignorant peoples to explain the processes of the world around them. The defeat of Christianity foreclosed the possibility that any other tradition which had accounts of past Earth events could join in the enterprise to explain to an increasingly global society the origins of the planet and of our race.
As Superior Experts and Infallible Doctrine
Any group that wishes to be regarded
authority in a human society must not simply banish or discredit
of their rivals, they must become the sole source of truth for
and defend their status and power to interpret against all
the best explanation of the data. As priests and politicians
it is even permissible to tell lies in order to maintain status,
the most fatal counterattack against entrenched authority will
against their facts but against their status. As Americans, we
trained to believe that science is infallible in the sense that,
science does not know everything, its processes of investigation
are the best available so that, given time and resources, the
eventually be discovered. This belief has degenerated into a
of religious belief because the technology which science
exemplified in the instant replay in sports, encourages us to
critical faculties to science in exchange for creature comforts.
Like any other group of priests and politicians, however scientists lie and fudge their conclusions as much as the most distrusted professions in our society-lawyers and car dealers.
We are taught to visualize the scientist as a cheerful fellow clad in a white smock, working in a spotless lab, and asking the insightful questions that will eventually research us at K-Mart in the form of improved vitamins, new kinds of audiotape, and labor-saving devices. On reaching the end of his experiment, which has featured a set of daring questions which he is forcing Mother Nature to surrender, our scientist publishes his results. His peers give serious critical attention to his theory and check his lab results and interpretations, and science moves another step forward into the unknown.
Eventually, we are told, the results of this research, combined with many other reports, are digested by intellects of the highest order and the paradigm of scientific explanation moves steadily forward, reducing the number of secrets that Mother Nature has left. Finally, popular science writers-Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Sagan, Jared Diamond, Robert Audrey, and Jacob Bronowski—and others—take this mass of technical scientific wisdom and distill it for us poor ignorant lay people so we can understand in general terms the great wisdom which science has created.
The actual situation is much different. Academics, and they include everyone we think of as scientists except people who work in commercial labs, are incredibly timid people. Many of them are intent primarily on maintaining their status within their university and profession and consequently they resemble nothing so much as cocker spaniels who are eager to please their masters, the masters in this case being the vaguely defined academic profession. Scholars, and again I include scientists, are generally specialists in their field and are often wholly ignorant of developments outside their field. Thus, a person can become an international expert on butterflies and not know a single thing about frogs other than that they are disappearing—a fact more often picked up in the Sunday newspaper science section that from reading a scientific journal.
Scientists do work hard in maintaining themselves within their niche in their respective disciplines. This task is accomplished by publishing articles in the journals of their profession. A glance at the index of any journal will reveal that the articles are written for the express purpose of generating mystique and appear to be carefully edited to eliminate any possibility of a clear thought. Editors of journals and editorial boards are notoriously conservative and reject anything that would resemble a breath of fresh air.
Any idea that appears to challenge orthodoxy and is published is usually accompanied by copious responses from the names in the profession who are given an opportunity to quash any heretical conclusions which the article might suggest. Many subjects, no matter how interesting, are simply prohibited because they call into question long-standing beliefs.
We often read newspaper accounts of new scientific theories. Too often we have been trained to believe that the new discoveries are proven fact rather than speculative supposition within a field that is already dominated by orthodox doctrines. Quite frequently the newspaper accounts will contain the phrase "most scientist agree," implying to the layperson that hundreds of scientists have sincerely and prayerfully considered the issue, reached a consensus, and believe that the theory is reliable.
Nothing could be further from reality. In all probability a handful of people have read or heard of the article and, since it is written by a "responsible scholar," have feared to criticize it. But who is the responsible scholar responsible to? Not to the public, not to science, or history, or anthropology, but to the small group of similarly situated people who will make recommendations on behalf of his or her scholarship, award the prizes which each discipline holds dear, and write letters advocating his or her advancement.
Since it is possible for a prestigious personality to dominate a field populate with fearful little people trying to protect their status, some areas of "science" have not progressed in decades and some scientific doctrines actually have no roots except their traditional place in the intellectual structure of the discipline. For more than a century scientists have labeled unknown animal behavior as "instinct," which simply indicated that they did not know the processes of response. And instinct was passed off as a responsible scientific answer to an important question. "Evolution" is used to cover a multitude of academic sins.
Samuel Eliot Morrison was a singularly devoted worshiper of Columbus, and while he was alive it was virtually impossible to discuss pre-Columbian expeditions to the Western Hemisphere in any academic setting. It is still anathema to give the topic serious consideration. Ales Hrdlicka, longtime anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution, was a zealous foe of early dates for the populating of North America, and even today most anthropologists and archaeologists immediately run to their computers to discredit any digs that would suggest a date earlier than 12,000 BCE-50,000 BCE for the most courageous scholars, although they will rarely put their beliefs in print.
