Saturday 7 July 2007

Crazy Horse said 'Make Love Not War.'

Well, he probably didn't.
But a book somewhere probably says he did.
It sells.

You may have heard of Grey Owl, an early precursor of the Ecology Movement.

If you haven't, suffice to say, thousands poured to hear the lectures of this Native American in his Ojibwa garb, tell of the wisdom of his people, of how man was at war with nature.
At his death in 1938, it transpired that he was in fact, one Archie Belaney from Devon. He had no Native American blood in him, and his message was more Belaney than Ojibwa.
Doesn't mean it wasn't a good message.
A hoax, but a harmless one.

But interesting that his message was heard far clearer as Grey Owl, than maybe it would have been was it known to be Archie Belaney.

There's still a market for books purporting to be the wisdom of Native Americans. Our bookshops are flooded with 'The words of Humming Bird' and the like.
On the one hand, we seek wisdoms other than our own conventional Western ones.
One the other, we know that there are peoples we have done wrong to.
So I guess it feels heartwarming in some way to unite the two, the wisdom of the peoples we wronged.

Unfortunately, the marketers of these sorts of 'wisdoms' tap into this.
It categorically is NOT native American wisdoms you receive.
It is sixties mysticism ascribed to Native American beliefs. We like what we read and we hope it is Native American belief. It's not.

Let us look at the facts.
I'm unsure that the Ghost Dance, pictured above, was a particularly wise phenomenon. The idea that wearing a big white shirt and dancing a special dance made you immune to bullets does not seem wise to me. I'm not sure I'd be exactly running for wise words from the culture that produced that kind of wisdom.

As for Environmental advice, the extermination of the buffalo by Native American stampede hunting hardly commends them to me as Environmentalists.

Yes, they were robbed blind by White men. Robbed of two continents.
But whatever virtues their cultures had, superior wisdom to their supplanters cannot have been one of them.

'White man speaks with forked tongue.'
That bit was Native American Wisdom.

There was much that we should mourn about Native America. But let's not acribe to them answers they never had.
Because if they did, they didn't use them.

Of course, if you want to get really Pseud, you have the 'knowledge' that purports to be Mayan.

These are the 'writings' that claim to be translated from Mayan inscriptions revealing prophecy, wisdom , the story of the universe, etc.
Though not how the authors learned to translate Mayan script.

One would think from some of these books that the Mayans alone lived in true wise peace, in balance with their environment. The 'Mayan Prophecies' is such an example.

These books never mention the human sacrifice culture at the heart of Mayan society, and how that contributed to loving thy neighbour and preserving the balance of nature...

In a sense, we demean the real people of these cultures by misrepresenting them this way.
By ascribing to them a culture they did not have, and values they did not have, we help obliterate their legacy. We turn them into what we want our consciences to be today, not what our consciences should have turned to yesterday.
There may not have been the wisdoms there that we wish there were, but there was humanity. There was a dignity and a fighting spirit to match their opponents, if the numbers, the technology, and sadly, the wisdom, were pretty one sided.

And of course, the real Native American could do with some real help. Not just in the States, but in those many countries where Native Americans are a majority of the population, but kept down by Creole elites.

Or is the real Native America less interesting?


Anonymous said...

well i suppose the history is always written by the "winners".

and reality? I suppose that depends on whom you ask - every coin has two sides nah (unless you start to caunt inside & outside ad all...*sigh* )

Anonymous said...

I really doubt that Crazy Horse ever declared "make love not war" (I know, I know, you're being facetious), in Crazy Horse: strange man of the Oglalas, Mari Sandoz contrasted the political and military aspirations of Custer with that of Crazy Horse, and asserted that despite his eventual rise to leadership, Crazy Horse ultimately sought only to be a good warrior (hence the unlikelyhood of his wishing to make love instead of war). I agree with much of what you are saying, but historians, ethnologists, anthropologists (blah blah) ultimately agree that it was because of their own experience with extirpation (North American camel, equus, giant beaver, etc.) that contributed to a more pantheistic approach to nature. Who can really say? Have you ever read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn?

Anonymous said...

It's hard to separate fact from fiction in anything. If you ask the actual people who were a part of history what happened, you would get many versions of the same events.

"...There's still a market for books purporting to be the wisdom of Native Americans. Our bookshops are flooded with them..."

You hit the nail on the head -- or shall I say spun the Indian Head nickel on it's back.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely right: "We demean the people of these cultures by attributing to them knowledge they never had" - it's the problem of seeing history from the perspective of our own world view.

Anonymous said...

I see your point, but the same is true for Greek and Roman civilisation. If we interpreted Plato and Aristotle purely by the values and wisdom of their time they would have been forgotten about centuries ago.

Sure Native American wisdom and proverbs may not have the same resonance and sophistication that we Moderns place onto them, but does this really matter?

Let's not forget that they had thousands of years of civilisation before the Europeans arrived. It's wrong to belittle an entire covilisation with ancient roots for continuing their rituals in the face of alien invaders.

Yes, Native American culture has been 'Westernised' and 'Modernised' and 'Industrialised' ... but in the end, if the underlying message is making people think ... does it matter if they really 'meant' it?

As a historian yes, as a philosopher probably not, and as a consumer definitely not.

ps// Crushed by Ingsoc would have made a good tribal name

Anonymous said...

I'd probaly go with .. Ponders on the Tree Branch

Anonymous said...

Crashdummie- It is. In Americs the history that's written is the history we wrote. We remember the Inca, but not the Chimu, the Aztec but not the Toltec.

