Columbus and Other Cannibals:
The Wétiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism
Contents ♦ click to select chapters
Celebrated American Indian thinker Jack D. Forbes’s Columbus and Other Cannibals was one of the founding texts of the anticivilization movement when it was first published in 1978. His history of terrorism, genocide, and ecocide told from a Native American point of view has inspired America’s most influential activists for decades. Frighteningly, his radical critique of the modern “civilized” lifestyle is more relevant now than ever before.
Identifying the Western compulsion to consume the earth as a sickness, Forbes writes:
Brutality knows no boundaries. Greed knows no limits. Perversion knows no borders. …These characteristics all push towards an extreme, always moving forward once the initial infection sets in. … This is the disease of the consuming of other creatures’ lives and possessions. I call it cannibalism.
This updated edition includes a new chapter by the author.
“Cannibals is a work of philosophy and ideas … A welcome addition to the library of a new generation of scholars and activists who are seeking a philosophical framework for their work in indigenous studies.” — American Indian Quarterly
“An early text that inspired the start of the anti-civilization movement … Writing from a Native American perspective, Forbes maintains a steady and humble tone throughout the text … It is the kind of history one doesn’t need to read twice to absorb it … I think it’s crucial that people read books like this.” — Razorcake
| About this book
Forward by Derrick Jensen
About the Author
Chapter 1 ♦ The Genesis of the Universe and the Creation of Love
Chapter 2 ♦ Consuming Another’s Life The Wétiko Cannibal Psychosis
Chapter 3 ♦ Columbus Cannibal and Hero of Genocide
Chapter 4 ♦ Deception, Brutality, and Greed The Spread of the Disease
Chapter 5 ♦ The Structure of the Cannibal’s Insanity Arrogance, Lust, and Materialism
Chapter 6 ♦ Becoming a Predator The Process of Corruption
Chapter 7 ♦ The Mátchi Syndrome Fascination with Evil
Chapter 8 ♦ Colonialism, Europeanization, and the Destruction of Native (Authentic) Cultures
Chapter 9 ♦ Savages, Free People, and the Loss of Freedom
Chapter 10 ♦ Terrorism A Frequent Aspect of Wétiko Behavior
Chapter 11 ♦ Male Violence, Female Subordination, and the Perpetuation of Aggressive Violence
Chapter 12 ♦ Organized Crime Planned Aggression, Planned Predation
Chapter 13 ♦ If Jesus Were to Return
Chapter 14 ♦ Seeking Sanity Reversing the Process of Brutalization
Chapter 15 ♦ Finding a Good Path, a Path with Heart
The Universe is Our Holy Book
Credits and Permissions
Otomi . . .
COLUMBUS AND OTHER CANNIBALS is, I think, the most important book ever written on one of the most important topics ever faced by human beings: why is the dominant culture so excruciatingly, relentlessly, insanely, genocidally, ecocidally, suicidally destructive?
I’ve written many books about precisely this subject, and I have to admit that this question still baffles me. How could any group of people, no matter how insane, no matter how stupid, actually destroy the planet on which (or rather, whom) they live?
I often shake my head sharply, or pinch myself, hoping I will wake up and find that this culture and its destructiveness have all been a very bad and incomprehensible dream. But each time I wake up, it’s the same nightmare of murdered oceans, of salmon being driven extinct, of slavery and wage slavery, of dioxin in every mother’s breast milk, of indigenous cultures being driven to the brink.
In my books, I’ve suggested psychological reasons for the ubiquitous destructiveness, and I’ve suggested sociological reasons. I’ve suggested economic reasons, and I’ve suggested philosophical reasons. I’ve suggested reasons having to do with how we are trained to perceive (or rather, to not perceive). But as convincing as any and all of these may sometimes seem to me, there are still other times when these explanations are just words, and in no way suffice.
Of course no explanation can suffice in describing the motivations for the murder of this planet.
But Jack Forbes’s explanation – exploration would be a better word – comes as close to sufficient as anything I’ve seen. He makes more sense in this small book than others do in books ten times this size.
I’m not going to tell you his conclusions, or even his starting point. The book is short. You can read it in an afternoon.
Do that. And then let the implications make their way into your bloodstream, and into your cells – fingertip, thigh, elbow, brain, heart, stomach, lung, toe, tongue, eye, ear. If the book opens you up even one-tenth as much as it did me, you will never again be the same.
That’s a very good thing.
Buy this book. Read it. And then, armed with your newfound understanding, go out and stop this insane cannibal culture from killing the beautiful planet that is our home.
– Derrick Jensen
An Indian who is as bad as the white men could not live in our nation; he would be put to death, and … [be eaten] up by the wolves. The white men are bad schoolmasters; they carry false looks, and deal in false actions; they smile in the face of the poor Indian to cheat him; they shake them by the hand to gain their confidence, to make them drunk, to deceive them, and ruin our wives. We told them to let us alone; but they followed on and beset our paths, and they coiled themselves among us like the snake. They poisoned us by their touch. We were not safe. We lived in danger. We were becoming like them, hypocrites and liars, adulterers, lazy drones, all talkers, and no workers.1
As for baptizing Indians and Negroes, several of the [white] people disapprove of it, because they say it often makes them proud, and not so good servants: but these, and such objections, are easily refuted … for Christianity encourages and orders them to become more humble and better servants, and not worse, than when they were heathens.2
FOR SEVERAL thousands of years human beings have suffered from a plague, a disease worse than leprosy, a sickness worse than malaria, a malady much more terrible than smallpox.
A woman is attacked by men who brutally rape her and leave her for dead.
Indians are murdered in order to force impoverished mixed-Indians to gather rubber in the forest under conditions that doom the rubber-hunters themselves to miserable deaths.
Small countries are invaded so that an entire people and their resources can be exploited.
Human beings of all colors are seized or ensnared in debts, and are forced to live out their brief lives as slaves or serfs.
Boys are raised to obey orders and serve as cannon-fodder, while girls are raised to give their children over to armies, factories or plantations.
People and other living creatures are tortured in the most fiendish ways imaginable.
The “cult of aggression and violence” reigns supreme, and the prisons and insane asylums are full to bursting.
Imperialism, colonialism, torture, enslavement, conquest, brutality, lying, cheating, secret police, greed, rape, terrorism – they are only words until we are touched by them. Then they are no longer words, but become a vicious reality that overwhelms, consumes and changes our lives forever.
This is the disease, then, with which I hope to deal – the disease of aggression against other living things and, more precisely, the disease of the consuming of other creatures’ lives and possessions.
I call it cannibalism, and I shall try to explain why. But whatever we call it, this disease, this wétiko (cannibal) psychosis, is the greatest epidemic sickness known to man. The rape of a woman, the rape of a land, and the rape of a people, they are all the same. And they are the same as the rape of the earth, the rape of the rivers, the rape of the forest, the rape of the air, the rape of the animals. Brutality knows no boundaries. Greed knows no limits. Perversion knows no borders. Arrogance knows no frontiers. Deceit knows no edges. These characteristics all tend to push towards an extreme, always moving forward once the initial infection sets in. From the raping of a woman, to the raping of a country, to the raping of the world. Acts of aggression, of hate, of conquest, of empire-building. Harems of women and harems of people; houses of prostitution and houses of pimps.
Many centuries ago a Mexican (Aztec) father said to his son:
Son of mine, jewel of mine, my rich quetzal plumage:
You have arrived at life, you are born, the Creator and
Owner has made you come to the world.
The Creator conceived you, he formed you, he made you born, the One for whom all live …
Very well: for a brief time you have come to contemplate things, you have come to go evolving, you have come to make a way in your person, you have come to grow …
What will be the plan of the One for whom all live? Will you perhaps attain a goal? Are you going to live on the earth? If only that you will grow peacefully and in sweet calm …
Be very careful of lies and falseness: Such a way is not straight, upright, they are not good …
Are you, perhaps, as an ear of corn, as a spike of grain, therefore releasing that which is in your inner being? Can you see that which you have inside yourself? Well harnessed, well guided, very recondite you are in your inner being, as in a chest or in a strong-box …
If you live well, if you work as has been indicated, you will be very well respected and your life will serve as an example to others3 …
Many people have examined the subjects of aggression, violence, imperialism, rape, and so on. I propose to do something a little different: first, I propose to examine these things from a Native American perspective; and, second, from a perspective as free as possible from assumptions created by the very disease being studied. Finally, I will look at these evils, not simply as “bad” choices that men make, but as a genuine, very real epidemic sickness. Imperialists, rapists and exploiters are not just people who have strayed down a wrong path. They are insane (unclean) in the true sense of that word. They are mentally ill and, tragically, the form of soul-sickness that they carry is catching.
In many respects, the twentieth century has been the most disappointing period in modern human history. We have witnessed the failure of the so-called “western democracies” to solve their most pressing internal problems, the failure of Marxist-Leninism to come to grips with the issues of bureaucracy, authoritarianism, and the self-interest of newly-empowered elites, the failure of so-called mass education, the failure of technology, the failure of organized religion, and the failure of the most highly-trained and “educated” generations of human beings in all of history to do more than paper over the great problems facing the world.
We have witnessed devastating wars, the deaths of millions upon millions, the squandering of the earth’s resources, and the continuing exploitation of the smaller nationalities (especially of folk peoples) and of the politically weak in general.
The brutality and hypocrisy of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries would not be so frightening if, indeed, the leadership of the world were in the hands of uneducated soldiers (of the Idi Amin type) or of openly criminal elements. But by and large such is not the case. People like Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein could not stay in power without “technocrats” and trained civil servants who collect necessary revenues and maintain a structure of governance. Neither Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Huey Long, Ferdinand Marcos, nor Augusto Pinochet could govern without the active support or cooperation of many thousands of “educated ” experts, technicians and bureaucrats. All of the modern secret police of the world depend upon well-trained personnel, scientific equipment, advanced social science studies of human behavior, and bureaucratic management systems (either pre-computer or post-computer). Even organized crime depends upon college-trained lawyers, administrators and executives, and upon the technology of modern society.
The people who rule the world today are, on the whole, highly educated (or at least highly trained). They are graduates of the “great” military schools or the elite universities of their respective countries. They have (by and large) “refined” tastes and cultivate the “finer” things of life (at least for public consumption). In spite of this, they have given us the most brutal epoch in history and, currently, a collection of military dictatorships, totalitarian societies, racist-exploitative “representative” republics and resource-gobbling states of such a nature as to lead one to predict that there may soon be very few places in the world where a nonaggressive person can survive except as a lackey or a slave.
The truth of the matter is that Harvard or Yale graduates, for example, are quite capable of lobbying for a “concession” of territory in Brazil, or Colombia, or Bolivia, the development of which causes the utter annihilation of thousands of Native Americans. Of course, the refined gentlemen will not personally order the liquidation of the First Americans, but they will set in motion a chain of events leading inevitably (under conditions current in South America) to the enslavement, removal and death of the indigenous tribes.
“Education” of the kind we know in the modern world usually has little to do with ethics or with bringing forth the individual potential of the learner. On the contrary, it is largely technical in nature (whether in natural science, social science, or whatever) and seldom (in and of itself) serves to alter the class and ethnic “interests” of the graduates.
In any case, the wétiko disease, the sickness of exploitation, has been spreading as a contagion for the past several thousand years. And as a contagion unchecked by most vaccines it tends to become worse rather than better with time. More and more people catch it, in more and more places, and they become the true teachers of the young.
Thus the youth in twentieth century societies are taught not primarily by underpaid public school teachers or “ivory-tower” professors, but by their parents, by movies, by television and the Internet, and in fact, by what they observe in the society. And this type of learning is often reinforced by the structure and content of school disciplines, such as history, that exalt the aggressive and the exploitative (Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Cecil Rhodes, James K. Polk, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, who was both a dedicated slave owner and an insatiable imperialist against Native Americans) and tend to categorize as “backward” or “uninteresting” persons who do not conquer others or acquire vast amounts of stolen property.
In any case, the great human problems of imperialism, colonialism, exploitation and greed have not been brought under control. Ask the Kurds, or the Tibetans, or the Bretons, or the Chechens, or the Ainu, or the Sioux, or the Inuit, or the Aché, or the Colla; or ask the migrant farm workers of the United States, or the rural Afro-Americans of the South, or the near slave-laborers of South Africa; or ask the often terrorized populations of Guatemala, Palestine, or El Salvador.
And in the United States and other so-called “advanced” societies, billions upon billions of dollars are being spent on prisons and mental institutions, and still crime rates climb upward and more and more people go “crazy.” On top of that, the pornography industry thrives and the fundamentalist Christian revival seems to go hand in hand with rape, child abuse, child pornography, sadism, and a hatred for women.
Exploitation, in other words, is thriving. The exploitation of children, of love, of women, of old people, of the weak, of the poor and, of course, the intentional commercial exploitation of every conceivable thing, from the hair around women’s vaginal areas (as in Playboy, for example) to worry over natural body odors, to adolescent insecurity, to the fear of growing old, to thirst (for example, persuading people to drink liquid chemicals and sugar in place of water or natural beverages).
This is a no holds-barred modern society in which college graduates are expected to be willing to “give their all” to developing or selling a product, even if the product is harmful or worthless, where technicians are expected to kill and torture captive animals because they are ordered to do so by some government experimenter or paper-producing professor, and where the opportunities for being “one’s own boss” in a non-exploitative, non-crooked, or non-demeaning role are precious few indeed.
People who are concerned about violence, about the environment, about decency, and about human authenticity must have the means for analyzing the objective conditions which today surround us all. It is my hope that by enlarging upon the concept of the wétiko disease and by discussing its origin, epidemiology, and characteristics that I can be of some help to such people. I will also try to present some ideas relating to antidotes for the disease, but I cannot pretend to have all of the answers for the most fundamental problem of human life.
How to live in this life? is the real question we all face. All other subjects are insignificant when compared with this one.
1 Speech by Black Hawk, 1832, in Forbes, The Indian in America’s Past, 64.
2 Rev. Hugh Jones, Church of England, The Present State of Virginia, 1724, 99
3 Angel M. Garibay K., La Literatura de los Aztecas, 107-108, 110.
Jack Douglas Forbes (January 7, 1934 – February 23, 2011) was an American writer, scholar and political activist, who specialized in Native American issues. He is best known for his role in establishing one of the first Native American Studies programs (at University of California Davis). In addition, he was one of the co-founders of D-Q University, the first Native American college located outside a reservation.
- 1 Life and career
- 2 Marriage and family
- 3 Awards and honors
- 4 Selected works
- 4.1 Fiction
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Jack D. Forbes was born in 1934 in Long Beach, California, to parents of Powhatan-Renapé and Lenape descent from New Jersey. These were both historically Algonquian-speaking peoples of the Atlantic coastal areas. Forbes was raised in neighboring El Monte and Eagle Rock, where he began his writing career at the high school newspaper. He received his bachelor's degree in Philosophy from University of Southern California in 1953, going on to a Master's in 1955 and a Ph.D. in History and Anthropology (1959).
In the early 1960s, Forbes became active as an organizer in the Native American movement, which asserted the rights to sovereignty and resisting assimilation into the majority culture. Native Americans on the West Coast were active, gaining national attention with such demonstrations as the occupation of Alcatraz Island. They pushed for better education, and departments of Native American studies to be established at major universities, as well as civil rights. In this same era, various tribes filed land claim suits against the federal government or states over long-contested issues.
Forbes first taught at San Fernando Valley State College and the University of Nevada, Reno. He joined the University of California, Davis in 1969, where he helped found a program in Native American studies, one of the first at a major university. Later he developed this subject as a full department and served as its chairman. With an emphasis on interdisciplinary studies, he explored the confluence of African American and Native American histories, as well as multicultural people of Indian and European ancestry. He extended his work into African American and Latin American history. After gaining professor emeritus status in 1994, Forbes continued to teach at the university until 2009.
In 1971 Forbes was among the founders of the Deganawidah-Quetzalcoatl University (commonly referred to as D-Q University), a two-year college located near Davis, California. It was the first tribal college in California and closed for classes in 2005. Forbes taught there for 25 years and served on the board. In 2015 it is continuing to work to re-open.
He was a visiting Fulbright Professor at the University of Warwick in England, where he also spent time at Oxford and the University of Essex. Additionally, he held the Tinbergen Chair at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam.
In the early 1990s, Forbes was involved with David Risling and others in the making of A Free People, Free To Choose, a film by Jan Crull, Jr. It was conceived as a feature-length documentary based on D-Q University's history and an alleged campaign by the federal government to suppress it. Crull was forced to abandon the project when Morrison & Foerster, a law firm closely linked to D-Q U's legal battles, withdrew from the project after the film's subjects filed lawsuits against each other. The hundred-plus hours of footage assembled includes a lengthy interview with Forbes.
Near his retirement, he published Africans and Native Americans: The Language of Race and the Evolution of Red- Black Peoples (1993), considered by many to be "his signature work", the product of two decades of study. He studied the fluidity of race in the United States as people came together in colonial times and after the Revolution, remarking on the fact that Native Americans who were part black often lost their culture and were classified arbitrarily as black, while identifying as Indian.
Marriage and family
He married and had two children, Kenneth Forbes and Nancy (Forbes) O'Hearn. After he and his wife divorced, he later married again. His second wife Carolyn Forbes, children and grandson survived him.
Awards and honors
- Before Columbus Foundation: American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement (1997)
- Wordcraft Circle: Writer of the Year (Prose - Non-Fiction) award (1999)
- 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award, Native Writers' Circle of the Americas
- Columbus and Other Cannibals, Seven Stories Press (2008) ISBN 1-58322-781-4
- The American Discovery of Europe, University of Illinois Press (2007) ISBN 0-252-03152-0
- Apache, Navaho and Spaniard, University of Oklahoma Press (1994) ISBN 0-8061-2686-8
- Africans and Native Americans: : The Language of Race and the Evolution of Red- Black Peoples, University of Illinois Press (1993) ISBN 0-252-06321-X
- Red Blood (Novel), Theytus Press (1997) ISBN 0-919441-65-3
- Only Approved Indians: Stories, University of Oklahoma Press (1995) ISBN 0-8061-2699-X
- Cunnane, Sarah (17 March 2011). "Jack Forbes, 1934-2011". The Times. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
- Seven Stories Press
- Arica L. Coleman, Ph.D., "The Red and the Black: Remembering the Legacy of Jack D. Forbes" Archived 2016-04-05 at the Wayback Machine, Indian Country Today, 23 February 2014, accessed 12 May 2015
- Bailey, Pat (February 25, 2011). "UC Davis scholar Jack Forbes advocated for indigenous peoples". Davis News. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
- Biographical sketch, Jack Forbes' blog
- W.G.A.W. Reg. No. 513853
- Four videotapes (VHS format) stored within the Native American Studies Department of the University of California at Davis by Jack Forbes in February of 1994.
- Jack Forbes Interview, titled "Indians' Plight: D-Q University vs. the United States Government" (running time: 2 h 37 min 48 s): a) opens with the Vigil Film logo/symbol/trademark; b) then "toaster" generated rolling commentary introducing Jack Forbes and the issues in brief, identifying the filmmaker Jan Crull, Jr., giving the time (the afternoon of October 8, 1993) and the locale which all fade into panoramic shots of "Cal-Davis", ending with a centering on one classroom building, next a close up of one of its windows which has a male looking out of it into the camera, followed by a close up of the man's face that transforms into a drawing with letters subsequently appearing individually and horizontally below the drawing and spelling out Jack Forbes; c)the drawing becomes animated (changes into Forbes' actual face) with Forbes facing the camera and raising a question which begins the 2 1/2 hours answer. After approximately a pause of 72 seconds following the interview there is a clip of the interview wherein the filmmaker uses Forbes' voice and relies on insertions of varied mediae germane to what Forbes is relating--e.d. note, probably as a means of experimentation so that the viewer will not see and hear a perpetual talking head (running time: 15 min., and 3 sec.)
- videotapes are the filming of an interview with David Risling, conducted on October 6 and 7, 1993. The effect which Risling creates before the camera is that of the traditional Native American storyteller: He provides a history of himself, his involvement with Indian rights, and his relationship with and stewardship of D-Q University; and an account is also provided by him of what had occurred with the U.S. government (living while under FBI scrutiny). The Risling interviews show how the history of D-Q University is intertwined with the turbulent 1960's and 1970's Native American struggle to achieve rights (The American Indian Movement, Dennis Banks, Jerry Brown, Peter Mathiessen and other names of individuals and institutions/entities are mentioned). (running times: #2 - 3 h 14 min 22 s; and #3 - 2 56 min 41 s)
- is a video tape (VHS format) of Jan Crull, Jr. explaining why he is making A Free People, Free To Choose and its many problems in spite of there already being distribution in place. (running time - 48 min., and 17 sec.). Following his explanation is a film segment which appears to be a tentative opening for A Free People, Free To Choose.(running time - 11min., and 28 sec.).
- Obituary on the Indian Country Media Today Network
- on YouTube.
- Forbes' comments on his Columbus and Other Cannibals at the Wayback Machine (archived July 20, 2011)
- Jack Forbes Collection at Special Collections Dept., University Library, University of California, Davis
- "Jack D. Forbes (Powhatan-Renape, Delaware-Lenape), 1934-2011", University of California, Davis
- Jack D. Forbes at Find a Grave
Original version copyright ©1979 by Jack D. Forbes
Published by D-Q University Press as a pre-print with the title
A World Ruled by Cannibals.
Revised editions copyright ©1992 and © 2008 by Jack D. Forbes.
A SEVEN STORIES PRESS FIRST EDITION
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Forbes, Jack D.
Columbus and other cannibals : the wétiko disease of exploitation, imperialism and terrorism / Jack D.
Forbes. -- Rev. ed.
Rev. ed. of: A world ruled by cannibals.
Includes bibliographical references.
eISBN : 978-1-583-22982-8
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IN THE 1940S and the 1950S, Leon Cadogan was able to publish certain accounts of the creation of the world, accounts carefully maintained by the Mbyá, a Guaraní-speaking group of Americans living in the area of Paraguay. The Mbyá had tenaciously resisted Spanish aggression and had retired into inaccessible areas in order to maintain the purity of their traditions.
It is significant that in these ancient oral accounts, the Creator arises from the primordial nothingness (obscurity) as, essentially, Wisdom. This divine Wisdom then unfolds as a mental-like process, conceiving things by means of creative wisdom. Significantly, many other Native Americans record this tradition of the mental nature of creation. The process of genesis is also evolutionary, a gradual unfolding of stages of creation.
According to the ancient Mexicans, the original Creator, Ometeotl (Two-Spirit), encompassing, both male and female powers, arose in a similar way to Nande Ru of the Mbyá. Ometeotl is also known as Yohualli-ehecatl (Invisible Night Air-Wind), Ipalnemohuani (The One Through Whom One Lives), Moyocoyani (He Who Invents or Gives Existence of Himself) and Moyucoyatzin ayac oquiyocux, ayac oquipic (He who is created by no one else but himself but who himself, by his own authority and will, does everything). The verb yucoya means “to invent” or “to create mentally.” This is a very significant concept, since it means that the universe is created through a mental, or thought, process. As Miguel León-Portilla has noted, “… he holds the entire universe, which is, to the eyes of man, ‘like a marvelous dream.’”1
1 Miguel León-Portilla, Aztec Thought and Culture, 90-103.
The Uitoto people of present-day Colombia hold that “in the beginning, the word gave origin to the Father.” They go on to say,
A phantasm, nothing else existed in the beginning;
the Father touched an illusion;
he grasped something mysterious.
Through the agency of a dream our Father Naim-uena kept the mirage to his body.
And he pondered long and thought deeply …
Then he seized the mirage bottom and stamped upon it repeatedly,
sitting down at last on his dreamed earth.2
The Mbyá record that the Absolute, Nande Ru, actualized himself (itself) in the midst of the primordial obscurity. He later created human speech, love of humankind, and a sacred hymn. Four male powers and their female counterparts then became the Creator’s first companions and the world gradually unfolded thereafter. Namandu, the Sun-Spirit, was also caused to appear very early and he became one of the four powers. Namandu seems to appear with el Colibri (Hummingbird) as direct unfoldings of the Absolute, as the Absolute assumes self-sustenance.
The human lenguaje (language) created by Nande Ru constituted the future essence of the souls given to humans, an essence participating in the Creator’s divinity. Love of one’s fellows and a sacred song (hymn) constitute other fundamental essentials for the unfolding of the world.3
2 Konrad T. Preuss, Die Religion und Mythologie der Uitoto, 166, as translated in Astrov, American Indian Prose and Poetry, 20, 325-326.
3 León Cadogan and Alfredo López Austin, La Literatura de los Guaraníes, 29, 41-43, 51.
Now I would like to present some brief portions of the early part of the story of genesis as presented by the Mbyá:
Our First Father, the Absolute,
arose in the midst of the original obscurities.
The divine soles of the feet,
the small round seat, in the midst of the original
he created them,
in the course of his evolution.
The reflection of the divine seeing-wisdom,
the divine hearing of all things,
the divine palms of the hand with
the staff and sign,
the divine palms of the hands with
the flowering branches,
Namandu created them in the course of
in the midst of the original obscurities.
From the divine little sublime crown the flowers of adornment of feathers were drops of dew.
For in the midst of the flowers of the divine adornment of feathers the original bird, Hummingbird, flew fluttering.
In the meantime our First Father created,
in the course of his evolution,
his divine body,
existing in the midst of the original winds;
before having conceived his future firmament,
his future terrain which originally arose,
the Hummingbird used to refresh the mouth;
he who, sustained Namandu with products
was the Hummingbird.
[Hummingbird was the Creator himself, actualized as the first bird, in the act of self-sustainment.]
Our Father Namandu, the First, before
having created his future paradise
In the course of his evolution,
He did not see obscurities:
although the Sun still was not shining,
He existed illuminated by the reflection of his own heart
such that, it served as the sun, the wisdom contained
within his own divinity …
Having conceived the origin of the future
from the wisdom contained in his own
and in virtue of his creative knowledge
He conceived the foundation of love of
one’s fellow man,
Before the existence of the Earth,
in the midst of the original obscurities,
before having knowledge of things,
and in virtue of his creative knowledge,
He conceived the origin of love …
Having created, in his aloneness, the
foundation of human speech;
having created, in his aloneness, a
small portion of love;
having created, in his aloneness, a
short sacred hymn,
He reflected deeply over whom should
participate in the foundation
of human speech;
over whom to make participate in the
small portion of love;
over whom to make participate with the
series of words comprising
the sacred hymn.
Having reflected profoundly,
with the wisdom contained in his own divinity,
and in virtue of his creative knowledge,
He thought who would be companions
of his divinity …
By having them assimilate the divine wisdom
of their own First Father;
after having assimilated the human speech;
after having been inspired in the love of one’s
after having assimilated the series of words
of the sacred hymn;
after having been inspired in the fundamentals
of the creative knowledge,
to them also we call the sublime true fathers
of the word-souls;
sublime true mothers of the word-souls.4
4 Cadogan and López Austin, La Literatura de los Guaraníes, 51-56.
SEVERAL THINGS are very significant about the Mbyá tradition, aside from its profound beauty and vital relevance to “scientific” views of evolution. First, the sacredness of human speech must be noted along with its importance in sacred songs as a means of direct communication with the Creator and the Spirit-World. Second, that human speech constitutes part of the essence of our souls (with great implications for the sacred nature of ideas and speech as a core part of our very humanity and the importance of not using words abusively or for evil purpose). Most significant of all, for our present purpose, is the early creation of the principle of love for human beings. Love, in short, did not arise by chance at a late stage of evolution, but rather was created as an essential attribute of the Universe prior to the existence of humans. The creator gave rise to Spirit-Powers and to humans, in part, to actualize the Idea of Love already created as a fundamental principle. The Universe was born in Love. Then how is it that today we see so much hate? Are we all simply “sinners” forever because an early ancestor disobeyed a command of God?
I will argue that sane, mentally healthy human beings continue to follow the principle of love of their fellow living-kind, while exploiters are insane, that is, mentally ill persons.
In short, the Creator has given all of us good paths to follow, based upon good speech, love and sacred songs. The mentally well person is one who is still on such a path.
The “norm” for humanity is love.
Brutality is an aberration.
We are not sinners by nature.
We learn to be bad.
We are taught to stray from our good paths.
We are made to be crazy by other people who are also crazy and who draw for us a map of the world which is ugly, negative, fearful and crazy.
We do not have to be cannibals, consuming each other! The Creator and our ancestors have given us other ways of living. As the late Nichidatsu Fujii, leader of the Buddhist Nihonzan Myohoji Temple and participant in the Native American Longest Walk of 1978, says,
Civilization does not mean electric lights being installed. It does not mean introducing atomic bombs, either. Civilization means not killing people.5
5 Nichidatsu Fujii, Sarvodaya, 25:1, January 1985, 69.
NATIVE AMERICAN traditions point out to us that all forms of life, including humans, animals, birds, plants, and insects, are children of the same parents. The earth is our mother and the Great Mystery, or Great Creative Power, is seen as our grandfather or grandmother-grandfather.
As Standing Bear, a Lakota, said in 1931 when reciting an ancient prayer:
To mother earth, it is said … you are the only mother that has shown mercy to your children … Behold me, the four quarters of the earth, relative-like I am … All over the earth faces of all living things are alike. Mother earth has turned these faces out of the earth with tenderness. Oh Great Spirit behold them, all these faces with children in their hands.
In very ancient times, perhaps a thousand years ago and before the different northern Plains nations had split into separate groups, a wise one named Slow Buffalo taught them:
Remember … the ones you are going to depend upon. Up in the heavens, the Mysterious One, that is your grandfather. In between the earth and the heavens, that is your father. This earth is your grandmother. The dirt is your grandmother. Whatever grows in the earth is your mother. It is just like a sucking baby on a mother … Always remember, your grandmother is underneath your feet always. You are always on her, and your father is above.1
It is certainly an empirical, observable fact that we are all totally and absolutely dependent on our earth-mother and on the water, air, sun and other elements for every moment of life.
The Great Spirit made the flowers, the streams, the pines, the cedars – takes care of them … He takes care of me, waters me, feeds me, makes me live with the plants and animals as one of them … All of nature is in us, all of us is in nature.2
At the same time that we are all children of the same parents, it is also true that the nature of life involves eating one another. In some manner or another all forms of life eat some other living thing and then, in turn, are eaten by someone else. Our deaths are usually sad for ourselves but, as Juan Matus, the Yaqui nagualli of Carlos Castaneda, points out so well,
… our deaths are also gifts for someone else, if only for micro-organisms.3
Human beings, for example, stalk and eat all manner of plants, animals and birds, but we in turn are hunted and eaten by other animals as well as by bacteria and other tiny living things. Ultimately, of course, worms, bugs and plants will feed upon our bodies and help our mother, the earth, to digest us.