The Bering Strait Theory as Scholarly Folklore
Arriving at the University of Colorado, I was stunned to hear from my students that some of my history colleagues were beginning their courses on American history with a mindless recitation of the Bering Strait theory of the peopling of the Western Hemisphere. Basically, they were simply repeating scholarly folklore, since there is, to my knowledge, no good source which articulates the theory in any reasonable format. Indeed, this "theory" has been around so long that people no longer feel they have to explain or defend it—they can merely refer to it. It is important to note that the immense knowledge and factual proof of many scientific theories does not exist. Many theories and facts recited by scholars and scientists today are merely academic folklore which professions heard in their undergraduate days and have not examined at all.
Hebrew Tribal Memories, and Their Impact on Astronomical Science
Some 45 years ago, Immanuel
published his classic work Worlds
in Collision, in which he
Earth had been subjected to several catastrophes of an
nature that had involved Mars and Venus. He based these ideas on
Testament memories of the Hebrews and added an immense number of
referring to the memories of other peoples. A significant number
suggestions regarding the nature of our solar system and the
features of the planets have been proved accurate in the decades
he wrote. By and large, however, scientists rushed to attack his
and threatened a boycott of Macmillan, his publisher, which made
to move the book to Doubleday to keep it in print.
A sufficient literature has evolved since then to argue the case for Velikovsky; but I would like to illustrate the scientific response in just one instance because it demonstrates the tenacity with which the academic community holds on to its beliefs. Velikovsky said that Venus at one time had been a comet and had disrupted Earth. On the basis of this identification he suggested that the surface temperature on Venus would be something approaching incandescence. Orthodox science at the time believed that Venus had a surface temperature of 25 degrees C.
With the space probes able to gather considerably more information on Venus, the surface temperature when measured was estimated at around 800 degrees C—a substantially radical difference. When Velikovsky pointed out the difference in measurement, his critics replied that heat was a "relative" term. Today, this high temperature is explained by an ad hoc "greenhouse" theory which suggested that clouds can raise the temperatures of planets to incredibly high measurements by a natural process.
Much of the documentation used by Velikovsky relied on the recorded beliefs of non-Western peoples in every part of the globe. Often his technique was to seek traditions that would involve some discernible physical change in a local environment that might be anticipated if a much larger and more violent event affected the whole planet. An example of this practice was to take the Long Day of Joshua and look at the other side of the Earth and find a tradition in Central America in which the night was extended for a prolonged duration. He found corresponding evidence for several of the events of his interplanetary collisions in the traditions of tribal peoples.
Some evidence...did not offer much support for the cometary disruption as he conceived it. Nevertheless, by incorporating these non-Western traditions into a theory in which events having a planetary scope would be suggested and evidence for such an event could be examined, Velikovsky offered a scenario in which a truly planetary history could be constructed.
And Indigenous Traditions Discounted as "Primitive"
Orthodox science has done just
reverse. It accepts non-Western traditions to the degree to
help to bolster the existing and approved orthodox doctrines.
majority of the time, the non-Western interpretations of Earth
and the history of human beings are rejected as Stone
Age remnants of human societies
not invent or accept the mechanistic and later industrial
of the natural world. The evolutionary framework we presently
not represent human experiences of the past and present, but
doctrinal arrangements of selected bit of evidence of those
Respect for non-Western traditions is exceedingly difficult to achieve. Not only did secular scientists rout the Christian fundamentalists, they placed themselves in the posture of knowing more, on the basis of their own very short-term investigations, than the collective remembrances of the rest of humankind. Social science, in particular anthropology, preserved information about the remnants of tribal cultures around the world, most particularly in North America, but it also promulgated the idea that these tribal cultures were of Stone Age achievement and represented primitive superstitions which could not be believed.
People such as Claude Levi-Strauss in our time have constructed incredibly complex intellectual edifices in an effort to explain the complexity of the tribal knowledge and at the same time keep it embedded in the stereotypical status of primitive speculations. And most of the Levi-Strauss theory of so-called primitive mentality is simply French intellectual nonsense. Those people certainly would have been savage if they had been forced to think using the processes Levi-Strauss describes.
Jupiter and Chaos Theory
It was with a certain degree of
therefore, that I watched the comet crash into Jupiter during
of 1994, since it has been orthodox silence for over a century
solar system is immune from radical disruption by outside cosmic
of the charges made against Velikovsky. The new chaos theory,
the popular ways of examining phenomena, suggests that constant
is probably not a characteristic of any system in this universe.
and the new theory lend considerable support for a reexamination
insights and knowledge of tribal peoples when trying to
nature of our world.
Some efforts have already been made in a number of fields to investigate the knowledge of tribal peoples and to incorporate it into modern scientific explanations. Thor Heyerdahl was one of the first people to show, by repeating the event, that ancient peoples could well have traveled by sea to various parts of the globe. I think partially as a result of his voyages a small group of anthropologists have now allowed that Indians, instead of marching four abreast over the mythical Bering Land bridge, might have come by boat on a bay and inlet basis from the Asian continent to North America.
