Friday, June 20, 2008

Rewriting History

It seems to me that everyone ignorant of history is doomed to rewrite it.

Tonight, sitting in my trailer I watched a movie Geronimo: An American Legend. It was sort of interesting, until the epilogue. The protagonist expressed his regret that a way of life that had endured a thousand years ceased to exist.

The problem is that the horse culture of the Apaches and other Plains Indians could not have existed for a thousand years.

Horses were once native to North America but became extinct long before humans colonized the continent. They were only reintroduced after Europeans established contact. The exact process is the subject of lot of debate, but clearly if the earliest modern horse in North America was around about 1500, the horse culture could not be a thousand years old. It had to be less than half that, probably much less.

The larger Euro-centric view is that native americans (themselves immigrants a few thousand years earlier) were somehow a static, peace loving group of noble savages, except for the intervention of the evil Europeans.

That is a gross distortion, if not a downright lie. The prevailing view romanticizing and generalizing a group of people covering thousands of tribes speaking hundreds of different languages in vastly different environments sharing common cultural traits is absurd. The truth is some of them practiced the most appalling rituals including cannibalism, torture and slavery.

By the way Geronimo was a Christian, his name being Spanish for (St.) Jerome.


Don the Baptist said...

Three cheers for the age of Double Talk!

Tim said...

So true! Romanticists want to say that America's indigenous peoples lived in peace and harmony until the evil Europeans came along. Well, some of them were evil by today's standards, but the Indians had much to learn about humanity, too.