Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Modern Myths: Native Americans Were Primitive

As I was thinking where to head next with my blog, this great idea suddenly popped in my head: "Top Ten Modern Myths and Why They're Not True". While I assembled the material for this blog post, I realized that there would have to be much more than ten points and that to do each point justice I would need to make separate posts. On that note, here begins my new blog series "Modern Myths".

Native Americans were primitive before Europeans came along

Many of us have grown up with images of the hooting, hollering "red man" dancing around the camp fire by his tee-pee and sharpening his tomahawk for scalping the "white man". These images have been spoon-fed to us by TV shows (e.g. Looney Tunes), sports teams (e.g. Redskins), and wild tales from USA folklore.

In reality, Native Americans were quite advanced. They had built towns. They played organized team sports. They excelled in hunting and fishing. They had somewhat democratic government structures. In farming they were experts. Women often held prominent roles in their society. They had medicine which they shared with the Europeans. They had sophisticated religion and theology which were a key part of their society. Cleanliness was important to them: in fact, they were more clean than the Europeans for whom bathing and clean clothes were not all that important. Their culture was centered on toleration and freedom. They avoided conflict when possible and abhorred devastating war. They had a sophisticated language. Monetary currency and economic systems were also present in their society.

The Native Americans generally strived for good relations with the settlers. In fact, scalping was introduced by the Europeans. It is due greatly to Native Americans that settlers survived the early years.



  1. Doyle Dacus: Aztec human sacrifice, Apache obliteration/absorption of the original Jumanos Texas bands, and check out the meaning of the feathers in a headrest for many plains groups....kills.
    They were/are just people, warts, beauty, and all, people of MANY cultures, political structures and religions. All you gave was just a different myth.

    Josh Stewart: Primitive and warlike are two different things, however. Aztec human sacrifice served a social purpose--whether just or not--and soldiers in Europe boasted kills as well, just because they didn't use feathers doesn't change their behavior. The point is not that they were perfect, but that they were not backward compared to the Europeans. They were socially similar to the Europeans, and just like any people group there are those who live relatively calm lives and the small groups who lead war parties. The fact is the majority of the Native Americans lead typical lifestyles just like the majority of the Europeans. The only way this becomes a myth is if you overgeneralize--just like any people group. A relatively advanced and generally tolerant people group does not mean that everyone is a pacifist. The problem with viewing the Native American peoples as primitive is the same problem as viewing all the people of the Middle East as terrorists. Most of the people were just average people like the Europeans--different in culture, but socially similar. There are always deviant groups.

    Josh Stewart: The cultures with the most persistent struggles were in the Southeast region:
    Aztecs were in Central America, Apache in the South region of North America. These were confined to a narrow region.

    Doyle Dacus: Here is the over generalization I was targeting: "Their culture was centered on toleration and freedom. They avoided conflict when possible and abhorred devastating war." Patently monocultural myth. READ the journals of those who lived among various amerind peoples. What you are missing is that the Europeans had already seen many of the same forms of government, villiages, weapons, and types of warfare, with the Picts, Mongols, germanic tribes, vikings, etc. What they had seen was that those who persisted with those ways were stagnant, oppressive, intolerant, inflexible, and ultimately toxic not only to themsleves, but to cultures that progressed in literate advancement of knowledge and accumulation of historical accounts. Their references to savages came not from blind predjudice against amerinds, but experienced judgement based on past experiences, that in the 1600's were still relatively recent.

  2. Doyle Dacus: ‎"They were socially similar to the Europeans, and just like any people group there are those who live relatively calm lives and the small groups who lead war parties. The fact is the majority of the Native Americans lead typical lifestyles just like the majority of the Europeans." Half-truth, myth, half-myth. Similar social diversity does not equate to socially similar. (old-primitive)Viking way was raiding for a living. More than one amerind culture's rite of male passage included a successful raid on a nearby village, fatal or not..., to prove he was capable of protecting his group... it WAS the culture. Only some amerind cultures included farming, but those were usually too small for protection against hunter/warrior amerind cultures and nearly all hunter cultures are -completely- hunter/warrior, simply because they had no energy in their ecology/economy for significant numbers of non-productive drones(warrior or admin), or long-term survival management beyond (sometimes) not overhunting the wildlife(like the N. Amer. mammoth). This is the SAME at most tribal or smaller bands level WORLDWIDE. It is an energy/diet problem, not a social construct. Lower energy level cultures in smaller groupings are too vulnerable to climatic changes, and therefore have to change locations when their local numbers can no longer be supported during droughts, floods, other disasters, much less climate changes. If nearby locations are occupied, this usually means war. Smaller bands just meant smaller wars. Same attitudes. Try reading Herodotus about the climate driven war-migrations around the Med. Sea. Try reading the amerind history books from the same era, or even 1500 years later... oh yeah, they didn't exist, because they were never written, therefore never remembered more than a few generations. Likely, because, since they were human, they were killed by other local humans, and their history was lost. Therefore they didn't have a chance to learn from extended history. Neither did carthagians, picts, or mongol-barbarians...who we know of from their literate enemies. Neither will the modern urban tribes we call gangs.