The surface of our mother is largely comprised of the transformed bodies of our relatives who have been dying for millions of years. “Soil fertility” is, in large part, nothing but a measure of the extent to which a particular bit of ground is saturated with our dead ancestors and relatives. Death, then, is a necessary part of life. …
1 Interviews with Black Elk and Standing Bear by John G. Neihardt, 1931 and 1944, DeMallie, The Sixth Grandfather, 286, 288, 312.
2 Pete Catches, in Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions, 137-139.
3 Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan, 87-88.
Most living creatures show no evidence of cruelty or excessive greed (except some “domestic” animals who may become cruel or gluttonous). Generally, they inflict pain upon another creature only when necessary as a part of eating. Very seldom do the vast majority of creatures ever interfere with the free movement or “freedom” of other creatures except for the moment of direct killing. Normally, also, they do not kill or feed upon their own kind.
Native Americans and many other “folk” peoples have struggled long and hard with the contradiction inherent in eating other living creatures. Very simply, Native philosophy, based upon the recognition that all living creatures are brothers and sisters, came to the conclusion that killing and eating, while unavoidable, can be done in such a way as to make it less ugly and less brutalizing. As Juan Matus says,
we must be on good terms with all the living things of the world. This is the reason why we must talk to plants we are about to kill and apologize for hurting them; the same thing must be done with the animals we are going to hurt.4
… today we took a little snake. I had to apologize to her for cutting her life off so suddenly and so definitely; I did what I did knowing that my own life will also be cut off someday in very much the same fashion, suddenly and definitely.5
Ruby Modesto, a Cahuilla doctor, has said:
You can talk to the plants … I mean be sincere. Be humble. The plants are like friends. Some of them have powerful spirits.6
The Lakota people, according to Luther Standing Bear, actively felt themselves to be kin with all creatures:
The animal had rights – the right of man’s protection, the right to live, the right to multiply, the right to freedom, and the right to man’s indebtedness … the Lakota never enslaved the animal, and spared all life that was not needed for food and clothing.
This concept of life and its relations was humanizing and gave to the Lakota an abiding love. It filled his being with the joy and mystery of living; it gave him reverence for all life …7
This reverence for life and respect for birds and other animals is illustrated by a Pawnee story about a young curing man who lived long, long ago. He was poisoned by a jealous doctor. The victim appealed to Ti-rá-wa, the Supreme Power, and to Nahúrac (the animals). A small messenger bird led him to the lodge of the leaders of the animals, under a cliff and beneath the waters of a river. He had to visit several lodges and finally was cured by prairie dogs and bears after returning to the first Nahúrac. The head bear then said:
Now, Nahúrac, this is what I can do. I do not care how dangerously wounded I may be, I know how to cure myself …
The head animal doctor then said to the young man:
Now you can see who we are. I move in the water. I have no breath, but I exist. We, every one of us, shall die except Ti-rá-wa. He made us, just as he made you.
He made you to live in the air. We live where there is no air. You see the difference. I know where there is that great water that surrounds us [the ocean]. I know that the heaven [sky] is the house of Ti-rá-wa, and we live inside it. You must imitate us. Do as we do. You must place your dependence on us, but still, if anything comes up that is very difficult, you must put your dependence on Ti-rá-wa. Ask help from the ruler. He made us. He made everything. There are different ways to different creatures. What you do I do not do, and what I do you do not do. We are different. When you imitate us you must always blow a smoke to each one of these four chief doctors, once to each; but to Ti-rá-wa you must blow four smokes …8
Thus the Pawnee learned doctoring from the animals, and learned more about everyone’s dependence upon the Supreme Power. Native American philosophy recognizes the right of every living creature to life and to live its own life without interference. For this reason, Native people traditionally avoid the killing of living trees, avoid trampling on plants and seldom, if ever, kill any creature except for food. Fallen wood, for example, is usually used for firewood, house timbers, and so on. Sitting Bull was very specific:
I wish all to know that I do not propose to sell any of my country, nor will I have the Whites cutting our timber along the rivers, more especially the oak. I am particularly fond of the little groves of oak trees. I love to look at them and feel a reverence for them, because they endure the wintry storms and the summer’s heat, and – not unlike ourselves – seem to thrive and flourish by them.9
4 Juan Matus, in Castaneda, A Separate Reality, 226.
5 Juan Matus, in Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan, 53.
6 Modesto and Mount, Not for Innocent Ears, 38.
7 Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle, 193.
8 Grinnell, Pawnee Hero Stories, 116-118.
9 Speech by Sitting Bull, in Stanley Vestal, Sitting Bull, Champion of the Sioux, 107.
When a plant, tree or animal is to be killed, first, the need must be great; second, permission is asked for, if time allows; third, the creature is thanked; and, fourth, dances, prayers and ceremonies are used to further thank the creatures so killed and to help those that are alive to grow and prosper. In the 1920s Cora DuBois recorded this prophecy from a powerful doctor, Kate Luckie, of the Wintu Nation:
When the Indians all die, then God will let the water come down from the north. Everyone will drown.
That is because the white people never cared for land or deer or bear. When we Indians kill meat, we eat it all up. When we dig roots, we make little holes. When we build houses, we make little holes. When we burn grass for grasshoppers, we don’t ruin things. We shake down acorns and pine nuts. We don’t chop down trees. We only use dead wood. But the White people plow up the ground, pull up the trees, kill everything. The tree says, “Don’t. I am sore. Don’t hurt me.” But they chop it down and cut it up. The spirit of the land hates them. They blast out trees … They saw up the trees.
That hurts them. The Indians never hurt anything but the White people destroy all … How can the spirit of the earth like the White man? … Everywhere the White man has touched, it is sore.10
In short, Native people do not just go out with a high-powered gun, kill an animal, take off its head as a trophy, and throw the body in a dump (as do many modern hunters). Native people are not barbarians or savages who kill for “thrills” or for “showing off.” Killing is a serious business and it requires spiritual preparation. Moreover, one should feel the pain and sorrow of killing a brother or sister, whether it is a weed, a tree or a deer. If one does not feel that pain, one has become brutalized and “sick.” One is, in short, out of harmony with the Universe.
In any case, Native Americans, with rare exceptions, were (like most other creatures) careful in their killing. As Juan Matus points out to his apprentice, Carlos Castaneda,
It is better to eat two quail and let three go free, than to eat all five like a glutton.11
Greed and gluttony, along with the cruel using of others’ lives without remorse, is seen as destructive of one’s own spiritual potential as well as a form of sickness. The cruel exploitation of other creatures is also not usually found among animals or among tribal, traditional peoples. For example, Old Man Hat, a Navajo elder, spent many months teaching his nephew, Who Has Mules, how to care for livestock:
After you’ve raised everything, sheep, horses, and cattle, and have gotten lots of property you shouldn’t cuss and swear at your properties and stock … these things are like your children. You’ve got to go easy with them, then you’ll have something all the time … And don’t talk roughly. If you do you won’t get these things, because all the stocks and properties will know that you’ll be rough with them. They’ll be afraid and won’t want to come to you. If you think kindly and talk in the kindest manner then they’ll know you’re a kind man, and then everything will go to you.12
The life of Native American peoples revolves around the concept of the sacredness, beauty, power and relatedness of all forms of existence. In short, the ethics or moral values of Native people are part and parcel of their cosmology or total world view. Most Native languages have no word for “religion” and it may be true that a word for religion is never needed until a people no longer have it. As Ohiyesa (Charles Eastman) said:
Every act of his [the Indian’s] life is, in a very real sense, a religious act.13
Religion is, in reality, living. Our religion is not what we profess, or what we say, or what we proclaim; our religion is what we do, what we desire, what we seek, what we dream about, what we fantasize, what we think – all of these things – twenty-four hours a day. One’s religion, then, is ones life, not merely the ideal life but the life as it is actually lived.
Religion is not prayer, it is not a church, it is not theistic, it is not atheistic, it has little to do with what white people call “religion.” It is our every act. If we tromp on a bug, that is our religion; if we experiment on living animals, that is our religion; if we cheat at cards, that is our religion; if we dream of being famous, that is our religion; if we gossip maliciously, that is our religion; if we are rude and aggressive, that is our religion. All that we do, and are, is our religion.
Joe Washington, a Lenápe man, said some seventy years ago that:
A man goes to heaven when he dies, if he is good. Goodness was put in man by God. It is in him, and going to church does not make him good. Praying and going to church will … not send a man to heaven …
A man will go to heaven because of the goodness that is in him … You don’t have to eat Peyote or any other herb in order to go to heaven. To go to heaven all you have to do is to be good …14
10 Kate Luckie, in Cora DuBois, Wintu Ethnography, 75-76.
11 Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan, 94-95.
12 Dyk, ed., Son of Old Man Hat, 75-81.
13 Charles Eastman, Soul of the Indian, 47.
14 Petrullo, ed., The Diabolic Root, 64-65.
CERTAIN FUNDAMENTALIST Christians, followers of the “Christians are not perfect, just forgiven” slogan, pretend that their “faith in Jesus Christ as personal savior” shields them from the consequences of their own deeds. Thus the atrocious deaths of more than 12,000 rural Nicaraguans at the hands of the Contras (organized and controlled by President Ronald Reagan) is irrelevant to their salvation, since being “born again” will cause God to ignore the blood-stained hands of those fundamentalists who supported the Contras and many other right-wing terrorist groups. But to argue that murderers are forgiven when they continue to murder (or pay and hire the killers) is, I would argue, a form of blasphemy.
Our religion is what we are, what we do.
Thus New York City, with its dirt, its slums, its crime, its violence, its greed, its wealthy elite, its tall buildings, its Mafia, its crooked leadership, and its art galleries – all of New York City – is the white society’s “church.” In the same way the massive federal center for experimentation with animals on Staten Island is a church, the Pentagon and CIA complexes near Washington, DC, are churches, etc. Many people often pretend that they can escape from the consequences of their own acts, but Native philosophy teaches differently. We create our own reality. Perhaps the acts of creation are our “religion” and the concrete creations are our “churches.”
An old Lenápe (Delaware) ceremony begins with:
Truly we are thankful that we have lived long enough to see the time come when these our grandfathers, the trees, bloom forth, and also the coming up of vegetation. Now as well for this water and for him our Grandfather fire, and again this air, again this sunlight. When everyone has been blessed with such gifts it is enough to make one realize what kind of benevolence comes from our father, because he it is who has created everything …15
15 Witapanóxwe, in Frank G. Speck, ed., A Study of the Delaware Indian Big House Ceremony, vol. 2.
To the Ashiwi (Zuñi) people all of nature is animate, and human beings can aid life by singing and praying for water:
That our earth mother may wrap herself
In a four-fold robe of white meal;
That she may be covered with frost flowers;
That yonder on all the mossy mountains,
The forests may huddle together with the cold
That their arms may be broken by the snow,
In order that the land may be thus,
I have made my prayer sticks into living beings …
When our earth mother is replete with living waters,
When spring comes,
The source of our flesh,
All the different kinds of corn,
We shall lay to rest in the ground with the earth
mother’s living waters,
They will be made into new beings,
Coming out standing into the daylight of their Sun father
Calling for rain,
To all sides they will stretch out their hands …
That our earth mother
May wear a four-fold green robe,
Full of moss,
Full of flowers,
Full of pollen,
That the land may be thus
I have made you into living beings …
With eagle’s wing,
And with the striped cloud wings of all the birds of
With these four times wrapping our plume wands… .
With our mother, cotton woman,
Even a roughly spun cotton thread,
A soiled cotton thread,
With the four times encircling them
And tying it about their bodies
And with a water bringing hair feather,
We made our plume wands into living beings.
With the flesh of our mother,
Four times clothing our plume wands with flesh,
We made them into living beings.
Holding them fast,
We made them our representatives in prayer …16
16 Bunzel, Introduction to Zuñi Ceremonialism, p. 483-486.
The closeness of Native Americans to the natural world and to animal life is also illustrated by innumerable stories, including one in which the Crow woman, Pretty Shield, tells how a woman found a “mouse-woman” and her babies nesting in a pouch. She spared the mouse family and later the mouse-woman warned her of an impending attack by Lakota enemies. Pretty Shield stated,
I named my own children, and all of my grandchildren. My Helpers, the ants, gave me all these names. I listen to the ant-people, even to this day, and often hear them calling each other by names that are fine, I never forget them.17
This respect for animals and elements, of the natural world, arose not only from a sense of relatedness but also from a sense of honoring the Great Spirit by honoring the world. An old Sioux man, Tatanka-ohitika or Brave Buffalo, recalled at age seventy-three how he had learned that teaching:
When I was ten years of age, I looked at the land and the rivers, the sky above, and the animals around me and could not fail to realize that they were made by some great power … Then I had a dream and in my dream one of these small round stones appeared to me, and told me that the maker of all was Wakan-tanka, and that in order to honor him I must honor his works in nature …18
Thus, “ecology” and “environmental sensitivity” was born among Native Americans as a part of their “religion,” which, in turn, was a way of living that incorporated profound respect for the sacredness of all living things. Black Hawk wrote,
When the corn is fit to use another great ceremony takes place, with feasting, and returning thanks to the Great Spirit for giving us corn … According to tradition, handed down to our people, a beautiful woman was seen to descend from the clouds, and alight upon the earth, by two of our ancestors, who had killed a deer, and were sitting by a fire, roasting a part of it to eat. They were astonished at seeing her, and concluded that she must be hungry, and had smelt the meat – and immediately went to her, taking with them a piece of the roasted venison. They presented it to her, and she ate – and told them to return to the spot where she was sitting, at the end of one year, and they would find a reward for their kindness and generosity. She then ascended to the clouds, and disappeared … When the period arrived for them to visit this consecrated ground, where they were to find a reward for their attention to the beautiful woman of the clouds, they went with a large party, and found, where her right hand had rested on ground, corn growing – and where the left had had rested, beans – and immediately where she had been seated, tobacco … We thank the Great Spirit for all the benefits he has conferred upon us. For myself, I never take a drink of water from a spring without being mindful of his goodness.19
Many centuries ago White Buffalo Woman visited the Lakota people and gave them a special pipe. She said,
With this pipe you will be bound to all your relatives: Your Grandfather and Father [Wakan-tanka], your Grandmother and Mother the Earth … All of this is sacred and so do not forget! Every dawn as it comes is a holy event, and every day is holy, for the light comes from your father Wakan-tanka; and also you must always remember that the two-leggeds and the other peoples who stand upon this earth are sacred and should be treated as such.20
The “cosmology” or “world-view” of a people is closely related, of course, to all of their actions. The world-view influences actions and, in turn, actions tell us what the world-view really is! In short, one must judge cosmology by actions as much as (or more than) by listening to words. As Lame Deer says,
You can tell a good medicine man by his actions and his way of life. Is he lean? Does he live in a poor cabin? Does money leave him cold?21
Sanapia, a Comanche eagle-power doctor, said in a similar vein:
… my mother told me. She said, “Don’t you ever ask for anything [when doctoring]. It’s going to be given to you.
… Now, up to today, when anybody give to me … give me blanket or any kind of goods … I ain’t supposed to keep it … I call [to others and] then say, “Here, you all. Take your choice out of this.” And whatever they leave, that’s mine …22
17 Linderman, ed., Pretty Shield, 9, 118-120.
18 Tatanka-ohitika, in Densmore, Teton Sioux Music, 207-208.
19 Black Hawk, Autobiography, 106.
20 Black Elk, Sacred Pipe, 7.
21 Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, 168.
22 Jones, Sanapia, Comanche Medicine Woman, 29.
WHEN CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS reached the West Indies he found a people who practiced a radically different way of life from that of Europe. He reported,
… since they have become more assured, and are losing that terror, they are artless and generous with what they have, to such a degree as no one would believe but him who had seen it. Of anything they have, if it be asked for, they never say no, but do rather invite the person to accept it, and show as much lovingness as though they would give their hearts … And they know no sect nor idolatry; save that they all believe that power and goodness are in the sky …
And this comes not because they are ignorant: on the contrary, they are men of very subtle wit, who navigate all those seas, and who give a marvelous good account of everything … And as soon as I arrived in the Indies, in the first island that I found, I took some of them by force … Their [Spanish] Highnesses may see that I shall give them [The Spanish Crown] as much gold as they may need … and slaves as many as they shall order to be shipped, and these shall be from idolators.23
Columbus proceeded to enslave these “loving” people, shipping thousands of them to Europe and Africa for a profit. Then he and his European cohorts enslaved tens of thousands of others and liquidated several millions of similar humans in the islands within a generation.
Now, were Columbus and his fellow European exploiters simply greedy men whose ethics were such as to allow for mass slaughter and genocide?
I shall argue that Columbus was a wétiko, that he was mentally ill or insane, the carrier of a terribly contagious psychological disease, the wétiko psychosis. The Native people he described were, on the other hand, sane people with a healthy state of mind.
Sanity or healthy normality among humans and other living creatures involves a respect for other forms of life and other individuals, as I have described earlier. I believe that is the way people have lived (and should live).
On the whole, the history of the Americas (prior to European conquest) reveals a land where most human groups followed, or tried to follow, the “pollen path” (as the Navajo people call it) or the “good, red road” (as the Lakota call it). The pollen path and the red road lead to living life in a sacred manner with continual awareness of the inter-relationships of all forms of life. Unfortunately, the history of much of the rest of the world, and of modern times everywhere, reveals something different.
23 Letter from Columbus in Forbes, The Indian in America’s Past, 9.
It is quite clear that in modern times we have witnessed the widespread brutalization of human beings. The history of Europe in the last 1,500 years and the history of European imperialism in Africa, Asia and the Americas reveal atrocities of almost unimaginable proportions. The brutality of the “religious” wars in Europe, the unrelenting exploitation of Original Americans, the sacrifice of tens of millions of Africans and First Americans in order to obtain slaves or peons, the genocidal policies of the English toward the Irish, of Europeans generally towards Native People, of the Nazis toward Jews, Slavs and Gypsies, represent only a few examples of large-scale cruelty, aggression and exploitation almost beyond belief.
Various terms, such as “wild,” “savage” and “barbarian” have been used frequently to refer to violent, crude, brutal, cruel, destructive and aggressive behavior. Ironically, such terms have often been used by European writers to refer to non-European peoples whose customs were different and were therefore (because of that element of difference) called “wild” or “savage.” The irony stems from the fact that few, if any, societies on the face of the earth have ever been as avaricious, cruel, violent and aggressive as have certain European populations. Luther Standing Bear, a Native American thinker, summarized the more correct state of affairs in the following revealing passage:
We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and the winding streams with tangled growth as “wild.” Only to the White man was nature a “wilderness” and only to him was the land infested by “wild” animals and “savage” people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. Not until the hairy man from the east came and with brutal frenzy heaped injustices upon us and the families we loved was it “wild” for us. When the very animals of the forest began fleeing; from his approach, then it was that for us the “wild west” began.24
The “west” of the United States became “wild,” then, only when European imperialism commenced the annihilation of the Native people, of the buffalo, and of the social and cultural structures of the Native nations. The hordes of aggressive, armed white intruders, backed by supporting “regular” troops and government functionaries, in short, made the region “wild.” I am quite sure that Native people in the Amazonian basin, in Peru and elsewhere in the Americas would heartily agree with Standing Bear. Everywhere the Europeans brought unimaginable death, destruction, exploitation and greed. Tragically, many South American Native groups are currently experiencing the birth of “wildness.” The Amazonian basin is only now being completely reduced to the state of a “wilderness.” The kind of greed, exploitation, imperialism and duplicity which together forms a sort of culture of evil has been in the past referred to by the term “Machiavellian.” I have so used the latter concept and have suggested that Machiavellianism probably originated in the Middle East some 3,000 to 5,000 years ago when the first documented systems of oppression and exploitation appeared in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.25
Now, however, I believe that the term Machiavellian does not adequately describe the nature of what we are dealing with. Thus I now wish to explain the wétiko concept. Wétiko is a Cree term (windigo in Ojibway, wintiko in Powhatan) which refers to a cannibal or, more specifically, to an evil person or spirit who terrorizes other creatures by means of terrible evil acts, including cannibalism. Wétikowatisewin, an abstract noun, refers to “diabolical wickedness or cannibalism.”
I have come to the conclusion that imperialism and exploitation are forms of cannibalism and, in fact, are precisely those forms of cannibalism which are most diabolical or evil. Traditional ritualistic “cannibalism” (so-called) found among many folk peoples was essentially an act of eating a small portion of a dead enemy’s flesh in order to gain part of the strength or power of that person or to show respect (in a spiritual way) for that person. (Thus, usually only a respected enemy warrior was so used.)
Cannibalism, as I define it, is the consuming of another’s life for one’s own private purpose or profit.
Thus, the slaver who forces blacks or Indians to lose their lives in the slave-trade or who drains away their lives in a slave system is a cannibal. He may “eat” other people immediately (as in the deaths of tens of million of blacks in the process of enslavement or shipment) or he may “eat” their flesh gradually over a period of years.
Thus, the wealthy exploiter “eats” the flesh of oppressed workers, the wealthy matron “eats” the lives of her servants, the imperialist “eats” the flesh of the conquered, and so on. Nazism, for example, may be described as a German form of cannibalism designed to consume Jews, Gypsies, Poles and other Slavs in order to fatten Germans. Anglo-American imperialism is a form of cannibalism designed to “eat” Indians and also to consume the Native people’s land and resources (a process which continues in Central America and elsewhere today).
It should be understood that wétikos do not eat other humans only in a symbolic sense. The deaths of tens of millions of Jews, Slavs, etc., at the hands of the Nazis, the deaths of tens of millions of blacks in slavery days, the deaths of up to 30 million or more Indians in the 1500s, the terribly short life spans of Mexican Indian farm workers in the US, and of Native Americans generally today, the high death rates in the early industrial centers among factory workers, and so on, all clearly attest to the fact that the wealthy and exploitative literally consume the lives of those that they exploit.
That, I would affirm, is truly and literally cannibalism, and it is cannibalism accompanied by no spiritually meaningful ceremony or ritual. It is simply raw consumption for profit, carried out often in an ugly and brutal manner. There is no respect for a peon whose life is being eaten. No ceremony. No mystical communication. Only self-serving consumption.
24 Luther Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle, xxvii.
25 Forbes, “Self-Determination and Captive Nations,” in Reghaby, ed., Philosophy of the Third World.
IT IS interesting and instructive that many Anglo-Saxons of North America and “Latinos” of “Latin” America seem to be in agreement about Cristobal Colón (Christopher Columbus). The “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” was the discoverer of America and he is to be celebrated as a hero, they seem to say.
The Anglos of North America and the white Latinos of the rest of the hemisphere have some other things in common, of course, foremost of which is their continuous exploitation of, and aggression against, the American race (the so-called Indians) and their identification with Europe (from whence their ancestors – or some of them – came).
The story of the English-speakers’ conquest of North America will be well known to most readers. The American nations were, of course, their enemies for more than three centuries. A certain number of Anglo North Americans have absorbed Native American and/or African ancestry, but the overwhelming majority continue to view themselves as “white” and as of European origin. They do not, generally, think of themselves as having a common heritage with their old enemies, the native people.
The “Latinos” of Spanish-speaking America may include Américo-Latinos of Native ancestry or Afro-Latinos of African descent, but the most powerful group are those who pride themselves on their “white” appearance and their Spanish or other European ancestry. These “blancos” actually may have some Native American or African ancestry, but they are often ashamed of it and, in any case, are usually extremely prejudiced against modern people of American, African, or darker mixed appearance. They could perhaps better be referred to as Gachupínes (Spaniards or Hispanics).
Many “Latinos” exalt the heritage of Europe and despise the Native people (in practice, if not in theory). They also ordinarily dominate the various systems of exploitation which feed upon the bodies of Native American and colored peoples from Argentina northwards through much of Middle America. They design and operate the Spanish-language television programs and films which exalt blondness and light skin and which foster a Colonial Settler style of consumeristic materialism.
As inheritors of the Spanish invaders, the white “Latinos” usually own everything worth owning or are constantly seeking to become the owners. The military dictatorships belong to them, although they share power with a certain number of mestizos or ladinos (mixed-bloods or Europeanized Indians) who collaborate with them.
There are Anglo-North Americans and “Latinos” who do not despise the native race, even as there are a number who struggle for justice. Nonetheless, the main thrust of these groups is still decidedly anti-American, since they continue to exhibit prejudice against Native American physical characteristics and the original cultures of the Americas.
We should not be surprised that “Columbus Day” is celebrated by people of European descent throughout much of the Americas. What does it mean to celebrate such a day? What does it tell us about the values of people who regard Colón as a hero or who describe his anniversary as the “day of the race”? Of whose race are they speaking?
I will argue that we can compare the commemoration of Columbus with the doings of neo-Nazi organizations in Europe and the Americas, groups which commemorate the great dates of Hitler’s regime. The difference is that the neo-Nazis are a minority and their commemorations usually do not receive much attention. The followers of Columbus, on the other hand, occupy the seats of power throughout much of the Americas. Their holidays are national ones, often imposed on their respective societies.
Columbus did not, of course, “discover” America. All white people have known from the beginning of contact that the Native Americans were already present and had obviously discovered the land. Moreover, Columbus’s own accounts (as recorded by Bartolomé de las Casas) revealed that he had heard rumors of being proceeded in the Caribbean by black-colored people. Still further, the Icelandic sagas showed that Norse and Celtic settlers had reached Greenland, Laborador and Newfoundland some five hundred years before Columbus’s voyage, and that American captives had been taken to Norway in about 1009. Later, Inuit captives were taken to Norway in ca. 1420 and their watercrafts were on display in a Norwegian cathedral for many years.1
As if this were not enough, any informed writer could have read in Pliny’s Natural History (a work long used in Latin instruction) that in the last century BC some “Indian” merchants were blown by a storm to the coasts of Germany (probably Netherlands). Writers who were living in the sixteenth century cited this account when they discussed the background for the voyages of Columbus, since these “Indians” must have come from across the Atlantic.
Thus it has long been known that Native Americans reached Europe prior to Columbus, in addition to the knowledge that the Norse also preceded him to the Americas and that other whites and even blacks may have reached the Caribbean before 1492. On top of this there is evidence that Bretons, Basques or other Europeans reached Newfoundland in the fifteenth century, evidence which has been known ever since early maps of 1436 and 1448 showed “Stocfish Island” (Codfish or Bacalao Island) west of Iceland.2
Thus the so-called discovery of Columbus is a preposterous myth, and has long been known as such. It is true, of course, that Columbus’s voyage was an important undertaking, much the same as Marco Polo’s land journey to China of an earlier century. But no one pretends that Marco Polo discovered China! Why? Perhaps because there are no European colonial settlers in China who need to evoke Marco Polo as a symbol for a successful but still contested conquest.
Columbus Day and the hero-worship of Columbus stand then as symbols, symbols dear to many of the European invaders of the Americas. But what do these symbols represent? To understand the answers to this question let us briefly review the goals and behavior of Columbus in “the Indies.”
1 Jack D. Forbes, The American Discovery of Europe, 112-120.
2 Jack D. Forbes, Black Africans and Native Americans, 14-17.
Colón had had experience along the coasts of west Africa, helping to carry Africans to Portugal. He was apparently very familiar with the slave trade and with the philosophy of imperialism. As we shall see, he implemented a process of genocide probably without parallel until the days of Adolf Hitler. Moreover, it was his intention to commit ethnocide and to ruthlessly exploit the people he found in America.
On his first voyage, Columbus forcibly kidnapped at least twenty-seven Americans, two of whom escaped. His philosophy of ethnocide and imperialism is expressed when, after kidnapping seven men, he wrote:
When your highnesses so command, they can all be carried off to Castille or held captive in the island itself, since with fifty men they would be all kept in subjection and forced to do whatever may be wished.
Columbus did not, therefore, require any economic disappointments or armed resistance to develop an argument for the total depopulation of an island or, alternatively, the total subjection of the inhabitants. Columbus summed up his assessment of the Americans and their “rights” as human beings by stating:
And they are fitted to be ruled and to be set to work, to cultivate the land and to do all else that may be necessary, and you may build towns and teach them to go clothed and to adopt our customs. Also: They would make good and industrious servants.
These Native Americans (who were not eaters of human flesh and who were, as Columbus reported, peaceful and inoffensive) solely for the “crime” of being alive and unconquered were to be forced to work for the Spaniards and to have their way of life radically changed. Perhaps with the above quote one can see why Columbus remains even today such a hero figure to so many exploiters – his words sum up the philosophy of most imperial systems and of the avaricious social classes from North America to Argentina who find it so desirable that brown-skinned men and women should have to work for them as maids, cheap laborers and sweatshop factory workers.3
After learning of the reported existence of so-called Carib people (who allegedly ate human flesh), Columbus developed plans for their large-scale enslavement. The Caribs, after correction, would be “better than any other slaves whatsoever.” On January 30, 1494, Columbus proposed to the Spanish Crown that the enslavement of Americans would pay for the cost of the conquest. Colón and his compatriots first began to enslave Taino (Arawak) people who were neither cannibalistic nor warlike. Las Casas noted,
He will finish in a very short time consuming all the people of this island [Haiti], because he was determined to load the ships which would go to Castille with slaves and to send them to sell to the Canary and Azores and Cabo Verde islands and wherever he wanted, so that they might be sold well; and upon this merchandise was derived the supplies for meeting the costs and to excuse the Crown from any cost, as with a major granary.
Thus, Columbus planned to act out his role as a cannibal, in a very literal sense, filling every vessel with slaves. The Americans were simply raw material (grain), constituting a granjeria (granary) for Spanish consumption. Continuous wars were precipitated which provided the excuse for genocide. Columbus wrote to the Spanish monarchs that from Haiti,
… it is possible, in the name of the Holy Trinity, to send all the slaves which it is possible to sell … of which, if the information which I have is correct, they tell me that one can sell 4,000 … Here there are so many of these slaves and brazilwood, that it seems a living thing, but still gold …
Even as he was loading five ships with slaves, Columbus was proposing to sell 4,000 in various parts of Europe and Africa, noting that slaves and brazilwood were, in effect, as good as gold. Columbus knew full well that the enslaved Americans would die in great numbers, but he was not worried since the Africans and native Canary Islanders, when first enslaved, had also died in similar numbers. In short, the huge death rates were justified by ultimate profits. For Colón, the Americans were simply piezas (pieces) or cabezas de cabras (goat heads), and it did not matter if only ten percent finally reached the slave markets, according to Las Casas.4
3 Jane, Voyages of Christopher Columbus, 151, 174, 186, 203, 261, 264.
4 Silvio Zavala, Estudios Indianos, 56, 98, 100; Bartolomé de las Casas, Historia de las Indias, vol. 1, p. 446-448, vol. 11, 71-72, 88-89; José Antonio Saco, Historia de la Esclavitud de los Indios en el Nuevo Mundo, xvi-xvii, 99-110, 123; Martin Fernandez de Navarrete, Colección de los Viages y Descubrimientos, I, 173, 232-233; Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other, tr. by Richard Howard, 47.