Recognizing that Indians may have been capable of building boats seems a minor step forward until we remember that for almost two centuries scientific doctrine required that Indians come by land because they were incapable of building rafts. Polynesian voyages of considerable distance have now been duplicated, giving credence to the idea that Hawaiian tales of sea voyages were not superstitious ways of discussing ocean currents. Critical in this respect is the fact that Hawaiians would not be believed until a white man had duplicated the feat.
And Academic Racism
In methodological terms there
major problem in bringing non-Western tradition within the scope
scientific perspective, and that is the inherent racism in
in scientific circles. Some of the racism is doctrinaire and
instance, the belief that, for a person or community possessing
that is not white/Western in origin, verification and
unreliable. A corollary of this belief is that non-Western
to be excitable, are subjective and not objective, and
Even with tribal peoples now entering academic fields, there is bias, and most academics deeply believe that an Indian, or any other non-Western person, cannot be an accurate observer of his or her own traditions because that individual is personally involved. It follows, to listen to the apologist for many university departments, than an urban, educated white person, who admittedly has a deep personal interest in a non-Western community but who does not speak the language, has never lived in the community, and visits the people only occasionally during the summer, has a better understanding of the culture, economics, and politics of the group than do the people themselves. When this attitude is seen in religious studies it is appalling: white scholars truly believe that they know more about tribal religions than the people who actually do the ceremonies.
The bottom line about the information possessed by non-Western peoples is that the information becomes valid when offered by a white scholar recognized by the academic establishment; in effect, the color of the skin guarantees scientific objectivity. Thus, ethnic scholars are not encouraged to do research in their own communities—studies done by whites are preferred. Many scholars with ethnic backgrounds are even denied tenure because they are ethnic and their studies and publications relate to that background. Particularly in the arts and social sciences, supposed bastions of liberalism, minority scholars are simply run out of the professions unless they are totally submissive to prevailing doctrines of the discipline and their writings do not clash with established authority.
Oral Tradition as the Science of Non-Western People
We come then to examine the content of
and the "oral tradition" which is to say the traditions of
peoples. Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) in A Study of History
discipline for its parochial perspective. He wrote that it was
a geographer were to produce a book entitled World Geography
on inspection to be all about the Mediterranean Basin and
"science" is pretty much the same. It is that collection of
with considerable evidence, some lacking proof at all—which
gathered by a small group of people over the past 500 years with
belief that phenomena have been objectively observed and
because they have sworn themselves to secrecy.
Anomalies, facts that cannot or do not fit into the complete edifice, are simply ignored, their champions discredited. Validity and verification in science primarily consist of a willing conspiracy among scientists not to challenge the authorities in the field and to take the sincerity of colleagues as insight. Consequently, there are literally millions of observed facts which simply do not appear in scientific writing because they would tend to raise doubts about the prevailing paradigm.
The non-Western, tribal equivalent of science is the oral tradition, the teachings that have been passed down from one generation to the next over uncounted centuries. The oral tradition is a loosely held collection of anecdotal material that, taken together, explains the nature of the physical world as people have experienced it and the important events of their historical journey.
The Old Testament was once oral tradition until it was written down. Sages and eddas form part of the European oral tradition. Some romance has attached to Indian oral traditions in recent times due to the interest in spirituality, and consequently some people have come to believe that oral traditions refer only to religious matters. This description is not true. The bulk of American Indian traditions probably deal with common sense ordinary topics such as plants, animals, weather, and past events that are not particularly of a religious nature.
Until Indian tribes, and by extension other tribal peoples, were submerged by the invasion of Western colonizing peoples, the oral tradition and visions of different tribes would match and describe a particular event, experience, or condition and sometimes they would not.
Tribal elders did not worry if their version of creation was entirely different from the scenario held by a neighboring tribe. People believed that each tribe had its own special relationship to the superior spiritual forces which governed the universe and that the job of each set of tribal beliefs was to fulfill its own tasks without worrying about what others were doing. Tribal knowledge was therefore not fragmented and was valid within the historical and geographical scope of the peoples experience. Hehaka Sapa or Black Elk (1863-1950), talking to John Neihardt, explained the methodology well: "This they tell, and whether it happened so or not, I do not know; but if you think about it, you can see that it is true." The oral tradition, people felt, was serious, it was knowledge, and even the most unlikely aspects might be understood as true.
In the old days, elders performed a
function and recited the oral traditions of the tribe during the
time and as a regular art of camp or village life. Religious
generally involved the recitation of the origin and migration
and most of the accumulated wisdom of the tribe was familiar to
Special knowledge regarding other forms of life, if revealed in
or dreams, was made available to the larger community on a
basis, since it was generally regarded as personal knowledge.
Storytelling was a precise art because of the nature of Indian languages. Some tribal languages had as many as twenty words to describe rain, snow, wind, and other natural elements; languages had precise words to describe the various states of human emotion, the intensity of human physical efforts, and the serenity of the land itself. If the stories began "Once upon a time..." they quickly gave the listener a completely accurate rendering of a specific experience which Western languages could not possibly duplicate. In this context, everyone understood the philosophical overview, and ad hoc explanations were treated as facts that must be understood but whose time for understanding had not yet come.
