Tuesday, October 3, 2017

MEXICO: America's Scapegoat

Why would anyone think negatively about "Mexicans"?

Modern Mexico is 257 years older than the United States of America. Yet this country with five or more ancient civilizations under its belt is being treated with disrespect by the descendants of more recent immigrants to the Western Hemisphere. Parts of today's United States of America had been formally Mexico.

Current and past attitudes of the People of the Wall towards our neighbors south of the border reached a fever pitch by Trump followers during the 2016 election campaign. This group of fearful people consisted mostly of Anglos and their fellow supporters whose knowledge of history is derived from the indoctrination of a Greco-Roman model of "civilization." This model is the basis of both the Anglo and our "Western" educational systems.

Not bad in itself, the ethnocentrism that follows the Greco-Roman model overlooks the societal achievements of other world civilizations. For example, the Precolumbian Americas were cut off from the Egyptian and *Mesopotamian foundations upon which the Greek and Roman models were built. Most Amerindian wonders that the Anglos encountered seem to have mostly developed independent of "Old World" influences. This is true, of course, if one believes in a no-contact-theory between both hemispheres prior to the arrival of Columbus.
*Ancient Mesopotamia included today's Iraq, Kuwait, eastern parts of Syria, Southeastern Turkey, and regions along the Turkish-Syrian and Iran-Iraq borders. While Egypt is an African country.

What of Ancient Mexico?

"Ancient Mexico can be said to have produced five major civilizations: the Olmec, Maya, Teotihuacan, Toltec, and Aztec [or Mexica]." --Wikipedia

Also: The language spoken by the Aztec is *Uto-Aztecan (*related to Ute and the American state, Utah), while the legendary location of the origin of the their people was Aztlán. "Either in northwestern Mexico or the southwest US." Many other indigenous people and their languages survive in Mexico and are protected by the Mexican government.

*[Note: The Aztec originated from "along the border between the United States and Mexico, perhaps in the area of Arizona and New Mexico."]

Map of the Political Divisions of the Mexican Republic of 1824. This is 22 years before the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. The war can be summed up in a three minute YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNgotEobNOw
In the 1800s, as a result of war and purchase, while Mexico was shrinking, while the United States of America was expanding west from its Eastern states. The mostly Anglo country gobbled up six large Mexican states of La California, Colorado, Utah, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. Old Mexico consisted of massive populations of Indigenous Americans called "Indios" some of whom came from the Anglo-occupied US. Along with large Amerindian populations, Mexico is composed of mestizos who may or may not have Indio ancestry, Spanish, some Africans and a variety of Middleastern and Asian immigrants. The most dominant genetic markers are probably Amerindian. Mexico, although predominantly mestizo, by blood or affiliation, no longer classifies its complex, mostly mixed  populations by race. A term in current use is "La Raza". In Latin America, La Raza may mean "race" or "people" especially with Amerindian or mestizo ancestry. "The term originated in the 1925 book, La Raza Cósmica (English: The Cosmic Race) by the Mexican writer José Vasconcelos."--Wikipedia

Mexico had a checkered history of racial and class peculiarities that were more pronounced but changed over the centuries. A look at one census illustrates what was true for the times.

1793 census
Indigenous Population (%) = 66.1%
Mestizo Population (%) = 16.9%
European Population (%) = 16.9%

Emigration and migration reflected each state's varying percentages of the three racial groups. For example, Puebla's Indigenous population was 74.3% while Oaxaca's Indigenous population was 88.2%.

Above: A casta (Spanish: [ˈkasta], Portuguese: [ˈkastɐ, ˈkaʃtɐ]) was a hierarchical system of race classification created by Spanish elites (españoles) in Hispanic America during the eighteenth century.--Wikipedia

Today, the greatly reduced sized country called Mexico was born out of conquest of the last of its ancient empires, the Aztec. This Mexica (may-she-kah) civilization (1300-1521) was built on the early cultural accomplishments that, in many instances, surpassed those of the invading Conquistadors who themselves were later arrivals to the earmarks of "civilization". These Spanish invaders were heir to Arab and Greco-Roman civilizations and could not appreciate the Amerindian form of cultural achievements recorded by some Catholic priests. "Mexico" had existed as complex societies for three thousand years before the arrival of the Spanish in 1519. They were later ruled by Spain for only three hundred years.

Mexico City has remained the largest city in the Americas with the greatest number of surviving Native languages. However, as it has been seen around the world, the indigenous people were quickly similarly demoted to the bottom rung of Mexican society. The fact that the Aztec speak a Uto-Aztecan language and said that they came to the area they now occupy in Mexico City, means that their mythology of origin is correct. That extensive area of origin in the modern US before partition caused by the Mexican-American War, was called Nothern Mexico.

In Mexico, many wars of resistance were waged in most of the territories from the Maya in the Yucatan to the Comanches, Apaches and Navajos in the swath of territory called "Los Californios". Unfortunately, a large portion of the American public does not know much about Mexico's cultural history or its tortuous past with the US Government. (See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican–American_War#Roots_of_the_conflict_in_Northern_Mexico)

Many people who crossed or are crossing the southern US border, although not all, but were considered to be Mexicans in the past. They have been portrayed as menial workers. Recent wars and social unrest in Guatemala and El Salvador have forced refugees to also seek safety across the southern US border. The people who make the trek bring profound heritages and bloodlines of the indigenous Amerindians, *Californios and Africans, among others.

*Californios included the descendants of agricultural settlers and retired escort soldiers deployed from what is modern-day Mexico. Most were of mixed ethnicities, usually Mestizo (Spanish and Native American) or mixed African-American and Indian backgrounds. Despite the depictions of the popular shows like Zorro, few Californios were of "pure" Spanish (Peninsular or Criollo) ancestry. Most with unmixed Spanish ancestry were Franciscan priests, along with career government officials and military officers who did not remain in California.