The wars waged by the Spaniards against the peaceful Americans of Haiti were brutal in the extreme, resulting in huge losses of life. The entire operation was carried out in the style of Adolf Hitler, with a wanton wastage of life similar to that of shipping Jews and others to concentration camps and slave labor facilities in World War II. Miguel Cuneo, who accompanied Columbus on the second expedition to the Americas, reports that:
When our caravels … were to leave for Spain, we gathered … one thousand six hundred male and female persons of those Indians, and of these we embarked in our caravels on February 17, 1495, five hundred and fifty souls among the healthiest … For those who remained, we let it be known in the vicinity that anyone who wanted to take some of them could do so, to the amount desired, which was done. And when each man was thus provided with slaves, there still remained about four hundred, to whom permission was granted to go where they wished. Among them were many women with children still at suck. Since they were afraid that we might return to capture them once again … they left their children … and began to flee like desperate creatures …5
Why were the Americans so desperate to flee that they abandoned their children? Cuneo provides us with a clue from his own behavior. He relates, proudly it seems, that Columbus gave him a very beautiful Carib woman as a slave, who Cuneo attempted to rape. The woman valiantly resisted with all of her strength, but Cuneo, in his own words, thrashed her mercilessly and raped her.
So much for sentimentality! No wonder that the successors of Columbus in the Americas, the mercenaries of the CIA and the fiends of the various military dictatorships rape and abuse women almost as an act of normal routine! And especially, it seems, brown women of the American race.
In any case, we can document that Columbus and his fellow gangsters shipped at least 3,000 Americans as slaves to Europe and Africa through 1501. But since many ships departed from the Indies without leaving us a record of their cargoes, we can assume that the actual total was probably twice that number. And we must keep in mind that tens of thousands had to die in order to produce these slaves for European consumption.6
Columbus stands as a clear example of an insane person, a killer and a cannibal, a user and abuser of his fellow human beings. But, of course, Columbus was not unique, nor was he alone. The Catholic monarchs of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella (especially Ferdinand) allowed and even encouraged the enslavement and conquest of innocent Americans, even as earlier Spanish and Portugese monarchs had brutally enslaved and conquered the native Canary Islanders.
Expeditions sent to South American waters in 1499 and 1500 were specifically authorized by the Spanish monarchs to enslave black or brown people found there. After 1500, hundreds of thousands of Americans were enslaved and millions more were otherwise deprived of freedom, not only by the Spaniards and Portugese, but also by the Dutch, English and French imperialists.7
Tzvetan Todorov, in his study of Columbus, concludes,
the sixteenth century perpetrated the greatest genocide in human history … in 1500 the world population is approximately 400 million, of whom 80 million inhabit the Americas. By the middle of the sixteenth century, out of these 80 million, there remain ten …8
But this massive cannibalistic orgy was not without its “positive” consequences! It paved the way for the white conquest of the Americas, provided Europeans with cheap labor, helped to finance the economic development of modern Europe, and set the stage for five centuries of rule by white and near-white elites in the Americas. Perhaps it will be clearer to the reader why so many non-Indians honor the memory of Columbus. And, as we shall see, far too many honor Columbus with deeds as well as with words. The oppression of the original Americans and of other non-white people is still a daily reality in the land which some believe should be called “Columbia” rather than America. Perhaps one day, when this age of exploitation is ended, we shall all select a new name for what I sometimes call the Middle Continent of the earth, after the Native name Semanahuac (the Land Between the Rings). Maíza, land of maize, might also be a suitable name.
5 Todorov, 47-49.
6 Saco, Esclavitud de los Indios, 1, 99-111, 123; Las Casas, Historia, 1, 366, 397-398; 405, 408-410, 423-432, 4-39, 465, 467; 11, 74, 87, 93; Zavala, Estudios Indianos, 100n, 101n, 104; Carolyn Thomas Foreman, Indians Abroad, 1493-1938, 3-7; Jane, 104-108.
7 Forbes, Africans and Native Americans, Chapters 1 and 2 especially; Antonio Muro Orejón, La Primera Capitulación con Vincente Yañez Pinzón, 746-747; and Saco, Esclavitud de los Indios, 126.
8 Todorov, 5, 133.
Many thinkers have concerned themselves with the problem of oppression and with the viciousness and brutalization accompanying it. One of the most perceptive of these thinkers has been Paulo Friere, a Brazilian. Friere uses the concept of "dehumanization" for what I refer to as the Wétiko psychosis and the idea of "humanization" for the restoration or maintenance of a healthy state of existence.
While the problem of humanization has always been man's central problem, it now takes on the character of an inescapable concern. Concern for humanization leads at once to the recognition of dehumanization, not only as an ontological possibility but as an historical reality. …
But while both humanization and dehumanization are real alternatives, only the first is man's vocation. …
Dehumanization, which marks not only those whose humanity has been stolen, but also (though in a different way) those who have stolen it, is a distortion of the vocation of becoming more fully human … dehumanization, although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order that engenders violence in the oppressors, which in turn dehumanizes the oppressed.1
I agree fully with the thrust of Friere's analysis except that I feel it may be a Europeanist error to speak of "humanization" as man's "central problem." Europeans seem to live in a world where other living creatures are merely a part of the environment. Native People, on the other hand, believe that we are all children of the same parents and that humans can learn a great deal from animals which will result in better behavior. For example, male wolves or dogs may fight but almost always the weaker can yield and the victor will spare his life and let him go, a free animal. Humans, unfortunately, often kill, enslave, or imprison the one who is defeated. Whose behavior is ethically better?
Animals and humans are part of the same community, the earth and the universe. I can accept "humanization" as an ideal only if it embraces the concept, as cited earlier from Luther Standing Bear, of becoming aware of one's relations and learning to live in a non-exploitative manner towards all living things.
Many white people, including certain scientists, believe that human beings are descended from "killer apes" and/or that it is the nature of humans to be aggressive, violent, and exploitative. This viewpoint is not new, of course. It has been put forward in different epochs, under different names, by whatever social classes or groups were engaged in imperialism and exploitation. Thus ideas of the "survival of the fittest," "social Darwinism," humans as being incapable of civil society unless controlled by authoritarian governments, and human life as essentially evil have been put forward frequently by those whose own greed, aggression, ambition, or social position is dependent upon, or profits from, violent or exploitative acts carried out against others.
Perhaps it is significant that the scientists who seek to validate human aggressive behavior by comparing us with aggressive animals have drawn mostly from hierarchical and imperialistic societies. I’ve often wondered why they seem to ignore Bonobos, relatives of humans and chimpanzees who are loving and peaceful, and also why they fail to consider the impact of human territorial expansion upon the behavior of animals living in restricted ranges.
1 Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 27-28.
Modern capitalism has been a major source of such negative appraisals of human life, but dogmatic communism, Calvinistic and Lutheran Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and many other European or Euro-mediterranean systems of thought have also viewed humans in a negative way, to one degree or another. Another powerful source of such thinking is (or has been) authoritarian political agencies and hierarchical social systems (ranging from Fascism and Nazism to the ancient cult of empire to the militaristic right-wing police officer syndrome).
And, of course, if one only looks at European history or the history of Europeans in Africa, Asia, and the Americas one might indeed become persuaded that the machiavellians and wétikos are correct in their judgements. European history is replete with almost continuous examples of human depravity – epoch after epoch of imperialistic wars, frequent examples of the systematic murdering of followers of different religions or members of different ethnic groups, almost continuous campaigns to liquidate or forcibly assimilate this or that nationality, rigid systems of class exploitation, the brutal subjection of peasants, slaves, and workers, and, finally, literally thousands of examples of lying, deceit, poisoning, duplicity, torture, and sadism, ranging from the murders of Byzantine monarchs to the atrocities of the inquisition to the Italian renaissance assassinators to the ruthless Bismarks to the individually depraved Marquis de Sade types.
But it is not logical to allow the wétikos to carry out their evil acts and then to accept their assessment of the nature of human life. For after all, the wétikos possess a bias created by their own evil lives, by their own amoral or immoral behavior. And too, if I am correct, they were, and are, also insane.
Many people have labeled Hitler a "madman." But what they fail to see is that Hitler's behavior was not really different from that of numerous popes who authorized "crusades" against heretics, or of Ferdinand of Spain who tortured and murdered thousands of ex-Jews and caused the murder of millions of Americans, or of Charlemagne who systematically slaughtered the Saxons, or of many English kings who caused the death and exploitation of thousands of Irishmen, Scots, Americans, and others. What makes Mussolini different from Julius Ceasar or Alexander the Great? Only that he was not so successful and that he is closer to us in time.
Winston Churchill, the supposed antithesis of Hitler, was really a product of the same kind of thinking. Churchill was an avowed imperialist, a man very unwilling to end British rule over India, the African colonies, and so on. True, Churchill did not kill as many people as Hitler but then, again, he was defending an already established empire, not trying to carve out a new one. The latter process is usually apt to be much more openly violent and repulsive to those who view such things from a distance.
It is very sad but the "heroes" of European historiography, the heroes of the history textbooks, are usually imperialists, butchers, founders of authoritarian regimes, exploiters of the poor, liars, cheats, and torturers. What that means is that the wétiko disease has so corrupted European thinking (at least of the ruling groups) that wétiko behavior and wétiko goals are regarded as the very fabric of European evolution. Thus those who resist wétiko values and imperialism and exploitation specifically, such as the Leveller rebels in England, St. Francis of Assisi, Swiss mountaineers, or Scottish clansmen, are regarded as "quirks," "freaks," or rude democrats ("peasants") who could never exploit enough people to build a St. Peter's Cathedral or a Versailles palace.
We must keep all of this in mind because if we continue to allow the wétikos to define reality in their insane way we will never be able to resist or curtail the disease.
I believe that this form of insanity originated long ago in several places, but principally in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Subsequently it appeared in India and northern China and much later in Mexico and Peru.
To a considerable degree the development of the wétiko disease corresponds to the rise of what Europeans choose to call civilization. This is no mere coincidence.
Why is this so? Because many or most European writers are themselves infected by wétiko disease. Thus they regard a wétiko-dominated society as being "civilized" and a non-wétiko society as being "barbaric," "primitive," or "backward." Why? Because many European historians, anthropologists, cultural evolutionists, statesmen, and so on, are first of all, materialists. (It does not matter if they profess to believe in God or if they are a priest or a pope, they still are usually materialistic in that what they spuriously consider to be "things spiritual" are only manifested in material forms or are only valued when they are reflected by impressive material monuments.) Thus a society is only highly esteemed by them when it produces huge monuments, impressive public works, accumulates great surplus wealth, and has a "leisure" class.
The creation of such material "products" or their accumulation is, of course, closely associated with imperialism and stratified social systems. Therefore, the European thinker tends also to greatly admire "empires" and authoritarian societies. It is precisely these kinds of societies which are wétiko. They are the ones where exploitation of others is accepted, at least by the "rulers," as a "proper" or at least "necessary" way of life.
Over and over again we see European writers ranking as "high civilizations" societies with large slave populations, rigid social class systems, unethical or ruthless rulers, and aggressive, imperialistic foreign policies. Conversely, societies with no slaves, no distinct social classes, no rulers, and no imperialism are either regarded as insignificant (not worth mentioning) or primitive and uncivilized. This weird method of evaluating human cultures reaches the ridiculous when we discover European historians of the Southwestern United States continuously exhalting the Spaniards as representing "civilization" while the democratic, non-aggressive Native people are "barbarians." The civilized Spaniards burn, loot, rape, exploit, deceive, and massacre but it is always the Native defenders who are cast in the role of "savages" and villains.
It is very clear, incidentally, that Yehoshu’a ben Yosef (better known as Jesus) has been saved from being regarded as a savage or a primitive only by virtue of the popes and Christian archbishops who managed to pervert his teachings into a materialistic, wétiko series of cults. Yehoshu’a ben Yosef (Jesus son of Joseph) was an "Indian." That is, he was a non-White (brown skin, black and probably curly or kinky hair) of very poor origins who worked as a craftsmen or carpenter for many years, retired to the desert or mountain peaks to seek visions, never built any monuments, never saved any money, challenged the wealthy and the powerful, and publicly condemned greed, dogmatism and the acquisition of wealth. He bears no resemblance whatsoever to most later Christians but it is the latter who have made him famous.
A Presbyterian missionary, living among the Lenape and Mahikani peoples of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania in the 1740s, wrote:
I have met with great difficulty in my work among these Indians. … They are not only brutishly stupid and ignorant of divine things, but many of them are obstinately set against Christianity.
This aversion to Christianity arises partly from a view of the immorality and vicious behavior of many who are called Christians. They observe that horrid wickedness in nominal Christians, which the light of nature [natural reason] condemns in themselves; and not having distinguishing views of things, are ready to look upon all the white people alike, and to condemn them alike, for the abominable practices of some. … They have observed to me that the white people lie, defraud, steal, and drink worse than the Indians; that they have taught the Indians these things, especially the latter of them; who before the coming of the English, knew of no such thing as strong drink; that the English have, by these means, made them quarrel and kill one another; and, in a word, brought them to the practice of all those vices which now prevail among them. So that they are now vastly more vicious, as well as much more miserable, than they were before the coming of the white people into the country. These, and such like objections, they frequently make against Christianity, which are not easily answered to their satisfaction; many of them being acts too notoriously true.
The only way I have to take in order to surmount this difficulty, is to distinguish between nominal and real Christians; and to show them, that the ill conduct of many of former proceeds not from their being Christians, but from their being Christians in name, not in heart. To this it has sometimes been objected, that, if all those who will cheat the Indians are Christians only in name, there are but few left in the country to be Christians in heart. …
The white people have come among them, have cheated them out of their lands, and driven them back to the mountains, from the pleasant places they used to enjoy by the seaside; that therefore they have no reason to think the white people are now seeking their welfare; but rather they have sent me out to draw them together, under a pretence of kindness to them, that they may have an opportunity to make slaves of them, as they do of the poor negroes, or else to ship them on board their vessels, and make them fight with their enemies.2
Where would we go today if we were looking for people living like Yehoshu’a? Not to the "born-again" Christian world, that is clear. Also not to the East Indian "gurus" who have to have their photograph on every piece of publicity their cult followers publish. Not to the "holier-than-thou" sanctimonious cults who display the intolerance and aggressiveness of wétikos.
The people who live most like Yehoshu’a, and who still seek visions in the desert and on mountain peaks, are traditional (non-Christian) Native Americans and other folk or tribal peoples. The "primitives"!
In any case, somehow, someway, the first wétikos appeared in the Middle East long ago. Probably the disease developed little by little over a long period of time. We know from modern study of the process of infection that a person is usually corrupted gradually, step by step. By the time of the rise of the first empires, however, a complete wétiko system had evolved.
2 Jonathan Edwards, Memoirs of the Rev. David Brainerd, 342-344.
Some feminists blame patriarchy for many of the characteristics which I include under the wétiko disease and, indeed, the oppression of women must be viewed as part and parcel of the process. On the other hand, imperialism and slavery always adversely affect both men and women of the victimized society, while women of the upper and middle classes in the wétiko society would appear to often be beneficiaries of and participants in oppression.
I would suggest that it is the development of violent, warlike, aggressive societies which lead to the subsequent debasement of women, and not the reverse. That is, the development of rigid patriarchy follows the wétiko disease, even as the slave system in the southern United States led to a decline in the status of English women relative to conditions in the non-slave colonies.
I would suggest that a feminism which does not also seek to alter the exploitation of poorer women is not feminism at all, but is simply a variant form of upper-class politics and self-privileging.
Somehow the wétiko believes that he has a right to use another human being (or his property) in a manner which is decidedly one-sided and disadvantageous to the victim. Thus a businessman may sell an article of inferior quality for an inflated price. The difference between a truly fair price and the inflated price is not really profit, because the fair price probably also included a reasonable profit. Instead, the "excess profit" is a form of theft, and theft compounded by deceit. The businessman must mislead the purchaser in order to obtain the "excess profit." Thus lying is an essential factor in this form of thievery. Lying is also almost always a factor in wétiko behavior and, in fact, may represent a key strand in the entire epidemology of wétikoism. Black Hawk wrote,
How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong, and wrong like right.3
When people learn to "lie" they no longer have a face. That is, they do not have a single personality and character. They become like a chameleon, changing color as opportunity or circumstances demand. Such a person cannot have any moral strength because the latter demands a unified face. This, incidentally, is what some modern psychology teaches – accomodation, learning how to disguise or even destroy one's own self in order to become acceptable to one's corporate supervisors, colleagues, spouse, children, neighbors, and so on.
One cannot be authentic, however, and lie or deceive. Yehoshu’a died because he would not lie a little on his own behalf. Thousands, or millions, of Indians have died or suffered because of their frankness, honesty, and lack of deception. Yehoshu’a was authentic. Traditional Indians are authentic. They are Real! As Okute, a Teton Sioux, said many years ago,
A man ought to desire that which is genuine instead of that which is artificial.4
Many people in the capitalist and communist worlds are not Real. Many are puppets or pimps, whose strings are pulled by others or who follow a life-path dictated by others. Thus they are ripe for the wétiko infection.
The oppressed suffer from the duality which has established itself in their inner-most being. They discover that without freedom they cannot exist authentically. Yet, although they desire authentic existence, they fear it. They are at one and the same time themselves and the oppressor whose consciousness they have internalized …5
Lying and petty thievery, hustling, "wheeling and dealing," cheating, usury, and so on are all symptoms of a wétiko. From small wétikos big wétikos are made! The Nixons, Erhlichmans, and other Watergate figures, along with the Enron leaders of more recent date, are, after all, only large-scale counterparts of the local used car hustler, dope peddler, crooked cop or dishonest auto repairman. The factory worker who regularly steals a wrench from his job is on the way. Who knows, he might become an official in a crooked presidential administration some day!
3 Black Hawk, Autobiography, 115.
4 Okute, in Densmore, Teton Sioux Music, 173.
5 Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 32.
But it is also true that big wétikos are often trained right from the beginning to be completely wétiko by big wétiko parents or by a sub-culture. This usually happens in ruling families, wealthy-class families, plantation or landlord-agricultural systems, military officer families, or in extremely corrupt and brutal societies (as in Porfirio Díaz's Mexico, Chiang Kai-Shek's China, Pinochet’s Chile, Hitler’s Germany, and so on).
In any case, the Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, et cetera, spread the wétiko disease throughout the Middle East. The Persian tribes caught it and lost their freedom while gaining an empire. The Greeks caught it and became corrupted. The Macedonians and Greeks under Alexander spread it still further. The Carthaginians caught it and, spread it. But it remained for the Roman Empire to really expand the wétiko infection. Nation after nation of Celtic, Iberic, Germanic, Slavic, Arabic, and Finno-Ugric peoples were contacted or conquered by the Romans and taught how to plunder, how to setup colonial sytems, how to exploit slave and peasant labor,how to set up combined church-state systems of control (especially after 300 A.D.), how to tax, how to create a vicious class of so-called merchants, and how to develop a corrupt and immoral ruling class with alcoholic, sexual, and sadistic debauchery.
Of course, the wétiko historians love the Roman Empire because it gave the Mediterranean world "law and order," the Latin Language, Roman roads, Roman aqueducts, and triumphant arches. The "wild" tribes resisting the Romans, be they Scots, Basques, Arabs, or Berbers, and the rebel malcontents such as some of the Jews, were, or course, freedom-loving "primitives." They did not have rich rulers to build palaces or, like many Jews, they had learned to distrust those who chose to build such places of splendor. So the wétiko historians despise those who fought for freedom and, try to make us believe that living as a slave in Italy or a castrated Briton in England-to-be would be ideal, because our unwilling labor would finance the palace-building and revelry of the educated rulers, who could also occasionally write books or, at least, have Greek slaves write them.
The Romans were good teachers of wétiko ways. The German tribes soon became infected and when they took over they became Romans, not only in name but also in values. Need we go on? The English became Romans, the French became Romans, the Spaniards became Romans, the Arabs became Romans, the Turks became Romans, and so on; and when the English colonists reached Virginia they were Romans – avaricious, lying, cheating, stealing; in short, civilized wétikos.
The English of John Smith told the Powhatans of Virginia: "We only want to be your friends; we just need a little land to build a place where we can trade with you. We only want some corn and squash so that we can keep ourselves alive." All the while, of course, the English had a grant for all of the land "from sea to sea" from the king of England. They had, as is well-known, every intention of taking whatever they pleased.
John Smith and his successors were, clearly, liars. They were openly out to steal someone else's land (and hopefully, gold). They were planning to use Indian bodies to produce a new, transplanted wealthy class. That failing, they stole African bodies and erected perhaps the most vicious long-term form of cannibalism the world has ever known – the slavery system of the United States.
Tragically, the history of the world for the past 2,000 years is, in great part, the story of the epidemology of the wétiko disease. We see it spread not only to the Americas but also to almost every corner of Africa, Asia and the Pacific. The Europeans are, of course, the major transmitters but the Chinese Empire, Japanese Empire and the corrupted Mongols and Manchus are also carriers in Asia, albeit of slightly different varieties of the disease.
In recent years we have seen honest, spiritually-oriented Vietnamese, Khmer, and Laotian peasants corrupted in a severely intensive form. People before our eyes were converted into murderers, pimps, prostitutes, black marketeers, spies, mercenaries, torturers, thieves, and avaricious exploitative officials. We see the same thing today in Brazil where spiritual, honest Native people are being liquidated or transformed into alcoholics, prostitutes, or murderers of other Indians. And we see the civilizados, the "civilized Brazilians" (usually of Indian blood or Indian, Black and White mixture) becoming torturers, murderers, spies, and so on, in the same process of creating a modern society.
In Brazil Native people are often called bugres (buggers) and always savages while their oppressors and murderers are called civilized. So again we see that what the wétiko means by "civilization" is something terrible indeed: a civilization is (it would appear) a society in which there are so many evil or violent or dishonest people that the police, soldiers, and other armed forces of control must almost equal the total population in numbers.
On the other hand, I believe that a true civilization is a society where people are "civil ," that is, where they behave so well towards each other that they do not need police or other armed systems of control.
By this definition most Native American societies, and many other so-called tribal societies, were civilized. In Brazil today it is the surviving 50,000 free Indians who are the civilized. Their oppressors, conversely, are sometimes both uncivilized and, as torturers, murderers, and thieves, are brutes as well (although I hate to use the word "brute" in such a way because it reflects White stereotypes about animals. But to me animals are almost never brutes; wétiko humans are the true "brutes" of the world)!
What we have actually seen in the past 2,000 years is not the "rise of civilization" but the rise of brutality and barbarism with, of course, numerous resistance movements led by such diverse people as Buddha, Yehoshu’a, Tecumseh, Handsome Lake, Crazy Horse, Chitto Harjo, Sarah Winnemucca, Emiliano Zapata, Mahatma Gandhi, and thousands of other forgotten, important and less important, non-wétiko, sane, human beings.
If we are to understand history from a sane perspective we must be prepared to challenge the evolutionary schemes, heroes, and themes promoted by wétiko thinking. This is not going to be easy. In California, for example, the two greatest "heroes" of the media and the establishment are John Sutter and Father Junipero Serra, both wétikos. Sutter, for whom the state maintains a memorial and in whose memory streets, towns, and a county are named, was a completely immoral (or amoral), avaricious, and deceitful man. His life was a record of shady deals and quick departures until he finally managed to build a fort at what is now Sacramento. There he established himself as an absolutist potentate using Indian peon and slave labor as his major source of income. His record includes the murder of numerous Native people, raping many Indian girls (including very young ones), forcing his native workers to eat out of hog-troughs, selling liquor to Indians, and selling Indian slaves to pay his numerous debts. Sutter was without honor, willingly betraying the Mexican government to whom he had sworn loyalty, yet this wétiko is northern California's greatest hero.
Junipero Serra was a different kind of wétiko but even more dangerous to the lives of other human beings. Having taken a vow of poverty (as a Franciscan) he could not accumulate personal wealth but he could arbitrarily deprive thousands of Native People of their freedom and directly cause the deaths of 40,000 or more in the system of totalitarian missionization which he initiated and controlled for many years. Serra became a near-absolute dictator, ruling Indian people as if they were mere slaves and forcing them to work to maintain an economic-military system whose sole purpose it was to control them, change their culture, and seize their land.
Some people might wish to excuse Serra on the grounds that he never personally profited from the system of oppression he created. However, ruthless wétikos may seek profit in many ways. He may create an empire for his children's benefit, for his church, for his relatives, or for his nationality. Personally Serra remained "poor" but he accumulated wealth and power for his religious order and the Spanish nationality, all at the expense of other human beings. Most importantly, he helped to serve as an example for imperialism and exploitation. He believed that he was justified in depriving other people of their land, lives, and freedom because he possessed a "superior" culture and "the truth." What more does a wétiko need?
The Japanese occupation of Korea, the British seizure of India, the German eastward drives against the Slavs, and the U.S. destruction of the first Filipino Republic were all justified by very similar reasoning. "Might makes right" is the wétiko belief, but it is often accompanied by self-serving doctrines of "divine will," "manifest destiny," "providence," "the march of civilization," "doing God's work," “stopping communism,” or comparable slogans.
THE OVERRIDING characteristic of the wétiko is that he consumes other human beings, that is, he is a predator and a cannibal. This is the central essence of the disease. In other respects, however, the motivation for and forms of cannibalism may vary. For example, the Turkish sultans who castrated large numbers of males to serve as “eunuchs” in the palace were motivated differently from the popes in Rome who reportedly castrated young boys for their choirs, but in each case other human beings were deprived of their freedom, their authenticity, and their right to live as a normal human being. All were equally consumed by cannibals whose high degree of derangement cannot be denied.
In any event, the wétiko psychosis is a very contagious and rapidly spreading disease. It is spread by the wétikos themselves as they recruit or corrupt others. It is spread today by history books, television, military training programs, police training programs, comic books, pornographic magazines, films, right-wing movements, fanatics of various kinds, high-pressure missionary groups, and numerous governments.
Native people have almost always understood that many Europeans were wétiko, were insane. Many years ago, one of the Arapaho songs of the Ghost Dance said,
When at first I liked the Whites,
I gave them fruits,
I gave them fruits …
I’yehe! My children –
We have rendered them desolate.
The Whites are crazy – A he yuhe yu.1
When Black Hawk was captured in 1832, he said,
Black Hawk is a true Indian. … He cares for his nation and the Indians. They will suffer. He laments their fate. The White men do not scalp the head; but they do worse—they poison the heart, it is not pure with them. His countrymen will not be scalped, but they will, in a few years, become like the White men, so that you can’t trust them, and there must be, as in the White settlements, nearly as many officers as men, to take care of them and keep them in order.2
Black Hawk’s astute analysis was, of course, correct. He understood that the “poisoned hearts” of the Europeans (the wétiko disease) would soon spread to the Native People, and that a wétiko society with large numbers of police would ensue. Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota medicine man, witnessed the treatment of prisoners in a penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, New York:
There was something here at the prisoner’s house that made me feel very bad. Men pointed guns at them and ordered them around and I thought that maybe my people would probably be treated this way some day.3
This experience occurred in 1887, when Black Elk and 132 other Indians were about to embark to England as a part of Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West” show. Three years later, in 1890, the US Army (Seventh Calvary) massacred Sioux men, women and children at Wounded Knee. That massacre, intended ostensibly to suppress the “Ghost Dance” religion, was, in fact, a terrorist act designed to break the back of the Sioux political-social resistance and to open up large areas for white settlement. In any case, the “poisoned hearts” of the white society quite often revolve around materialism and greed. As Lame Deer, a Lakota holy man, has written,
If this earth should ever be destroyed, it will be by desire, by the lust of pleasure and self-gratification, by greed for the green frog skin [money], by people who are mindful only of their own self, forgetting about the wants of others.4
Let us look at an ancient Mexican poem and the ideals it expresses:
Those of the white head of hair, those of the wrinkled face, our ancestors …
They did not come to be arrogant,
They did not come to go about looking greedily,
They did not come to be voracious.
They were such that they were esteemed on the earth:
They reached the stature of eagles and jaguars.5
Now if we were to change that poem to suit the wétiko we would have to say,
They came here to be arrogant,
They were seeking,
They were greedy.
They were such that they were hated and feared,
They came to be parasites and cannibals.
BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE, the wonderful Cree singer, tells us,
The whites carry the greed disease. … They need to be cured, but they usually don’t mind their disease, or even recognize it, because it's all they know and their leaders encourage them in it, and many of them are beyond help.6
1 From James Mooney, The Ghost Dance Religion, as quoted in Astrov, ed., American Indian Prose and Poetry, 143-144.
2 Forbes, The Indian in Anerica’s Past, 65.
3 Interview with Black Elk, 1931, in DeMallie, The Sixth Grandfather, 247.
4 Lame Deer, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, 252.
5 Miguel León Portilla, La Filosofia Nahuatl – Estudiada en sus Fuentes, 237-238, trans. by Forbes.
6 Akwesasne Notes, Early Winter, 1976, 29; and Katz, The Fire of Time, 169.
There are many psychological traits that help form the wétiko personality. Greed, lust, inordinate ambition, materialism, the lack of a true “face,” a schizoid (split) personality, and so on, are all terms which can be used to describe most wétikos. But one of the major traits characterizing the truly evil and extreme form of wétikoism is arrogance. Father Junípero Serra, for instance, was a supremely arrogant man. Tens of thousands of Indians died because he and his fellow Spanish Franciscans assumed that they, even though they were fallible human beings, had the supreme wisdom and supreme right to forcibly assume directorship over other human lives. Over and over again we find the trait of arrogance associated with British colonialists, Japanese imperialists, white racist bigots in the US, FBI agents, communist messianic “saviors” of the masses, John Birch Society leaders, Nazi officers, social workers who shame and demean the poor, police officers who strut about with their over-stuffed para-military uniforms and billy clubs, and so on. More recently, Europeans and others have been shocked by the arrogance of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and others who launched the US attack upon Iraq and who asserted the right to unilaterally dominate the globe (and space)!
Unfortunately, arrogance is a trait that plays an important role in the behavior of the elite sectors of the European ruling classes everywhere (or their ruling counterparts in many non-European societies). Is it not rather arrogant for Russian and US officials and scientists to spend hundreds of billions of dollars (taken from the people through taxes or the exploitation of cheap labor) on space research (military and non-military) when the other people of the earth are also “co-owners” of the sky, but have not been consulted? By what grant do the Anglo-Americans and Russians presume to control space? The answer, of course, is “might makes right.” The Russians and the Anglo-Americans do not restrain themselves, because their arrogance is such that they believe they do not have to consult with anyone else.
And it is not merely the military bureaucrats who are arrogant. Scientists in many fields recognize no societal obligations restraining their experimentation, least of all any restraints imposed by “the lower classes” or less powerful nationalities. Space research, genetic research, animal experimentation, and so on proceeds generally according to rules imposed only by the scientists themselves and by the military-industrial complexes which they work for and help to create. Many modern scientists are the precise counterparts of Christopher Columbus, and not merely by way of analogy. They will pave the way for new imperialism and new systems of coercion and will themselves economically, participate in the fruits of the new “discoveries.”