In some of the larger Indian nations elders functioned pretty much as scientists do today. That is, no one person could remember all the information about the trivial past, the religious revelations, and the complex knowledge of the physical world. Consequently, people specialized in certain kinds of knowledge.
Specialization occurred most frequently at Vision Quests or puberty ceremonies when young people sought help and guidance from birds, animals, and spirits. Often their careers would be shown to them and special information, roots, symbols, and powers given. This information would usually be shared with the spiritual leaders who had supervised the ceremony, but sometimes the person was told to bring a certain medicine, dance, or a bit of information to the rest of the community.
The difference between non-Western and Western knowledge is that the knowledge is personal for non-Western peoples and impersonal for the Western scientist. Americans believe that anyone can use knowledge; for American Indians, only those people given the knowledge by other entities can use it properly.
The Scout and Reliable Storytelling
With the Plains Indian tribes,
I suspect with the vast majority of the Indian groups, the most
person was the scout. On his knowledge and powers of observation
of the community vested their survival. His task was to search
of game animals, report the presence of enemies, and analyze the
and be aware of the slightest change in the environment. If he
or even slightly inaccurate, the community might perish or
decide on a
course of action that would have detrimental effects. People
decided against the course of action recommended by a scout, but
doubted his veracity. Lying by a scout was a dreadful act
A remarkably high percentage of scouts also became the great storytellers and were repositories of the oral tradition. They might vary some of the descriptions of events to entertain their audience, but these editing devices were recognized by everyone, since all the stories were known in their basic outline. Sometimes, in the storytelling, people vie for the chance to introduce puns and humorous variations on words which would transform the story into a multi leveled account. Becoming a respected articulator of the knowledge of the tribe was not a status dependent upon economic or even military prowess. Indeed, like modern fishermen measuring fish they once caught, people tended to look suspiciously at the versions of experiences told by individuals whose accomplishments were not in the field of observation. Some tribes prohibited a person from lauding his own accomplishments for fear of exaggeration, requiring friends and relatives to describe exploits.
Comparing the two ways of gaining a position of authority in society, then, the oral tradition clearly has many more guarantees that its knowledge will not become the subject of personal interest. The possessor of the oral traditions has nothing that would encourage her or him to change the meaning or emphasis of the information except, as already noted, the desire to entertain. Within the scientific establishment, on the other hand, immense rewards are made available to the individual who stands out among his or her colleagues. Consequently, in today's academic setting, with the impact of the television personality cult, advocating popular theories or making a theory popular is a requirement of academic success, regardless of the truth of the situation. In some instances, the more bizarre and outlandish the theory, the more useful it is in bringing economic rewards to its creator. Sensationalism often substitutes for truth, and that is one reason why we have so many popular psychologists and sociologists.
The Main Difference: Earth is Alive!
The major difference between American
views of the physical world and Western science lies in the
by Indians and rejected by scientists: the world in which we
Many scientists believe this idea to be primitive superstition
the scientific explanation rejects any nuance of interpretation
credit the existence of activities as having partial
American Indians look at events to determine the spiritual
or undergirding them. Science insists, albeit at a great price
that the observer be as detached as possible from the event she
observing. Indians thus obtain information from birds, animals,
and mountains which is inaccessible to modern science. Indians
that human beings must participate in events, not isolate
the occurrences in the physical world.
Again, however, there are certain kinds of correspondences between the Indian way and modern scientific techniques. We know from meteorology that seeding clouds with certain chemicals can bring rain. This method of dealing with natural forces is wholly mechanical and can be described as the power to force nature to do our bidding. Indians performed the same function by conducting ceremonies and asking the spirits for rain. Science is severely limited, however, since it cannot affect winds, clouds, and storms except by certain kinds of alterations. Acting in concert with friendly thunder and storm spirits is rather commonplace in many Indian tribes and demonstrates the more comprehensive scope of the oral tradition in comparison to both scientific knowledge and powers.
Indians came to understand that all things were related, and while many tribes understood this knowledge in terms of religious rituals, it was also a methodology/guideline which instructed them in making their observations of the behavior of other forms of life. Attuned to their environment, Indians could find food, locate trails, protect themselves from inclement weather and anticipate coming events by their understanding of how entities related to each other.
Relativity as Relatedness
Western science also has the idea of
but the concept was initially applied only in theoretical
the relationship of space, time and matter. Gradually,
moved from philosophical physics to apply the concept of
biological phenomena and environments. Now many scientists
all things are related, and many articles, primarily coming from
of physics, now state flatly that all things really are related.
If scientists really believed in the unity and inter relatedness of all things, their emphasis would shift dramatically and they would forswear using animals for lab research, change their conception of agronomy entirely, do considerably different studies of water and landscapes, and begin to deal seriously with the by-products of their experiments. Hopefully that day is coming.
When the sciences became divided, our knowledge of the world became badly fragmented. Scientists, in creating narrow classifications of disciplines, developed more precise focus and were able to articulate the substance of the discipline and its goals.
A great many of the ancient Indian ruins in the US were once classified as religious sites by anthropologists who never did know what they were but imagined many early cultures to be dictatorial theocracies and therefore supposed that people spent their lives building temples.
