Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Cultural Parallels: Ireland - Choctaw

The similarities between Irish history and the history of American Indians is one of the prime movers in the writing of my novel. Using 'American Indians' as a descriptor of the indigenous people of the western hemisphere has become popularized even though it is a poor choice.  I focused on the Choctaw tribe as the participants in my story, and opted to use the term 'Chahta' That choice was not arbitrary.  I chose the Chahta because their history tracks so similarly with that of the Irish.  Also the choice of the 17th century as the setting was a conscious decision which resulted in some road blocks.  I have found very little documentation of the experience of the Chahta between 1600 - 1700.  Brief accounts in history books tell of Hernando De Soto's expeditions in 1540, but very few tell of earlier explorations which produced false accounts of treasure.  Those reports were issued in an attempt to gain favor with the crown.  So my choice of that period of time with the Chahta was because two things added tension to my story.  First, there is evidence of De Soto and the Spaniards who remained in the Southeast, continued to exploit the Chahtas and send some as slaves to the Caribbean plantations. And the proximity of the Southeast was appropriate for my story.

I will begin to share some of the similarities of the Irish and Choctaw history which, when validated, motivated my writing.  The first two are big ones.

  • Both cultures suffered from continuous invasions of foreigners. The English, French, Dutch and Spaniards all invaded North America, stole land and planted settlers. In Ireland, the list of invaders defies historical recording. Formorians and Firbolgs, DeDannan and Milesians, Gauls, Norse, Norman, Scots and English, all invaded Ireland, stole land and planted settlers. 'Plantation' has come to mean the planting of crops like sugar or cotton, but historical events indicate that 'plantation' really means planting people on land they did not own.
  • The mandates of the invaders:  Oliver Cromwell demanded that all Irish Catholics needed to migrate west of the Shannon River.  "To Hell or Connacht", was his command.  Connacht, the western rocky province, was the least favorable land for farming, but 'Hell", in this context, meant slavery in Barbados.  Barbados even became a verb, saying that "the survivors were 'Barbadosed'"  The Chahtas, by the demands of Andrew Jackson, were sent west of the Mississippi, for reasons of "Manifest Destiny".  This ideal, over time, morphed into the false belief of 'white entitlement'. That belief still keeps our country off balance.