Leave it to Americans to give our Saturnalia a wholesome name. Thanksgiving.
As has been stated elsewhere, Thanksgiving is the perfect American holiday. Done right, we get to indulge in a couple of benign sins. Gluttony and sloth. The day itself does not hold any particular religious significance, Thank God. Neither does it commemorate any history needing venerating. So keep the flags furled.
Watched a maybe clearer telling of Thanksgiving’s development on the English version of France 24 than I ever might’ve on any American broadcaster. This year, the French dispatched a news crew to Plymouth, Massachusetts.
While the Anglos got their Pilgrim celebrations on through reenactments and spoke Olde English, the French news crew instead interviewed local Wampanoags. See them as descendants of Eastern Massachusetts’ original inhabitants. Their version of the Mayflower’s anchorage in what became Plymouth and who it deposited was far less laudatory than the legend which has become fact.
Listening to the statements of the indigenous descendants, an aware mind had to acknowledge the episodes of tribal dispossession and demise throughout the Americas marched with little variance.
Only the conquerors’ languages differed.
Europeans landing on the Americas’ shores introduced methods and lifestyles antithetical to the inhabitants’ lives. Such as the notion of private property. Assigning items monetary values. Hooch.
Unlike the Dutch and English, the Portuguese, French and Spanish conquerors went even farther.
Those subjects who’d failed in the Old World and sought new starts across the sea, adventurers seeking fortunes in the New World, both backed by mercenaries dispatched by the respective kings, were trailed by Jesuits. See them as Soviet commissars of that era. Both were charged with instilling ideological rigor and discipline. Akin to commissars, the black robes sought dislodging age-old spirits with their one all-powerful deity.
During the conquest of the Americas, the compulsory introduction of Christianity upon the indigenous shattered the old gods’ omnipotence; invalidating ur-beliefs. Russian communists did much the same when they forcibly diminished the Orthodox Church’s influence for godless Marxism.
Domination by any name is never sweet.
That the harsh measures used to implant the strange new virtues often contradicted preachments of love, benevolence, tolerance, kindness and improvement. This alone ought have had its vessels rebelling. Both Indians and Russians.
The Europeans who preached one thing yet acted differently was a thread running throughout the Wampanoags’ France 24 segment. Yes, the displacements mentioned occurred centuries ago. But the effects remain current. The metrics showing where Indians rank among populaces throughout the Americas are more often abysmal than not. By keeping that snatched heritage alive the absence of what once kept them vibrant remains fresh.
What tribe in the Americas can’t make this same claim as the Wampanoags?
It’s likely the Pilgrims grubbed their first New World feast. Maybe some roots accompanied whatever wild turkeys could be brought down with their muskets. And no, it’s unlikely the Wampanoags of that time were welcome guests at the dinner table.
We’re good at that in this country. The sterling sterilizing tale. It’s one of our best exports. Playing down the unpleasant bits of history. Not revision so much as inventing palatable pasts. We make our ancestry cheery in order to avoid real discussion about how we’ve reached this point and who got screwed over for us to get here.
The France 24 report touched deeper than the accustomed telejournalism dispatches covering Native American displacement and near eradication by Europeans. Unlike the well documented hounding and attempted extermination of Plains and Southwest tribes, those who’d inhabited Eastern lands when the floating islands arrived nearly come across as American history footnotes.
James Fenimore Cooper notwithstanding, even the Mohawks and Iroquois.
Who hasn’t heard of the Apache, Comanche, Navajo, Sioux? Their presence got skewed then stamped in the public conscience through countless Manifest Destiny movie Westerns. The ones where tribes vainly defended their lands and ways of life from inexorable destruction and exploitation.
That’s what really happened. Instead, generations of Americans have gotten stuffed with ennobling stories of settlers trekking wagons west. Into this wild void they cultivated the land, wrenched riches from beneath the earth itself all during the course of imposing civilization.
Through media of the day slighting mentions of the already established though nomadic inhabitants warped Americans’ and the world’s perception of “the natives.” Popular opinion seldom saw them as people with their own societies and cultures. At worse, they were portrayed as savages. At best, savages who could through paternal diligence and patience might become somewhat domesticated. Or nuisances to be dealt with summarily.
Maybe scenery of the sylvan East wasn’t as conducive to clear-cut good vs. evil penny dreadful or later onscreen fabrications. Much lurks in forests. A lot of that is mystery and magic and spirits. More so than on the Plains or in the deserts.
Let me admit seeing the canopy of trees vaulting over the Plymouth area elicited some pangs I thought 10 years in the Mojave had fairly vanquished. The report’s establishing shot was a flyover above a forest verging on raining leaves upon the ground. This scene filmed on an overcast day typical of autumn.
And yes, this report being filmed on a November day in New England, it was cold. Who wasn’t wearing woolens? Who wasn’t standing or seated close to a wood-burning fire, preferably one that heated or grilled some savories which might deter chills seeking bones? Somewhere in all the rising smoke and steam, there must’ve been scents of mulled wine or cider improving the atmosphere.
Spectacular oranges and reds gloried over by leaf-peepers didn’t dazzle TV viewers’ eyes. Rather we saw formerly vivid green umbrellas painted in late-stage browns and plums. This color scheme further dulled by the gray day.
In boyhood when enough leaves carpeted the patch of grass behind our house in Quarropas, father or uncle would rake them into cushy piles. Mounds into which the carefree could jump. Before air pollution worries curtailed this revelry with nature’s cushions being destined for landfills afterwards, they were consumed in fiery acrid finales.
In an esthetic regard, it’s unfortunate few in future generations will see the earth turn to slumber so brilliantly. Blazes appeal to our most primal senses no matter how cultured we declare ourselves.