Many of these same ruins are now interpreted by archaeo-astronomers as primitive but sophisticated computers which can scan the horizon if properly used, and they are seen as providing proof of a complicated Indian star knowledge.
Debate on the Origin of American Indians
An area of great debate and
friction concerns the origin of American Indians. Originally,
believed that all humans were created by the Hebrew god.
unknown people, therefore, produced a rush to the Old Testament
whether or not there was some way of identifying the new people.
were few. Presuming that all of humankind was represented in
one could trace a path Mount
Ararat to eastern Siberia and,
Strait was geographically adjacent to North America (although
forbidding ice, snow, and freezing temperatures much of the
a migration across this quasi-isthmus. The same sequence could
if the scholar assumed that the Indians were the "Ten
Lost Tribes" of Israel, further
instead of returning from Babylonian captivity they moved east
of west to help rebuild the temple.
Indian traditions also spoke of a great flood, and when it was determined that they had their own culture heroes who followed the same procedure as Noah, building rafts instead of an ark, the ground was cut under the flood origins, making Indians late expatriates from Judea and placing their arrival in North America in very recent times. Sadly, the Indian flood stories were taken as proof of the validity of the Bible, not as memories of experiences Indians had that gave proof of the veracity of their own traditions.
Chief Joseph's Mesopotamian Tablet Amulet
A note of passing interest in
respect concerns Chief
Joseph (1840-1904). After his
gave a pendant to General Miles, and this object eventually
to West Point. A few years ago it was examined and turned out to
tablet recording the sale of livestock, a disturbing anomaly and
fact that should have been grasped at once by Christian
and Mormons. How this tablet got into Chief Joseph's family and
an heirloom is a matter of some speculation, telling us that our
the Western Hemisphere prehistory is not as complete as we may
Chief Joseph's Grave Stone
Photo Courtesy of Julie Hendricks
Evolution and American Indian Origins
Evolutionists made the
linkage between primates and our species based primarily on the
of body form... Once the man-ape sequence was established,
that a series of missing links ... had once existed, proving
had eventually evolved into educated middle-class Western
It was necessary, indeed it was imperative, to arrange the
societies on an extended incline in which tribal people with a
technology illustrated the early kinds of human societies and
Eastern peoples became the predecessors of the modern industrial
moderated of course by the innate gentility of the Anglo-Saxon
If we dig beneath the masses of evidence that Western society and its apologist throughout history have usually cited as proof of its superiority, the basic argument is that the West has been able to create more sophisticated ways to use artificial energy to perform tasks, thus making life more enjoyable for the elite who have controlled the various political and economic institutions of the West. But this proof is not as overwhelming as its advocates like to pretend. We cannot today either duplicate or explain the means by which the ancients cut and moved large stones in the Middle East, in Central America, or on Easter Island.
We are at a loss to explain the very sophisticated astronomical knowledge of many societies. Scientific writers usually pretend that the ancient peoples were highly superstitious and that, after having created astrology, they eventually moved into a secular and objective astronomy, forgetting that at that stage of development it would have been considerably more difficult to have created an astrological horoscope than a simple map of our solar system.
Tribal peoples were placed at the very
of the cultural evolutionary scale, and this status had two
in several directions at once. If tribal peoples actually
origins at a much earlier time, it was exceedingly valuable that
studied intensely for clues about the nature and origin of human
it was an injury to science and human knowledge to allow the
simply exterminate them. But if tribal peoples represented an
of evolution, everything they said, believed, or practiced must
reflect a stage of superstition from which western Europeans had
Therefore, their traditions were simply fairy tales made
explain a cosmos which they feared; their technology was a
of plows, reapers, combines, and food-processing plants which we
modern industrial society.
Western civilization, by the time it reached the shores of this hemisphere, had pretty much institutionalized its beliefs and experiences. That is to say, problem-solving was already an institutional function: People purchased food grown by others, settled their conflicts in courts and legislatures and not by informal mutually agreed-upon solutions, and waged extended and terrible wars instead of mere battles over the right to occupy lands for hunting and fishing purposes.
The first go-around of real inquiry into the nature of tribal societies assumed that all human societies had developed a concept of property, a formal governing institution, a crude but effective system of economics designed to produce surplus wealth, and sets of formal laws, usually focused on the male, which governed domestic relations. It was further believed that all human societies began as animists—people who saw spirits everywhere—and had gradually evolved through polytheism and human sacrifices into monotheisms which produced wonderful ethical codes that expressed in the abstract the kinds of beliefs and behavior necessary to produce a civilized society.
Needless to say, the 19th century saw the beginning of anthropology on a grand scale. Western nations were grabbing large parts of the globe, intruding on peoples living in remote locations on the planet who asked to be left alone, and extending the reach of democracy and capitalism to embrace everyone. The methodology of everyone who looked at or considered the existence of tribal peoples was to find happy coincidences between tribal beliefs and practices and the way that Western peoples did business. It goes without saying that the coincidence in beliefs and practices only served to entrench the belief that all peoples began as primitives and inevitably moved toward Western forms of organization, which in turn were guaranteed by Western religion and philosophy, which had themselves survived thousands of years of criticism and refinement. By wrapping cultural evolution so tightly, with a fore ordained conclusion laudatory of Western accomplishments, tribal peoples were given a marginal status as human beings.