What do Americans know about Mexico? Some obviously have visited south of the border for many reasons. In my case, my visit to Mexico was mostly educational. I had been previously aware of its ancient historical achievenents. Getting a first hand view of outstanding accomplishments was even more impressive. My wife and I visited three diverse regions of the Yucatan, Mexico City and Cuernavaca, (the Land of Eternal Spring) in the mountains. Three of our grandchildren have a Mexican mother whose birthplace is Cuernavaca, a resort town at 5,060 feet above sea level, and is the capital of the state of Morelos. Morelos is the birthplace of the Mexican Revolutionary hero, Emiliano Zapata.
Emiliano Zapata with his ceremonial sword and sash, dressed in the charro (horseman) fashion of his village. According to Frenchcreole.com, Zapata, an accomplished horseman and military strategist, came from a family that was an Afro-Mexican mix.


The Yucatan with its Chichen Itza and other temple pyramids, sprawling cities, as well as gigantic governmental buildings, magnificent sculptures, and  walled, ancient rubber-ball courts, is in Maya territory. Mexico City is the largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere and is considered the oldest city in the Americas. It was originally built as an Amerindian city by the Aztec (Mexica) and called Tenochtitlan. Tenochtitlan was constructed on a built-up island in Lake Texcoco. My favorite structure in Mexico City is the beautiful National Museum of Anthropology and History, a large building containing magnificent Mezoamerican artifacts.

Calakmul is a one of the many Mayan sites hidden inside the jungles of the Mexican state of Campeche. It is one of the largest Mayan cities ever uncovered with over 6,500 ancient structures identified. Calakmul’s 55 meter (180 foot) high pyramid is by far the largest structure at the site. --touropia.com

My Visit

A few years ago, my wife and I visited Mexico's Yucatan region. The pyramid of Chichen Itza was advertised as a highlight of Mexico, since it is one of the world's outstanding marvels. The Precolumbian city that extended into the surrounding forested lowland, far exceeded my imagination. The Maya Civilization is only one of the many high levels of achievements found in our Mexican neighbors to the south. The descendants of the Maya, Olmec, Mexica, Zapotec, and Toltec (just to name a few of their outstanding Mexican ancestors) have often been despised by past, and current leaders of America. The irony of today's attitudes of the present administration is not new. It is a reflection of times from the Mexican-American War of the 19th century through the Great Depression of the 20th century to the 21st century when Donald Trump decided that his supporters needed a revival of Mexican scapegoats.

Trump is not indigenous to the Americas. He is descended from German and Scottish foreigners who sought a better life than that offered by their ancestor's European homelands. Most of the people whom he is scapegoating are indigenous to this hemisphere. What comparative civilized achievements did the ancestors of Trump's chosen scapegoats achieve? One example of Mexican exceptionalism speaks for itself:

Chichen Itza
CHEE-chen EET-sə; from Yucatec Maya: Chi'ch'èen Ìitsha' [tɕʰiʔtɕʼèːn ìːtsʰaʔ] ("at the mouth of the well of the Itza people") was a large pre-Columbian city built by the Maya people of the Terminal Classic period.
Chichen Itza was a major focal point in the Northern Maya Lowlands from the Late Classic (c. AD 600–900) through the Terminal Classic (c. AD 800–900) and into the early portion of the Postclassic period (c. AD 900–1200).--Wikipedia

Chichen Itza is a step pyramid. During the Spring equinox, a shadow is cast down the sides of the pyramid showing the cascading body of snakes whose heads were carved at the structure's base. During the Summer solstice the shadow on the pyramid repeats its Spring equinox appearance.

Aerial view of Chichen Itza. (For a slide show of more buildings in the largest Mayan   city (1.9 sq mi), go to https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chichen_Itza#/media/File%3AChichen_Itza-16.jpg)

Another view of the Spring solstice, when the sun's shadow is cast to reveal the body of a snake cascading down the side of the pyramid.

Ancient Mexican Writing
Eight Deer Jaguar Claw (right) [8-Deer was the year of his birth in 1063 to his death in 1115, by sacrifice] Meeting with Four Jaguar, in a depiction from the Codex Zouche-Nuttall. His name glyph (a deer head and eight red dots) is above his head.--Wikipedia

Always portrayed with a jaguar headdress, the codex relates the history of his family, his exploits and conquests of 94 cities during his lifetime. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight_Deer_Jaguar_Claw#Biography

Mesoamerican Alphabet

Writing is often used as a method of classifying a society's achievements. It is usually learned from previous or neighboring civilization. For example, our alphabet resulted from a series of borrowed pictures that changed from one culture to the next. Our letter "A", when turned upside down meant food and was originally a drawing of the head of a bull. It was called "alef" and was then turned on its side to its current position, meaning "alpha". "B" was on it's flat side and represented a house, or "beth". It became the Greek beta. Both letters combined to be the source of our word "alphabet".

Mesoamerican writing, independently of Eastern Hemisphere influences, developed very early and was practiced by many Mexican civilizations. Writing was often incorporated in art. In contrast, Western writing systems were created from Africa's Egyptian civilization. Dr. Ivan Van Sertima's book, "They Came Before Columbus", espoused the theory of Precolumbian African interaction with the Amerindians as evidenced in the facial features of the Olmec rulers. The theory was that some faces revealed an Afro-Amerindian ethnic mix.

Olmec head 1, La Venta [Mexico]. Notice the pattern on his "helmet". The pattern differs in each ruler's portrait and may relate his name or status.--Ancient Scripts.com

Given these insights into the history of Mexico which comparatively recently became part of the United States of America, can we consider Mexicans who "cross the border" illegal? Or are they simply journeying north on their ancestral lands? Today's United States of America includes historic Mexican territory.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Taino-Carib: A to Z

Taíno-Carib A to Z
Copyright 2017


Have you ever had delicious Jamaican jerk chicken, fish or pork? "Jerk", is related to jerky, from a Maya word for drying meat. Jamaican jerk is the local name for the indigenous Yamaye Taíno form of cooking on a grill, called barbecoa, the origin of the word barbecue. Two of the main spices in jerk are habañero peppers and pimento, or allspice.