    Josh Stewart: That all the Native Americans had no form of writing is also a myth. The Eastern Woodlands tribes used wampum. Much of the behavior that you are describing of the Native Americans is from 10000 to 8000 BC, 10000 being the start of the hunter-warrior tribes and 8000 being the extinction of the mammoth. Native American language systems were for the most part wiped out by the European settlers. When Juan Ponce de Leon settled in Florida the Timucua peoples were already living settled lives in organized villages with extensive trade routes. The Spanish saw the Timucua who were much taller than them and covered in tattoos and perceived this as barbaric. The Spanish had a policy of Indian Reductions that required them to supplant Native American culture with European culture wherever they went. The city at Cahokia had a population of 30,000-40,000 people in 1250 AD. This is larger than the population of any city in the US until after 1800. The Iroquois League of Nations (a confederacy) warred with Ohio River tribes in 1200 AD, for political reasons. There was not much war among the Native Americans after this until the mid to late 17th century when the Osage resettled and warred with the native Caddo peoples.

    Josh Stewart: Also, you brought up climate changes, but the North American climate had settled by 8000 BC.

  3. Josh Stewart: There were further climate issues later on, but these ended by 1000 BC.

    Josh Stewart: Also, while Native Americans had no "history books" they did have recorded histories. Many tribes recorded their history in pictographs on hides.

    Josh Stewart: These pictoral reminders combined with oral tradition preserved their history.

    Josh Stewart:

    Josh Stewart: Regarding the overgeneralization of "toleration and freedom": I do not think it is too broad-sweeping of a generalization. While there were some small tribes who did not hold to these values, the majority of the Native American peoples by the European Age of Exploration held to values more centered around toleration and peace. For example the Iroquois League of Nations had the "Gayanashagowa" or "Great Law of Peace". Their war with the Ohio River tribes was concerning a share of the hunting ground--a critical need for their burgeoning population. This is similar to the later economically-motivated Beaver Wars.

  4. Doyle Dacus" First. I am not challenging your knowledge of the Amerind cultures. Most all you have posted is factual and I very much agree needs to be known and studied. What I am challenging is the underlying philosophy embedded in the terms 'primitive', 'toleration' and 'freedom' as used in what you may not recognize as the half-truths of an anti-European, anti-(non-liberal)JudeaoChristian agenda. Most of the authors of that agenda do not recognize the many conservatives like myself who recognize most of what you quote as facts, but disagree with the analysis, conclusions, and spins put on those facts(when they are facts). ---- Example: the rebuttal of the 'writing' myth you quote is less than half true in the context of your rebuttal of the 'primitive' myth. Quite simply, pictographs on hides are over 4000 years more 'primitive' than what Columbus or the Spanish had, were VERY few, VERY individual, and could not be 'read' in real detail by almost any other group. I did not say NO Amerind individual or group had ANY writing, but that they were not literate --as a culture--. You misinterpreted my valid generalization of Amerind illiteracy into an incorrect absolute rejection of any Amerind writing or history. In contrast, a major individual in my surname line (likely third gen colonist thru England about 1700, one of the most literate cultures of the time) is known to be illiterate as he signed his 'mark' from Va thru SC to Tn. This within a semi-literate colonial culture that included transportees and several generations of other pioneers with reduced access to teachers(often on purpose). ---- The Fact is that all known forms of writing or history in the entire western hemisphere, in the very few cases where they are encountered (with the possible exception of the Mayan?), were -forms- that were OLD HISTORY for over 3000 years to the Europeans who encountered them... and therefore 'primitive' in any sense of scope and detail, even compared to the Chaldean, Egyptian, or even Chinese forms from 2000 BC. ------- The agenda I referred to loves to use newspeak (ref book '1984') to twist terms such as 'primitive' into a double-speak half-truth. They find it perfectly fine to use 'primitive' in an allegedly non-pejorative sense to describe hominid fossils that are 'less physically evolutionarily developed' than homo sapiens, yet quail at that use relative to the social-written-communication development of a Political Correctness -protected people group. At the same time, the promoters of this same agenda want the word used as a pejorative term to describe the way conservative Christians 'cling' to the 'primitive' concepts of sin and atonement. --- Even the term 'myth', as you have been using, is liberal doublespeak. If Eden and the Exodus and the Cross are called 'myths', and a conservative complains, they are told that a 'myth' is just a technical term for a prominent idea in a religion or culture, that is not necessarily false, so we should just be nice little ignoramuses and leave the technical details to the experts and shut our uncultured mouths about things we know nothing about... while they laugh behind their hands... If I used that meaning of myth here, then your entire post is nonsense, because you obviously use the word myth in the pejorative sense of an untruth.