For American Indians, the struggle of this century has been to emerge from the heavy burden of anthropological definitions that have made Indian communities at times mere laboratories for political and social experiments. Indian advocates are often very bitterly attacked by scholars when they question these experiments and articulate their own ideas, which clash with accepted orthodox and comfortable interpretations about tribal people developed by academics. Indeed, some scholars become very competitive with Indians, believing that because they have studied an Indian tribe they therefore know more than any of the tribal members. The recent restrictions placed on anthropological research and the passage of the repatriation law have finally brought a reduction in the rate of exploitation of Indians by scholars but have by no means eliminated it.
Kennewick and Repatriation
Late in 1999, more than 1,000
unknown cultural affiliation were "repatriated" from the
Minnesota's Hamline University to Sioux Indians. Most of the
only a few centuries old, but the group included several
Paleoindian individuals, including the 8,700 year old Brown's
and 7,900 year old Pelican Rapids woman. Both of these almost
predate the arrival of their tribal claimants in the northern
were subsequently reburied.
Whether or not the future will see more instances of questionable repatriations of early remains will depend in part on the outcome of the Kennewick Man lawsuit now underway in Washington State. As the first major legal test of the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), the case pits the repatriation claims of five Indian tribes against eight renowned scientists' insistence that the Kennewick skeleton merits preservation and study. In contract to early media reports that the remains were "Caucasoid," a team of independent experts authorized by the court to conduct a preliminary analysis recently announced that the skeleton's feature didn’t look particularly European or Native American. Instead, they bear more resemblance to East Asians or Polynesians. In January, the team confirmed the original radiocarbon date of 9,200 years BCE, and pronounced that the old man was therefore "Native American." This determination was based on the NAGPRA definition that anybody or anything predating European contact and "relating" to Indians within US territory is by default Native American, "irrespective of whether some or all of these groups were or were not culturally affiliated or biologically related to present-day Indian tribes."
Such logic was not only inevitable under the current law, but, according to David Hurst Thomas in his new book, Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for Native American Identity, it's all for the best. As curator of anthropology collections at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, Hurst Thomas has been proactive and outspoken in his support of repatriation and what he calls a "humanistic" archaeology. An evidently compassionate thinker, he clearly recognizes the challenge Kennewick presents to NAGPRA and rises to meet it.
The book is primarily a historical meditation that surveys the long and winding road of archaeological arrogance, insensitivity, and downright criminality that undermined the reputation of "anthros" among many Native Americans. The rap sheet includes many well-known stories, including Franz Boas' callous deception of the young Inuit boy Minik, who was led to believe he was burying his father in Central Park in 1898 when in fact the latter's skeleton was preserved in a drawer at the American Museum. We likewise hear about Alfred Kroeber's checkered relationship with the "last wild Indian" Ishi, which ended with Ishi's brain being stolen and stashed at the Smithsonian. All this history is advanced to lend context to the genuine anger and mistrust of archaeology in the part of many Native Americans. Of course, few today, least of all the eight scientist-litigants in the Kennewick suit, would argue that anybody's father or recently deceased informant should be macerated and preserved in a museum. Yet if the current legal response goes too far and hurts research, says Hurst Thomas, it is "small wonder."
To his credit, Hurst Thomas is frank about one negative effect of NAGPRA: in the short term, some research will suffer. He's also resigned to the problem that the law is implicitly based on the Bering Strait migration model. "Like it or not, scientists must now live with the consequences of late 1980s science" on the original framing of the law. He does not consider the bigger question of whether government should enshrine any scientific model in federal legislation.
Few would argue that Indians and their burials don't deserve respect, and we all can agree with Hurst Thomas' reading of this history, but good intentions don't necessarily add up to good law. Is a graves protection law so ill-defined that naturally shed human hairs recovered at an archaeological site can be claimed for repatriation—as was learned several back by Oregon State's Robson Bonnichsen, one of the Kennewick litigants—worth preserving without amendment?
And Physical Evolution
If cultural evolution has been unkind
non-Western human societies, physical evolution has been
it is the framework within which cultural anthropology is
sense. That is to say, when we examine and compare physical
cultural evolution, we discover a fascination with body forms,
skulls, and other morphological data that quickly turns into an
with flaked tools and intense debate about when the European
came down from the trees. Suddenly we move from intense concern
structure, shape, and size of minuscule skeletal remains to a
having proven anything—about possible beliefs of these
aspect of evolution ceases and gives way to social and cultural
Presumably we enter a time period in which it is impossible to
skeletal changes because of proximity to the present, but
it is more comfortable to discuss the cultural side of things,
physical evidence keeps being altered in fundamental ways.