Before jerk chicken, there was jerk pork, mainly from wild pigs hunted by Jamaican Maroons. Maroon, is from the word Cimarron (meaning "untamed"), who were originally Taínos who had moved themselves away into the wilds from subjugation on Spanish ranches. In English, "Maroon" later described those enslaved Africans and mestizos who had escaped into the wilds to join and learn from the Cimarrones. 

For millennia, in the Western Hemisphere the Taíno and Kalinago (or Island Carib) people of the Caribbean had been using spices, foodstuffs and technologies that eventually entered the Eastern Hemisphere, beginning in 1492.  For both the Western and Eastern Hemispheres the most important event of the second millennium AD was the Columbian Encounter. The Encounter began when the voyages of Christopher Columbus brought the Eastern and Western Hemispheres together upon his entry into the tropical region of a territory which came to be known as the Caribbean. Although there is evidence of Chinese and other Precolumbian contact, the 1492 event was sustained when competitive European rivalries saught to exploit the Americas for trade goods, exotic woods and precious minerals. The ancient islands and continents of this western hemisphere came to be called the New World and ultimately the Americas. Obviously, “New” only applied to the Europeans whose recorded knowledge of the Americas began in the 15th century AD. There is no doubt that these Amerindian encounters resulted in the greatest impact on the forming of our modern civilizations. 

This article is the first that begins alphabetically with an ancient Tropical American spice that, in one "All-spice" berry, contained multiple flavors of those spices originally obtained mainly by overland caravans from Mollucca Island group in Indonesia.

During the Middle Ages, Chinese, Arab and Malay traders purchased nutmeg in what is now Indonesia and Southeast Asia and carried it in boats to the Persian Gulf or by camel and pack animal on the Silk Road. From the Gulf the spices made their way to Constantinople and Damascus and eventually Europe.---http://factsanddetails.com/world/cat54/sub345/item1610.html
(Constantinople fell last to the Turks by 1453). ... a Turkish Blockade to stop trade with Europe and fostered pirate sea raids. With the Turkish blockade, Spain was about to be introduced to the Caribbean’s Allspice.


Allspice (all-spice) 1. The English word for the Taíno berry which is grown commercially in Jamaica.
2. Locally called pimento (from the Spanish "pimenta", who thought that it was a pepper) and exported internationally as allspice.
3. A most unusual spice which is reputed to have the combined flavors of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and a mild pepper. 4. Once called “Jamaica pepper” by the 17th century British. In 1662 (three years before seizing the island from the Spanish) a British comment in London described Jamaica Pepper as “that most delicate of Spices”. Imported in Europe in 1601. https://www.britannica.com/plant/allspice

In search of lucrative spices from the East the explorer Christopher Columbus brought back what some Europeans called “false” spices from the Caribbean. To them “true” spices were black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon imported since ancient times from the East Indies through the Arab markets of North Africa. The expansion of the Turkish empire effectively cut off Europe from its overland source of almost indispensable Asian spices. Cinnamon came from Siri Lanka, nutmeg and cloves from the Muluccan Islands of Indonesia and black pepper from India. Columbus’ first voyage took him to the Caribbean in 1492. This voyage was intended to find a sea route to the East to obtain the spices of the (East) Indies. The rival Portuguese chose to reach the East by a route around the southern tip of Africa. Columbus believed that a better route was to sail west across the Atlantic to arrive in Asia. In the Caribbean, on his 1492 voyage, Columbus did encounter the genetic relatives of Asiatic peoples who called themselves Tainos. One of the results of his expeditions to the Caribbean was an introduction of ancient spices and foodstuffs of the Americas to Europe. Both the Spanish and Portuguese were later responsible for the spreading of many of the important products of the Americas to the rest of the world. One of the Caribbean products introduced to other cultures was allspice.

To the European taste buds the allspice berry was like a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and a mild pepper. Biting into a dry allspice berry produces a peppery sensation that first assails the tip of the tongue. This taste experience is followed by a pleasant warmth which bathes the lips and mouth. The allspice is native to Jamaica (which is the major exporter of the spice) and other parts of Tropical America. The tree is a member of the myrtle family. The glossy dark and light green aromatic leaves are openly spaced on branches which terminate in small bunches of white flowers. After blooming and pollination the flowers are formed into small green clusters of berries which later ripen to a purple color.  

The 30 foot tall trees once grew wild in the cool Jamaican mountains. Commercially grown allspice trees were later evenly laid out in orderly pimento “walks” (groves). For sun drying, mature green berries were harvested then spread out on large, flat concrete platforms called “barbecues”. The dry coca-brown colored berries were bagged in burlap sacks  and exported to processing plants where the allspice was then packaged whole or ground into a powder. [1] Essential oil  is also extracted from the allspice berry. The oil is commercially used in catsup, meat sauces, baked goods, in the reproduction of certain fruit flavors and as spice blends for pickles and sausages. In Jamaica a liqueur called pimento dram is made by steeping the ripe berries in overproof Jamaican rum with added cinnamon.

Allspice spice is used in the seasoning and making of Jamaican jerk pork, chicken or fish. To “jerk” meats is a Taino method of barbecuing (and preserving meat) over a slow fire. This Taino cooking technique was passed down to the present time through the Maroons of Jamaica. Eastern and western Maroons were skilled at hunting the Spanish-introduced wild pig and making jerk pork. The barbacu (a Taino word from which we get “barbecue”) built by Maroons is called a caban and is best constructed from green allspice branches (see barbecue). For years, before the commercialization of jerk chicken, the best jerk pork came from Portland, Jamaica.