Suppose that other forms of life were to be found by US or Russian space ventures on some distant solar body. Is there anything in the current behavior of these Earth People which would lead one to expect that such forms of life would be treated justly? If Indians cannot be treated justly along the Amazon or in Arizona, how can we expect non-human forms to be recognized as having any rights at all?
Let us hope, for their sake, that the first space people contacted possess adequate means of self-defense against our intrepid space colonizers! Arrogance is a key trait of the wétiko or of a person liable to become a wétiko. On the other hand, humility is an essential value of traditional Native American life. Ohiyesa said:
The first American mingled with his pride a singular humility. Spiritual arrogance was foreign to his nature and teaching …7
And Pete Catches, a widely-respected Lakota man, has said,
I don’t even want to be called a medicine man, just a healing man, because this is what I am made for. I don’t ask for anything. A White doctor has a fee, a priest has a fee. I have no fee. A man goes away from me healed. That is my reward …8
Black Elk noted that no good thing could be done by any person alone, and Juan Matus, the Yaqui nagualli, told his apprentice,
The world around us is a mystery; and men are no better than anything else. … As long as you feel that you are the most important thing in the world you cannot really appreciate the world around you. You are like a horse with blinders, all you see is yourself apart from everything else. Self-importance is another thing that must be dropped. …9
7 Chiyesa, Soul of the Indian, 88.
8 Lame Deer, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, 137-130.
9 Matus, in Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan, 35, 42, 45.
Juan, as a noted teacher, had several apprentices, and he might have been tempted, like a Christian evangelist or Hindu guru, to have acquired fame (“Juan Matus International University?”) but instead he chose anonymity and humility. An apprentice once asked him what it felt like to be a master (a guru). He replied that a warrior accepts his lot in humbleness:
It takes time for every one of us to understand that point and fully live it. I, for instance, hated the mere mention of the word “humbleness.” I’m an Indian, and we Indians have always been humble and have done nothing else but lower our heads. I thought humbleness was not in the warrior’s way. … The warrior lowers his head to no one, but at the same time, he doesn’t permit anyone to lower his head to him. The beggar, on the other hand, falls to his knees at the drop of a hat and scrapes the floor for anyone he deems higher; but at the same time, he demands that someone lower than him scrape the floor for him. … I know only the humbleness of a warrior, and that will never permit me to be anyone’s master.10
Juan helps us to understand one of the essential characteristics of wétikoist-imperialistic societies: each social class seeks to exploit those below it. This is, of course, one of the vicious characteristics introduced by the wétiko disease, and at the same time, one which helps to maintain the status quo. Beggars who scrape the floor for those above and who kick those below are in no position to alter the system. Paulo Friere, in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, makes it very clear that this is why isolated, individual actions of upward mobility (or even group actions) in a wétiko society usually fail to alter that society. Those who squirm upwards are, or become, wétiko, and they only perpetuate the system of corruption or oppression. (Thus the communist leaders in the Soviet Union under Stalin were at least as vicious, deceitful and exploitative as their czarist predecessors. They obtained “power” without changing their wétiko culture.
The very structure of their [the oppressed’s] thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped. Their ideal is to be men; but for them, to be men is to be oppressors. This is their model of humanity. Thus, the behavior of the oppressed is a prescribed behavior, following as it does the guidelines of the oppressor.11
Ultimately, humility is the basis for democracy, just as arrogance is the basis for authoritarianism. Let us contrast the values of many Native people and those like Junípero Serra. As Lame Deer says,
To us a man is what nature, or his dreams, make him. We accept him for what he wants to be. … The Great Spirit wants people to be different. …12
Okute, an old Teton Sioux, said many years ago,
Animals and plants are taught by Wakan tanka what they are to do. Wakan tanka teaches the birds to make nests, yet the nests of all birds are not alike. Wakan tanka gives them merely the outline. … All birds, even those of the same species, are not alike, and it is the same with animals and with human beings. The reason Wakan tanka does not make two birds, or animals, or human beings exactly alike is because each is placed here by Wakan tanka to be an independent individuality and to rely on itself.13
This kind of thinking, respect for another’s life, is based ultimately upon humility and the sense of the relatedness and equality of all creatures (but not equality equals sameness). Democracy can only exist with such a philosophy.
In contrast, Junípero Serra and the other Franciscans uniformly sought to force other people to change their total behavior to suit another’s fancy. This even extended to changes in names, changes in dress, changes in diet, changes in marriage patterns, changes in place of residence, and so on, as well as changes in forms of worship and political organization. The missionized Indian was allowed virtually no room for nature or his dreams. And, of course, this pattern of coercion has also been typical of Calvinistic-controlled areas, Catholic areas generally, Nazi-Fascist states, many communist states, and so on. Arrogance and authoritarianism run hand in hand. As Juan points out, the humility of a warrior, of a free man, must not be confused with the humility of a beggar. The beggar only appears to be humble when, in fact, he is merely fearful or currying favors. Thus also the outward humility of oppressed peasants, workers, or lower-middle class bureaucrats in a wétiko society may mask fear. True humility does not arise from fear, but from a profound sense of one’s place in the universe. As Black Elk said,
When we use the water in the sweat lodge we should think of Wakan tanka, who is always flowing, giving His power and life to everything. … The willows which make the frame of the sweat lodge are set up in such away that they mark the four quarters of the universe; thus, the whole lodge is the universe in image, and the two-legged, four-legged, and winged peoples, and all the things of the world are contained within it. … The round fireplace at the center of the sweat lodge is the center of the universe, in which dwells Wakan tanka, with His power which is the fire. All these things are Wakan [holy and mysterious] and must be understood deeply if we really wish to purify ourselves, for the power of a thing or an act is in the meaning and the understanding.14
Thus the Indian’s sweat lodge, a Native “church,” is not simply for one man or a group of men. It symbolizes the entire creation, and when the humans are sweating they are suffering with and for all their relatives. Among the Lakota each entrance and exit, each prayer, each drink of water, and each pipe-smoke offering is completed with the words “all my relatives,” meaning all of one’s human, animal, insect, vegetable and other relations.
10 Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power, 16, 27.
11 Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30, 31.
12 Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, 149, 156-157.
13 Okute in Densmore, Teton Sioux Music, 172-173.
14 Black Elk, Sacred Pipe, 31-32.
The humility of the Native American is a humility based upon an awareness of one’s own lack of strength and knowledge and also upon one’s awareness of being only one member of a huge universal family. With this kind of humility comes respect for other creatures’ lives and dreams.
But I also want to draw attention to several other things. First, that the temaskalli [sweat lodge], like most other Indian “churches,” costs no money to build. It only takes twelve or sixteen willow poles, some rocks, and hides or old blankets and canvas to make. Of course the temaskalli cannot be compared with Notre Dame Cathedral as an architectural wonder, but what about as a spiritual wonder? Traditional Native people are very wise in that they know that money corrupts and that money can corrupt worship as well as other aspects of life. The inipi [sweat ceremony] can provide a truly spiritual experience. Notre Dame was built to provide a spectacle for men.
Second, I wish to draw special attention to Black Elk’s final words, that the “power of a thing or an act is in the meaning and the understanding.” This is very important, since in the wétiko world it is widely believed that God can be fooled even as one can fool other human beings. Thus the Mafia gangster may attend Mass or give money to his church, or the Bible-belt white racist may piously sing hymns in his church every Sunday (and even go to Bible meetings on Wednesday nights). But for Indians, doing things without authenticity, without sincerity, and without understanding is useless. Black Hawk said,
We can only judge of what is proper and right by our standard of right and wrong, which differs widely from the Whites’, if I have been correctly informed. The Whites may do bad all their lives, and then, if they are sorry for it when about to die, all is well! But with us it is different: we must continue throughout our lives to do what we conceive to be good. If we have corn and meat, and know of a family that have none, we divide with them. If we have more blankets than sufficient and others have not enough, we must give to them that want.15
Thus it is meaningless to sweat in the inipi ceremony unless one understands. The power of a thing or an act is in the meaning and the understanding. Thus, one’s intention and one’s motivations are crucial. This is what I mean by authenticity and sincerity. Indians believe that one cannot fool the spiritual world by uttering words that contradict what is in one’s heart, what one intends. Indians often pray silently, with their thoughts, because they believe that, in effect, our thoughts are what we are.
According to Witapanoxwe,
it is said traditionally, when anyone meditates in his heart on good, there is formed the thought. And when he thinks of good it is easy to behave well, but when he misbehaves it is the Evil that a person seriously thinks about as concerns his life.16
Authenticity and intention or motivation cannot be ignored. This is closely related also to having a “face,” as I discussed before. Being good is, traditionally, not merely an admonition, but instead, an active principle bringing together good intentions, good actions, and harmony with the universe. As Mountain Wolf Woman, a follower of the peyote road, puts it,
Whatever is good, that I would do. Whatever is good to say, that I would say. … That is the way I am. I pray to God. I always ask of him that I move toward a good way, that my children and my grandchildren and the people live well.17
The wétiko world believes, however, in the use of tricks, constant opportunism, “situational ethics,” life adjustment, personality adjustment, wheeling and dealing, double standards and plain fakery. Such a life of deception and rootlessness leads easily into pimpery. Carlos Castaneda and Juan Matus were once discussing the question of whether or not they were equals; Juan’s response was that they were not, Juan being a warrior and Carlos a pimp. He said,
When a man decides to do something he must go all the way, but he must take responsibility for what he does. No matter what he does, he must know first why he is doing it.18
15 Black Hawk, Autobiography, 99.
16 Witapanoxwe, in Speck, Delaware Indian Big House Ceremony, vol. 2, 161.
17 Lurie, ed., Mountain Wolf Woman, 91-92.
18 Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan, 61, italics added.
A news story of a few years ago featured the life of a confused Chicano. I reproduce part of the story here to illustrate the life of a wétiko, substituting “Lopez” for the man’s real name:
Guns for hire are a big business in a world fragmented by hatred. That’s Lopez’s ace in the hole, hatred. It’s what makes him tick.
Lopez is Mexican-American, raised in a small town in Wyoming. “There was a lot of prejudice,” he said. “I guess it was the way I was brought up. That’s where it started.” [He then served nine years in the army, serving in Vietnam, but couldn’t go on because of war injuries.] “A major I know approached me then and asked me if I wanted to do the same type of thing. He gave me $2,500 cash and a plane ticket and I was on my way. [He then fought as a mercenary in Africa, Arabia, Jordan and Israel.] I used to get paid by the head. I learned that in Vietnam.”
“By the head” means he brought back from raids a part of the kill, usually a hand, and was paid on the spot.
“Sometimes we would bring back two hands and use the other one later,” he said, “but they got wise to that … I’ve got to get moving. I’ll do it until I get this hate out of me. I fight a lot. I can’t control my temper. All my life I was taught if you want something, go fight for it. I’ve fought for everything I’ve had.”19
It’s hard to add much to this, a classic picture of how a person oppressed by wétikos adopts the values of wétikos as he “rises” in position. The wétikos taught him well, but they taught him falsely. He naively believed that he could get “the hate” out of himself by killing people he didn’t even know, solely because he was hired as a “hit man.” His tortured life will doubtless continue along its brutal path of ugliness and hate to the very end. Tragic, but he is an essential tool for even bigger wétikos. It’s killers like “Lopez” who do the dirty work for the “big shots,” the people who plan the wars, make the deals and reap the profits. A pimp, on the other hand, is someone who follows other people’s orders, follows someone else’s path, and who refuses to take responsibility for what he does. Such a person cannot be authentic. Such a person is not merely a pimp, he is also a ghost, as it were, a mere imitation of a person. His life is an imitation of life, lacking solidity and realness. But the wétiko world is full of such pimps and ghosts. And they do get promoted, they do get better salaries, and they do get testimonials (and a gold watch) when they “retire.” But their life is less than that of a wild (free) animal who is, after all, always authentic. They also are the hosts for the wétiko parasites (for, after all, as Friere points out, oppressors could not exist without their host’s consent). They are also candidates for the wétiko disease themselves. Friere writes,
The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.20
One of the tragic characteristics of the wétiko psychosis is that it spreads partly by resistance to it. That is, those who try to fight wétikos sometimes, in order to survive, adopt wétiko values. Thus, when they “win,” they lose, or at least, the people lose.
Mariano Azuela, in his novel The Underdogs and in his short stories, shows how Mexican campesinos became sucked up in the revolution against Díaz, fighting for “land and liberty.” Some, however, became mere killing machines duplicating the brutality of the porfiristas. Others became new caciques (bosses) exploiting the masses. Still others lost out to wétiko opportunists who were ready to seize control of the revolution as soon as they were sure of a campesino victory. Brutality is catching and it feeds on prior brutality and hate.
This is, of course, the story of the former Nicaraguan “Contras” and of all of the soldiers of bloody military dictatorships, people who shed their humanity and commit unspeakable atrocities ultimately for the benefit of government officials, wealthy capitalists or foreign powers.
19 “Hatred and Wars Pay Off for LA Mercenary,” United Press International, Sacramento Bee, December 31, 1975, 132.
20 Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 31.
B. TRAVEN, in his historical novels relating to the Native people of Chiapas (the so-called Jungle Novels), provides many interesting insights into how wétikos behave and how they are treated. Chiapas, under the Diaz dictatorship, was largely ruled by Spanish-speaking people of mixed race called ladinos. The big land owners and major officials tended to be light-skinned and predominantly European in descent. They were relatively few in number, but occupied a privileged position based upon the raw exploitation of the Native masses. In Government Traven more or less sketches out the life of one Gabriel Ordumez, a ladino wétiko who had been an unsuccessful petty entrepreneur. As a ladino, however, he was offered the position of “secretary” (Indian agent) in the Indian village of Bujvilum:
“If you want to go there, then I will make you a town secretary. You start a school. And I will give you leave to sell brandy. Make a jail, a good prison. You know the rest.” Don Gabriel had a good revolver, and he was an excellent sharpshooter. And the Indians had no revolvers and also could not buy any, because they had no money and moreover it was strongly forbidden to sell them revolvers or rifles, except for front-loaders for hunting.
The prison was very important, as everywhere on earth. With the construction of prisons commences, everywhere, the organization of civilized states …
The secretary received fifteen pesos salary from the government. With that his big family could not live. But the government did not at all expect him to live on this salary alone. After all, he was secretary of a town where industrious and active Indians lived.
Don Gabriel gave each Indian man who had worked on the cabildo a copita, a small glass of brandy. Their village chief took none, saying that he drank no aguardiente, no firewater. In the evening Don Gabriel said to his wife, “You know, the Elder, the cacique, does not drink. I don’t like it.” “I am sure he will too drink,” replied his wife confidently. “He would be the first that I have become acquainted with. Offer him one, when he is alone with you.”1
And thus Gabriel Orduhez and his wife set themselves up to steal, intimidate, tax, and coerce every centavo and peso possible from an already poor but legally defenseless native community. And how did they manage to do this? Because they could use alcohol as a tool for both bribing and breaking down resistance, and because they could call upon the help of every persona de razon (civilized person) in Chiapas to help them kill or enslave the Indians if they rebelled. And the vast majority of these ladinos who would come to Orduhez’s aid would be themselves of Indian blood, and very poor, but somehow they had learned Spanish, acquired some real or fictitious European ancestry, gotten a horse and a gun, and imagined themselves to be superior to their Indian relatives. Above all they had become wétikos.
This is the secret of colonialism, how to divide the conquered masses (who are usually the majority population) into rival groups, with a small sector (the ladinos, or mestizos, or light mulattoes in the plantation south of the United States) being used to kill, lash and control their more oppressed relations.
A colonial system almost always assigns low status to all Native customs, and if racial differences are apparent, also assigns low-status to the physical characteristics of the conquered population. The conquered people are made to feel inferior and this inferiority is used as a weapon of psychological warfare to control them …
The low status assigned to the Native culture and race is used as a weapon against all persons of “mixed” ancestry or all Natives who seek to “rise” in status. Such persons must deny and denigrate Native values and characteristics if they wish to escape from the lowest, most exploited sectors of the society …
In the most “astute” colonial systems the masses of Native origin will become divided into numerous castes and sub-castes [in other words, indios, mestizos, ladinos] … In most such systems it is the hope that the different castes will come to act as distinct social units opposed to each other.2
This is the secret of how the white governments have controlled Indian reservations or communities. In many cases English-speaking or Spanish-speaking mixed-bloods (ladinos, mestizos) serve as “goons” or “coyotes” who are used to keep the Native masses in a state of fear and passivity. Of course, the ladinos and coyotes are also rewarded with a share of the profits and special privileges (for example, being able to beat up an enemy without going to jail, or to rape a woman without fear of prosecution, and so on). Thus, the ladinos are brutalized as they brutalize. They are steadily more corrupted, until finally an Indian machete or bullet ends their career.
1 B. Traven, Regierung, 7, 11, 12, 22, my translation; see also B. Traven, Government, 3-15.
2 Jack D. Forbes. “Colonialism and American Education,” in Miguel Trujillo, ed., Perspectives on Contemporary Native American and Chicano Educational Thought, 20-21.
Alcohol is, of course, a universal weapon of the wétiko:
In Pebvil Don Abelardo was Secretary, and Don Amalio was cacique of the Indians … Amalio was a drunkard. Another weakness was that he was easily influenced by Don Abelardo. Don Abelardo had a way of bringing the chief little by little to his side …
With help from the cacique, who was not intelligent enough to always see through the secretary’s tactic in time and who also could not resist brandy when it was placed in front of him, being weak in nature and in character, the secretary realized great success in the sphere of governmental authority … Complaint after complaint was delivered to the governor [of the state] in regard to the administration of the nation by the secretary … But the payments due to Indian workers were actually being shared by the secretary with the governor and the government engineer.3
When the Pebvil Indians rebelled, they were, of course, crushed by ladino troops and then sold to the mahogany cutting camps (where they would likely die) by ruthless ladino coyotes. The Native villages, naturally, came to hate the ladinos of Indian blood or near-Indian status even more than they hated the Europeans or near-Europeans who were their ultimate oppressors. The Indian’s dictator (in the mahogany camps as well as on the coffee plantations) who they knew and saw, was the capataz [overseer]:
The capataz was to be reached. To implore him to be less cruel never for a moment occurred to them. It would have been better to have implored a stone … But the capataces, who for the most part came from the same blood and also the same class [the Indian peasant], denied both the community of blood and even more so, of class. Just as the non-commissioned officer believes that he is closer to the officers than to the soldiers, whenever he flays the soldiers, so also the capataces believed that they were socially closer to the ladinos, the agents, and the labor contractors if they handled the peones more brutally and the more mercilessly they helped their masters catch a new sacrifice.4
The owners of the mahogany cutting camps, the coffee plantations, and so on have always been, of course, the big profiteers in systems of exploitation, and they usually are white or near-white, or are Europeans living in palatial homes in London, Paris or New York. To do their “dirty work,” however, they need goons or coyotes who are willing to carry guns and to beat and kill their fellows for a few dollars or a few cents, depending upon their position in the hierarchy of exploitation. (Now, of course, many of these killers wear uniforms or serve in “death squads.”)
This system can be seen clearly in any specific case, such as the way in which black laborers were captured, shipped, sold and resold in order to provide cheap labor for the George Washingtons and Thomas Jeffersons of North America. It can also be seen in the sale of Chinese or Hindu “coolie” labor or in the seizure and sale of Native American campesinos in Mexico.
To hook again peones who had been mustered-off [from their contracts] was the job of human parasites, the so-called coyotes … They were scavengers, living on the carrion left over by the big [labor] agents …
It was easy work to catch again men who had finished their contracts by means of cunning, fraud, making them drunk, and with the help of fallen women of the lower-most level of the sweepings of the human race.5
Those who tried to escape were hung by the arms and the legs and were tortured, but not to the death, because dead workers brought no money. According to B. Traven,
the regular agents for the monterías purchased Indians from the prisons in the villages, paying the fines for the Indians to the mayor or to the secretary … The fines inflicted on the Indians were considered his most important income.
These fines were set high so as to ensure that the Indian could never pay it himself. The coyotes kidnapped Indians and forced them to go to the monterías. The Native People could have no recourse to the legal system, since,
The Indians knew that the coyote who was a ladino would be believed by the judge, and that the matter must be as the ladino said.6
The difficult and tragic thing about such systems of inhuman exploitation is that they usually are directed by innocent-looking, suave wétikos whose offices in New York City or Amsterdam are never contaminated by the sweat, blood and dying flesh of murdered Indians, blacks, “coolies,” or factory workers. As Traven points out, the Native workers, if they had been taken to New York and,
been shown the headquarters of the Central American Fine Woods and Chicle Corporation … they also would not have believed that this small army of men, boys, and girls hanging around the desks were the force which condemned them to the inferno of the monterias.7
But this we must emphasize over and over, that the wétiko disease is not limited to the brutes and goons who handle the gun, the lash or the instruments of torture. The nice people in the offices, the typists, the lab technicians, the clerks and, of course, the owners, directors, stockholders, senators, generals and presidents who use, profit from, and feed on human exploitation are also cannibals to one degree or another. The most guilty of the wétikos are, I would think, those who mastermind, justify and profit most from such systems. Such persons are the “master predators.”
3 B. Traven, Regierung, 237-239, my translation; see also B. Traven, Government, 178-181.
4 B. Traven, Caoba: Roman aus Mexiko, 1953 and 1950, 247-248, my translation; and B. Traven, March to Caobaland, 1961, 149-150.
5 B. Traven, Caoba, 124, my translation; and B. Traven, March to Caobaland, 61-62.
6 B. Traven, Caoba, 125-126, my translation; and B. Traven, March to Cdobaland, 62-63.
7 B. Traven, Caoba, 243, my translation; B. Traven, March to Caobaland, 146-147.
In any case, in Guatemala until recently (for instance), or in other parts of the Americas, the wétikos who are murdering, beating, castrating and torturing Indian people are themselves only flunkies or pimps. They may be Afro-Native mixed-bloods (Cafusos or Zambos) or Portugese-Native Caboclos in Brazil, or they may be poor Indians forcibly recruited into the army, or they may be middle-class whites wearing the various uniforms of the CIA or US military aide mission. These goons will have to live with the blood on their hands. They will have nightmares, or they will become ever more degraded and brutalized. They may die a death like those which they inflict. But they will never really share in the wealth and power that they are transferring into the hands of the big wétikos.
On the other hand, even the goons do reap some profit, and we shouldn’t be naive about that. The police or military man who gets the “thrill” of bashing down people’s doors and forcing the inhabitants to cower with eyes full of fear, the former Guatemalan torturer got the thrill of cutting off the heads of captured Indians, and the Pinochet-era Chilean police investigator sticking objects up women prisoners’ vaginal openings, are reaping a reward. His reward, of course, is to satisfy cruel and sadistic desires which have been somehow cultivated in him by centuries of exposure to wétiko socialization or by US-sponsored military or police training programs.
An agricultural fraternity at the Davis campus of the University of California had one of its “songs” exposed to the public eye a few years ago. This song was forced on all new initiates:
Way down in Cunt Valley where red rivers flow,
Where Whore Mongers flourish and Cock Suckers grow,
That’s where I met Lupe, the girl I adore,
She’s my hot Fucking, Cock Sucking Mexican whore.
She got her first piece at the young age of eight,
While swinging out front on the old school yard gate,
The crossbars went out and the uprights went in,
And ever since, Lupe’s been living in sin.
She’ll hug you, she’ll squeeze you, she’ll gnaw at your nuts,
She’ll wrap her legs around you and squeeze out your guts,
She’ll love you so hard that you wish you could die,
But I’d rather eat Lupe than blueberry pie.
Now Lupe is dead and lies still in her tomb,
The maggots crawl in and out of her desecrated womb.
You can tell by her smile that she still wants some more,
She’s my hot Fucking, Cock Sucking Mexican Whore.
What can be added? This “song” is that of mentally-deranged people. It expresses deep sadistic, racist and sexist attitudes. It is the “song” of potential torturers and goons. And what about this old song, popular among some white males for many years:
Once there was an Indian maid
who said she wasn’t afraid
to lay on her back in a little brown shack
and let a cowboy ram
it up her crack;
one day she was surprised
when her belly began to rise
and out of her cunt
came a little black runt
with his ass between his eyes.
And, of course, there are many more such filthy, racist songs and jokes which could be cited. Many of our wétikos, then, are socialized by a society which has extremely negative attitudes towards sex (and which sees sex as a form of aggression, often against women), and which cultivates various forms of cruelty and sadism. Such persons, however, are clearly mentally ill and their desire to commit sadistic acts (such as rape) makes them very vulnerable to becoming wétikos. A potential sadist cannot satisfy his cruel, perverted desires unless he undertakes aggression against another living creature. Tragically, the Catholic inquisition and “crusades,” the fundamentalist Muslim’s “holy wars,” the imperialist wars and systems of exploitation, and the Fascist-Communist secret police, concentration camps, and so on, all provide opportunities for “approved” aggression.
Before we stop, however, let us also ask to what extent “scientific” experimenters on animals, social workers intimidating poor people, bureaucrats being rude to “common” people who dare to approach their desks, teachers treating pupils (or selected pupils) with mental cruelty, and so on, are not also using disguised means of expressing the same sadistic derangement apparently fostered by the wétiko world? Predation takes many forms. Many jurisdictions now place information on “sexual predators” on the internet – but what about political, economic, and military predators?
SADISM AND cruelty are indeed ugly things. And it is frightening to live in a society where few neighborhoods are safe from rapists, pathological “sport” murders, child abusers, and so on. We appear (especially in the United States) to live in a strange society where, not only is such non-economic violence relatively commonplace, but where also known Mafia gangsters live in mansions at desert spas and where one’s neighbor in a wealthy suburban enclave may be a major pornography dealer, or a hit-man, or a narcotics distributor.
But these things are not new, even though the scale may have changed. Wealthy criminals and industrial robber-barons have often lived in mansions, and the non-white and poor have frequently known fear and violence. What is new is that the middle-class is not always “safe” anymore, perhaps because of the constant spreading of the wétiko disease (but also because the military-corporate rulers of modern capitalist states possess such great organizational and propaganda power that even the loyalty of the middle-class is no longer perceived as being as important as it once was).
In any case, sadism and cruelty are closely related to wétiko behavior and to a peculiarity of the European and Overseas European character, which deserves some special attention. We will call this phenomena the mátchi syndrome, derived from a term found in the Powhatan, Delaware, Massachusett, Ojibwe, and Cree languages. Mátchi means evil or bad, and is used in various forms to refer to evilness of the mind, evil speech, evil acts, and so on.
European scholars have delighted in descriptions of witchcraft, sorcery, paranoia, suspicion, fear of the dark, and so on found among folk people in Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas. Many shelves could be filled with anthropological and popular works dealing with the alleged Navajo fear of witches, African witch-doctors, Haitian voodoo, and similar non-white concern with the “bad” side of life. Such beliefs have, however, little impact upon the modern world, whereas the mátchi strain in the European heritage is of great significance indeed.
This mátchi phenomena, which may take either a neurotic (mild) or psychotic form, has manifested itself historically in many areas. Let me list a few and then discuss their significance.
- THE TRANSFORMATION of Christianity into an anti-nature and anti-human tradition, by means of the introduced and non-Judaic ideas of original sin and Satan, is of fundamental importance. This places orthodox Christianity in the posture of regarding all humans as being sinful at birth and sinful by nature (unless “saved” by subsequent conversion in certain sects). Similarly, the natural world and all other living creatures are essentially viewed as negative aspects of life, and frequently as an antagonistic force or environment. (Perhaps this is one of the reasons why some Europeans often appear to be “driven” to achieve “success”; in other words, to overcome the guilt of being born in sin).
Before I can give a relation of their [the Indians’] fall from God, I am obliged to make a large digression, in order to give an account of the original and circumstances of the tempter, his capacity of assuming the shape of a serpent, from his being a spirit without a body, etc. Hence I go on to show the ruins of our fallen state, the mental blindness and vicious dispositions which our first parents [Adam and Eve] then contracted to themselves, and propagated to all their posterity … and the exposedness of the whole human race to eternal perdition …
It is next to impossible to bring them [the Indians] to a rational conviction that they are sinners by nature, and that their hearts are corrupt and sinful, unless one could charge them with some gross acts of immorality … But if they cannot be charged with such scandalous actions, they seem to have no consciousness of sin and guilt at all …
The method which I take to convince them that “we are sinners by nature,” is, to lead them to an observation of the little children, how they will appear in a rage, fight and strike their mothers, before they are able to speak or walk. … As the children have never learned these things, they must have been put in their natures …
Further; in order to show them that their hearts are all corrupted and sinful, I observe to them, that this may be the case, and they not be sensible of it through the blindness of their minds; and that it is no evidence that they are not sinful, because they do not know it and feel it. …1
- THE CONCEPT of the Devil or Satan, as an anthropomorphic evil force theoretically opposed to God, introduces a decidedly unsavory element into the European Christian’s world, especially since Satan is historically often closely identified with all deviations from cultural “normalcy,” frequently with the natural world itself, and, ironically, with most spiritual experiences.
There were some times when this spirit came upon him [a Lenape man] in a special manner, and he was full of what he was in the great man [God]. Then, he says, he was all light, and not only light himself, but it was light all around him, so that he could see through men, and knew the thought of their hearts. These depths of Satan I leave to others to fathom. …2
Black Elk said it well in 1931 when he noted,
The whites think we have the power from the devil, but I’ll say that they probably have that themselves.3
Black Elk had years of firsthand experience with Christian missionaries, especially Roman Catholic ones. He had even been persuaded to outwardly give up his traditional Lakota practices in favor of Catholic ways (in my opinion, in order to be able to survive during a period in which the Catholic missionaries had free reign and the US government joined with them to suppress all forms of Native worship). Black Elk had personally experienced the humiliation of having an arrogant Jesuit priest violently interfere with a curing ceremony he was conducting to save a boys life in 1904.
According to Black Elk’s daughter Lucy, the Jesuit from Holy Rosary Mission entered the tent where Black Elk was working in order to conduct the last rites of the Catholic church. The Jesuit “jerked the drum and rattle from Black Elk’s hands and threw them out of the tent.” Not only that, but he grasped Black Elk by the neck and said: “Satan get out!”4
Such violence was carried out with impunity, of course; it can be regarded as a form of religio-psychological terrorism designed to convert through creating a sense of utter hopelessness. Of course, anything and everything is justified when one is “fighting with the Devil” and when one can classify that which is different as “satanic.”
- THE CONVERSION of Europeans to Christianity was apparently accompanied by a transformation of the pre-Christian spirit realm from a generally positive world into a negative, “devilish” influence. That is, pre-Christian spirits continued, as it were, to haunt the forests, the moors, and the darkness of night, but instead of being benign, they became an evil threat to the good Christian’s salvation.
- MANY CHRISTIAN sects, especially those of a Calvinistic bent, refined the notion of original sin and coupled it with doctrines of pre-destination and “the elect” so as to create an extremely fearful, guilt-ridden, melancholy climate in which humans are perceived not only as being inherently sinful, but also incapable of achieving “salvation” on their own.