Michael Cremo and Richard Thompson, in their impressive study of the anomalies in physical anthropology, Forbidden Archeology, suggest that the present acceptable sequence, which has been carefully arranged to support the interpretations of authorities in the field, moves from Homo habilis (two million years ago) to Homo erectus (1.5 million years ago) to Homo sapiens (200,000-300,000 years ago) to Homo sapiens sapiens (not more than 100,00 years ago). After this sequence, which is highly suspect, we enter the lists of Java, Peking, and so on. Before we adopt this fictional genealogy, however, we should note that, as they explain, "fossil skeleton remains indistinguishable from those of fully modern humans have been found in Pliocene, Miocene, and Vern Eocene and earlier geological contexts."
And they further ask us to consider that ".. humans living today make implements not much different from those taken from Miocene beds in France and elsewhere..." suggesting that all the fuss and feathers being ruffled with respect to scrape tools, spear points, and other implements actually give little or no reliable information as to age and probable cultural context. They are believed to provide accurate information because scholars have agreed to interpret them as if they did. In fact, unknown to most of us who uncritically receive scientific studies as gospel: "at most paleoanthropological sites, no hominid bones are found. The artifacts at these sites are attributed to Homo habilis, Homo erectus, the Neanderthals or Homo sapiens on the basis of their presumed age or their level of workmanship... Many Early or Middle Pleistocene sites currently identified with Homo erectus, for example, could just as well identified with anatomically modern Homo sapiens."
Human evolution, at least the evidence for human evolution, may exist more firmly in the minds of academics than in any location on earth.
We have been so well trained to accept uncritically anything that anyone alleging to be a “scientist” tells us that we do not really know what kind of evidence exists supporting evolutionary doctrines.
Other evidence is equally as slim. In fact, if we took fossils and bones from all the supposed human ancestors and put them in a box, we would not need a very large box. We would be looking at a few jawbones, some femurs, and certainly not enough evidence to either indict or convict.
Deloria goes on to cite that Peking man was identified based on a predisposition of wanting to find a missing link between man and apes, and the fossils of the bashed in skulls of 40 women and children were ideal candidates. Another example of the fossils of Ramapithecus found on most continents consists of facial fragments and jaw bone leaving out whether it "walked on two or four legs, was hairless, or covered with a sleek black pelt."
In all honesty, therefore, "science" should drop the pretense of absolute authority with regard to human origins and begin looking for some other kind of explanation that would include the traditions and memories of non-Western peoples.
The question of human origins is critically important to the natives of North America, not simply as establishing a linkage of the red race to the other branches of the human species but as providing a clear and sensible picture of how our species did originate. The problem basically is that no Neanderthal skeletal remains have been found in the Western Hemisphere. And no traces of the other ancient creatures have been found. With American anthropologists and archaeologists committed to supporting an outdated interpretation of human origins that sees Neanderthal as a predecessor to Cro-Magnons, that can only mean that American Indians are later comers to this hemisphere, having had to wait (at least in the minds of American anthropologists) first until the Neanderthal evolved into Cro-Magnon, and then for a convenient, recent ice age when the North American continent could be linked with Asia.
The Bering Strait theory is simply shorthand scientific language for "I don’t know, but it sounds good and no one will check."
Deloria lists several American and Canadian scholars and anthropologists currently and in the past who, upon discovering human presence in the New World of 100,000 to 300,000 years ago, lost jobs and were blacklisted as were jobs terminated of friends and supporters; or were told they were crazy; or that it was political suicide to persist or even publish the findings (which also disappeared). Just fill in the dig and forget about it! Work on something safer doctrinally. Many European scholars, he says, would not be frightened by such an early dates and in fact would welcome them to join the mainstream. They are puzzled at the lack of response among American scholars.
The political implications of this American scholarly reluctance, and their continuing to insist upon late entry via a land bridge to this continent is made clear, and makes it difficult for people to surrender. Considerable residual guilt remains over the manner in which the Western Hemisphere was invaded and settled by Europeans. Five centuries of brutality lie uneasily on the conscience, and consequently two beliefs have arisen which are used to explain away this dreadful history. People want to believe that the Western Hemisphere, and more particularly North Americas, was a vacant, unexploited, fertile land waiting to be put under cultivation according to God's holy dictates. As Woody Guthrie put it: "This land is your land, this land is my land.” The hemisphere thus belonged to whoever was able to rescue it from its wilderness state. Coupled with this belief is the idea that American Indians were not original inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere but latecomers (allegedly some group of late-developing Cro-Magnon creatures) and who had barely unpacked before Columbus came knocking on the door. If Indians had arrived only a few centuries earlier, they had no real claim to land that could not be swept away by European discovery.
Werner Muller, says Deloria, develops arguments in his last book, America: The New World or the Old? for the very early origins of some Indian tribes based on the style of architecture and the horizon astronomy and calendar recordings. At least four different kinds of people lived in the far northern reaches of North America at a very early time... The Salish, the Sioux, and the Algonquins, and a fourth group of mean-spirited, white-skinned, bearded people who may have caused the nations so much grief that they decided to move south out of the way. But a major climatic catastrophe occurred forcing the Indian groups of the Salish to the Pacific coast, the Sioux to the plains, the Algonquins to the Great Lakes and eastern woodlands. The white-skinned people moved eastward across the North Atlantic into what is now Scandinavia and western Europe.