The [2] validity of allspice as a healing herb has been confirmed by modern science. Allspice powder is used to make a tea which soothes indigestion. In Jamaica hot allspice tea is taken for colds, menstrual cramps and upset stomachs. For muscle aches and pains an allspice polstice made from the powder mixed with water into a paste and spread out on a clean cloth can be applied to the sore area. Persons with sensitive skin should avoid topical use of allspice since it may cause inflammation or a rash. In Guatemala crushed berries are applied to bruises, sore joints and achy muscles. Allspice, if used as a healing herb, has two sides to its effectiveness since it has both carcinogenic and cancer-fighting properties. On one hand, allspice contains a mild antioxidant which prevents cell damage that may eventually cause cancer. On the other hand, another active ingredient, eugenol, promotes cancer growth. The scientific jury has still not passed a verdict on which way the balance tips. [3] It is recommended that persons with a high risk for cancer should avoid the herb. A high concentration of the essential oil should never be swallowed since one teaspoon can cause nausea, vomiting and convulsions. As long as it is not swallowed a drop of the essential oil is used for its healing properties and when carefully applied lessens the pain of toothaches.  

*Recipe for Pimento Dram; 1 cup light rum; 1/4 cup whole allspice berries;1 cinnamon stick; 1 1/2 cup water; 2/3 cup brown sugar. Steeping ground berries in rum takes a few months.Go to http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2012/02/diy-vs-buy-should-i-make-my-own-allspice-dram.html

[1] "Allspice", Grolier Electronic Publishing
[2] Viable Herbal Solutions, http://www.viable-herbal.com
[3] ibid.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Ticky-Ticky' QUEST: A truly Caribbean story

As the son of one of Jamaica's folkloric heroes, (the other is the risqué Big Boy) Ticky-Ticky is the pet name for Intikuma, Anansi's youngest son. (anansistories.com) His story is published in a book titled "Ticky-Ticky's Quest" and introduced  as the following:

 "Ticky-Ticky is a twelve-year-old with a secret: He is the youngest son of the infamous trickster Anansi the Spider-man. Hiding in the human world, Ticky-Ticky fears his father’s enemies will recognize and punish him for being the butt of Anansi’s embarrassing pranks. Now, the joke’s on Ticky-Ticky.  A school incident forces him to follow his missing father’s footsteps on a dangerous quest across time and reality. Riding a magical ghost-bat canoe with a dog of the dead as his guide, Ticky-Ticky encounters Anansi’s folkloric foes out for revenge. After a lifetime of avoiding his father’s legacy, can Ticky-Ticky find his father before he loses his life or even worse: becomes just like him?"

How important is Ticky-Ticky's Quest: Part 1 ...in Caribbean folklore?

Although the Anansi family is from the Asanti (Ashanti) of Ghana, most of the stories told in the Caribbean island are typically Jamaican in flavor. Because of their location in an Amerindian island with strong indigenous Yamaye Taino influences, some stories specifically employ local fauna and flora ("Anansi and the Yam Hills", "Why Johncrow Have a Ballhead"--i.e. Turkey Vulture of the Americas). Jamaican Anansi stories reflect this history of European, African and Taino realities that are the result of the creation of a slave society, literally built on the backs of the island's earliest inhabitants, who were Yamaye.

We must first examine the Akan (Ghanaian) influences of the Maroons, some of their outstanding Asanti leaders (Cujo, Nanny, et al) after the 1665 British takeover of Jamaica, and accept the reality of the first Cimarrones who taught the later arriving sugar plantation escapees how to survive in an alien geography. An unquestionable example of Yamaye influence is exemplified by borrowed knowledge and usage of endemic bush medicine pharmacology. Added to this evidence of local indigenous influence (the Yamaye) is the Amerindian phenotype and possible DNA, as can be seen in 19th century Morant Bay Rebellion photographs (earlier blog on Honoring the Taino).

The AnansiStories And The Taino Tales As Mythology
AnansiStories and those of the Taino are part of an ancient mythology that is rooted in West African and Caribbean folklore and concerns the interaction between divine and semi-divine beings, royalty, humans, animals, plants and seemingly inanimate objects. These stories continue to provide a moral foundation for the community. Anansi the Spiderman and Guahayona the Shaman existed from the time when deities, humans and animals were able to converse with each other. 

The book, MYTHOLOGY, The Illustrated Anthology Of World Myth & Storytelling, states that "Myths are the timeless expression of the imagination -- a continuous creative process of making sense of the universe."
Also, "Myths can be understood as magic mirrors in which the reflection not just of our hopes and fears, but also those of people from the earliest times can be viewed. Some of these stories are unimaginably old and almost certainly recounted long before the birth of writing and the dawn of recorded history."

Traditional storytellers did not use the term "trickster" to describe their folkloric heroes. They used local names for their characters. More recently, tales like the AnansisStories have been placed in the Trickster Hero genre of mythology. As a trickster, the main character often deceives and exploits his fellow creatures
for his own benefit. "Tricksters will themselves be duped and humbled. And however selfish and course they are, their antics provoke affectionate laughter, while their quick wits and mystic power inspire awe."

Sunday, October 11, 2015

THE CROW'S NEST: Bird's Eye View of History

Indigenous Day, 1492: Premature birth of an early navigation contraption.

Columbus Vulture: "I said INDIA, Crow!!! What the hell is that contraption you got up there?"
Crow: "GPS." 

Columbus Day, 2015 

Wiley “Kayak” Crow: In front of the class implementing his lesson plan The Idiot's Guide to Stealing History.

"Class. What did Columbus NOT discover?"

Student Chick: "That he was an idiot?"

Wiley “Kayak” Crow: "What DID Columbus discover?"

Student Chick #2: "His ability as a conman?"


Columbus Day: The Dilemma

As a source of famous myths, Christopher Columbus is right up there with Santa Clause. His existence as a heroic figure is proof that some humans will believe anything.

The irony of Columbus Day is that it started in the Caribbean with excellent storytellers, the Taino. Six million Amerindians who populated the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and a part of Florida. Their powers of mythological storytelling was so convincing that Columbus and his Spanish entourage, arriving on October in 1492, believed every sign language gesture of the Taino Epic about the mythical travels of their first shaman, the hero named Guahayona (Gwa-ha-yo-nah). Upon Columbus' arrival in the Lucayan Taino's Bahamas, the Taino sat him down and tried to entertain his gold and women hungry entourage with persistent myths. And the gullible Spanish left, believing in the Guahayona epic, later died in the hundreds trying to find these islands of the "Celestial Paradise". The myth itself was later recorded by Father Ramon Pane on the large island of Kiskeya (Hispaniola). But in 1492, not yet knowing the Taino language except mostly through Amerindian signing, Columbus came away with the understanding of a source of endless gold, women and men ripe for enslavement. So goes the Federal Government's and Christian hero (St. Christopher) and his controversial holy-day.

