Friday, November 23, 2012

A Written History Would Probably Make A Difference

Clicking around the Wampanoag site yesterday, I came across the history of their tribe, which starts with the standard Indian self-pity party.
1616 Traders from Europe bring yellow fever to Wampanoag territory. The geographical area affected was all of the 69 tribes of the Wampanoag Nation from present day Provincetown, MA to Narragansett Bay; the boundary of the Wampanoag and Narragansett Nations. Fully two thirds of the entire Wampanoag Nation (estimated at 45,000) die.
The truth of the matter is that their history didn't start in 1616, it's just that they have no idea what happened before then because they couldn't write. As I pondered that, I wondered how big of a difference that made in their perception of their interactions with the Europeans. For all they knew, they'd spent the last several hundred years engaged in sporadic, vicious, genocidal warfare with neighboring tribes. Given the inter-tribal conflicts the settlers found all across the land, that's a really good bet. Maybe not the genocidal part, but who knows? They may have survived a plague like the Black Death that swept Europe, but you don't know that, either.

In Europe, written history goes back 2000 years or more. Because of that, it's pretty hard to get worked up about the Siege of Constantinople when you consider what happened to Carthage and the Sack of Rome, just to pick three brutal events off the top of my head. Because the written history shows how each group was a pack of scurvy knaves in turn, there's no mantle of innocence to drape about anyone's shoulders as they whine about this event or that.

For all anyone knows, this was the fifth such forced migration in 2000 years, the first four happening long before the Europeans arrived.


Doo Doo Econ said...

There is evidence that through the 1400-1500 the native Americans may have had trading cities with millions of inhabitants who were wiped out by infected animals via the conquistadors.

Then there are US progressives like President Andrew Jackson.

K T Cat said...

Millions of inhabitants is pretty hard to believe. Rome got to about a million, but only on the foundation of a mighty empire and impressive engineering. People without horses, writing or the wheel would be hard-pressed to get anywhere near that.