  5. Doyle Dacus: ‎"The Spanish had a policy of Indian Reductions that required them to supplant Native American culture with European culture wherever they went." ---- Half-truth. That was main policy of essentially every European culture with --every-- other culture it conquered and/or colonized. Not only that, EVERY expanding culture, in every period of history, with very few exceptions, European, Middle-eastern, Asian, African, or western hemisphere, either TOTALLY suppressed, supplanted, or obliterated the conquered peoples cultures, or only assimilated some parts into sections of the new culture. Very few, like the Babylonians, allowed major sections of the subsumed cultures to remain. Some, like the later Romans, tolerated 'native' gods only under submission to Caesar as head god. ---- Carthage, Picts, Jumanos, Anazasi, and cultures overtaken by the Chinese, Mongols, Japanese, Persians, Aztecs, Arab/Muslims, their languages and cultures have largely disappeared. It is mainly a matter of control and commerce, and less about religion (which is it's own topic). The broader the gap in technology between cultures, and the greater direct control the winner wanted over the loser, the more likely a culture was to be wiped out. Thus, cultures at similar levels competing for space or economy, but not over religion or power, might be more 'tolerant' to their enemies, yet a much larger culture would likely completely absorb a smaller. Examples include the formal maneuvering 'civilized' warfare honor rituals of the Europeans between themselves which focused on combatants and not civilians. Meanwhile the women-, children-, and cattle - stealing raids were honorable expectations of many other or earlier cultures (east, west, and western hemisphere (Irish/Scottish clan raids come to mind)) without 'declarations of war', and were bluntly required for the bare survival of hunter/warrior level economy societies. (note a couple of biblical examples also). It was the clash of these two very different rituals of honor and warfare, besides the very different sense of individual property(and resulting distrust on both sides) that was most to blame for creating a pejorative prejudice undermining any attempts at peaceful co-existence, equality in citizenship, treaty, or honest missionary efforts. (Raw greed that fed on itself would be the primary cause for -actions- that undermined such attempts.) Again, realize from the knowledge Europeans had of the history of early Germanic, Frankish, and Britannic tribes, most of the Amerind cultures --resembled-- -in fact- the earlier levels and stages of their own cultures and were therefore, by definition, more primitive than their own current culture. ---- Remember the Europeans were also treated as ignorant, uncultured, barbarian savages by the Chinese court. What were the Incan, Mayan, or Aztec policies on warfare and conquest, and can you find similarities with any other Eurasian, African, Australian tribal groups at similar levels of development? Look outside of the PC box... are there other answers?

  6. Josh Stewart: Much of what I cite is not taken directly from research done on the PC but is spoken from my world experience. "Primitive" is a relative term even in a Judeo-Christian worldview, and my point is not that there is some primitive people and that the Native Americans are not those people. My point is that the word "primitive" has no value when used to refer to the culture of a people as a whole. Certainly, as you say, their writing is primitive compared to the process of development experienced in Europe, but a culture as a whole cannot be accurately labeled primitive. Toleration and freedom I am using in the context of the values of the settlers of the US. What they viewed as toleration and freedom among their own kind, the Indians also recognized in general, though there were certainly many exceptions.
    Referring back to my world experience, I have witnessed a variety of socio-economic levels in cultures in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. "Primitive" cannot possibly apply to a culture as a whole because though a national policy may be one thing, the individual person still values their relationship with their neighbor and is willing to lend an ear to their views.

  7. Doyle Dacus: Josh, that is -much- better, in terms of defining your argument, and the real point of your original blog post. It clarifies the real issues for discussion, an lets side points be just that, and not distractions to the main topic. ---Now, I do agree with what seems to be the intent of of your post with the added info which, interestingly enough fits well with the concept 'that all men were created equal' ... more later...

  8. would it kill someone to leave a comment that isn't 3 chapters long