This scenario fits exceedingly well with what we know about the populating of Western Europe. We are always reading that with the decline of the glaciers, Cro-Magnon enters Northern and Western Europe and routed the Neanderthals. We do know that the Cro-Magnon probably entered Europe from the West—at least the best sites for the Cro-Magnon are on the western shores of that continent, and if they came from the east or south they apparently suppressed their desire to paint in caves until they reached Southern France and Spain.
Further, Deloria was startled that Muller's thesis supported an old Salish story to the effect that they were once enemies with the Sioux at a remote time. between the Salish and Sioux are the Crow, Blackfeet, and other tribes who should have been, and in recent historic times were enemies of the Sioux. The Salish story does not seem to record the presence of these other tribes, and certainly if war parties from either Sioux or Salish were looking for a free-for-all, they could have been adequately accommodated by either Crow or Blackfeet very easily.
Native American Oral Science
American Indians, as a general
have aggressively opposed the Bering Strait migration doctrine
it does not reflect any of the memories or traditions passed
ancestors over many generations. Some tribes speak of
in boats, the Hopis and Colvilles for example, and others speak
experience of a creation, such as the Yakimas and other Pacific
tribes. Some tribes even talk about migrations from other
The Sioux, Salish, and Cheyenne remember their life in the Far North, which featured entirely different climatic conditions than we find today. The Sioux tradition, related by Thomas Tyson around the turn of the 20th century, states: "The seven council fires burned in a land where the trees were small and the leaves fell before the coming of each winter."
The seven fires were lighted in a circle (the nations were camped together) and Waziya appeared in the council. He was a large man and clothed in heavy furs. He said, "Why do you stay here where the trees are small and the leaves fall? Come with me and I will show you where the trees grow tall and the leaves are green all winter."
The Salish account has certain similarities. Ella Clark reports a tradition given to an interpreter in 1923 by four elderly Salish concerning Flathead Lake. To the question of origins, these old people said: "... The first Salish were driven down from the country of big ice mountains, where there were strange animals. Fierce people who were not Salish drove them south." So in our stories our people have said: "The river of life, for us, heads in the north." Since the memories of American Indians clash directly with scientific speculation, there is little room for compromise here.
Some tribal traditions do speak of ice and snow, which may be memories of North American glaciation, particularly since ice and snow are normal phenomena in the US and remembering a really big snow would indicate that it was unusual. Most of these tales begin with the supposition that these groups were already present in North America prior to the onset of glaciation and quite possibly were observers of some of the climatic events of the Ice Age. The simplest ice tradition is that recorded by Julian Steward in the collection of Western Shoshone traditions but actually provided by a Northern Paiute person from Winnemucca, Nevada, concerning a large body of ice on the Snake River. It seems that Coyote took some of the Paiutes north to the Snake River:
Ice had formed ahead of them, and it reached al the way to the sky. The people could not cross it. It was too thick to break. A Raven flew up and struck the ice and cracked it [when he came down]. Coyote said, ‘these small people can't get across the ice. Another Raven flew up again and cracked the ice again. Coyote said, ‘try again, try again. Raven flew up again and broke the ice. The people ran across.
Although there is some involvement
the basic story line is simply that the people went north, saw
went to the sky, and tried to cross it.
More complicated is the Chippewa creation story, which says that God tried four times to create the resent world but the first three efforts were doomed to failure because there was too much ice. The Fourth time the effort was successful. It this tradition is a memory of the four stages of North American glaciation, it implies that the glaciation occurred within a reasonable short period of time so that people remembered the process. Since the Chippewa flood story relates that the flooding was caused by rapidly melting ice, we might suggest that Chippewa traditions are something to be taken seriously.
The Hopi have a tradition that their clans had to make migrations around the Western Hemisphere at the beginning of this present world. Five tribes—the Blue Flute, the Ghost or Fire, the Spider, the Snake, and the Sun—all migrated up the western side of the continent until they reached "... a land of perpetual snow and ice." Here they were tempted by Spider Woman to use their special powers to melt the mountains of ice and snow. Sotuknang, nephew of the Creator, then appeared and scolded them, pointing out that if they continued their activities they would melt the ice and snow and destroy the newly created world… It seems unlikely that the Hopi, living on the Colorado Plateau in Northern Arizona, would be able to guess that the northern reaches of the continent were lands of perpetual ice and snow. This tradition must reflect a journey to the North. Not only does the more recent interpretation of human evolution militate against American Indians being latecomers to the Western Hemisphere, and examination of the Bering Strait doctrine suggests that such a journey would have been nearly impossible even if there had been hordes of Paleo-Indians trying to get across the hypothetical land bridge. It appears that not even animals or plants really crossed the Mythical connection between Asia and North America. The Bering Strait exists and existed only in the minds of scientists.
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