- THE EUROPEANIST fascination with the torture of “condemned souls” in purgatory and Hell is a most revealing phenomena. It may be that envisioning one’s enemies or adversaries as being tortured in Hell forever is a projective device (a substitute for impotent or unfulfilled hate and aggression) but it reflects a mátchi-minded view of the Creator.
- IF HELL is the fate the Christian God has in store for human beings born in original sin by His own act of eternal punishment for Adham’s alleged first sin, then we must admit that such a God is not an enemy of Satan, but an accomplice (as it were) who supplies Satan with multitudes of subjects for the latter’s sadistic tastes. More significantly, an angry and punishing God, terrible in his wrath, is quite clearly not a pleasant being to live with. The world, for many, becomes a threatening place where only strict obedience to disputed rules (disputed by the various sects) can save one from one’s own evil and the evil and temptation in the environment. The repressive, authoritarian character of many European homes has reflected this reality; the wrathful father stands in God’s place.
- THE NATURE of European warfare and oppression must surely depress one who manages to realize that the slaughter of 70,000 Saxons, or of 200,000 Cimri and Teutons, or of 1,000,000 Albigensians, or of 75,000 Parisian Protestants, or of 20 million Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs, and so on, ad infinitum, is not a recital of mere numbers, but of millions upon millions of cases of individual humans suffering from the wounds of death or the tortures of imprisonment or the trauma of losing loved ones. It is apparently easy for European historians to treat such gross horrors as if they were merely part of a dramatic scenario which never actually took place, but if we pause to assimilate the fact that, indeed, each brutal killing or burning at the stake or rape did occur, then we must understand perhaps the morbid, fearful strain in European culture. The fear of evil, in other words, should be understood as being based upon no mythical character (Satan), but rather upon the European’s justified fear of his own kind.
- THE SADO-MASOCHISTIC strain in Euro-Mediterranean and European life, which appears so frequently in refined tortures, elaborate dungeons, pogroms against minorities, the abuse of women, and sometimes in homosexual and even heterosexual intimate behavior (and, or course, commonly appears in modern pornographic movies, books, and magazines) must be an outgrowth of the above and also a contributing factor to further evil-mindedness.
1 Johnathan Edwards, Memoirs of the Rev. David Brainerd, 354-356.
2 Johnathan Edwards, Memoirs of the Rev. David Brainerd, 350.
3 Black Elk, in The Sixth Grandfather, 289.
4 DeMallie, The Sixth Grandfather, 14.
MY WIFE and I once had the rather upsetting experience of being in a New Jersey motel room when we heard the most frightening moans, sobs, and pleadings coming from a female voice in a nearby room. The cries continued for some time while a man walked up and down outside the row of rooms with a club or stick in his hand. I called the desk clerk to report the incident and soon two men and a woman walked to a nearby car, having overheard my voice. Whether the woman was a prostitute only pretending pain to provide erotic stimuli for a sadist, or whether she was actually being tortured, I will never know, but either circumstance reflects the strange association of sex and aggression found in Euro-Mediterranean cultures.
I contend that the werewolves, vampires, goblins, trolls, ogres, witches, dangerous ghosts, haunted houses, sadists, murderers, rapists, satanists, inquisitors, calvinistic puritans, sexually “messed-up” people (sex haters, sex chasers, and so on), crusaders against nonconformists, and enslavers of human flesh are all part of this mátchi (evil) world view (or element) in the European heritage.
The forest must be cut down because it is evil, pagan, almost satanistic. Non-Europeans can be murdered or enslaved because they are “tawny serpents” (Indians) or children of the Devil. Women can be raped and abused because they reflect sexual temptation and Hawwah’s (Eve’s) seduction of Adham; they are referred to often by “macho” males as “broads” (walking asses), “cunts” (vaginas with torsos attached) and “pieces.” (Indian slaves were also called “pieces” by Columbus and piezas de chusma by Spaniards in the Southwest). A Hollywood movie where suburban husbands conspired to have their wives transformed into “androids” (lovemaking and working machines) is not at all far-fetched, in that it reflects the reality in most authoritarian traditions.
Movies such as The Exorcist, Carrie, Rosemary’s Baby, and numerous others have reminded us that Euro-Americans either cannot conceive of “supernatural” phenomena except in the context of satanism or evil, or that they are, at least, fascinated by that manner of thinking. And the same tendency is reflected by most of the earlier horror movies (voodoo pictures, vampire stories, ghost movies, little men who come up out of the fireplace scenarios, and so on). Perhaps the theme goes back to the story of Hansel and Gretel, to evil trolls living under bridges, and to the satanistic imagery of the middle ages.
An important aspect of the mátchi syndrome in the modern period is the apparent drive of some white people, especially scholars and university people, to de-sanctify that which has been regarded as holy and sacred, or beautiful and spiritual, especially for non-whites. A telling example has been the drive to collect Native American skeletons and grave offerings from cemeteries and to store them or display them in a callous manner which says, “these remains are not deserving of respect. We can display them, or destroy them, just as we can display a rock or destroy it.” More often than not, the Native American graves are opened illegally or unethically, without the permission of the descendants or relatives of those buried therein.5
5 Walters, Ghostsinger.
Black Hawk, in the 1830s, was especially distressed by having to leave behind the graves of his ancestors. He wrote that,
This hardship is not known to the whites. With us it is a custom to visit the graves of our friends, and keep them in repair for many years … There is no place like that where the bones of our forefathers lie, to go to when in grief. Here the Great Spirit will take pity on us!6
Ruby Modesto, a Cahuilla doctor, noted that people from white universities were always eager to listen to what she had to say until she told them that each plant and rock had a spirit:
In our religion everything has a spirit … But people from the university don’t believe these things … they have lost touch with the spiritual forces of the earth … They are lost men and their own spirits are starved.7
But it isn’t merely that University people are lost. No, the significance of de-sanctifying the earth, the animals, the plants, the trees, and even human beings is that the world is made a potentially ugly and very exploitable place.
We must not forget that there is a connection between genocide against Native American people and the crass appropriation of their ancestors’ bones by the museums and universities of the United States. Can you imagine a major white scientist boiling the bodies of dead Eskimos in order to be able to study their bones? Can you imagine him collecting the severed heads of Yaqui people? Isn’t it easy to move from such profoundly disrespectful and ghoulish brutal acts to the Nazi practice of utilizing the body fat of murdered captives for industrial purposes? In short, part of the process of creating a mátchi world is precisely the sustained effort to brutalize the sensibilities of human beings. In part, this has been (and is) accomplished by denying the spiritual character of humans and other living creatures and by treating them in a demeaning manner. This process often commences by focusing upon a targeted group of victims, such as Native Americans, Black Africans, or aboriginal Australians, but it tends to spread since it ultimately involves the de-sanctification of all living things. Standing Bear tells us that the Native American’s sense of kinship with all forms of life and the respect for them was,
humanizing and gave to the Lakota an abiding love … the Lakota could despise no creature, for all were of one blood. He knew that man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans, too.8
In any event, this mátchi syndrome has had dramatic and traumatic consequences on the modern world. The desire of white settlers to “subdue” nature (as well as the natives) in the Americas, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and so on, cannot be separated from their view of cities, manors, and human-created things (machines, for example) as being part of God’s world, while the wilderness (nature in all of its beauty and splendor) is untamed and, like a woman, has to be overcome or destroyed. Now it is outer space that must be penetrated and conquered, along with, of course, the remaining relatively unaltered areas on Earth (such as the Arctic, Antarctic, and the Amazonian Basin). The quest of many Europeans to totally penetrate, subdue, and change the natural world must be viewed in part as a psychological phenomenon – that is, as a need fulfillment or compulsion which is non-rational or irrational in character. Thus it can be argued (rationally) that it is harmful to destroy the Amazonian ecosystem because of certain likely results (such as soil turning to hardpan, erosion, pollution and muddying of the river, and a possible adverse impact on worldwide precipitation rates and percentages of oxygen in the atmosphere). Such rational arguments will not, however, stop the Brazilian government or the big banks and corporations, since the conquest of the Amazon combines a “rational” drive for profits and an “irrational” need to subdue the selva and the humans living therein.
Free “savages” and untamed forests cannot be tolerated by the arrogant conquerors or the equally arrogant Christian missionaries. Both Indians and trees must be civilized – that is, turned into stumps. Soon it may be the Moon, and perhaps Mars!
6 Black Hawk, Autobiography, 101.
7 Ruby Modesto, in Modesto and Mount, Not for Innocent Ears, 30.
8 Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle, 193, 197.
In recent times also the rise of Nazism must be viewed as the politicization of satanism on a grand scale. That many of the Nazi leaders were sadists and experimenters in all forms of evilness cannot be denied. But Nazism also sought to elevate mátchi-mindedness to a total system wherein aggression, murder, torture, genocide, and nightmarish behavior (stealing gold from dead Jews’ teeth, using human flesh and body fat for commercial purposes, experimenting on imprisoned “patients,” and so on) was a major focus of the Nazi cult, if not of the entire society.
Modern satanist cults, military dictatorships, and even some motorcycle or other gangs also reflect this tendency of the Europeanized sectors of the world to “flip” over, as it were, into the mátchi realm. It is almost as if the European heritage, with its dualistic God and Devil, Good and Evil view of reality encourages many people to choose the Devil (like Dr. Faustus).
Maybe this is why an army general can choose to seize power so as to prevent peasants from getting enough food, or why a scientist can choose to torture involuntary subjects (human or animal), or why a government bureaucrat can choose to approve a construction project without adequate drainage or sewage facilities, or why US high officials can choose to spend billions on space research while millions starve or are deprived of basic human necessities, or why a missionary can choose to teach Indians that they are evil, sinful, and guilty because they were born and because they are Indians.
The option of being mátchi is available to people in the wétiko world, and what is more, being mátchi can even be made to appear as being patriotic, good, or even pious. Thus the sane become insane, and the crazed become rulers! In all fairness, however, we should note that many people (scientists, generals, and missionaries even) who choose aggression, who choose to violate the higher ethical teachings of their own tradition, often do so in ignorance, or in small steps, without fully understanding what they are doing. But is that, in the final analysis, an excuse that a “rational” man or woman can use?
The mátchi tendency in the European heritage is not, of course, reflective of that entire legacy, nor does it affect all European persons. Clearly, there are large numbers of European peasants, mountaineers, city workers, librarians, scholars, and all manner of other people who have rejected the concepts of an evil world, of evil nature, of sinful babies, and of “bestial” humankind. And it is these good-minded people who have made the positive contributions of Europe possible.
Nonetheless, the mátchi phenomena must be viewed as a powerful thread running hand in hand with the wétiko disease through the modern European experience. Why do Europeans have such foul and obscene swear-words and curses unknown in most (or all) Native American cultures? Why do words for sexual intercourse become “dirty”? Why are women (and men) referred to by sexual terms which are also felt to be obscene (cunt, prick, and so on)? Why are classes of people frequently referred to (collectively) as sheep, snakes, brutes, vermin, pigs, beasts, heifers, stallions, studs, and so on? The mátchi syndrome brings ugliness into the mind and makes it grow there, even as it perhaps reflects the real but human-created ugliness of the wétiko world. Ugliness of the mind and ugliness of behavior feed upon, and reinforce, each other. It is significant to call people sheep or beasts when one is aware of what many (or most) Europeans think of sheep and beasts. It makes humans slaughterable, it makes them suitable objects to be consumed by wétiko cannibals. When people become beasts one can eat them!
When people are born in sin, are basically evil, and wétikos rule, what ethical standards are left that one is obliged to follow? Is it any wonder that the profit motive, the will to power, and self-interest have become the real ethics of so many people in the contemporary world?
Here I present the Ten Commandments, “As Revised by the Ecumenical Council of Right-Wing Christianity convened by the Archbishop of Anti-Communism and attended by distinguished theologians from the following orthodox religious orders: the Society of Bible-Belt Racists, the Order of Secret Police, the Brothers of Military Glory, the Captains of Anti-Union Industry, the Society of Extortionists, Pornographers and Hit-men, the Sons of Apartheid, the High Priests of the CIA, the Improved Order of Successful Medical Doctors, the Mystic Order of International Bankers, and sundry other respected, powerful, and wealthy bodies:”
- Thou shalt make a profit.
- Thou shalt disown thy parents when they become old and send them away to perish alone; but thou shalt put on an expensive funeral for them for appearances sake.
- Thou shalt deceive with false looks and flattering words, for appearances are everything.
- Thou shalt gather to thyself alone as many material things as thou can obtain.
- Thou shalt save and hoard, sharing not with others unless for thy own self-interest.
- Thou shalt adulterate the foods which people eat, and deprive them of healthy sustenance.
- Thou shalt take whatever thou can from the forest, from the earth, from the air, or from the defenseless and weak.
- Thou shalt kill whenever it profits thee, and thou shalt exalt killing and violence since all progress results therefrom.
- Thou shalt be arrogant, aggressive, and bold since such qualities insure success.
- Thou shalt not worry about thy sins for the Almighty has arranged a means whereby thou can be forgiven, even at thy death bed.
A great debate has developed over whether or not the violence depicted in motion pictures and television contributes directly to violent behavior. Does television merely reflect the nature of society? More significantly, why do so many people apparently want to watch violence or be frightened by the alleged evil nature of supernatural phenomena?
Violence has been a part of the wétiko world for a long time, and perhaps on a larger scale before television than since. What is significant is not merely continuity of violence in the European heritage (and especially in the US) but rather that it has become a bigger and bigger business to cater to the mátchi needs of people, for the sake of profits. From the dime novels and exaggerated Indian captivity tales of previous centuries, to the westerns of the pre-World War II period, to the nightly television violence of today, to the sado-masochistic pornographic literature now openly produced, we see the willingness of businessmen to capitalize upon the mátchi syndrome.
It is a dangerous game, but what can one expect where “the profit motive” has become the First Commandment?
We must bear in mind, however, that the capitalistic system is not, in and of itself, the cause of either the mátchi syndrome or the wétiko disease. Both of these phenomena antedate capitalism as such and are so firmly embedded in European (and similar) cultures that they seem to form an integral part thereof. This, of course, is especially true in colonial-settler societies.
When Joseph Stalin and the Communist hierarchy saw fit to murder perhaps 5,000,000 small farmers in the Soviet Union, it reflected not only a mátchi view of human life, but also a wétiko desire for power and profit. The so-called “state farms” which replaced the independent farmers were not to belong to the Soviet people, but to the state.
Marxist-Leninism, at least as we have seen it unfold, does not eliminate sadism, terrorism, cruelty, aggression, inordinate ambition, or the search for material aggrandizement. As a European ideology, full of authoritarian, centralist and ethnocentric European conceptions, Marxist-Leninism may merely provide a new, highly-disciplined and rigid structure in which older cultural realities can continue to be expressed.
The movie Rosemary’s Baby is a myth. Mothers do not give birth to “devilish” babies, but rather it is the mátchi heritage and wétiko disease that snatch children from their innocence and sometimes change them into fearful creatures. But perhaps Rosemary’s Baby, in an allegorical sense, is a real reflection of the modern mother’s fear of her own offspring.
COLONIALIST-IMPERIALIST systems seek to create wétikos. They recruit them because colonialism is maintained by means of properly-controlled wétiko behavior. More especially they need to recruit wétikos from within the native population in order to keep that group divided, exploited, and in a hopeless frame of mind. Carter Wilson, in his book about Tzotzil people in Chiapas, provides some perceptive, specific examples of how an Indian can become a wétiko. Here Juan López Oso has been asked to serve a term as President (chief). His brother Miguel, a Europeanized Tzotzil, advises him on how to become a corrupt official:
“They want to make me President out there,” he said slowly …
“Do it,” [Miguel] said finally.
“You want to make money, don’t you? Those people are sheep to be sheared, Juan …”
“I don’t need more money.”
Miguel dropped the thong from between his teeth and laughed.
“You haven’t thought about it, Juan. Or you still think of money like an Indian does. Look, I can help you, show you how – what do you think you can make as President out here in a month?”
Oso picked at the hairs on his chin and then said,
“Three or four hundred pesos.”
“Eight hundred, a thousand I say.”
“No,” Oso laughed.
His brother had been reckoning money too much as Mexicans did. He had forgotten what Indians had …
“Look,” Miguel said, “think of it this way. Every day the President of Chomtik [Chamula] listens to how many cases? Three? Four? That’s a lot of work for him, a lot of talking. And what does he get for it? …”
But what if the President charged each side in a case something small – two or three pesos – six pesos in all? Not a lot of money, six pesos. But the Presidents puts it in his pocket, and in a month he has nearly five hundred pesos or more just from cases.
“Yes, I see.”
“Or what about this, Juan? Men come to the President to get a release from the national conscription so they can go away to work on the plantations … What if the President charges each of these men five pesos for their papers? You see?”1
When conquered people are reduced to a state of impotency, poverty, and despair, certain individuals will decide that survival depends upon cooperation with the exploiters. At first their decision may lead them only to become (for example) a convert to Christianity, or to cut their hair short, or to agree to join the “Indian Police,” and thereby help to control their fellow tribesmen.
Slowly but surely, however, if they are especially aggressive or ambitious, they may come to see that there are ways to make money, get favored jobs, or obtain jobs for relatives, by becoming dishonest and corrupt. They then begin to join the Indian agent or other whites in the systematic program of fleecing Indians. Thus as in Oklahoma, circa 1907, these wétiko Indians joined with white oil operators, land sharks, avaricious lawyers, bankers, and corrupt politicians to gobble up other Indians’ allotments, trust funds, and so on. Almost everywhere one can find at least several Indian families whose current wealth and “superior” position is based upon one of their ancestors having “shrewdly” joined in the “great fleecing.”
1 Wilson, Crazy February, 165-166.
It should be borne in mind that not all Christianized Indians are wétikos, but conversion to Christianity can be said to make a person possibly more vulnerable to the disease. Why? Because conversion to Christianity (for Native people, Africans, and so on) has almost never meant simply changing one’s form of worship. White missionaries almost always seek conversion to European culture because, to them, a Christian is a European, a person who possesses the values, the habits of dress, kind of hairstyle, types of housing, and so on, popular among whatever group of Europeans is doing the proselytizing.
… no White American ever thinks that any other race is wholly civilized until he wears the White man’s clothes, eats the White man’s food, speaks the White man’s language, and professes the White man’s religion.2
Thus a Christianized Indian tends also to be a Europeanized Indian and as he enters the door of European culture, he also enters the realm of the wétiko psychosis. (This is, of course, not to say that all Europeans are wétikos, but only that expansionistic European cultures have been among the major carriers of modern times.)
Many European Christian missionaries have themselves been infected with the wétiko disease in addition to being deranged in the specific sense of being racist, haters of nature, and so on. The following words of an English missionary in the Congo are highly revealing in this context:
Shortly after crossing into the Congo we entered the forest, and for the first time I felt real fear … For the forest was evil. I felt it as soon as I saw it …
I made up my mind that I would make it my work to bring the heathen out of the forest, to give them sunlight, to show them how to live in God’s open world …
The missionary, Reverend Spence, was shocked to find that the mission sat in a small clearing, surrounded by trees, and the buildings were like native houses. He did not wish to live in such structures! Still further, he developed the notion that the natives were possessed by Satan and that they were horribly immoral because of plural marriage, “heathen rites,” and “sexy” dances.
Reverend Spence started immediately to try to change all of that, aided by Amboko, a Christianized assistant who he treated with suspicion and contempt. He was especially irritated because Amboko “misinterpreted” the Bible and on one occasion even dared to argue with the infallible missionary. Good work, Amboko!
The missionary was endowed with absolute authority and the corruption of power trapped him thoroughly. In an authoritarian manner the reverend proceeded to translate his personal psychosis into a new, grim reality.
It was wonderful to see the forest coming down on all sides. I could feel the power of Satan receding as every tree fell … He [Amboko] did not even like cutting down the forest, he said it would bring misfortune, unless we were going to use the ground for plantations … He said we should have at least some trees standing for shade, and for the protection of the soil …
We tried to make gardens and fill them with flowers, but they soon withered and died. The baked earth made admirable tennis courts, though … And it was good to be able to relax and forget for a while that one was in Africa, surrounded by heathens. I had tried to make friends with them but that was impossible, and it always will be, at least for many years to come …
In the kitchens they used to give away food without my permission, to all their friends and relatives. When I chided them they asked me if I had not taught them to share whatever they had, that more would always be given to them by the Lord …
Reverend Spence required that every employee on the mission be a Christian and he fined them if they failed to attend church services. He also tried to separate the children from their parents, just as the Bureau of Indian Affairs often did in the United States. Finally he warned that if the natives chose to reject his message “their blood is not on my hands but on theirs, and on the hands of the Evil One who is in them all.”3
This excerpt from the English missionary’s story “nicely” conveys the spirit of bigotry, narrowness, authoritarianism, arrogance, and sheer stupidity which one often sees in the diaries, letters, and reports of Catholic and Protestant missionaries in the Americas. But the excerpt is not only revealing as to missionaries. It also reflects the hostility towards nature and the forest is evident in the attitudes of many European frontier people in North America and Brazil today. The forest must be destroyed, even if the result is soil made so hard (or eroded) that a desert is produced.
In any event, the missionary clearly possesses many symptoms of the wétiko sickness, in addition to his delusions about the forest being satanic. He is a liar and hypocrite (teaching a doctrine of sharing, love, and so on, but not practicing it himself). He is arrogant, he never listens to others. He manipulates other people’s lives. He attempts to consume their souls as if they belonged to him. He exploits other people, such as Amboko, and always treats him as an inferior being. (He also, no doubt, supported European “secular” imperialism, which consumed the flesh and the resources of native Congolese and guaranteed the “safety” of missionaries.)
2 Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery, 68.
3 Reverend Henry Spence, in Colin M. Turnbull, The Lonely African, 73-83.
In 1716 a Spanish Jesuit missionary, Father Luís Velarde, wrote:
It is really because of Divine Providence that these Indians [the ‘O’odham or Pima-Papago] have diminished because of the continuity of epidemic diseases, for among such a multitude of different characters there are many restless, haughty and seditious elements.4
Thus the death of tens of thousands of Indians in the missions of Sonora did not distress Velarde, because too many living Natives posed a threat to the political interests of the Spanish Empire.
Unfortunately the spread of the wétiko disease seems to accompany almost all forms of Europeanization. In Nairobi (Kenya) a few years ago there developed a class of missionized, urbanized blacks whose lives revolved around prostitution and vice. One such person was William, a male prostitute who had been born in Nairobi of parents who had since returned to the rural area. William called his parents “savages” because they were still traditional people. In turn, they rejected his way of life, but he said that the English had taught him, “so it must be good.” But he later came to hate his secretive white customers and the missionaries. William had gone to Mission School and had learned his parents were “savages,” and then discovered the same about the missionaries. Does this not duplicate the rise of similar urban groups in the United States?5
In the Americas the European invasion has almost everywhere created a class of persons called mestizos, half-breeds, caboclos, and so on, persons either of mixed race or of detribalized native background, and always of semi-Europeanized culture.
Gregory Reck, in a study of Jonotla (Mexico), notes:
… a mestizo and an indio do not necessarily look different from one another, but they do dress differently, speak differently, and behave differently …
[The indio] considers himself to be a participant in the given order of the universe, drawing his strength and security not from personal victory and acclaim, but from the belief that in subjugating self-assertion, control, power, and wealth, he will have realized and accepted his human limits, and thus his nature.
For the mestizo, life is combat – with others and with oneself. Life does not have troubles; it is trouble … The mestizo does not attempt to accommodate himself to the world; rather, he defies it, challenges it, and fights with it … [The contrast is seen] in interpersonal relationships, where indios are generally reserved and passive and mestizos are most often highly aggressive, surrounded by the demands of machismo … As a result, indios are in fact becoming mestizos in their dress, their language, their behavior, and their view of life.6
I should point out that I do not necessarily endorse the above definitions of indio and mestizo, even though they may represent popular ideology in Mexico (and much of Latin America). Two points I will stress here:
- a person may still be a Native American (of American indigenous race), no matter what his or her social status or perceived culture; and
- the characterization of the indio as passive and self-effacing must be seen, at least in part, as the result of 500 years of colonial oppression and not necessarily as the true character of aboriginal Americans.
In short, neither the overly-passive indio nor the overly-aggressive mestizo represent an authentic cultural expression, since both are alternative responses to an oppressive social order. In any case, it has been reported that in the eastern jungles of Peru, mestizo villages are gradually replacing Indian communities. According to the Catholic Bishop of Pucallpa, as quoted by writer Jack Mendelsohn,
the Indians … are in much better shape, morally and spiritually, than the mestizos.
In general, the majority of mestizos live lives which are much more ugly and disorganized than those of nearby traditional Indians, but,
the distinction between the two people … is kept sharp and harsh by the stubborn mestizo notion that Indians are racially inferior; an Indian is deemed “inferior” because he speaks an Indian language rather than Spanish, and because he lives as an Indian.7
As Mendelsohn writes, however, the Original American culture is actually better in significant respects than that of the mestizo class:
To begin with, the mestizo is unrealistic in conceiving himself as being more “civilized” than the Indian. Personal relationships between mestizo couples are strictly authoritarian, the male being dominant. The Indian family, by contrast, is “democratic” and cooperative … The mestizo woman … is virtually a serf in the home, [while] the Indian wife participates in the decision on when to have children, and how many [many tribes have used contraceptives for centuries]; the typical mestizo wife frequently gives birth to a dozen children … before she is thirty, by which time she may be a toothless hag. And, finally, the Indian is practical and philosophical in outlook [while] the mestizo is a ready victim of romanticism and irrationality.8
4 In Jack D. Forbes, Warriors of the Colorado, 131.
5 Turnbull, The Lonely African, 87-89.
6 Gregory G. Reck, In the Shadow of Tlaloc: Life in a Mexican Village, 15, 17.
7 Jack Mendelsohn, The Forest Calls Back, 103, 175.
8 Mendelsohn, The Forest Calls Back, 175-177.
It is interesting, and generally true, that Europeanization introduces the concept of male dominance and an authoritarian family structure, especially whenever Roman Catholic, Mormon, or other male-dominated sub-cultures are involved. On the other hand, a deeper truth is involved here: the subjugation of women and their use as means instead of ends is part and parcel of the wétiko psychosis. In a wétiko society there should be nothing strange about the denigration and exploitation of women, since all those who lack physical-material power will be exploited or abused. As Claudio Vilas Boas said,
I know that the law of the civilized [in other words, the wétiko] is the law of the stronger, which gives no quarter.9
The women’s liberation movement should keep in mind that it is not enough merely to achieve “equality” with white men, for that might merely mean that the woman has as much right as the man to be a wétiko, to be an exploiter. Sadly enough, many European women who have risen to positions of power in the past have been as apt to be murderers, imperialists, torturers, and exploiters as their menfolk (for example, Lucretia Borgia, Elizabeth I, and Isabella of Spain, not to mention tens of thousands of white women of wealth enjoying the luxury of having black or Indian household servants as well as living off of slave or peon labor).
In any case, there is a close correlation between the rise of patriarchal societies in the Middle East, Europe and Asia and the rise of imperialism and wétiko behavior, as noted earlier.
In the case of the mestizos, ladinos, and caboclos of the Americas we are, in part, dealing with the universal phenomena of degradation through colonialism. Not only do the oppressed usually adopt the guidelines set by the colonizers (as pointed out by Friere) but these guidelines often embody the notion of racial and cultural inferiority. Thus the conquered masses feel inferior to the ruling group, and the in-between people, the mixed bloods and the de-nativized, usually go to extreme lengths to identify with the rulers. As Frantz Fanon pointed out in his studies of the Antillean personality, the colonized people of color allow themselves to be completely judged by the standards of the colonizer:
In the man of color there is a constant effort to run away from his own individuality, to annihilate his own presence. The Negro is comparison … that is, he is constantly preoccupied with self-evaluation … Whenever he comes into contact with someone else, the question of value, of merit, arises … The question is always whether he is less intelligent than I, Blacker than I, less respectable than I. Every position of one’s own, every effort at security, is based on relations of dependence, with the diminution of the other. It is the wreckage of what surrounds me that provides the foundation for my virility.10
This serves to explain why such colonized people often seem to delight in destroying each other by means of vicious gossip, or by other, more violent means. It also helps to explain why mestizos, as well as Europeanized natives, often are vicious enemies of everything non-European. It may also serve to clarify the rise of machismo (male arrogance) among oppressed peoples.
In any case, the relentless campaign to destroy the cultures of Native People continues, and still in the forefront are often white missionaries, in open alliance with Europeanist political systems. Jack Mendelsohn noted that in the western Amazon the Wycliffe Bible Translators, Inc., known also as the Institute of Linguistics of Verona (and several other names), has a “sprawling base.” About three hundred men, women, and children were working on the conversion of the Ucayali Nation, making their planes available to the Peruvian army and officials of capitalist enterprises. The base, he commented, had the character of “suburbia” in the jungle.
The Ucayali Nation has survived centuries of Spanish, Portuguese and Peruvian aggression, rebelling in 1686, 1695, 1704, 1742, and 1767, and then maintaining their independence until the horrors of the rubber hunter’s invasion (1890-1920). But now the Peruvian government and the North American protestant missionaries are seeking their final conquest by using large numbers of missionaries with wealth at their disposal. “The Indians resist as best they can,” according to Mendelsohn.
9 Bodard, Green Hell, 58.
10 Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 60, 211.
And how do these missionaries act? Are they different from the English missionary quoted earlier? Apparently not. Mendelsohn describes the case of a Shipibo boy named Pablo who was forced to marry, against his will, a Shipibo girl who was the daughter of a mission convert. The missionary and the Christian mother forced Pablo to consummate the marriage and then, when the husband ran away, he was told that if he divorced he would go to hell.11
It is clear that Christian missionaries, especially fundamentalist ones, have changed very little in four centuries. They still display the same arrogance and fascism as their forebearers and combine these characteristics also with an ill-disguised alliance with capitalist penetration, the establishment of state power, and Europeanization.
The effect of all the missionary activity is, of course, to help break up the Ucayali and Shipibo societies and to start the Indians on the road to either death or to a status as impoverished mestizos. Of course, the Peruvian society as a whole is also a major force for deterioration. A few Amazonian Indians have had a chance to serve in the Peruvian armed forces, thereby acquiring a degree of “sophistication.” But some of them return as “the same kind of exploiters of their people as the mestizos or whites.”12
Sophistication is a nice word, isn’t it? It means “lacking natural simplicity or naiveté” and is derived from “sophist: One who is skillful in devious argumentation.” Isn’t it revealing that one of the favorite words of the European elites, used to describe themselves, points openly towards deviousness and falsity? To lose one’s natural simplicity, sadly, in the wétiko world, means to become a person who hides his true feelings behind a mask which deceives.