Needed Revision

Christopher Columbus' fame should be revised. At best, he was a conman. Notice how he presented his scam to the king and queen of Spain. Ferdinand did not buy the route to India pitch; Isabella, like the rest of Europe did. The scramble was on following the Taino Amerindian myth of an Island of Women (Matanino) and a twin Island of Gold (14k Guanin). To the Spanish, the bait was so seductive that other life-taking myths ensued.

1. La California was a story by "Spanish writer Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo who first introduced an Amazon queen in his popular novel entitled Las sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián), written around 1500" –(Wikipedia). This became the popular novel about a Black queen, Califia, with her Amazons residing on an Island of Gold. This published tale was believed by Hernan Cortez, who named the California Mountain, which he thought was Califia's abode. For Cortez, the only thing missing from Califia's abode, were the protective Griffins that should have been flying over that tall La California "island".
2. Las Siete Ciudades de Cibola was the Seven Cities of Gold. It was believed to be just a skip and a jump from California into the Zuni territory in New Mexico.
3. El Dorado was supposedly in Columbia, South America. The Amazon River was named for the above Matanino/Guanin Taino myth, since women warriors had shot up their boat;.
4. The Fountain of Eternal Youth was an early Viagra wish that followed Puerto Rican Taino guidance to their trading place on the North American mainland, Bimini, a.k.a. La Florida.

The Persistent Myth

Columbus Day is a divisive federal holiday. Not recognized by many, it stands as a reminder that it officially emanates from the Nation's Capital, the District of Columbia which actually means the "Jurisdiction of Columbus". The holy-day honors a man of questionable slave-holding character, a poor administrator and an Italian mercenary. One suspects that the federal government only prolongs the misinformation about him to satisfy Italian immigrants at the expense of Native Americans. It is equivalent to a federal F-U to Amerindian Day.

Columbus Day is celebrated in the wrong hemisphere. Should he be celebrated in the Americas? In Europe, maybe, but definitely not in the Americas! Amerindians are still here and celebrating a man responsible for their holocaust is, to say the least, cruel and unusual punishment. He was a windfall for Spain and the other countries that successfully followed them into the Antilles and benefited from its exploitation. Natural resources-poor Europe became and stayed filthy rich over Amerindian corpses. It is not as if Spain did not immediately know it’s devastating effect on the indigenous Caribbean populations. Spanish cleric, Frey Bartolome de las Casas fought for the "Indios", but suggested the replacement of their dead and dwindling numbers with enslaved Africans. One evil replacing another. De las Casas' idea became so popular that it continued up until after the American Civil War and after Brazil's final emancipation of enslaved Africans.

Columbus Day is a slap in the face of Native Americans and Amerindians who probably compose the majority DNA in our hemisphere. Federal workers don't mind the day off while some retailers have a sales bonanza. The day is aptly suited to entrepreneurs and is in keeping with Columbus' goals, how to make a buck no matter what the cost to workers. In Columbus’ case, he was responsible for igniting the Amerindian enslavement and the pilfering of their goods. Ever the gold digger, he settled for a form of slavery that triggered genocide. Yet he is given a haloed position and a bonus day on North American soil. He was definitely not the first to "discover America" as school children are taught. According to historical data, he was at least 12th in the line of notable groups of people thousands of years ahead of him. Whether myth or fact, evidence shows that most of the at least 12 earlier arrivals were Asians, some were Africans and Middle-easterners and two were Europeans.

We know that Columbus headed one of a series of humans that arrived in the Americas. In the Americas, he could not have discovered anyone in the true meaning of the word "discovery". Yet, he is credited by many as a demigod whose feats rival the Biblical Creation of one half of the planet. In the imagination of some thinkers after 1492, our hemisphere, like Venus, the "New World" was born fully formed on a specific day of October that year. As a holdover from the era of idiotic "supremacy", this ancient part of the planet is still being called "new". What was Columbus actually responsible for?

1. He was the first to suggest the European form of slavery in the Americas.
2. He spearheaded the near eradication of the six million strong Taino people of the Northern Caribbean and their Island Carib cousins in the Eastern Caribbean
3. He brought deadly epidemics on the populations of the Americas.
4. Founding myths are taught to each successive generation as "history".

Yet he is honored by the Federal Government with a holiday, statues, place names like Washington, the District of Columbia, the capital of an entire country to which he never came. Granted, he sailed to the American territory of Puerto Rico and stopped there, but never on the mainland with places that carry his hallowed name. Maybe after the granting of overdue statehood, Washington, DC will get a name change.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

State vs Federal Recognition: One Scenario

"There are 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes in the U.S" at this writing. Additionally, there are also Non-Acknowledged Tribes that are tribes which have no federal designation as sovereign entities but may be state recognized. To be recognized as a sovereign entity, tribes must meet certain criteria as "Indians". As of 1978 there were "33 separate definitions of 'Indian' used in federal legislation."--Wikipedia 

Because of sovereignty and self determination status, along with tax, health, educational and social benefits, one of the most prized possessions in American Indian life is recognition. Next to tribal identity, to belong to a recognized tribe is the most coveted state of American citizenship. To gain state or federal recognition as an indigenous tribe of the United States, among other requirements, applicants must provide evidence of unbroken descent from a historic Amerindian group. 

Although proving continuity with cultural practices can be daunting, both state and federal recognition processes are dissimilar. The Federal recognition process is exceedingly more invasive. Not all tribes can successfully survive the gauntlet of scrutiny. It is not unusual for some folks to borrow traditions or fabricate immaculate revelations as part of "an ancient ancestral practice". At stake may be a mythical golden self sufficient road to gleaming casinos that often rise out of the skyline like a Disney mirage. This goal, however, is even more difficult than current gambling concerns think since an established reservation or land held in trust may be a part of the federal requirements. For some, gambling is an acceptable device. After all, wasn't Jamestown, (and by default, America) started by the Great Virginia gambling Lotteries of 17th century London?

