Saturday, May 30, 2015

My New Hero of the Mounds

Continued reading Silverberg's "The Mound Builders", and finally someone emerged that was not enamored with the old myths of mysterious, highly advanced vanishing mound builders. John Wesley Powell , born in 1834, a self taught scientist and enemy of slavery grew up in Ohio amid many of the mounds.  By age 17, Powell was teaching school.  He would study science and mathematics texts at night and then teach the subject the next morning.  He turned away from college when he discovered that science and math were not a part of their curriculum.  His spare time activities included field trips excavating some of the mounds he located as he rowed the length of the Mississippi.  He dropped in briefly on classes at numerous colleges, but was mostly self taught.  He enhanced his knowledge of geology, archaeology, and natural history.

The artifacts he discovered in the mounds raised his suspicions of earlier declarations of the origin of the mounds.  Glass beads and tooled copper objects he found supported a hypothesis that the mounds were not as old as others had stated.  These objects were only proof that the builders had obtained trade goods from invading Europeans, hence the chapter that Silverberg calls "Deflating the Myth". Even the Civil War, and losing an arm at Shiloh did not distract Powell from his research.  His discoveries and his accurate documentation shifted the study of the mounds from archaeology to ethnology; the study of living people.  He declared in one of his essays, there is no reason to continuing to search for a lost race of mound builders.  At last a man who fought against the racist spin of earlier mound explorers, and declared that if knowledge of the mounds was to be obtained, stop digging in the mounds and start a conversation with the descendents of the builders. This was critical. Their story must be told before their annihilation. Alas, the destruction of the indigenous culture prevailed as part of an American tragedy known as 'Manifest Destiny'

John Wesley Powell went on to head the Bureau of Ethnology and the Geologic Survey, and influenced Congress to fund the collection and preservation of artifacts at the Smithsonian.  The history books laud Andrew Jackson and Manifest Destiny, but fail to mention brilliant heroes like John Wesley Powell.  My own research has discovered a large blank page in our history books.  I am still searching for documentation of Choctaw life between De Soto in the 1500's and Andrew Jackson in the 1800's.  How many other blank pages are there?  Sad.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

More on the Mounds

Today I surrender to my penchant for alliteration.  More on the mounds, including myths, misappropriation, miscellanies, mistakes and the mystical Mormons.

The mounds:  As mentioned earlier, mounds prevail in the landscapes of Ireland (Tara, Newgrange) and the U.S. from Ohio to Mississippi.  These structures have been studied and probed by archaeologists, anthropologists, astronomers, theologians and fortune hunters.  Some Irish mounds proved to have significant importance in the Druidic equinox ceremonies.  Beams of dawn sunlight channeled through strategic openings in the mounds illuminated sacred carvings on interior walls. Myths abound of the heroic Tuatha De Danann relegated to rule the underworld by the victorious, yet merciful Gaelicians.  Oral histories and Irish story tellers have kept tales alive.

Not so in America.  Many of the curious were intellectuals with no scientific credentials, but their literary skills brought them notoriety and misappropriated fame as experts. Most immediately discounted the possibility that the indigenous people here would have the skill to construct the mounds or the intelligence to know their origin or significance.  So they didn't bother to ask.  The imaginative accounts of the source and purpose of the mysterious mounds influenced the many that followed and added their own creative spin to the stories. One such creative author was Joseph Smith, a farm boy born in Vermont  in 1805.  As a man, he incorporated his theory of the mounds into stories of ancient explorations by Jaredites from Jerusalem and subsequent battles between Nephites and Lamanites, who buried their war dead in the mounds.  These stories became a part of the Book of Mormon.
Joseph Smith was lynched in an Illinois jail in 1844.

Throughout the 19th century, white archaeologists were digging up old civilizations in Egypt, Syria, Greece and many other sites, including the United States.  With little input from indigenous populations, and no apparent concern for the sanctity of the sites, using the search for knowledge as their mission, they accommodated their egos by digging and digging and digging.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Irish - Native American Parallels - 4

One important parallel between the cultures that is proven by physical structures still in existence are the mounds.  From Tara and Newgrange to Carthage, Alabama and Circleville, Ohio, the evidence is there.  The  presence of the mounds ties in with another cultural similarity.  Both the Irish and the Choctaw have a reverence for their elders and their ancestors.  Burial cairns in Ireland and Choctaw burial mounds are holy places,revered and not to be disturbed. 

Just begun reading Robert Silverberg's book, "The Mound Builders".  One theme that was early evident to me was that settlers in the U.S. colonies were quick to surmise that such structures as the mounds found all over the east of the new land could not  have been built by the native people peoples they encountered.  Theories and myths abounded to attempt to explain the source of the mounds.  Since the indigenous people and their ancestors were immediately discounted as the possible source, the only 'rational' explanation was that the mounds ere built by early invasions by a 'superior' (read 'white') race. Detailed treatises were published offering theories of the mounds being built by Vikings, Romans, and even the lost tribes of Israel or extraterrestrials.  All indicating white supremacy, embedding the belief of entitlement, leading to the racist position of white privilege that is stuck in many minds today.

Amazing how theories based on little or no research, presented as fact can influence beliefs that lead to behaviors centuries later in a culture fraught with race riots.

Monday, May 11, 2015

"Oh, what of that?"

"O, what of that?
 O, what of that?
 What is there left to say?"