Unfortunately the new wétikos, whether created by missionaries, soldiers, colonialist landlords, robber barons, or industrialists, often leave a record of murder and terror that is shocking in the extreme. And the people who usually suffer the most are honest, “simple,” democratic people of the world, the non-materialistic, the freedom-loving, and the truly spiritual. These people, whether Native Americans, traditional Africans, European peasants, or Asian peasants, are precisely lacking in the insane desires and delusions which motivate the wétiko. (Non-wétikos may, at times, be cruel, but their cruelty is individual and sporadic, not part of a system of cruelty.) In Brazil the wétiko hunters who were after diamonds, gold, slaves, and rubber derived from Indian lands had to kill the Indians so as not to be killed by them. It was necessary, and it was also absurd. For the Indians had no idea that the [rubber] was liquid gold. They had no notion of what gold was, or what it represented … They were supreme innocents, impervious to the mental fever of the civilized, that crazy cupidity which drove the Whites, the less White, and the half-breeds of all colors, into the fabulous and fatal adventure of the jungle.
Claudio Vilas Boas, one of two brothers devoted to helping Indians survive in Brazil, says,
Yes, the Whites and all westerners have a passion which is stronger than all else – the passion to create, to exploit, to construct. A passion for wealth. It’s a magnificent and terrible instinct [terrible, indeed, for all who do not possess the force to stop them].
The Indians [of Brazil], by a sort of aristocratic and frightful privilege, have the talent for unleashing the sadism of the Whites. What is the mystery of the Indians which inevitably makes them victims? They have physical beauty and a feeling for the beautiful, even for art, in their primitive life. They live only for a total and unrestricted beauty, created for their convenience. Their misfortune is that this degree of liberty looks like a defiance. It is not; it is the spontaneous, elemental, vital refusal of everything imposed upon them by nature and man. It is this natural, untamable liberty that enrages the Whites. The Indians are still Indians in the worst misfortune; they are still Indians in resignation and death.
Although there is some truth in this characterization of aboriginal Americans as being unwilling to accept subjugation it is also true that vast numbers of Native People were enslaved in Brazil while others have become participants in Luso-Brazilian life, even including thousands in cities such as Belem (Pará) and Manaos.
Nonetheless, many groups did resist for decades or even centuries, a resistance which seems to have provoked a pathological reaction on the part of the Luso-Brazilian vanguards.
There were tortures during the raids [for slaves] as well as on the great estates of the planters. Refinements of physical cruelty in an attempt to triumph over a will that could not be vanquished … To get something more from them, a comprehensible reaction, to obtain obedience and servility, in short, their adaptation, the Whites burnt them, hung them by their feet, cut them in pieces, gutted them, impaled them on stakes, fed them to ants and other creatures, and availed themselves of the tronco-two planks, with three semicircular holes, which were put together in such a way that the Indian’s neck, arms and feet were squeezed, and he was suffocated from all sides at once.13
11 Mendelsohn, The Forest Calls Back, 77, 114, 143-144.
12 Dr. Theodore Binder in Mendelsohn, The Forest Calls Back, 140.
13 Bodard, Green Hell, 59, 70-71, 107.
The same hatred, of course, has existed in North America. In 1864 Colonel J.M. Chivington led 1,000 white soldiers and civilians in a surprise attack upon a friendly Cheyenne village located on land designated for their use. The Cheyenne numbered 500 to 600, only about 100 of whom were warriors:
… in going over the battleground the next day I did not see a body of a man, woman or child but was scalped, and in many instances their bodies were mutilated in the most horrible manner – men, women, and children’s privates [sexual organs] cut out, etc.; I heard one man say that he had cut out a woman’s private parts and had them for exhibit on a stick … I heard of one instance of a child of a few months old being thrown in the feed-box of a wagon, and after being carried some distance left on the ground to perish; I also heard of numerous instances in which men had cut out the private parts of females and stretched them over saddle-bows, and wore them over their hats while riding in the ranks … 14
The mutilations described above, with their perverted sexual character, remind one of the fraternity song cited earlier. Again we see that the wétiko psychosis includes, or is closely intertwined with, sexual abnormality and also a hatred for, or aggressive attitudes towards women. White women liberationists should take heed, for again we see the close relationship of wétikoism and the abuse of women. In 1872 General Francis C. Walker, then US Commissioner of Indian Affairs, said:
There is no question of national dignity, be it remembered, involved in the treatment of savages by civilized powers.15
Could any Brazilian exterminator of Indians have said it better? Could Pizarro? Could Cortes? It sounds like Hitler talking about Jews. Clearly, the wétiko disease produces similar men, and similar behavior, in many settings.
General Philip Sheridan once said,
The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.16
Again, however, the tragedy is that the wétikos constantly contaminate others with their disease and compound evil.
It is a remarkable fact that it was the “almost Indians” who were to become the seringuerios – the “blood-letters” of the rubber trees – and who were to shed so much Indian blood.
These mestizos (called curibocas and mamalucos) and detribalized Indians, (called caboclos in Brazil), were primarily from the sertao, a desert-like area in northeast Brazil where life was very hard.
The Indian ancestors of the sertanejos had lived in the “land without evil,” where magic assured their happiness. But their half-caste descendants were overwhelmed by the miseries brought by the Whites.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century a “rubber boom” developed as the United States and Europe began to use rubber (discovered by Native People). But the Americans of the lower Amazon had been virtually exterminated by earlier slave raids, and thus the seringalistas (contractors or coyotes) were sent to the sertao to recruit caboclos. The recruits then went to Belem (Pará) where a system organized by bankers, and exporters at the top with contractors in the middle, reduced them to near-slave status.
Once the caboclo became enmeshed in the system (trapped by means of contracts and debts, fair or otherwise) he could not escape, because the rubber industry controlled everything, police, courts, and so on. Once up the Amazon, the caboclo was viciously exploited and cheated so that he never could get out of debt. “In this way, within some ten years or so, 500,000 to 1,000,000 men of the sertao perished.” Escape might have been possible if they had remained themselves,
If they had remained those half-castes of Indian blood, who, wildly ferocious and implacable though they were, still had in the darkness of their soul’s true passions, as it were, and a sense of their own worth … but the isolation of their individual circuits to look for rubber trees, the climate, and the grinding exploitation broke their spirit. Reportedly some reached the point where they didn’t even help one another … Victims of force, they were also its instruments. They killed if they were told to, they tortured if so ordered …
Some of them survived long enough to become acclimatized and hardened. While their values died, their bodies adapted and they became the overseers and slaves ruling over slaves. The Native People of the Amazon Basin tried to resist this invasion of their homeland.
The Indians had to be killed, because, although they were indifferent to the borracha [rubber], they were certainly not indifferent to what it entailed – the White invasion … The Indians didn’t manage to kill many, but they themselves were killed in abundance, because they were confronted by a formidable and systematically organized apparatus.
14 Testimony of Lt. James D. Connor, in Forbes, The Indian in America’s Past, 46-47.
15 Quoted in Forbes, The Indian in America’s Past, 113.
16 General Philip Sheridan, United States Army, January 1869, in Moquin and Van Doren, eds., Great Documents in American Indian History, 106.
Into this system of annihilation the exploited mixed bloods were drawn.
Genocide – a necessity and a pleasure. The seringueiros delighted in killing … They liquidated the primitives as if to prove to themselves that they were “civilized.” They refused to see their own image in these naked and barbarous creatures of the jungle. So they exterminated, while being themselves condemned to a slow death.17
Hundreds of thousands of Native Americans died between 1880 and 1920, including at least 40,000 exterminated by the activities of an English company in the Rio Putumayo area alone. Innumerable entire nations were exterminated in Amazonia while others, such as the Huni Kui (Amahuaca), were decimated but regrouped in the heavy forest, many day’s travel from their previous riverfront homes. The Huni-Kui were fortunate in having a leader, Xumu, who searched out all of the survivors and brought them together. Xumu said,
Our people suffered innumerable raids and atrocities at the hands of the rubber cutters when we lived on the Tarauaca River. Men were murdered, women raped and killed, children carried off. Why would they carry off our children, except to eat them?
You remember the old woman who wanted to kill you when you first arrived?
. . She lost her whole family in the last raid before we moved to the center of the forest … Most of the atrocities have not been avenged in any way. The only way we can avenge ourselves for the past horrors of the loss of our children is by what these men have done [killing rubber cutters]. To stop it will mean waiting until all the old people who have lost part of their families are gone, or at least have forgotten. You know by now that they do not forget easily or soon.18
Revenge can, of course, become a curse among the victims of imperialism because the fulfillment of that desire can lead to incessant warfare, great cruelty on all sides, and eventual annihilation for the weaker party.
In the 1760s many natives sought to resist British expansion in the Pennsylvania/western Virginia area. Their resistance led General Jeffrey Amherst, British commander, to write to Colonel Henry Bouquet in 1763,
Could it not be contrived to send the small pox among the disaffected tribes of Indians?” Bouquet answered that he would try to start an epidemic and mentioned a wish to hunt “the vermin” with dogs. Amherst replied, “You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets [in which smallpox patients have slept], as well as by every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race. I should be very glad if your scheme of hunting them down by dogs could take effect.19
Sadly, this type of viciousness, recognizing no “rules” of warfare, is still commonplace in the Americas, especially where people of American race are involved. Thus in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, the local right-wing elites supported by the United States have committed in recent decades atrocities against Indians and part-Indians of a type which remind us of Columbus, Nuño de Guzman, Pizarro, and other notorious brutes of 400 years ago. Tens of thousands of Americans have been tortured, bombed, burned alive, raped, disembowelled, decapitated, and forced into exile in order to preserve the privileges and wealth of multi-national corporations, small white minorities and their corrupted mixed-blood cohorts.
White scholars and popular writers often speak of “human sacrifice” as if it were a practice confined to the Aztecs, Carthaginians, Pacific Islanders, or other non-European peoples. Since 1978, however, perhaps a quarter of a million Indian lives have been sacrificed in Central America for the sake of the social status and profits of wealthy people and corporations. A grotesque “anti-communist” ritual has been created in order to provide the ideological-ceremonial trappings for this secular ceremony of human sacrifice. We must no longer allow eurocentric scholars to define “human sacrifice” in such a manner as to lead us to believe that a priest in a weird costume must cut the heart out of a victim in order for the act of sacrifice to become human sacrifice. Quite the contrary, the greatest and most extensive acts of human sacrifice have been, or are being, carried out by secular forces acting within the framework of ideologies that justify the necessity of sacrificing human lives for some larger goal, be it the attempted Nazi conquest of the Soviet Union, the anti-communist crusade, the earlier Roman Catholic crusade to convert the Americas, or the capitalist’s demand for cheap raw materials and compliant economic fiefdoms. Perhaps most victims are now being sacrificed at the feet of the god “Profit.”
As Barbara Cavalier of the California, Manufacturers’ Association is quoted as saying in 1986,
We believe you should not inject social standards in investment practices.20
Thus the desire for profit in the financial centers of Europe, North America, Japan, Latin America, Africa, and everywhere, takes precedence over “social standards” and sets in motion the most far-reaching crimes imaginable. Cheap rubber, bananas, coffee, uranium, whatever resource it is, demands first a blood sacrifice, a cannibal feast.21
17 Bodard, Green Hell, 89-117.
18 Lamb, Wizard of the Upper Amazon, 154.
19 Howard H. Peckham, Pontiac and the Indian Uprising, 226-227.
20 Barbara Cavalier, Sacramento Bee, January 14, 1986, A7.
21 For further information on the Native American “holocaust” see MariJo Moore, ed., Eating Fire, Tasting Blood, an American Anthology of the American Indian Holocaust.
IN ANY CASE, the onslaught against Native People and those of mixed race in the Americas has been continuous – relentless is a better word. Murder, torture, and enslavement are still common in Latin America, and violence also has appeared in North America whenever Native Americans choose to stand in defense of their land and resources. But the onslaught has always been psychological as well, and it is here that the wétiko does his greatest damage. The colonialists spread their notions of racial and cultural superiority and transform hitherto free people into super-chickens (as it were) with an especially intensive and brutal pecking order. This pecking order (ranks, social classes, castes, and so on) is, of course, what maintains the system of exploitation and degrades the masses who become its victims. Such systems are a form of physical and psychological terrorism, which will be discussed further in the next chapter.
As was pointed out earlier, Indians (and other folk peoples) are the targets for intensive programs of social change engineered by cooperating teams of missionaries, armies, pacification squads, so-called “developers,” and others. Tragically, European academics sometimes not only form a part of these teams, but also help to provide the intellectual rationalizations sometimes used by imperialists. For example, the writer Francis Huxley visited the Caapor-te of Brazil in 1951 and then authored a book called Affable Savages. He says,
Compared to us, Indians have little shame … it may well seem that Urubu life is basically ignoble, and the Indians are aptly described as savages. Indeed, though this is something of a rude word, it is no use denying that the Urubus are savage. They were well known for their cruelty and vindictiveness in war, in the days before they were pacified; their rites, among which was the killing and eating of an enemy prisoner, were savage with a vengeance; and their manners are often both crude and barbarous. But – leaving aside their saving virtues of hospitality, courage and honesty – this is by no means all that can be said of them. An Indian may well be a savage, but this does not mean that he is unprincipled.1
This is a passage written by a European who, clearly, does not imagine any Indians to be among his readers, least of all any Urubus. More significant, however, is the incredible cultural chauvinism which blinds Huxley to the realities of Portuguese (and British) behavior and leads him to ignore almost 450 years of European aggression against the Americans of that part of Brazil. Huxley imagines that he can deal with the Caapor-te, as of 1900-1951, as if they never had experienced centuries of slave-raiding, invasions by gold-seekers, invasions by rubber-cutters, and so on. If the Urubu (as he calls them, a name to which they object) were vindictive warriors in the 1920s, might that not be explained, in part, by their tragic history?
Huxley himself notes that, about five generations before, the Portuguese began pushing into the forest, forcing tribes to retreat into other nation’s territories. He says
The Urubus seem to have been caught in the middle of these movements, and lived in such fear of raids, both from other Indian tribes and from the advancing Brazilians, that they took to the woods …
In fact, the present Urubu tribe, he says, is descended from only two surviving Urubu men who stole women from a neighboring tribe.2
Incredible! So we find that these “savages” are, in fact, only a mixed remnant of hundreds of years of warfare, involving direct aggression by Europeans, and yet their character and their culture is forever defined as savage. But then Huxley also says such things as,
sex among Indians always tends to become license;3
This kind of generalizing, it seems to me, reveals for us clearly the one-sided, anti-American character of this European’s writing.
1 Huxley, Affable Savages, 12-13.
2 Huxley, Affable Savages, 103-104.
3 Huxley, Affable Savages, 119.
The fact of the matter is that the American natives, along with other non-Europeans, have suffered from several centuries of defamatory writing. In some cases, perhaps, the European scholars merely write from ignorance or general prejudice. In other cases, however, we may suspect that they intended to do harm to the groups involved and that their biased assertions form a self-conscious part of the general offensive against non-Western peoples.
In 1885 Theodore Hittell in his History of California stated of the largely peaceful Native Americans of California,
On account of their low grade in the scale of humanity, being with few exceptions as low as their neighbors in Lower California, and therefore almost as degraded as any human beings on the face of the earth … all were equally stupid and brutish … in general, they resembled mere omnivorous animals without government or laws … and [they were] almost constantly in a state of warfare and readiness to kill on the slightest provocation … There were amongst them few or no specimens of physical beauty, either of the women or of the men.4
Hittell’s viewpoint, largely based upon the highly biased reporting of certain Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries, can be seen as a form of justification for genocide. False in virtually every respect, Hittell’s attack upon American character came at a time when the American race in California had been dramatically reduced from about 100,000 to 18,000 through a combination of murders, enslavement, intensive labor exploitation, and forced malnutrition. The murderers of the California Indians (and the thieves who had mercilessly taken their land) could sit back and enjoy their positions of power and eminence without guilt, thanks to such blatant propaganda.
A far more competent historian, Hubert Howe Bancroft, described the fate of the central California natives in these words:
The California valley cannot grace her annals with a single Indian war bordering on respectability. It can boast, however, a hundred or two of as brutal butchering on the part of our honest miners and brave pioneers, as any area of equal extent in our republic. The poor natives of California had neither the strength nor the intelligence to unite in any formidable numbers; hence, when now and then one of them plucked up the courage to defend his wife and little ones, or to retaliate on one of the many outrages that were constantly being perpetrated upon them by white persons, sufficient excuse was offered for the miners and settlers to band and shoot down any Indians they met, old or young, innocent or guilty, friendly or hostile, until their appetite for blood was appeased.
Unfortunately, Bancroft also shared a deep prejudice against California Indians, although this was somewhat balanced by a willingness to condemn the worst behavior of the white invaders:
The savages were in the way; the miners and settlers were arrogant and impatient … It was one of the last human hunts of civilization, and the basest and most brutal of them all.
We do not know why the Digger Indians of California were … so much lower in the scale of intelligence than their neighbors; but being low, and unsophisticated, in a measure harmless until trodden upon, surely it was not a mark of high merit on the part of the new-comers to exterminate them so quickly.5
Such writing, by foe and “friend,” constitutes examples of the psychological terrorism which Native American people have had to face for several generations whenever they have been exposed to the white world’s views of them (an exposure almost impossible to escape). Two more examples of “scholarly” assaults will be cited here.
In 1875 Charles Maclaren, a Fellow of the Royal Society, Edinburg, wrote,
The indigenous population of America presents man under many aspects, and society in various stages, from the regular but limited civilization of Mexico and Peru, to savage life in its most brutal state of abasement … The intellectual faculties of this great family appear to be decidedly inferior, when compared with those of the Caucasian or Mongolian race. The Americans are not only averse to the restraints of education, but are for the most part incapable of a continued process of reasoning on abstract subjects …
Their inventive and imitative faculties appear to be of very humble capacity, nor have they the smallest taste for the arts and science.6
4 Hittell, History of California, 728, 723.
5 Bancroft, History of California, 1890, 474-477.
6 Werner Encyclopedia, v. 1, 602, 604, as cited in Forbes, The Indian in America’s Past, 17.
A FEW years ago an Argentine historian, Hebe Clementi, wrote in the pages of American Studies International that the southern Brazilian bandeiras (raiding parties) were in the early colonial period “catching Indians” and raiding many regions “inhabited by Indians.” These bandeiras, led by Portuguese men (although being a “luso-tupi formation”), were extremely destructive of American lives. Professor Clementi states,
The bandeira should be credited with a number of incontestable virtues:
- They expanded the Brazilian territory …
- They contributed to the exploration of the interior of South America.
- They ensured the European settlement of the interior both by exploring the space and by the massive eradication of the indigenous population.
- They favored the racial mixture between Indians and whites and contributed to the Americanization of the population … [italics added]7
Seldom do we see so explicitly stated a theme which is found implicitly in many white historical works: the eradication of the Americans was indeed an “incontestable” virtue because it made room for the white people, including white people who today have the privilege of higher education and scholarly careers.
We could safely ignore biased or racist “scholarship” except for one thing: such propaganda kills. It not only justifies the genocidal policies of past governments, but it provides ammunition for racist teachers, missionaries, and so on – bullets which they can use to destroy a people’s pride, dignity, and psychological means of survival through statements like “Your people are savages” or “Your people stood in the path of development.”
Luther Standing Bear noted sixty years ago that irreparable damage had been done by some white authors.
Books have been written of the Native American, so distorting his true nature that he scarcely resembles the real man.8
An Ojibwe woman, Rose Mary (Shingobe) Barstow has said,
I went back to school in the fall … We read a history book about “the savages” … There was one [picture] of a group of warriors attacking white people. I showed the picture to the Sister. She said “Rose Mary, don’t you know, you’re Indian?” I said, “No, I’m not …”
Later, when at home, her grandfather attempted to correct the negative image.9
Another Indian woman, Bonita Calachaw, wrote in her diary,
I have become skeptical of many of the White Man’s tales. Their historical writings of my people were written by mad-minded men and women whose hates [were] so warped that I think they were suffering from some type of psychic determinism impelled by sense of duty to keep going for money as a livelihood.10
It would be a mistake, however, to simply dismiss most European scholars as racists or chauvinists, of course. For example, one might attack Claude Levi-Strauss for his book The Savage Mind (since it is hard to conceive of a meaning for the word savage that is at all flattering, even in French). Nonetheless, Levi-Strauss’s writings do contain some interesting observations:
Our great Western civilization, which has created the marvels we now enjoy, has only succeeded in producing them at the cost of corresponding ills … The first thing we see as we travel round the world is our own filth, thrown into the face of mankind.
He later says,
I fully grasped the historical privilege that tropical America (and to some extent the whole of the American continent) still enjoys through remaining completely, or relatively, unpeopled. Freedom is neither a legal invention nor a philosophical conquest, the cherished possession of civilization more valid than others because they alone have been able to create or preserve it. It is the outcome of an objective relationship between the individual and the space he occupies, between the consumer and the resources at his disposal … What frightens me in Asia is the vision of our own future which it is already experiencing [i.e., overpopulation]. In the America of the Indians, I cherish the reflection, however fleeting it may now have become, of an era when the human species was in proportion to the world it occupied, and when there was still a valid relationship between the enjoyment of freedom and the symbols denoting it.11
Levi-Strauss, of course, has seen and felt the beauty of this American land as cared for by Native People, and he has also seen the freedom made possible (or at least enhanced) by modest population. But was this a result of mere chance? Levi-Strauss himself notes that
the Nambikwara do not have many children … Sexual intercourse is forbidden between parents until the youngest child is weaned, that is until about its third year.12
This same characteristic is, or was, true of most American cultures and, coupled with the wide use of contraception, is undoubtedly one of the reasons America was not overpopulated until recently.
7 Hebe Clementi, “National Identity and the Frontier,” American Studies International, 18(3-4), 1981, 39-40. Italics added.
8 Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle, 227.
9 Interview with Rose Mary Barstow, March 1976, in Katz, The Fire of Time, 118.
10 Steiner, ed., Spirit Woman, 216-217.
11 Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, 38, 149-150.
12 Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, 282.
It is wrong to believe that “open spaces” alone produce freedom. The Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and other groups with authoritarian background did not create “free” societies in Siberia or the Americas even when population was sparse. On the other hand, it is perhaps true that overpopulation is often a characteristic of wétiko societies. As we have seen in reference to eastern Peru, the people living an Indian way of life have small families while their Europeanized relatives have very large ones. Native People were often very much aware of the relationship of freedom and open space. In 1867, Ten Bears, a Comanche man, told a US representative:
You said that you wanted to put us upon a reservation, to build our houses; and make us medicine lodges. I do not want them. I was born upon the prairie where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun.
I was born where there were no enclosures and where everything drew a free breath. I want to die there and not within walls … 13
OVERPOPULATION IS, no doubt, a very dangerous phenomena from the viewpoint of freedom and sanity. It also would appear to be a direct result of the creation of wétiko-dominated societies, or at least correlates nicely with the latter. Perhaps this results from the degradation of women in a wétiko system, or perhaps it correlates with the disintegration of traditional folk values, or perhaps it is stimulated by the need of industrialists, generals, and dictators for continual supplies of cannon-fodder and cheap labor.
In any case, the wétiko disease, like so many European epidemic diseases, seems to flourish in overpopulation. And in the slums, factory towns, and crowded countrysides, babies, violence, hustling, prostitution, hunger, malnutrition, alcoholism, dope addiction, and fear often live side by side in a fertile culture of demoralization controlled only by prisons and monstrous armed forces. But of course the “Big Wétikos” do not live in these slums, rural or urban. They live, as they always have, in fancy houses or apartments, guarded by the security forces whose salaries they pay.
Needless to state, it is very, very easy to become a wétiko. One does not have to be brutalized and impoverished, like the poor caboclos of Brazil, the mestizos of Peru, or the ladinos of southern Mexico. There are many other ways of either becoming a wétiko or, at the very least, an accomplice of, or host for, the wétikos. One of the essential characteristics of free, democratic, non-imperialistic societies is that all people – men and women, the young, the old, and the “odd” – are equally respected.
Gene Weltfish, after years of working with the Pawnee people, said,
They were a well-disciplined people, maintaining public order under many trying circumstances. And yet they had none of the power mechanisms that we consider essential to a well-ordered life. No orders were ever issued … Time after time I tried to find a case of orders given, and there were none. Gradually, I began to realize that democracy is a very personal thing which, like charity, begins at home. Basically it means not being coerced and having no need to coerce anyone else. The Pawnee learned this way of living in the earliest beginning of his life. In the detailed events of every day living as a child, he began his development as a disciplined and free man or as a women who felt her dignity and her independence to be inviolate.13
An early traveler in the southern United States was William Bartram. He states that the Muscogees (Creeks),
… are just, honest, liberal and hospitable to strangers; considerate, loving and affectionate to their wives and relations; fond of their children; industrious, frugal, temperate and persevering; charitable and forbearing. I have been weeks and months amongst them and in their towns, and never observed the least sign of contention or wrangling: never saw an instance of an Indian beating his wife, or even reproving her in anger.
In this case they stand as examples of reproof to the most civilized nations … for indeed their wives merit their esteem and the most gentle treatment, they being industrious, frugal, careful, loving and affectionate … Their internal police and family economy … incontrovertibly place those people in an illustrious point of view: their liberality, intimacy and friendly intercourse with one another, without any restraint of ceremonious formality, as if they were even insensible of the use or necessity of associating the passions or affections of avarice, ambition or covetousness … How are we to account for their excellent policy in civil government; it cannot derive its influence from coercive laws, for they have no such artificial system. Divine wisdom dictates and they obey.14
Dorothy Lee, after working with the Wintu people of northern California, noted that the latter did not “give” freedom to their children but instead respected the child’s own decisions, as, for example, in responding to the infant’s own feeding requests. In doing this they are not being “permissive,” they are showing their deep-seated respect for individual worth, and their awareness of the unique tempo of the individual. Dorothy Lee also found that the Wintu language used verbs which express coercion or possession in English in a cooperative, non-coercive way, such as saying,
“I am sistered” or “I live with a sister” instead of “I have a sister.”15
13 Moquin and Van Doren, Great Documents in American Indian History, 209, from Gene Weltfish, The Lost Universe, 6-8.
14 Bartram, Travels, 488-491.
15 Lee, Freedom and Culture, 6, 8.
Black Hawk set forth the Native American philosophy very well in the 1830s:
For my part, I am of opinion, that so far as we have reason, we have a right to use it, in determining what is right or wrong; and should pursue that path which we believe to be right … If the Great and Good Spirit wished us to believe and do as the Whites, he could easily change our opinions, so that we would see, and think, and act as they do. We are nothing, compared to His power, and we feel and know it.
We have men among us, like the whites, who pretend to know the right path, but will not consent to show it without pay! I have no faith in their paths – but believe that every man must make his own path!16
Unfortunately, while Native American societies tend to cultivate self-disciplined but non-coerced individuals who have a right to follow their own paths, certain other societies very often seek to train their youth to “follow orders” and to conform to rules formulated by others, whether moral or immoral, logical or illogical. Thus Admiral Yamamoto of the Japanese Navy, although personally opposed to a war with the United States (for ethical as well as tactical reasons) accepted his orders and “obeyed his emperor.” He planned the secret attack upon Pearl Harbor in 1941 and then proceeded to vigorously lead Japan’s naval war, all because he was “obeying orders.”
Yamamoto appears to have been a deeply sensitive man, a man who could have set an example for those Japanese who despised militarism and imperialism. Instead he became a high-class murderer, killing tens of thousands for a cause in which he did not believe.
Needless to say, wétikos love just such a man! Without them the Hitlers, Stalins, Reagans, and so on, would have trouble keeping armies in the field. Many “Big Wétikos” are loyal to very little except their own self-interest, but their success often depends upon convincing others that “loyalty and obedience” are life’s highest virtues.
Many churches and sects, especially in the so-called Christian world, have developed elaborate systems of indoctrination designed to thoroughly control the minds of young children and adults. Of course they are afraid that their children might be contaminated by contact with “alien” ideas, forgetting that a spiritual path charted and controlled by another is not a path at all – it is instead nothing but a maze that leads nowhere. Children controlled by their parents (and both controlled by their sect) are like rats in a carefully created, endless maze. The very purpose of the spiritual life is defeated, it seems to me, by such a denial of individual freedom and responsibility.
In any case, authoritarian churches train their followers to obey orders and follow rules. Thus they often can be recruited to kill under orders, and especially to kill people who are “savages,” different, or alien. Significantly also (as shown earlier) such churches are often extremely imperialistic themselves.
16 Black Hawk, Autobiography, 105.
A case in point is the evangelical protestant and Mormon missionaries who today are actively seeking to convert Native People. The Mormon and fundamentalist cultures are, in most respects, the very opposite of Native American, being doctrinaire and rigidly patriarchal. They are also very aggressive and expansive. The proof of this for the Mormon Church is to be seen in Utah and nearby areas of Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona where Mormon white colonies have succeeded in obtaining vast areas of Native land. All one has to do is to examine maps of the “Mormon zone” to discover that the native Shoshone, Southern Paiute, and some of the Ute tribes of that area have received abnormally small reservations, or none at all. Or one can go to the Phoenix region of Arizona and learn how Mormon colonies settled on Pima land and appropriated the water of the Salt and Gila rivers, or how Mormons went to Navajo, Apache and Zuni lands in the area south of Gallup, again acquiring vast acreages.
Of course, as with most sects, there are individual Mormons who are friendly and sympathetic towards Native Americans, but the Mormon Church as an institution and the network of powerful wealthy Mormons present a clear threat to Native independence and survival in Arizona and other regions.
Mormon doctrine teaches that all of the great accomplishments of Native People were really the contributions of “white” people (allegedly Israelites, whom the Mormons imagine to have been white). The Native people’s brown color is a result of a curse and will be removed if they are converted to Mormonism. Tragically, this extremely racist doctrine is not that different from similar teachings appearing in other white sects, including fundamentalist protestant ones which have on occasion preached that an Indian can become white if he is “saved.”
While some Native Americans have chosen to accept the teachings of white missionaries, others, such as Bonita Calachaw, saw something unpleasant and negative therein. She wrote,
The Indians discovered they would not only have to fight for Freedom, for a Right to Live, but to fight the strange White Man’s Gods. The reaction was to train the Indian for the church. And the confusion is now a mountain in height.17
In any case, wétikos or supporters of wétikos can be created through “confusion” followed by systems of socialization that develop “followers” rather than free human beings, and which preach doctrines of racial or cultural superiority. As Juan Matus said,
You are like you are, because you tell yourself that you are that way.18
17 Steiner, ed., Spirit Woman, 178, 182-185.
18 Juan Matus, in Castaneda, Tales of Power, 40.
But wétikos can also be made in many other ways. Since the 1960s, for example, the governments of the United States and Canada have been both actively seeking to control Native (and black) people through federal grants, federal subsidies, easy money, federal jobs, government “per diem,” and the illusion of power. This technique of co-optation is, of course, nothing new, but since about 1965 the opportunities for corruption have vastly increased.