The irony not missed by many Natives is that some governmental  bureaucrats, often the beneficiaries of conquest, must decide weather or not you are what you say that you are genetically. Private citizens may identify with whomever they please. However, traditionally, you can only be "Indian" in the eyes of the law if some state appointed commission approves your tribe's petition. Although states may call upon an appointed body of commissioners as part of the recognition process, the most prized or elite recognition is processed by the Beaureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Successful applicants to the BIA are called "Feddies". Members of these lucky tribes act like the upper class of American Indian society. Some Feddies, having gained the prized BIA blessings, often look down on both state recognized and un-recognized Indians as "wannabes". One of their favorite slights. "Heinz-57" is another term describing mixed bloods.

I had the fortune to be a private citizen and extended observer at some of these very contentious recognition hearings. Observed was a case where one unhinged tribal applicant almost physically attacked a female state appointed commissioner with whom he disagreed.

Here below is a composite dramatized animal story of one process of recognition pursued by a fictional group. Resemblance to any human persons is coincidental.

The Eagle & the Crow

"This still does't make you an Eagle."

The Caucus Room

Once upon a time, Chief Bald Eagle, a full blood, headed a large nest of American Eagles. He called a meeting that included Crow and Chickadee.

Chief Eagle: "Get Crow in here!"
Chickadee: "Yes, Boss."

Crow: "Sent for me  sir?"
Chief Eagle: "What the hell is this? Some civilian says here you are not an Eagle! You a Dodo, Crow? I don't know of any crow-Eagles."
Hands Crow a letter.
Crow reads the letter. Face feathers turn pink.
Crow: "My mother wasn't an Eagle... But I am a Spiritualist Eagle."
Chief Eagle: "Christ! That makes you a crow, Crow. Nothing to be ashamed of. Don't make us look stupid, asshole! Get DNA.
... Take care of this!" 
Chief Eagle hands Crow the letter to investigate himself.

Unable to definitively provide proof of Eagle DNA kinship to raptors within a 500 mile area from his believed homeland, Crow reverted to the Eagle's Adam & Eve scenario. 

Crows had a history of migrating from other continents. Their Eagle pedigree was fictional. However, in Crow's case, Adam was an albino Hawk and Eve was a Blackbird, but this still didn't make him an Eagle. Besides, officials at the Bureau of Eagle Affairs (BEA) determined that Crow's petition to be an eagle was invalid since "most of the members of the applicant's tribe had no more 'Raptor blood' in them than the average bird in the state." Since the time of The Great Invasion, confusion abounded. Birds either flew away, or in the case of the flightless Dodo, walked off never to return. Laying eggs in other bird's nests became epidemic and the BEA had to separate the eagle chicks from the chumps. The campaign was called "Chicks for Chumps".

The above scenario is not common to all petitioners. Most birds who pass BEA muster have proof of unbroken lineage to recognized historic Eagle nests. Even if as eggs, they may have mistakenly ended up in the wrong nest since crows sometimes lay eggs in other bird's nests. Crow's "proof" of Eagleness was, however, more Biblical than actual. Not what the BEA looks for since wearing sacred eagle feathers doesn't necessarily make a crow an eagle.

Crow: Mumbling to himself. "DNA? &$@FK!!! Oh, copulate me!" 

Beads of sweat begin to undo Crow's processed feathers. The crow took the letter and begins to plot a witch-hunt. A kinky locks fell from a balding yellow forehead, cutting across blue Mongoloid crow's eyes. 

"Got to get the heat off me. How the 'FK' do I redirect? Who can I scapegoat?"
Crow paused then jumped for joy... "Those bastards on the Eagle Commission, Duck and Cohonk, voted for my dim witted cousins to be the first recognized Eagle tribe in our state. I bet the governor will approve recognition. Bovine excrement! They are just a bunch of gigaboos posing as Eagles. I will out those uncircumcised Eagle Commissioners!
"Wait. I am a government employee and I can't go after the public for tribal gain. Ahah! I will get my rabid cousin, Coony to do it. That alki owes me one."

The Witch Hunt

Crow's cousin, Coony Auraccoon organized two carloads of his mutant blackbird relatives and headed for BEA Commissioner Cohonk's tribal center 400 miles away. Cohonk was chosen as the easy target since Commissioner Duck had cited connections to an extinct tribal group. Arriving in a cloud of dust, Coony knocked on the door of a trailer scrawled with a sign, "Eagle Trading Post".

Coony: "Is the chief in?" 
Possum #1: From behind a squeaky screen door. "No. Gone to New Jersey."
Coony: "Is the asss-istant chief in?" He stuttered.
Possum #1: Assistant Chief Muskrat is down by the fishing hole." 
Door slams. 
"What the hell these blackbirds want?" She murmured to herself with a suspicious air.

Coony: Stumbling down the step he mumbled to his posse. "Bastard. Don't recognize a chief when she sees one? Black feathers must have turned her off. See how she looked at us? Must-a thought I was Blacula... fangs an' all! Got to get these coon rings from around my eyes."

At the riverside, the troop of coon morons with out-a-town tags found a Muskrat fishing from the river bank. 

Coony: "Hey, fellow. You de Asss-istant chief?"
Muskrat: "Nope. Tribal Councillor. Ass went to the crapper. I'm his cousin. But for the right price I could be him." Flashing a broken incisor tooth grin. "What you fellers want?"
Coony: "Don't get much work around here, I expect? Can I buy a letter off you?" A crooked grin curled across a yellow pecker-like beak.

Muskrat: "You think this is Sesame Street?"
Coony: "No, no. I want a letter from your chief. I collect autographs." He lied.

Muskrat: Smiles at the opportunity. "Meet me over yonder at that there boat house in five." 
Scurrying back to the tribal office, the accomplice enters the chief's room, grabs a few of the chief's signed letterheads and heads for the boat house. 