Helen- I think the North American camel went in the Pliocene. A little before First Nations people arrived.
I've not read Ishmael. Is that regarding Native American frontier life, I take it?
I've got a life of Geronimo and One of Sitting Bull, both by a guy called Samuel Adams. They show me a long tale of deceit and misunderstanding, the deceit being mainly on one side, the misunderstanding on the other.

I would listen carefully to the advice of a Sioux warrior on how to creep up on a sleeping camp, but less inclined to listen to his advice on negotiating with people, because he may well see Kansas for a bottle of firewater to be a fair deal.
That's the sad truth. They were naive and they were massacred for it. They had no idea what hit them.

So the evidence in favour of something inherently wise is a little lacking.

Alexys- True example, one of these Native American wisdom books published in the seventies, turned out to be written by a KKK member to raise funds. It's an industry.

How wise were any of the Native Americans who trusted Whites?

btw, I think Andrew Jackson pretty much committed genocide.

Welshcakes- Exactly, we see it as a line marching to now. We remember the Aztecs, who had only been there a couple of hundred years, not the Toltecs who acheived so much more. We don't learn about the complexity of Cherokee culture, before smallpox decimated the five tribes in the seventeenth century.

David- We don't learn their real history. we learn a bogus history where the are turned in to JRRR Tolkien Elves. They weren't.
The Cherokee Hertiage site has signs to it showing it up as a Native American Heritage site. The symbol for that is a totem pole.
How insulting is that to a Cherokee?
A sedentary people who lived in large towns, wore metal ornaments and never had totem poles- a pacific coast tradition.
That's like telling us that Queen Elizabeth the First rode to battle in blue war paint.
How can we learn from the past, or hope to undesrtand the prsent- and the real plight of native peoples in the Americas is a story needs telling- with these delusional- and patronising- attempts to rewrite their history into a Fairy Story?

Anonymous said...

sounds like the ministry of truth is at it again... fabricating their own version 2.0 of history. i must admit, school never taught me of the ghost dance... i thought for a minute you were referring to the kkk. anyways, great post. btw, maybe we can write our own native american wisdom book, or better yet, simply american, so we can fund marketing our blogs on major sites.

Anonymous said...

I met a real Cherokee singer called Rose. One Cherokee bit of wisdom is that they believe everything you say reverberates and expands like a they watch what they say and take ages to answer a question...

Anonymous said...

CBI-No, Ishmael is not contemporary Native American drivel, it is a work of fiction, but it raises a lot of issues that a tribal (mid-eastern, north american, etc.) community would deal with.

**I would listen carefully to the advice of a Sioux warrior on how to creep up on a sleeping camp, but less inclined to listen to his advice on negotiating with people, because he may well see Kansas for a bottle of firewater to be a fair deal.**

And that is one of the greatest errors of Western society. We have placed more emphasis, more importance on communication-based intelligence than on other forms of intelligence. Maybe Kansas for a bottle of firewater was a fair deal, since it was a totally arbitrary and alien concept anyhow.
These types of arguments come up every now and then, but the tribes do have their own identity and representatives travel frequently to educate and make the public aware of their nation and identity.

I totally disagree with your statement that "They were naive and they were massacred for it. They had no idea what hit them."
There was no "they" when Europeans began exploiting the continents, there were thousands of fragmented societies without the concept of solidarity to defend against a common enemy. In the face of European war, pestilence, and decimation they had no chance against a peoples with entirely foreign values.

Do you really think there is nothing to learn from a people who live on the edge of extermination?
I know of no culture that has not grown and changed throughout its period of existence, in fact, that is one of the criterion that anthropologists attribute to a successful culture. The First Nations people will exercise and are exercising their right to adapt their culture. Let the historians argue over the original subtleties of their culture, we can only listen to the message the First Nations present now. The difference between Native American culture and Tolkien's worlds are immense, not the least of which is the difference between reality and fantasy.

Anonymous said...

Raffi- It's simple get the teachings of Confucius. Mix a bit of John Lennon in, rebrand it using a lot of animal metaphors.
Job done.

Lilith- The real Cherokee story is an amazing piece of ignored history. I recommend The Trail of Tears- I forget the Author.

Helen- Winners history leads us to make the error that we won because we weere MORALLY superior.
Clearly this isn't always the case.
But we shouldn't ignore that the winners won.
Fact is peoples such as the Sioux were breathtakingly naive in their dealings with White Man, and from a survival point of view, distinctly unwise.
We can learn a lot from them about a lot of things, but it would be foolish to look at their model of life as a successful blueprint, compared to ours. Their wisdom clearly didn't serve them well.

Brazil don't go to Jamaica for football tips.

Anonymous said...

I did a post a while back about Native Americans...the only real schopolwork i did in high school many moons ago was an Original Oratory I took to UIL competitions on Indians...
I admire their Myths and Legends their reverence for the Earth and Nature, the Tribal way of life-its so idyllic...but the fact is that they were human beings and capable of all the cruelty and wrong doing exhibited all over the Planet...

But their story is our story as well, is it not? I can't imagine our story without them.

Anonymous said...

If you want to know the plight of my people then read the book Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee. Crazy Horse was murdered as was my own ancestor Sitting Bull who was murdered at his "home" by the white man. The buffalo were not exterminated by the Indian but rather the white man who killed them by the hundreds and thousands and left the carcass to rot while taking only the hide! Seems they were very popular in Europe!Indians believed and still believe that we cannot own the land. It is only there for our use so when the whites came to America the Indian was willing to share with them that that was not theirs to give. But the whites are all about ownership!