Let us imagine, for example, a young Indian receiving his college degree. Usually he will be a product of sixteen or more years of education in a white-dominated environment. He may also be a member of a Native community where there are Indians who have “gotten ahead” in the past by making crooked deals or by working for the government. In any case, our young man is not himself dishonest. In fact, he is probably naive, since little in his white education will have prepared him for the realities of the wétiko world.
Perhaps he is invited to a government-sponsored Indian conference held (as usual) at some fancy white motel or hotel. There he finds that the Commissioner of Indian Affairs has perhaps rented a motel room which no one occupies, but which is filled with liquor and is open to all of the Indian leaders. Many leaders get drunk and either sleep out the key meetings or go to bed with another delegate. In any case, he learns rapidly that the decisions are not made in open meetings, but in closed rooms or by a few key people.
Our young Indian is a bright and ambitious person. Thus he perceives that people are “rewarded” insofar as they go along with bureaucratic interests and don’t rock too many boats. He may also be taken aside by a more experienced person who trains him in wétiko procedure: how to collect “per diem” and consultant fees; how to scratch other people’s backs and get favors in return; how to team up with directors of this or that Indian program in order to form a kind of junior Mafia group; how to make pro-Indian speeches and keep a good image going in public while being very cooperative with oppressive agencies in the back room; and, finally, how to become “buddies” with the people who control grants, jobs, and so on, on a particular reservation or with a particular agency.
Gradually our young Indian comes to believe that there is no honesty in the Indian world. He has little to do with traditional people. He spends most of his time with Indian bureaucrats or with white counterparts. His life revolves around meetings in hotels, informal sessions in bars, bed-jumping with alcoholic female delegates, and “wheeling and dealing.” In this atmosphere our young man loses his face and is in danger of losing his sanity.
Many such people are led easily into outright corruption. Cases are known where a program director used project money for pleasure trips, for paying rent on a private home, for buying clothes, for buying alcohol, or for other illegal forms of rip-off. The Big Wétikos don’t mind this – in fact, they may encourage it. Why? Because then our young man has lost his “balls.” He has become a captive, either of the Indian Boss or of the federal government. They can crack down on him or expose him whenever they want to. As long as he remains their flunky, of course, they will leave him alone (unless they need a scapegoat, in which case he may be the sacrificial lamb).
Our young man, now older and corrupt, may remain a flunky for the rest of his life. He may also, however, choose to become a “Big Wétiko.” This requires a lot of back-scratching, back-stabbing, drinking, and maneuvering. It also requires the corruption of other young men (and women), who, in turn, will become hooked into the system. Since the Reagan presidency it is also quite possible for a young Indian to be co-opted into the White corporate system, becoming an operative for the wealthy investors who usually control the exploitation of natural resources in Indian country. Or he or she may go to work for the CIA, the US military, or the FBI.
This kind of scenario can be written for Chicanos, Africans, Puerto Ricans, and for any other human group. The details vary, but the essence is the same – ambition for power, wealth, or material things coupled with a weak, or confused, set of personal ethics. And the tragic thing is that such persons, whether wétikos or supporters of wétikos, make it possible for colonialism and oppression to continue.
THE SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 attack on New York and the Pentagon, carried out by nineteen men of apparent Middle Eastern origin, led to a very predictable reaction. Government spokespersons, much of the mainstream media, and many lay persons called for retaliation in the strongest possible language. A shockingly violent attack that resulted in the death of some 3,000 persons, the 9/11 assault was clearly carried out or masterminded by individuals who believe in human sacrifice. That is to say that the knowledgeable perpetrators were willing to take the lives of thousands of innocent persons both in the air (fellow passengers) and on the ground in order to achieve a political or a religious-political goal.1
Sacrifice (from sacra-facere) means to do or make holy, or sacred. Clearly the hijackers who knew that they were committing suicide believed in the holiness, sacredness or exalted nature of their cause. We can call such persons “fanatics” or “true believers” as well as “fundamentalists” and “extremists.” But one thing stands out starkly, and that is their willingness not merely to commit suicide, but to take the lives of other, innocent, persons. I use the word “innocent” in the sense of not having any direct relationship to the assumed grievances of the attackers, except perhaps for military personnel in the Pentagon.
The high-handed, arrogant taking of other human lives for one’s own purposes is, of course, a central part of wétiko, cannibal, behavior. It is also a characteristic of predators, since predation always involves preying upon someone else. But is the kind of terrorism exemplified by 9/11 a form of cannibalism and predator behavior? Let us first examine what is meant by terrorism. Webster’s defines “terrorism” as
the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.
To terrorize is defined as,
to fill with terror or anxiety or to coerce by threat or violence.
“Terror” stems from a word meaning “to frighten” and can refer to “a state of intense fear,” and similar conditions, as well as “violence (as bomb-throwing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or a government into granting their demands.2
Terrorism does not necessarily involve the inflicting of death or physical harm, since the key element in terror-doing is to create terror or a terrible fear or fright in the victimized groups. This may be done by killing a few persons as “examples,” or it may be accomplished by the mere threat of killing, torturing, or destroying something of great importance. The creation of an atmosphere of fear on the part of civilian populations is the primary characteristic while the overall objective is, of course, to control, manipulate, or change the behavior of the terrified, group. As Webster’s states, it,
the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.
The systematic use of terror seems to have been developed as a control and domination strategy for many ancient empires, especially during their expansionistic phases or when faced by unhappy subject peoples. Classic examples may be cited from Spanish strategy in America. On October 26, 1598 Juan de Onyate, head of the Spanish invasion of New Mexico, passed by the Keres pueblo of nt[?] with a large party. There “the Indians furnished us liberally with maize, water, and fowls.” On December 1, Juan de Zaldivar, a Spanish officer, reached Acoma with a body of soldiers. They requested or demanded supplies and blankets which the Acoma people did not want to give up. A few days later eighteen Spaniards and servants entered the pueblo. They apparently began to forcibly seize goods and turkeys. As a result, an Acoma man was killed or wounded and then the pueblo rose en masse, killing Zaldivar and fourteen other invaders.
1 See Atta! And Other Poems on 9/11, War, and Peace (Bandon: Kahonkok Press, 2002) for my response to the 9/11 attack.
2 Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 1981.
The Acoma’s resistance could not be tolerated by the Spaniards since Spanish success depended upon the total submission of the Americans and the appropriation of their supplies to feed and clothe European soldiers and priests. Vicente de Zaldivar, brother of Juan and nephew of the commander, led seventy well-armed soldiers to Acoma. The Americans were offered the chance to see their homes destroyed and to become captives.
When the Keres refused to surrender, Zaldivar followed Onyate’s orders to wage war without quarter. If any Americans were left alive and spared, Zaldivar was to make the Keres believe that the Franciscan friars among the soldiers had requested that mercy.
In this manner they will recognize the friars as their benefactors … and come to love and esteem them, and to fear us.
In the massacre that followed, at least 800 men, women, and children were murdered in cold blood. Prisoners were brought up out of the kivas one by one to be cut to pieces and thrown off of the cliff. The remaining Americans began to resist again when they realized what was happening, but to no avail. About 500 women and children and eighty men were taken alive in the end.
The “sky city” of Acoma was completely destroyed, while the prisoners were marched to the Spanish headquarters near the Tewa pueblo of San Gabriel (which was being seized by the Spaniards to serve as living quarters).
The males who are over twenty-five years of age I sentence to have one foot cut off and to twenty years of personal servitude.
Males from twelve to twenty-five and all women over twelve were sentenced to twenty years of servitude. Younger girls were to be distributed as servants, probably, while the young boys were given to Vicente de Zaldivar.
A few months later the Tompiro people refused to give Zaldivar food and blankets, offering stones instead. Onyate himself soon made a visit, receiving only twelve or fourteen blankets. The next day he announced that the Americans would be punished for their affront. They “set fire to parts of the pueblo and as the Indians retired killed five or six and wounded others …” Two American leaders were hanged with their interpreter. In 1601 war was decreed against the three Tompiro pueblos, and in a six-day battle 800 to 900 men, women, and children were slaughtered, all three villages were burned and leveled, and 400 prisoners were taken. Each Spanish soldier received a male as a slave, while the others were set free without a home.
A later Spanish military officer, Juan Fernandez de la Fuente, summed up the above philosophy:
la Guerra dura haze la paz segura, that is, cruel war makes peace secure.3
The Spaniards in New Mexico were utilizing the forms of terrorism that had been successfully used by Cortez in central Mexico and by Pizarro in Peru. This style of warfare sought to terrify a given population by carrying out horrifying massacres of people, often trapped in a plaza with no escape. Such terror was, and is, often intended as a means to terrify an entire population and to force the subsequent surrender of desired cities or territories. Many readers will recognize this as a frequently used tactic in the conquest behavior of many Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and European empires.
3 Jack D. Forbes, Apache, Navajo and Spaniard, 87-94.
But terrorism may take other forms. For example, the “anti-terrorism” campaigns undertaken by the US government after September 11, 2001 may have had the effect of frightening many US residents, including not only Muslims, Middle Easterners, Sikhs, and so on, but also many other persons with political ideas at odds with the Bush administration.
One shouldn’t be surprised if political leaders seek to silence dissent, especially during a time of perceived threat. The US government has a well-established history of silencing dissent and jailing dissenters during declared wars, such as World Wars I and II and during the “Red Scares” of the 1920s and 1950s.
Whenever leaders call for national unity and say that “everyone should get behind the president” (or king, or czar, or dictator) we should be very apprehensive about the fate of liberty. I would argue that the Wilsonian suppression of dissent during World War I and, in particular, the suppression of the democratic Socialist Party, the imprisonment of Eugene Debs, and the curtailment of German-American speech and culture, had effects which lasted well into the early 1930s, crippling organizing and political action by organized labor and working-class parties. The solid control established for corporation-dominated Republicans and “me-too” Democrats during the 1920s paved the way for the Great Depression and for World War II. (Among other things, it contributed to US isolationism, US imperialism in Central America and Caribbean America, and, in the 1930s, to the tragic US failure to aid the Spanish Republic against fascism, among other disastrous policies).
What I am saying is that terrifying popular forces into silence during a crisis because they might seem “subversive” is in itself a form of subversion because it outlasts the crisis and hands extraordinary power to right-wing forces (and bear in mind that Stalin’s victory in the USSR after Lenin’s death was essentially a right-wing or even a fascistic victory, a not surprising result of Marxist-Leninism’s accepting the suppression of dissent during the “crisis” years of 1917 through the 1920s).
As stated, terrorism is not new. It was developed as a standard tactic of wétiko empires long ago. One can cite the rather common practice of slaughtering every inhabitant of a city which resisted (in defending its independence), a practice followed by the Mongols in their conquest of Central Asia, as well as by Persians in their struggles to obtain the surrender of Phoenician cities in Kanaan (now Lebanon); or by the Spaniards in building their empire (as noted above).
The policy of the United States towards Native nations often has included the systematic use of terror, and here I refer not only to the actual forms of warfare with massacres, such as those of the Washita, Sand Creek, and Wounded Knee, but also to several other significant forms of terror:
- allowing white persons and irregular military groups to hunt down, rape, murder, enslave, and drive away Native Peoples in areas such as northern and central California (1849-1850s), southwest Oregon (1850s-1860s), Nevada (1850s-1860s), Utah (1850s) and elsewhere;
- allowing Spanish-speaking New Mexicans and whites to continue slave raids against Navajos and others, and allowing the enslavement of Native People in California and Arizona into the late 1860s;
- constantly removing Native People from their homes as in the Cherokee and other “trails of tears” wherein large numbers of innocents died (and such “removals” were usually repeated more than once); and
- threatening extreme retaliation against an entire community or nation for the death of any white person (as in the persecution of the Pawnee in Nebraska prior to their involuntary removal to Oklahoma).
The above policies typify US behavior from the 1790s or earlier until the so-called “Ute War” of the 1910 period. Examples would include the seizure of most Navajos (many or most of whom were totally uninvolved in the raids and counter-raids against the Hispanic New Mexicans) and their forced march to the Pecos River, with very significant death rates both during the “long walk” and while being held in concentration camps in Pecos River Valley; and the forced return to US territory of Nez Perce, Chiricahua Apache, and Lipan Apache groups whose primary crime was to seek refuge away from US territory.4
4 See Navajo Stories of the Long Walk Period for memories of the forced removal of many Navajos to the Pecos River Valley, especially pages 23-42.
The net impact of all of the terror tactics was to create a situation among many tribes where members were unable to resist federal control. The First Americans could then be brought under total supervision and domination by white “Indian Agents.” Although the policy was never completely successful, many tribes lost their own ability to resist in many significant areas (such as education of the young) and many individuals joined the “Indian Police” or otherwise cooperated against their own people, out of economic necessity.
US policies included the inculcation of fear long after 1910. For example, agents were empowered to arrest any tribal or outside “agitators” on reservation land and individuals were often forced to obtain passes to leave the reservation. Resources were also doled out in such a manner as to coerce people into adopting cooperative (“progressive”) behavior. These forms of coercion could certainly approach the level of terror, as, for example, in the fear of losing one’s children (if deemed to be an unsuitable parent) or losing them to boarding schools, or losing one’s food rations, et cetera.
Subsequent US policies in the Philippines after 1898 and in Central America and Caribbean America often continued procedures developed against Native Americans. But especially in the latter two regions the US leadership learned that it was cheaper to use local white or non-white elites and their armies to control the local (often indigenous) population rather than to send in the marines or to assume direct colonial administration. This was known as “Dollar Diplomacy” or, as in the British Empire, “indirect rule.” In this system brutal treatment of the Maya and other Native peoples occurred from Mexico and Guatemala to Panama, but the US was able to pretend that its hands were clean. Of course, direct interventions in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, and elsewhere exposed the lie in such claims.
These policies have continued into our own era, since the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations chose to directly support client regimes in the latter’s oppression of their own peoples or in direct US efforts to prevent any national independence governments (in other words, “socialists”) from coming to power as in Nicaragua. The 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s saw the open use of terrorism against indigenous Americans from Guatemala to Nicaragua by US supported, trained, and supplied forces. Still today, forensic anthropologists are excavating the remains of hundreds of Mayas massacred in Guatemala and buried in secret mass graves. One excavation has uncovered remains of 350 villagers, including 100 children, massacred by the US supported military in December 1982.
It is no coincidence that Israel also actively aided the repressive militaries in Central America, since Israeli policies against Arab Palestinians sometimes seem to directly copy US policy towards Native Americans. The essence of US policy from the 1780s on was “Indian Removal” and “White Settlement.” Indian Removal was engineered by warfare, constant harassment and pressure, crooked treaties, forcing Natives onto marginal land, creating challenging health and nutrition situations, and the corruption of some Native leaders. Constant removals created very unstable, intolerable, and psychologically depressing conditions. When some warriors made the choice to respond with violence, the superiority of US arms would soon crush them and create a new removal. “Frontier raiding” never worked to the Native Nations’ advantage for very long, almost always resulting in a forced retreat to the west.
It should be stressed that Native Americans had to give up their gardens, clearings, cemeteries, housing, pecan trees, other groves and sacred or ceremonial places every single time they were forced to move. Many times attempts were made by the people to remove ancestors’ bones for transport to new cemeteries, or to continue to visit burial places in spite of white occupation. Can one imagine the psychological shock of such forms of terrorism? It is no wonder that some observers have suggested that many Native Americans continue to suffer from post-traumatic shock even today. Alcoholism may be one symptom of such collective trauma.
The white settlers in North America frequently claimed that divine providence or destiny had given them the right to displace the “inferior” Americans with “superior” white European industry, ingenuity, know-how, and ideology. The Israeli occupation of Palestine (Kanaan or Filistina) has also been justified on the alleged ground of a divine grant in Mosaic times. The white New Englanders spoke of a New Canaan in North America, and thus we see how strikingly alike are the Anglo-American expansionist ideology and the Zionist perspective. And just as the First Americans were condemned as “savages” and “Redskins” for defending their home countries, so too the Arab Palestinians are categorized generally as “terrorists” for striking back at Israeli settlements.
One must, of course, not deny that both First Americans and Palestinians have committed atrocities in the course of their defensive struggles, both at times being guilty of striking at civilians (non-soldiers) and even killing innocent persons. Such responses may be labeled as terroristic. One may also regard them as serious mistakes in strategy. Nonetheless, the greater crime of terrorism must be leveled at the Israeli settlers (often armed I believe) who continually push into Arab areas of the West Bank and Yerusalem in a program that cannot help but be part of a larger imperialistic design. The Jewish Zionist settlements seem to be placed strategically so as to control and occupy territory. Perhaps the ultimate objective is, as in North America, the total or near-total displacement of the original populations.
“Arab removal” is strikingly similar to Indian Removal. The Arabs lose their wells, their olive groves, their fields, their homes, and their cemeteries. They are also threatened with the loss of sacred places (in Yerusalem for example). They are forced into concentration camps (refugee camps) where they attempt to build new homes, but ones that are often shelled and destroyed. Many Arabs have been repeatedly uprooted. Often their homes are destroyed because of a lack of “authorization.” They are forced to have passes in order to move about, just as Native Americans were.
In any case, the Arab population, like that of aboriginal North America, has been driven to a state of desperation by what can only be seen as a program of systematic, planned terrorism carried out by the Israeli state as official policy. The settlements, in short, although filled apparently by willingly aggressive settlers, are authorized, funded, and protected by the Israeli state.
I have gone into these two examples of long-term terrorism in order to illustrate that acts of terror, that is, programs to coerce, intimidate, and eliminate populations by means of terrifying aggression, may persist for a long period of time and may feature only sporadic acts of direct violence. Always present, however, is the very real threat of violence! In recent years the Israeli State has adopted the tactic of shelling and otherwise destroying Arab structures and homes in an unpredictable and disproportionate manner as a response to any Palestinian attacks upon Israelis. Thus innocent persons are subjected to a “collective punishment” in the manner used by the US government against Native Americans. After the US Civil War, for example, the Creeks and Cherokees were forced to cede lands to the US even though the majority of their citizens had remained pro-USA and many had even fled north to the Arkansas River. Similarly, after the earlier Redstick War, the Creeks were forced to cede a large swath of land in Alabama although a large proportion of the Nation had remained loyal to the US and had even contributed fighters for the US side. “Collective punishment” required that all Creeks were required to suffer.
It needs to be said that the Jewish people have suffered tremendous persecution in Europe (especially in the Nazi Holocaust) and one has to be sympathetic to the strong desires of many to have a safe and secure place in which to live. On the other hand, should being victims of prior terrorism serve as a justification for inflicting terror upon others? It is not my purpose here to argue how much land in Palestine should be possessed by Jews, or how much by Muslims and Christians. Rather, my purpose is to highlight the manner in which settling 400,000 Jews in the post-1967 West Bank and East Yerusalem resembles white North American practice, and how such a program can be regarded as part of a process of state-directed terrorism. (It should also be noted that the Israeli courts have sometimes ruled against “collective punishment” of the kind described above).
Another example of a long-term process of predation maintained by terrorism consists in the North American system of “slavery.” First, however, let us get rid of the word slavery, since it is derived from the ethno-linguistic name Slav, referring to the millions of Slavic peoples who were held in captive labor status in prior centuries. I do not believe that we should apply such a name to a pernicious system of exploitation involving involuntary captivity and forced labor.
The term slavery has also been used in the US to disguise a program of seizure and captivity by giving the latter a quasi-legal name or implied condition. Using the factual term “captivity” better reveals the starkly predatory and exploitive nature of the practice. In my opinion, the practice of holding Americans and Africans as captives in the British colonies was never “legal” because it violated British common law and specifically the basic principle that imprisonment or captivity can be inflicted only as a punishment for a crime after a fair trial or other legal proceeding. Americans and Africans held as captives were very seldom, if ever, charged with any crime, nor were there any relevant judicial proceedings, to my knowledge.
When the thirteen colonies became independent republics in 1783 they did not possess the legal right to maintain the captivity of un-free persons without, again, initiating legal procedures charging each such person with a crime; so far as I am aware, no crime could have been discovered (except, perhaps, aiding the British cause in the war, a “crime” for which white Tories would have had to have been punished on the same terms).
In any event, the United States Constitution, in my judgment, outlawed the captivity of innocents when it was adopted, guaranteeing freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to a trial by jury of peers, and, in the Fifth Amendment, the right to “life, liberty, and property” except where “due process of law” and “just compensation” were involved. The above guarantees applied to all persons, and we know that individuals of African and American Indian racial ancestries were officially regarded as “persons,” since in the 1790 and later censuses many were classified as “other free persons” or “free persons of color.”
Of course, in practice, innocent captives held by force in 1783 were left to the tender mercies of the state legislatures, which were dominated, often, by white persons claiming control of such captives, or by merchants engaged in the capture, purchase and sale of innocents (such as ship-owners, merchants, insurance companies, and so on). Nonetheless, I would argue that each and every claimant to the control of a human captive, or to a newborn, had to produce documentary evidence of the commission of a crime in order for a sentence of captivity to be rendered. What was to prevent the capturing of white Tories guilty of crimes and thus being sentenced to perpetual captivity? Race, color, class and language prevented it, of course.
Thus we have hundreds of thousands of persons of African and American races, or even mixed with European, condemned to a captivity of innocents, with no crime committed or documented, while white men who fought against the “Patriots” and often committed serious damages were generally allowed to live in peace or move to Canada! There is no way that such a color-based system of injustice can be found in either the Common Law or in the Constitution.
But as we all know, the United States, dominated by captors (and by greed), embarked on a century of exploitation of persons of color wherein even newborn babes were held to be captives for life, although innocent of any misdeed, and all sentenced to forced labor for their natural lives.
Most white people have failed to ask: how can such a system of captivity be maintained? In this case, we had state governments awarding human beings to private captors in what amounted to a privatized prison system, with the captors (I refuse to call them “owners”) having a virtually unregulated control over the innocent victims including the power to inflict harsh and even fatal punishment.
What can such a system be called? The “captivity of innocents” is one name; the “theft of lives” is another. But whatever we call it, it was a system of raw thievery maintained only by terror. It was certainly predatory, most of the dominators were clearly predators, and yes, it was a calculated system of terrorism, maintained solely by means of whippings, floggings, executions, or by the threat of being “sold” to a far-off place, away from one’s wife, children, husband, relations, and enforced by means of armed patrols, militias, state guards, and bounty-hunters (head-hunters) making a practice of hunting down those seeking freedom.
This system of terror, please bear in mind, was not simply a quirk in the otherwise clean record of the United States. On the contrary, it was a major and overwhelmingly significant aspect of Anglo-American life from colonial times through the 1860s. The captors and their allies controlled the legislatures, the courts, and the halls of Congress until after the State of South Carolina initiated an armed attack upon the United States flag in 1861, thereby initiating the Civil War.
But internal terrorism did not come to an end with the emancipation of the innocents in 1865. On the contrary, the former captors soon sought to maintain their control over all African Americans by establishing a system of white-only rule just as soon as Federal troops were removed from the ex-confederacy. From the 1870s through the 1950s and 1960s a system of terror was often used to enforce white supremacy, segregation, and the ability of white persons to exploit non-white labor at the lowest cost possible. The use of terror also spread to many northern areas as well, wherever white supremacy was challengeable.
Race riots, hangings or “lynchings,” and unequal treatment by law enforcement authorities and the courts together maintained a system of terror especially typified by the brutal and sadistic murders of the 1920s. The United States tolerated such a system of terror until finally the Black Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s forced the country to bring an end to the most overt aspects of the system.
It is worth noting in passing that the United States and most of its member states (with one or two recent exceptions), to my knowledge, have never apologized for, or provided compensation for, the predatory terrorist systems directed at Native American and African American peoples. Instead, entire epochs have been buried under the rug of forgetfulness, passed over by school curricula, and sweetened up with romantic nostalgia (as in films like Dances With Wolves and Pocahontas).
I should mention here that some tribes, the Muskogee, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw, made the serious mistake of allowing their mixed-blood elites to establish systems of captive labor modeled after their southern white neighbors. Many thousands of persons of African and African-Native ancestry were maintained in captivity between roughly the early 1800s and 1865. Their forced labor, transmitted to innocent babies as among white people, was totally out of character for the tribes in question (which had previously allowed captives considerable freedom and had probably never transmitted captive status to newborn children). Allowing white-style captivity to exist led directly to the Four Tribes’ deep involvement in the Civil War, resulting in loss of considerable territory. Moreover, they were required to share their remaining lands with the freed captives (which the Federal government incidentally did not require of white captors).
I am unaware of terrorist behavior being enacted by Native tribes towards captives, and it may be that conditions were more lenient than in the white south. Nonetheless, after 1907 the freed captives, often intermarried with Native people, were subjected to terrorism by segments of the white population of Oklahoma. In the 1920s especially the Ku Klux Klan was very active, both in Oklahoma and nationally, and many “freedmen” were persuaded to sell their lands and move to Tulsa and other cities for security. The “colored” section of Tulsa was burned down in 1921, with considerable loss to the people of color. The white law enforcement took the side of white rioters during the attack.
I have gone into these examples to show that terrorism involves much more than the use of bombs or captured aircraft. It also involves, more often than not, the use of state power or at least the connivance of state authority. The persecution of Jews in Europe, for example, usually involved the collaboration or the instigation of the state.
It might be very convenient for the United States and other powerful states (such as Russia, Turkey, Iran, China, and so on) to attempt to portray dissident groups as terrorists when, in many cases, such groups may be only national or ethnic liberation movements not radically different from the Patriots in the US war for Independence (all of whom were traitors, criminals, and often terrorists from the British perspective). In other words, not all rebel or dissident groups can be charged with terrorism. Terrorism cannot be a general charge, unless it involves repeated actions that seem to be a matter of policy (such as perhaps the atrocities committed by Al Queda in Iraq on a regular and sustained basis). The term terrorism can, however, be applied to specific acts directed against civilians and non-combatants, as outlined earlier.
It may be, however, that such groups as the Irish Republican Army or its factions – the ETA Basque underground and the Chechen movement, for example – have used more terror tactics than might have been the practice of earlier independence movements. I believe that this escalation of “rebel terrorism” can be directly related to the success of powerful states in developing vast military superiority, accompanied by amazing technologies of control, including missiles, smart bombs, cluster bombs, robot planes, spying satellites, listening devices, heat-sensing devices, intelligence units, and on and on. Governments have become ever more formidable in the array of weaponry and gadgetry which they can use against ethnic minorities (or majorities) whether they be Kurds, Albanians, Berbers, Acheh Indonesians, East Timorese, Papuans, Mayas, and so on.
For example, early on the Israelis invested in advanced jet fighters, tanks, missile-launchers, and a full array of weaponry and surveillance equipment, including nuclear weapons. This formidable array of military material gives them a huge advantage over the Palestinians. Young Arabs, lacking weaponry of an equal type, often resort to stone throwing – but David doesn’t win against Goliath anymore! Thus other Arabs, driven to desperation, become suicide bombers. Israeli civilian targets are selected because they may be virtually the only targets accessible.
The very success of the modern state creates the conditions where its own civilians become the easiest available targets. Terrorism is the result, a terrorism created by the very state that seeks to avoid it (although in some cases, as I shall discuss, terrorism actually works in the interest of those who are in power over a state apparatus). There may be a kind of a dance of mutual dependence between the desperate terrorist and the state security system. They each create the need for the other.
Once groups of people become used to the idea of terrorism, however, they may select civilian targets as preferred targets because they really do want to terrorize (or punish perhaps) a given civilian population. There are many examples of such behavior in modern history. In fact, the concept of “total war” gives justification to the notion that enemy armies are not the only legitimate targets; factories, factory workers, transportation systems including passenger trains, government buildings, television and radio stations, waterworks, dorms, corrals, causeways, warehouses, bridges – in short, virtually all parts of a city – are targets. The Nazi attacks on London, the Japanese attack on Nanking, the Allied destruction of Hamburg and Dresden, and the US nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki all embodied an even broader principle of “total war” in which the entire population and economy is a legitimate target. Civilians are seen as combatants, because, of course, they produce the material needed by the military. But more than that, they are seen as expendable persons because, as enemies, their claim to a right to life is rejected. This certainly is the case with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. No one justified their deaths based upon their special guilt; rather, they were seen as humans sacrificed to save the lives of others.
The US bombings of Baghdad, Iraq in 1992 under President George H. W. Bush targeted almost every aspect of the city except hospitals, residential neighborhoods, and some business districts and hotels. The infrastructure of the city was badly damaged with very negative impacts upon the civilian population. Although “total war” doctrines were not called forth, it is clear that military objectives included these negative impacts since, for example, the destruction of the clean water system was specifically planned. Of course without clean water, civilian non-combatants will die. Destroying water facilities is akin to a poison attack upon a population.
In any case, World War II saw clearly the rise of military doctrines that violated every principle of “civilized warfare.” Since World War II many examples of the denial of rights of children and other non-combatants can be cited, ranging from Vietnam and Cambodia, to East Timor; to many wars in Africa; to several Middle Eastern wars; to the Russo-Chechen War; to Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere in ex-Yugoslavia; and to Guatemala, Columbia, Peru, El Salvador, and Nicaragua in the Americas.
Those persons who wish to rebel against some system seen as unjust, or who wish to obtain independence, or who espouse a major grievance against a government, have many models of behavior that they may follow. Unfortunately, the rich industrialized countries have provided abominably stupid, unethical, and morally counterproductive models, beginning with the behavior of the “enlightened” German, French, British, Japanese, and US empires or societies in the early twentieth-century, followed by the behaviors referred to above. In short, dissidents may certainly be heard arguing that “total war” or the legitimate rules of war require that civilians be targeted because, after all, that is the powerful model that has been provided.
When the German officer corps planned their stunning and unexpected sweeps through neutral Belgium, did they think about the ethics of a surprise attack through neutral territory? Did they think that civilian non-combatants might get in the way or be hurt? I should think not. The “Great Powers” have all provided a model that says, win with the minimum loss of civilian life possible, but if civilians have to die, so be it. But in practice, winning is everything. Morality is an option only when winning.
I disagree completely with the above models provided by the “Great Powers,” although I will admit that the evils inflicted on Europe by the Nazi regime would seem to provide some rationale for a total war strategy in that one case. We must be very careful in adopting a philosophy of allowing the killing of non-combatants, however. Such killings are clearly murder, not self-defense or in any way justified in terms of any religion I know about. Yet in all recent wars (Kosovo, Bosnia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor, Chechnya) large numbers of non-combatants have been killed “accidentally” or purposefully.
In any case, the military strategists of our Great Powers are certainly not going to listen to me! The politicians tell them that their job is to win and they will use whatever tactics give them victory even if it means (as in Chechnya) the virtual destruction of the entire country and the traumatization of the ethnicity concerned. I would rather address my comments here to the dissident and rebel groups who choose to resort to armed struggle to secure independence, autonomy, or major change in a situation that they regard as oppressive.