Coony: "Yeah! I like the chief's signature! I will dictate."

The Letter

The forged letter stating that the BEA Commissioner, Cohonk, was not an Eagle and should be disqualified from the Commission, mysteriously found itself in the hands of Chief Bald Eagle, the staff of the Eagle's nest, the BEA Commission and anyone interested in gossip. The bogus letter was even widely published on the Animalnet.

In spite of missing DNA and flunking the eyeball test, Crow's peeps were accepted as Eagles. Their wings now cast a shadow along the eastern corner of the continent spreading pedigree myths while claiming territory everywhere crows have passed urine. 

Morals: Who said life is fair? Not all that glitters is gold.

In spite of Crow and Coony's under-the-radar approach to recognition, they became honorary Eagles. Not because they cheated, but because their cousin Raven, as questionable as the state's recognition methods were, did provide proof of prehistoric "tri-racial raptor descent". Crow and Coony came into the Eagle fold on Raven's tail feathers.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Who is a Native American? Or, it is hard out here to be an Indian!

An artist must be able to portray phenotypes in portraiture, especially in sculpture, painting, illustration and caricature.  Since this is my profession, I have been a keen observer of nuances in facial structures, body types and skin colors. Similar to a dentist who observes teeth upon a first encounters; I notice facial bone structure, eye and mouth shape, skin texture and color. However, Amerindian identity is so mired in mythology that accurate phonotypical portrayal in the visual arts is problematic. More confusion to the issue of Native identity was added by the Federal Government’s “blood quantum” rule in 1934. This rule was inspired by the racist 1705 [English law] when Virginia adopted laws that limited colonial civil rights of Native Americans and persons of half or more Native American ancestry”. -- Professor Jack D. Forbes (2008). "THE BLOOD GROWS THINNER: BLOOD QUANTUM, PART 2". University of California-Davis. 

Five hundred years of racial mixing in this hemisphere has created a category of human beings that have varying physical features some of whom choose to accept or ignore their Amerindian genes. Throughout the Americas, identifying with the indigenous has continued to be controversial. Peoples of the Americas are often ignorant about Amerindian cultural and historical achievements. Little is taught about the hemisphere that produced pyramids, large cities, empires, multitude of medicines and is the source of 60% of what humans eat. Yet, against some remaining obstacles, there has been resurgence in Native pride. Compounding the problem of identity are the labels Mestizo, Métis, Latino, Hispanic, Chicano, Black Indian, etc.  

Some newly formed tribes handle the issue of resurgence well, while others create havoc in trying to be “more Indian” than the rest. One example of this extremism is the group’s attempt at historical revisionism by usually stating that “We are the Indians” of a geographical location on which their tribal name never historically appeared. This con-game was also played out by the late Italian-American actor “Iron Eyes Cody”.  Hollywood Westerns of an earlier period played a pivotal role in this confusing sham by casting Italian, Middle Easterner, English and Irish actors as Indians.

Notwithstanding Columbus’ confusion; the answer to who is “Native” is not cast in stone. For example, a Mexican (even with a high percentage of Amerindian DNA) would say that unless you speak your language, you are not Indio. In North America the answer to this question is more fluid.

Top Row:  (1) Tecumseh, leader of the Shawnee. (2) Chief Joseph, Nez Perce [Nimíipuu is their name for themselves].
 (3) Charles Curtis, 31st Vice President of the United States who had maternal grandparents on the Kaw reservation.
(4) Noted sculptor Edmonia Lewis whose father was black and mother an Ojibwa Indian who named her Wildfire. She grew up with her mother’s family of basket makers on the reservation. Both African and Native Americans claim her.

Bottom Row: (1) Italian-American actor Iron Eyes Cody (born Espera Oscar de Corti April 3, 1904 – January 4, 1999). He impersonated Native Americans in Hollywood films. (2) Astronaut John Herrington, an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation. (3) & (4) Irish-American actor Burt Lancaster who played Massai, an Apache leader in Hollywood’s Apache (1954).

Native American  n. (1) Aboriginal American. a member of the indigenous people of the Americas, belonging to the Mongoloid group of peoples. (2) adj. relating to any of the indigenous American peoples, their languages, or their cultures. Encarta World English Dictionary

full blooded  adj. thoroughbred of unmixed breed. Encarta World English Dictionary

half breed  n. an offensive term referring to a person of mixed racial parentage, especially Native American and Caucasian.  Encarta World English Dictionary

Mestizo n. American Spanish. A combination between Indio (Amerindian) and Spaniard.

Pardo n. American Spanish. A person who is mixed with Amerindian, European and African.

Except for the last two pictures of Burt Lancaster and Iron Eyes Cody, the above images are of people whom some Indian tribes would call Native Americans today.  Although, in the United States, we often reserve the term Native American for only the indigenous people of the mainland USA.  This attitude has caused many legal and “illegal aliens” from south of the border to insist that they too are Native Americans.  According to some anthropologists, we can evaluate the survival of indigenous populations in the Americas since 1492 in two ways.  Either, (1) Disease and genocide drastically reduced the Americas’ multimillion indigenous populations. Or, (2) Racial mixing has greatly increased the numbers of indigenous people within the Americas since 1492. 

The second theory, however, has contributed to a Native American identity dilemma for people without and within those ethnic groupings.  It is also difficult to identify Native American phenotypes especially in states with a high percentage of American Indians and Mexicans.  For example in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I found it hard to make a visual distinction between both populations.  Although most Mexicans are from the same indigenous genetic pool as other Native Americans, in Albuquerque there were incidents of animosity between both groups.  This dilemma caused a prominent Native American artist in another locale whose son had been beaten up by Mexican youths, to state, “Why would they beat up my son?  Don’t they know that Mexicans are also Indians?” East of the Mississippi River, the ability to identify who is an Indian is even more difficult.