So wrote W.B. Yeats in his "Curse of Cromwell"  Curious what ol' W. B. would write of the current situation of the English Parliament.  The victory of the Conservative Party over Labor and the Tories, indicates a tremor which has Scotland thinking of nationalism once again.  Haven't read of reaction from Dublin and Ulster, but there is sure to be some thoughts of crossing the Boyne and removing July 12th from the holiday calendars.  Hopefully not.

Stay tuned, as England and Scotland consider remaining or leaving the E.U.  should be interesting.

Meanwhile, Matty O'Doole has been becalmed in my mind and in the tale's critical part three.  His loyalty to the Chahta is being tested.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Novel: Where, When and Why

The story of the life of Matty O'Doole begins in County Leitrim in the west of Ireland for a somewhat selfish reason. The little genealogical information I have, and a bit of history I've learned suggests that Leitrim might well have been the source of my family name.  One of my favorite Irish singers, Sean Tyrrell, first told me of Tiernan O'Ruairc, Prince of Breffni.  The site of O'Ruairc's Castle, (now called Parkes' Castle) on Lough Gill in the County Leitrim presented an opportunity to set Matty's story there while concurrently doing some 'roots searching'.

So much for the 'where and why'.  But why in the first half of the 1600's?  Ireland's tumultuous history never lacked for tension, stress and turmoil, but that period offered what I determined to be the best starting point for a converging path to ultimately intersect with the Choctaw culture.  And the confusion of the period presented a challenge for Matty's coming of age.  From the plantation of protestants in Ulster to the 1641 Rebellion, to the execution of Charles I during the Civil War in England.  Matty and his family were constantly torn in terms of their allegiances to Ireland and the Catholic church.

First fighting against the king and later fighting against the king's parliamentarian enemies kept the Irish off balance.  Being allies with former antagonists ignited old clan rivalries.  Confusion and disagreement among the people about who were heroes and who were traitors continually inflamed the culture.  In a conflict where many of the leaders changed sides, the common foot soldiers had no problem justifying desertion, and it was difficult to be motivated to fight for an officer who was not a countryman, and had nothing but disrespect for the Irish.  English generals on the winning side won a bonus of ownership in Irish land.  Adventurers who financed the winning armies were also repaid with Irish land, and colonial lands in the New World..

The same confusion was evident in Choctaw history.  The native people were exploited and enslaved by the Spaniards, leading to total mistrust of any European invader.  The bribery of trade goods motivated tribes to engage in intertribal battles, and to pick sides in what came to be called 'the French and Indian War'.  Again, risking life for leaders who had no respect for you.  And the land occupied by the native people, (they had no concept of 'owning' land), was taken by 'Manifest Destiny'; A high sounding term meaning 'entitlement because you are a white Christian'; meaning really license to steal.

Ecology of Art - Another Spin

In the May third edition of the Washington Post, the Arts and Style section focused on how the behavior of people in the digital age have evolved as they interact with art.  From rich theater goers in Elizabethan times, who paid extra to be seated 'on the stage', to current theater goers who are addicted to their cell phones, "Decorum in the Digital Age" has demanded a new set of rules. I guess 'expectations is a better word than 'rules'.

More that one stage artist has stopped the show to insist that a cell phone user, "Turn the damn thing off !".  Then there are those who go to movies and must discuss, criticize,or even pull a spoiler alert and reveal the plot in loud conversation with their friends.  Audiences are more and more annoyed by rude, self centered people, who perhaps have damaged their hearing from high volume ear buds, and have lost their ability to whisper.  An attitude of behavioral entitlement earned by the price of admission can ruin the experience for an entire audience.

As technology evolves, many humans are losing their interest and ability for social interaction.  How many times have you had someone with their attention totally engrossed by a smart phone or tablet collide with you on the sidewalk and glare at you expecting an apology?

Most artists create their art out of a desire to share their ideas, beliefs, and skills with others.  Consequently, most art is shared in public places.  Public in this context is 'people sharing a common interest'.  If your only interest is taking a 'selfie' with a celebrity, or to prove you were there at the event; if you are so engrossed with your own image, stay the hell home and look in the mirror, and leave art lovers in peace.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Irish - Native American Parallels -3

Assimilation and Imposition of Invaders:

The history of Ireland and America is fraught with invasion, but the invaders had an assortment of objectives.  Norse raiders came to pillage and collect the spoils of war, and soon recognized that establishing ports in Ireland, where most settlements were clustered around the churches, gave them the opportunity to establish supply depots to allow their ships to sail inland for more riches.  The long term opportunity for trade emerged as cities grew around the coastal Norse settlements.  Waterford, Wexford, and Dublin too grew from the imposition of the Vikings, who, over time were assimilated into the population of Ireland.  Norse invasions into North America never quite took hold.  Some artifacts prove they were here, but establishing settlements so far from home perhaps proved too expensive.

Historical Irony continues to fascinate me.  Columba, an Irish monk was said to convert early Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, while the son of a British Roman magistrate, enslaved in Ireland grew up to become St. Patrick.

Normans invaded Ireland as mercenaries fighting under the leadership of Richard De Clare, AKA 'Strongbow', and he became the King of Leinster.  The Norman Catholics were slowly assimilated into the Irish culture until, it is said 'they became more Irish than the Gaels'. They were , in time to be called the 'Old English'.  The House of Tudor planted English Anglicans and Scottish  Presbyterians to impose protestantism on Irish Catholics, and at the same time, for military purposes, protect their western flank.

European invaders of the western hemisphere where more apt to try to annihilate the native peoples.  As Spanish, Dutch, French and English were planted in the Americas, their assimilation was limited to intermarrying.  Their agenda was to impose their culture, including language, religion and laws.

More on that later.