The Native American identity problem began after 1492 when Columbus believed that the Caribbean’s Taíno and Island Carib were the Indians from Asia’s subcontinent.  Although there is documentation that indigenous Americans had been arriving on European shores at least since the Roman Empire, their sustained impact on the rest of the world began in earnest in 1492.  According to Dr. Jack D. Forbes, author of The American Discovery of Europe, “What we do know is that two or more Americans, at least a man and a woman, reached Galway Bay, Ireland, [in two dugout logs] and there seen by Christoforo Colomb (Columbus) long prior [around 1477] to his famous voyage of 1492.”  Dugout canoes are from the east coast North America, South America and the Caribbean so it is unclear exactly from whence these Americans came.  It is believed that indigenous Americans either came east to Europe at varying times via their own volition and/or were hijacked by Atlantic storms.  Oceanic tempests and Atlantic currents had floated American trees into Galway Bay where there was once a local business in American driftwood lumber. Today, heavy Atlantic shipwrecks still end up on Ireland’s coast.  Descriptions of people arriving at various times from the west going eastward, both dead and alive, matched the phenotypes of various indigenous Americans.  At that time, it was very unlikely for people from Asia to have been blown ashore on Western Europe and the Azores.  In Europe, they were mistaken for people from “Catayo” or Cathay (meaning China), and India.  Later, Columbus’ encounter with the people of the Lucaya Bahamas convinced him that they were Indians from Asia’s subcontinent.

Were ancient American phenotypes similar?

It is obvious to the casual observer that the Inuit (“Eskimo”) are decidedly different in appearance from the Olmec and Maya of the Yucatan, or the Cherokee, Iroquois and Algonquians of North America’s Eastern Woodlands.  The pre-Columbian  diversity in skin color, hair texture, facial and physical composition varied greatly among peoples of the Americas.  Even in two isolated and recently contacted Amazon tribes phenotype decidedly differed.  One group was tall, slender and yellowish (the Zo'e) wearing lip plugs; while the other was shorter, muscular, brown skinned and
 seemed not knowing how to make fire.  Although many people believe that Native Americans belong to one monolithic “race”, DNA studies tell us differently.  Geneticists trace all indigenous Americans back to six “original mothers”.

A study released on March 12, 2008 “identifies the six surviving Native American mtDNA lineages that are dated to approximately 20,000 years ago, designated as A2, B2, C1b, C1c, C1d and D1. Today's study also confirms the presence of five more rare, less known and geographically limited genetic groups: X2a, D2, D3, C4c and D4h3.”

Who or what is a Native American?  Can the average American identify a Native American?  The influx of European, African, Asian and “Hispanic” admixtures has made the answer more complex. 

Who is a Native?

The answer to this question lies in how the sovereign tribes of the United States and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) define a Native American.  First, tribes have varying criteria for membership that range from ½ to 1/16 “Indian blood” (See the July 22 blog article on “Blood Quantum”).  Tribes themselves define who is eligible for membership in the Native American family. Similar to loosing American citizenship, tribes can excommunicate blood members for reasons that go against the American Constitution. Federally recognized tribes are sovereign nations.

Second, in a case brought before the BIA, a man in North Carolina tried to discredit his wife who identified herself as a Native American by calling her a Negro (since she was mixed).  The federal agency replied to his charge.  In their response, the BIA stated in essence that they did not care about the other racial composition of a Native American.  Although many Americans harp on the notion of the authenticity of “full bloods”, there are both tribal and federal acceptances of the multiracial composition of individuals who call themselves Native Americans.  This self-identification factor in sovereign “Indian Country” confuses the average American.  Hollywood further muddied the issue by painting Italian, Irish and Jewish actors brown (such as Jeff Chandler, Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn, Paul Newman and others) while casting them in leading roles as either Native American full bloods or “half breeds”.  A founding member of a District of Columbian indigenous American organization once told me that a person who wants to identify as a Native American, regardless of blood quantum, must be publicly acknowledged as a Native American by members of both the Indian and non-Indian community.

The Crossover
From the time of 17th century Jamestown, Virginia up to today’s Vice-Presidential nominee Governor Palin’s Alaska, Native Americans populations continue to be both hated and expendable.  The English from Jamestown went out twice yearly to kill Powhatan men, women and children in attempts of early ethnic cleansing.  This practice caused some Virginia Indian families to go underground and as they say, “hide in plain sight”.  Also, societal, economic and peer pressures have caused many Native Americans to identify themselves as black or white.  In spite of gaming windfalls, Native Americans are still on the lowest end of the American society’s economic and health ladder.  In some parts of Virginia and Washington, DC, Indians were forced to be reclassified as colored, mulatto, Negro, and later black.  They were threatened with physical violence or loss of their jobs if they publicly acknowledged their Indian heritage.  Some lighter skinned descendants of these Native American families moved out West into the Sun Belt to pass as tanned whites.  Since it has become safer to identify with one’s Native roots in recent years, some of these family members have now enrolled in Native American tribes.  Historically, many Native American families from the times of the Southern plantation system could only live in black neighborhoods.  Dr. Walter Plecker, an avowed white supremacist and advocate of eugenics compounded the case against Native American identity by fiercely recommending the enforcement (by incarceration) of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of March 20, 1924.  

A Washingtonian relative in her 80s told me of the case of Sacagawea H. a Delaware Indian childhood friend whose family owned a store in D.C.’s Georgetown, who committed suicide.  Attempts to identify herself as a Native American in Washington, D.C. met with typical skepticism.  My source said that as proof of her Native American ancestry, “The chief of a Delaware tribe attended her funeral.”  Another story is of a Mattaponi woman who was denied a federal job for “lying” on an employment form by stating in the “Race” category that she was an Indian.  Also, consider the case of a prominent New York gallery owner who identifies herself as black.  Her full-blooded Indian parents had escaped with their lives from the persecution of Cherokees in the South.  They were spirited away to the North by a sympathetic sea captain.  They could only live in an African-American community in Boston.  Or the saga of prominent sisters from the Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina who were misidentified as attractive “Negroes” in black entrepreneurial Washington, D.C.’s early U Street corridor.  Maybe someone should write an Oscar awarding song titled “It is hard out here to be an Indian.”