The use of violence, especially against innocent civilians, is extremely dangerous as well as immoral. It is, I believe, usually counterproductive for a liberation movement. For example, when so-called extremist Muslim groups launched an attack upon Russian Dageststan several years ago, it not only failed to help them reach their goal, but it provided the Russian government with an excuse for reinvading Chechnya and ultimately savaging that country. Thus Chechnya’s path towards independence was, apparently, seriously (perhaps fatally) set back by the violent adventurism of fanatics. Those who carried out the violence may not have even been Chechens, but Muslim extremists from other countries.
There are numerous examples in human history where the use of violence has resulted in catastrophic defeats for the people the violence was designed to help. Very often, once violence has been initiated, criminals, outsiders, or mentally and morally unstable persons succeed in hijacking the resistance or liberation movement, with very negative results. As in the Palestinian struggle for liberation, those who kill innocent Israeli civilians, among other acts, are capable of undermining peace negotiations any time they want to. Similarly, extremist Israelis (such as armed “settlers”) can, at any moment, sabotage peace efforts by aggressions against Palestinians.
Thus, in an atmosphere of violence, the people themselves, or their legitimate leaders, may often lose control to the most violent and intransigent elements.
Genuine liberation struggles, after all, should have an overwhelming love for human beings as the very heart and soul of their movement. Can one truly love one’s own people or group while hurting other people or groups? The campaigns of the Bosnian Christian Serbs against the Muslim Bosnians and other non-Christian Serbs certainly did not appear as a struggle for liberation. Rather it was, or became, a fascist-like movement of ethnic hatred directed against fellow Bosnian Slavs speaking the same language; people who happened to be, perhaps, a bit more prosperous and slightly different in customs. The adoption or introduction of violence, in any case, allowed extremely criminal, brutal, and sadistic elements to take control.
If there ever was any legitimacy to the political movement of Christian Serbs and Christian Croats against each other and against Muslim, secular and Jewish Bosnians, that legitimacy was totally eroded by the apparent institutionalization of extermination, “ethnic cleansing,” rape, and seizure of homes and farms. Nazi-like behaviors, I would argue, are incompatible with any legitimate liberation struggle.
I would suspect that many Christians, both Serbs and Croats, suffered great losses in freedom, free speech, and moral behavior choices because of the seizure of the ground, so to speak, by brutal elements.
It is always questionable to kill another human being, except perhaps in the immediacy of self-defense, but it is especially ugly to kill someone who is innocent, non-violent, and unprepared to defend themselves. Such killings are murders, certainly, and once they are undertaken as a strategy they stain the movement that allows it to happen. The next step, surely, is to unleash the most brutal and sadistic passions, not only among one’s comrades, but among the “enemy” as well. This will in turn lead to counter-brutality and a constant escalation of dehumanization.
We see this played out so clearly and brutally in Iraq, where armed Muslim extremists have seemed to take a great desire to maim, torture, and murder other Muslims. No matter how justified the Israeli State my consider itself, in relation to wars with Arab states, the post-1967 treatment of the occupied West Bank and Gaza regions (and of Lebanon) has been immoral, inexcusable, and, of course, violent and terroristic. Israeli seizures of Arab lands, houses, water, agriculture plots, and other resources, coupled with the failure to negotiate a peaceful withdrawal when the opportunity presented itself, has, in turn, created an escalating dance of death, a cycle of mutual reprisals, which will not end until both sides give up on the use of violence and seizure of property. I believe that the Arab use of violence has been wrong and counter-productive, but conversely the Israeli violence must be seen as the driving force in a very unequal power relationship, especially since 1967.
But what is the alternative for Arab Palestinians? It has always seemed to me that a Gandhian-like non-violent resistance movement in the area would be incredibly difficult and challenging, because of the possible willingness of the Israeli State and of right-wing Jewish organizations to make use of violence against civilians. What if, for example, 500,000 Arab refugees began a peaceful return to their homeland, carrying no weapons and monitored by volunteer witnesses from many faiths? What would be the reaction of Israeli troops at the border? What would be the reaction of armed Jewish settlers in the West Bank?
Such a script provides us with very serious food for thought! What if Maya people in Guatemala had marched by the tens of thousands peacefully to Guatemala City to protest the oppressive policies of non-Maya elites and the army? And what if Afghan women and their supporters had marched by the thousands upon Kabul (or Kandahar) to peacefully demand a change in the Taliban’s anti-women decrees and oppressive rules generally? And what if similar marches had been made by indigenous, rural, and poor Salvadoreans to protest the oppressive and terroristic policies of the ARENA party and the Savadorean army during the 1970s or 1980s?
What would the United States have done, as regard to its open support of Israel and the military regimes in Guatemala and El Salvador, and its indifference or original support of Afghanistan’s Taliban?
It seems likely that the Israeli response to a peaceful return of Palestinians would be extremely bloody – hundreds would be beaten, wounded, machine-gunned, strafed, murdered. The same thing would have occurred in Guatemala and El Salvador (as evidenced by many massacres carried out by the military). In Afghanistan, no doubt, the Taliban would have tried to whip, beat, and kill large numbers of women and supporters. We can be very sure that such regimes as Israel and the former ones of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Afghanistan would not hesitate to maim or murder very large numbers of what would become, in effect, martyrs and sacrificial victims.
But let us compare the thousands who surely would have died with the hundreds of thousands who actually died, not to mention equally large (or greater) numbers of refugees forced to flee to Mexico, the US, Jordan, Lebanon, and so on.
It would require tremendous courage to march to the Israeli border, weaponless, with only one’s humanity as a shield against brutality. No doubt, the Israeli soldiers would be ordered to kill. Perhaps the Air Force would begin strafing the marchers long before they reached the border itself, or missiles and helicopter gunships might be sent their way. But it is possible that the Israeli soldiers, after their hands, arms, and bodies become bloody from the blows aimed at peaceful civilians, or after they see the long lines of strafed bodies stretched out for miles, or after they kill unarmed monitors and marchers from Europe and North America, including Jews, that the soldiers in disgust at their own behavior (so much like Nazi machine gunners in 1942 and 1943 in Ukraine killing innocent Jews) would stop the slaughter.
Now, it requires the utmost courage to peacefully march towards Israeli troops or to march where Guatemalan, Salvadorean, or Taliban soldiers could hit you, shoot you, or arrest you. I am not sure that I have that kind of courage!
But we have many hundreds, even thousands, of Palestinian young men willing to sacrifice their lives to blow up innocent Israeli citizens (as well as Israeli soldiers). We have had thousands of Mayas, other Guatemalans, thousands of Salvadoreans, and many Afghans willing to fight for freedom, with the threat of death or imprisonment and torture as a constant possibility. Huge numbers have died, been tortured, and are imprisoned. But in very few cases have the problems of oppression, unequal distribution of power and wealth, a brutal army (or huge numbers of armed men answering to no central government as in Afghanistan), and abusive laws, or corrupt oligarchic governments, been resolved.
So hundreds of thousands have died, but little real change has been seen. Perhaps then it might be worthwhile for liberation and independence movements to reconsider their tactics! Perhaps the wisest choice is to force the oppressors to use violence (if they choose) rather than see the popular movements becoming violent. The lives of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., are viable examples.
We all know that powerful states have huge police forces and armies, armed with a vast array of weapons and citizen-controlling devices. We know also that many of them restrict or even forbid peaceful citizen political and religious activity or demonstrations. And this is a growing trend that is sadly often supported by uninvolved citizens who have been led to fear any social unrest.
We should ban terrorism from this Mother Earth, whether it be state terrorism or non-state terrorism, whether it be gangster terrorism or financial terrorism waged by those dressed in suits and ties who have forgotten what the word “usury” means or what a reasonable profit might consist of. We must stop rewarding the violent and avaricious among us.
WHAT GEORGE W. BUSH, John Ashcroft, and Dick Cheney would not tell you about terrorism is this: it’s a male disease! Condoleezza Rice and other powerful women notwithstanding, the madness of violence, aggression, war, assault, rape, murder, conquest, dominance, and terrorism is, overwhelmingly, an insanity that strikes males primarily. Is it in the male DNA? Perhaps; but it is also cultural, because aggressive masculine drives to domination, superiority, and revenge seem to typify some societies, and some religious traditions, more than others.
Women can, of course, be vicious and mean, and they can goad men into violent action, but the kind of anger and sheer destructiveness that typifies the aggressive male rarely finds a female counterpart.
From the newsreels I have seen and the reports I have read, I would find it hard to imagine Hindu housewives and daughters attacking Muslim neighbors, and stoning, beating, or burning them alive! Equally hard to imagine are Israeli women running the Israeli war-machine and ramming down the walls of civilian homes, or firing guns at Palestinian ambulances. And while we have seen a couple of female Palestinian suicide bombers, the overwhelming majority of bombers, fighters, and rock-throwers are male.
Whether it is a US President threatening terror with his nuclear weapons, first strikes, and “preventive war” doctrine, or the Reagan-Bush administration providing funds to Saddam Hussein when the latter was launching chemical weapons against the Kurds, or extremist Muslim fanatics calling for the killing of innocents as acceptable strategy in a “just war,” we are led to one inescapable conclusion: many males are insane!
Of course, some have written about the fragile male ego, which explodes into violence at perceived slights, but the fact is that many men (and especially men from domineering, patriarchal cultures with exclusivist, “true believer” religious traditions) have a reservoir of smoldering anger just below the surface, or a need to offer proof of dominance by inflicting humiliation, pain, or visible signs of inferiority upon others. Often it is women and children who are the first victims to male ego-needs, as witness the recent male-ordered gang-raping of an innocent teenage girl in Baluchistan as a punishment for her brother!
It is terribly dangerous when major societies and movements are ruled by men only or primarily, because male behavior is, historically, all too predictable. Whether communist or capitalist, fascist or junta-installed, clerical or military, totally male government is too dangerous to be allowed to continue, given the kinds of “toys” of mass destruction available these days to angry fanatics and coldly-calculating world-dominators.
Male dominance typifies a number of major religions, including Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Orthodox Judaism, Islam, Southern Baptists in the US, Northern Ireland Presbyterians, and, so far as I am aware, Sikhism, Hinduism, and Shinto. Only within indigenous (especially Native American) religious traditions can one find major female leadership and participation accepted widely.
Male priesthoods that exclude women from religious leadership and make all legal and doctrinal decisions (as with the Pope, College of Cardinals, Islamic courts, and so on) represent the religious counterpart of male secular leadership. They are totally dysfunctional, and more than that, they are immoral given the track record of fanaticism, brutality, and persecution carried out for ages within and by the male-priesthood religions.
The union of male religion with male military dominance, as with Emperor Constantine’s merger of the Roman Empire with evolving Christianity, has been an all too frequent problem among human beings. The result is the suppression of dissent and, perhaps, of the original core of the religion in question.
It is time that women demand and be given an equal voice in all major institutions, whether it be in Islam, the Latter Day Saints, or the governments of Israel, Palestine, or the United States. My suggestion is that every parliament (or religious body) have two houses: one elected entirely by women and one by men, both with equal power.
No discussion of terrorism, school violence, domestic abuse, war and peace, or crime should take place without confronting the worldwide phenomena of male dominance-seeking and violence. And without the full empowerment of women, such a discussion cannot even begin, since women’s voices are so rare in the scenes of “power.”
My studies over the years have indicated to me that, until recently, it is in the indigenous (tribal) societies of the world where women’s status has been the highest. One sees this not only in North America but also in Yunnan (China), in India (among the so-called “scheduled castes” or tribes and among the Naga and other groups in Assam), and among many other folk groups. Unfortunately, however, many forces have served to alter the conditions of women in a downward direction, including especially the spread of “Imperial Christianity,” the consolidation of priestly-controlled Judaism, the spread of ultra-orthodox Islam (especially after the loss of Arab control to the Turks and other later regional dynasties), the evolution of priestly-controlled Hinduism, and, in general, the appearance and expansion of militaristic and imperialistic cultures.
Local cultures have tended to be the most friendly to women, until very modern times. Perhaps this is because “empires” and hegemonic systems (larger and larger organizations, states, churches, sects) are almost always the creation of men or cultures dominated by a male drive for power, expansion, dominance, and exclusivity. (And the ultimate exclusivity is the blasphemous claim of a group of males to possess the exclusive pathway to contact with the deity, for example, God, Allah, Jehovah, and so on).
The expansion of Christianity and Islam are strikingly similar in their effects on local and indigenous cultures. Much of the “local color” and richness of local cultures disappears when the majority is tipped in favor of a missionizing religion. Missionaries and their converts (especially when a king or ruler or powerful male is converted) tend to force dramatic changes in festivals, dances, folk dress, sexual behavior, marriage practices, and women’s public participation, encouraging a new, uniform mode of dressing (hiding the body, especially of women, but also of men), placing women indoors where possible, and allowing only missionary-approved public culture to survive. The examples of Puritan New England and Taliban Afghanistan or Wahabee Saudi Arabia come immediately to mind.
The result has been the loss of incredible richness and cultural variation among humans and, more importantly, the loss of freedom. This loss of freedom is especially felt by women, but, of course, males also lose since they can no longer refuse to accept hegemonic doctrinal beliefs and must conform to sect-imposed behavioral norms (as in post-Shah Iran under the Shiite mullahs). Males may also have to become more violent and dominating, as this behavior is often prized by the state and rewarded with upward mobility, honors, and higher status.
Historically, in a society that has come to be completely dominated by Orthodox Jewish rabbis or by Muslim mullahs or by Christian priests or preachers, conformity is often the rule for all, both males and females. Often, freedom can be found only by departure to another land, but the quest for freedom is made difficult by the indoctrination, which seeks to foster internalized acceptance of the official religion. When minority religions are tolerated (as, for example, in Roman Catholic Spain under the Franco dictatorship) they often are allowed no public processions, public symbols on places of worship, or the right to preach, teach, or discuss their beliefs in public. Conversions from the dominant sect are not allowed. No individual, indeed, possesses “freedom of conscience” except in absolute private, and even then must conform outwardly or risk death, punishment, or severe discrimination. The Bahai faith in Iran has experienced persecution along these lines, as I understand, even as the Zoroastrians (Parsees) did before them.
The spread of large empires and hegemonic religions has often been regarded as a “progressive” step in human cultural evolution, especially in the eyes of European, Chinese, and Arab-speaking circles. But, in fact, that has often not been the case. Certainly, women’s status has not benefited from most hegemonic expansions, since women’s status seems to correlate to a high degree with the general freedom, respect, and cooperativeness found in egalitarian indigenous societies. Ironically, it is often in the cultures of the so-called “backward” peoples (referred to as “tribals” or worse) where both men and women have enjoyed the greatest freedom, although some small nations or tribes have been influenced by the ideas and pressures from hegemonic neighbors to move in a more patriarchal or conformist direction. Thus, for example, white empires in the Americas often ignored female leadership, instead selecting American males to be brokers, leaders, and co-opted spokespersons.
In the United States white officials and missionaries together often sought to force Native women into the house, persuading them to give up their control of horticulture and wild food gathering and their importance as food-providers in favor of a “more civilized” domesticated role. Government schools seem to have always emphasized domestic chores for young women, training them to be in-house wives and domestic servants, rather than owners of property and managers of husbandry. This change, which made women more dependent upon men, also probably reduced the physical conditioning of women. Native women’s athleticism was probably also systematically curtailed, with a corresponding reduction in musculature.
What a startling contrast between the honored, powerful women of Minoan Crete, and the “hidden women” of later Christian and Muslim empires!
In general, I will suggest that imperialism, predation, and cannibalism, as diseases of culture, seek to militarize societies. But if so, then why not train both men and women in the methods of war, in the tradition of violence, in the values of “hard” competition and status-striving? Perhaps the reason why imperialistic traditions do not generally train both men and women for violent roles is twofold: first, it was males who initiated the systems of violence for their advantage, not to share that advantage with anyone else, be it even their own women; and second, women’s natures are much less inclined to violence and aggression.
In systems that oppress women an element of the wétiko disease is certainly present. In many societies where exploitation reigns supreme, a hierarchical class system ordinarily exists and at every level, although in somewhat different ways, women are controlled and prevented from realizing their full potential. Even at the upper levels, where women might seem to be pampered and privileged, they are (or have been) often very much restricted in their ability to be fully self-expressing human beings. In fact, they may be denied happiness and even be perverted into cruel or vicious oppressors of other women (and lower-status men).
“Imperial” forms of Christianity, such as the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox religious systems melded and formed during the last centuries of the Roman Empire, offer “Mother Mary” and various female demigods (saints, or, literally, “holies”) but when these figures are examined one sees, I think, that they are powerless beings (especially when compared with Isis and other female spirit powers who were done away with, or with the Mother Earth). Mary is very much like a mother within a patriarchal family. She can listen to pleas and she can, in turn, ask favors from the dominating male, but she possesses no independent power. Only the male deity possesses the ultimate power to act.
The Imperial Christian leadership seems to encourage followers to pray to (ask favors of) the holies, perhaps because the “Father” in his several forms seems less approachable. But ultimately only the latter really possesses authority to act (except, perhaps, in minor matters such as finding lost objects and so on). In Judaism and Islam only the deity seems to be properly an object of prayer, although in the latter case, there may be local, deceased saints (such as Sufi mystics or others) who have inspired the erection of shrines and whose adherents might wish to secure their assistance.
In any case, the male-controlled religions have struggled very powerfully to exclude female voices, going so far as to prevent women from becoming priests, preachers, rabbis, imams, mullahs, and so on, allowing them sometimes only to be teachers (usually only to children or to other women in segregated settings). I believe this may explain the idiotic readiness of male religious hierarchs to endorse wars, to “bless” weapons and war plans, and to even call for crusades or holy wars. The absurdity of this endorsement can especially be seen when Catholics are blessed to kill other Catholics (as in wars between Italy and Austria-Hungary), Orthodox are blessed in killing other Orthodox (as in wars in the Balkans), and Muslims are called upon to kill other Muslims (as in many North African and Middle Eastern wars, not to mention Afghanistan).
Can one recall a major effort by Christian or Muslim religious leaders to halt warfare, prior to recent statements from the Papacy? Perhaps occasionally during the Middle Ages in Europe, an effort was occasionally made to settle a dispute by clerical intervention; but generally it was the political ambitions of the Church that resulted in wars, especially when non-Catholic Christians were the enemy (or Muslims or other non-Catholics).
But all of this evil, and I do call it evil, is the evil of males, males who team up to back each other in acts of power-seeking or ego-gratification; although (again) an occasional queen or empress may be the titular or even active head of a male-dominated system.
We can envision hordes of Turkish Muslim males, with defeated Christian males often forced to serve as military fodder (Janissaries and others), pouring into the Balkans or over the Caucasus Mountains or across the Black Sea into the Ukraine, being met in turn by Serbian, Bulgarian, Rumanian, Hungarian, Austrian, and Russo-Ukrainian males, charging forward to meet the Turks in bloody arena after bloody arena, century after century, from the 1200s on to the early 1900s. But one thing is true: the aggressions of the Turks, Russians, Austrians, and other men against each other and against smaller nations was not a female project. And in these aggressions we can be sure that Catholic and Orthodox priests and Muslim religious figures (with perhaps some rare exceptions) traveled with the armed men, prayed with them, and blessed their murderous occupations (whether in defense or offense probably made no difference).
How do we change this collusion of male clerics with male secular aggressors and dominators? First, by coming to an understanding of the wétiko psychosis as a disease affecting both sexes, but primarily males. Second, by understanding that predation can lurk under many guises, such as “patriotism,” profit-seeking, “protecting our way of life,” and “investment returns.” Third, women must understand that a luxurious way of life, when obtained by the fruits of male aggression, is anti-woman. But mainly, we must seek the universal education and emancipation of women, and the providing of tools for their political equality with males in all secular and religious institutions. This includes women who are, directly or indirectly, servants of other women.
THE TWENTIETH and twenty-first centuries have witnessed increased concern about the phenomenon called “organized crime” largely because of the activities of international or national organizations devoted, in part, to extortion, the exploitation of prostitutes, drug traffic, gambling, pornography, and other forms of predation.
It is grossly misleading, however, to think of organized crime as being synonymous with the Sicilian Mafia or similar groupings of “gangsters” or “Drug Lords.”
To begin our analysis, we must first distinguish between three types of organized crime:
- state-approved or state-initiated organized crime;
- state-tolerated organized crime;
- state-prohibited organized crime.
We must bear in mind that illegal acts and crimes are not the same thing, at least as we use these terms in English. Some crimes may be perfectly legal, depending on the time or place, and some non-crimes may be acts for which people can be punished by the state. Historically, many highly laudatory activities (such as worshipping the creator in one’s own way) have been prohibited by someone’s law. A crime, however, is an aggressive act which results in harm to another person, group, or entity.
Until recently it has ordinarily been the state (that is, governments) that have been engaged in organized crime, either directly or by sanctioning (or licensing) their subjects to engage in criminal acts. Some states (such as perhaps certain “pirate” kingdoms) were expressly organized for the purpose of stealing, looting, extorting, enslaving, and so on. But many larger states have also engaged in extensive activities of a similar nature, activities of such economic significance as to suggest that “armed robbery” was, in effect, the state’s major activity (overseas, at least).
The British, Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch empires, for example, were at various times extensively engaged in the crime of seizing persons and selling or using them as slaves. This captive trade cannot be viewed as ethically being in any way different from Mafia kidnapping, murder, or extortion except in the sense that it was infinitely more bloodthirsty, profitable, and vicious.
The leaders of the Sicilian Mafia must appear as mild-mannered, almost decent persons when compared with the Liverpool, London, Boston, Lisbon, and Cádiz dealers in human flesh and butchers of entire nations.
Thus true organized crime commences with the state or with state-approved aggression. In the 1880s the United States adopted the “Dawes Act” and thereby enabled appropriately placed white citizens to systematically steal land and oil from Native Americans who were supposedly under the guardianship of the United States. This organized thievery, accompanied by threats and murders, was never corrected and never halted, until virtually all parcels of value had been secured by white people, as in much of Oklahoma.
Similar examples of state-initiated or approved organized crime include the US wars with Mexico designed to steal California and New Mexico, the US seizure of the Filipino Republic, and the City of Los Angeles’s acquisition of the water of eastern California (Owens Valley and Mono Lake Basin) in order to make land speculators rich by subdividing the San Fernando Valley.
State-sanctioned organized crime also includes passing laws which give highly unfair advantages to the wealthy as opposed to the poor, as in making corporations persons in the eyes of the law and making the owners of a corporation not liable for debts, losses, and so on, or in allowing income tax deductions for fictitious losses (for example, accelerated depreciation on apartment houses or oil depletion allowances).
It is clear then that we live in a world where many states, especially the larger imperial powers, have been or are now formidable forces in the realm of crime. Significantly, state-initiated organized crime must surely set a pattern of behavior which will be imitated at various levels by private persons. Historically the state itself, and especially the European-style expansionist state, is one of the major corrupters of human morals (although it is itself a creature of the wétikos who have seized control of its power apparatus).
Many states also tolerate a great variety of organized crime which, although not directly sanctioned, is in some manner profitable to the ruling classes. Thus many large corporations (such as the Standard Oil Company before 1910 or the Southern Pacific -Central Pacific Railroad) have often operated in a criminal way. That is, the purpose of such bandit corporations has been to secure the greatest possible profit (or resources for producing profit) even if illegal or unethical activities had to be used. The state usually winked at such large-scale thievery because it was convenient to do so (the railroad will be useful to the state so what does it matter if a few people get rich siphoning off government grants or bankrupting farmers?); or because the state’s leaders (congressmen, for example) are sharing directly in the loot.
The State of Nevada tolerates gambling casinos which are alleged as being largely controlled by Mafia or corporate syndicates because it is profitable to Nevada-based land speculators, contractors, businessmen in general, and public officials to have such businesses in what would otherwise be a very poor and sparsely-populated region. (And many other states and even tribes are playing some profitable but dangerous games.)
A recent example of organized crime occurred during the oil crisis of the 1970s when US oil companies tremendously increased their profits, using the Arab oil embargo as an excuse. This activity, although publicized by many writers, is an example of how certain types of organized crime can be both legal (since conspiracy to set high prices is so hard to prove) and profitable. In all likelihood, the petroleum industry will continue to reap excess profits as a result of events, such as the threats to Iran and the US invasion of Iraq. The taking over of asset-rich corporations by bank-financed speculators in order to rapidly skim off profits through the sale of assets (such as old growth timber) is another example of a crime that is legal. During the California/Western energy crisis of 2002 several corporations conspired to steal from the people and businesses of California, and the list of corporate crimes goes on and on.
Finally, we have organized crime that is supposedly illegal in most states, such as the narcotics traffic in the US. In point of fact, however, we can seriously question whether much of these kinds of activities are actually vigorously prohibited by law enforcement agencies. That the FBI, with all of its manpower, resources, and willingness to use spies, informers, infiltrators, and electronic surveillance, has not yet brought the Mafia under control suggests that the latter is a relatively lower priority than the very small Socialist Worker’s Party, the equally small American Indian Movement in the 1970s, or the Central American peace movement of the 1980s.
It is reported that the drug traffic in New York City actually declined during a police strike a few years ago. But what can we expect in a wétiko world where the state itself sets an example of aggressive, criminal, immoral and even brutal acts (such as the Vietnam War or the blatant support of terrorism against Maya and other Native peoples in Central America by the Reagan and Bush I Administrations)? And what can we expect when evidence seems to indicate that the CIA and the US presidency have collaborated with narcotics dealers or with middlemen such as Manuel Noriega of Panamá, a man of Native American blood but of probable wétiko character? And what of the bankers who launder billions of drug money?
In any event, it seems clear that we must broaden our conception of organized crime to include acts of aggression, robbery, looting, and thievery carried out by governments and large corporations. And we must also recognize that state-initiated or state-tolerated aggression is the most dangerous type of crime because it usually gains a certain amount of social approval among the citizenry of the successfully aggressive country. Organized crime is designed to produce profits, and although the greater portion goes to the ruling wétikos, a certain amount is allowed to reach to the middle-classes at the very least.
Thus it is that exploitative and imperialistic programs may become very popular in countries where an improved material standard of living is believed to be dependent upon aggression. Similarly, most states seek to control or regulate the extent of the internal exploitation engendered by organized crime since they do not wish influential sectors of the citizenry to become angry enough to rebel or to oust the incumbent political leaders.
In the United States a great deal of internal oppression, violence, and exploitation is tolerated so long as Indians, Africans, Chicanos, and so on are the primary victims. These people are generally perceived as being incapable of mobilizing sufficient unrest to disturb the status quo. Thus it is apparently alright to illegally sterilize large numbers of poor Indian, black, and Chicano women without their knowledge or consent because middle-class white women will not identify with them or rise up on their behalf. In fact some middle-class white women (and men) may support sterilization of non-whites as a device for preventing the rise of a non-white majority in the United States.
Violence and crime do occasionally get “out of hand.” But governments and law enforcement agencies will generally focus attention on individual criminals or low-income crime in order to create the impression that they are “fighting crime.” Legalized or tolerated organized crime will not be greatly affected, since the very fabric of the economy in many states or regions is dependent upon planned aggression, exploitation, or secret price-fixing and gouging.
The tragic thing about all this is that most ordinary citizens will ultimately suffer in such societies, regardless of the temporary benefits received by them. Thus black slavery and Indian removal in the US south did not ultimately benefit the working-class white population. Instead it led to the creation of an oligarchical ruling class which has, even to this day, often depressed wages and living conditions for both poor whites and poor blacks.
Similarly, the wealth created by the British Empire means very little today to the average Briton who must put up with a stagnant or declining standard of living made worse by the overpopulation of the British Isles. This overpopulation, and the depletion of many original natural resources, has been, in part, the result of early industrialization controlled by “robber barons” and overseas imperialism controlled by the same class of people.
The United States, too, will witness the same decline in the not-too-distant future. An aggressive foreign policy will keep oil, aluminum, uranium, and other essential raw materials coming in for a few years more, but corporate control of the economy and inequality will ensure that the profits primarily reach the ruling class. In the meantime, the artificial standard of living created by overseas investments, raw materials, and the exploitation of low-wage labor in Indonesia, Vietnam, Central America, China, Mexico, South Africa, and so on will gradually be eroded from within.
Imperialism creates the illusion of wealth as far as the masses are concerned. It usually serves to hide the fact that the ruling classes are gobbling up the natural resources of the home territory in an improvident manner and are otherwise utilizing the national wealth largely for their own purposes. Eventually the general public is called upon to pay for all of this, frequently after the military machine can no longer maintain external aggression.
A good example of how this works on a small scale occurred after World War II when a front corporation reportedly controlled by General Motors, Standard Oil, and a tire manufacturer bought up many of the electric railway transportation systems in the United States. This corporation allowed streetcar service to deteriorate, then tore up tracks and sold themselves their own buses, rubber tires, and diesel fuel. The new bus lines contributed greatly to air pollution and traffic problems, and when patronage declined the all-bus systems were sold to the public. So “socialism” was used to unload unprofitable businesses onto the public while a continuing purchase of buses, tires, and diesel fuel was guaranteed. No significant prosecutions have taken place for what seems to have been an organized conspiracy to destroy rail mass transit systems. Now, of course, taxpayers are being asked to build new rail lines at tremendous cost.
This illustrates on a small scale what happens to entire economies under imperialism. The wealthy classes accumulate wealth, leaving the masses to suffer the consequences of the loss of basic resources, overpopulation, air pollution, environmental contamination, and, more significantly, a society and culture distorted in the value area by decades or even centuries of state-approved violence and aggression.
In the United States today it is the masses, and especially the poor and working class, who are paying for the Vietnam War and other military adventures and waste. The Vietnam War wasted many tens of billions of dollars (creating an inflation which eroded the earnings of the poor), incredible quantities of petroleum, and other basic resources which precipitated shortages in the US, an adverse balance of payments, and so on. But the rich did not suffer from the Vietnam aftermath because they had the means to raise their incomes to keep ahead of inflation, and being the owners of multinational corporations, they could obtain resources from many quarters.
Organized crime, in its many forms, is the most important manner in which the wétiko disease finds concrete expression. It is true that individual wétikos, operating on their own, may cause great misery at times, but it is much more common for the most brutal aggression to take place as a part of an organized, systematic assault. In the Americas, for example, the terrible Portuguese attacks upon Native people in Brazil, the actions of Spanish conquistadores, the expansionist pushes of Anglo-Saxon of pioneers, and the operations of all manner of exploiters from fur traders to rum sellers to slave hunters took place within imperialist systems whose overall objectives revolved around the central purpose of seizing native lands, resources, and lives for the profit of the system.
Even today an Original American’s life is worth very little in the Americas, because the organized criminal syndicates posing as governments in many areas still regard the exploitation of the Indians and their resources as a legitimate activity. Aché Indians could not be sold as slaves in Paraguay without the existence of a pro-Nazi government controlled literally by gangsters. Indians could not have been murdered in South Dakota in the 1970s, with no thorough investigations and prosecutions, unless the terrorizing of Indians was indeed a continuing state-approved objective. Mayas could not have been murdered and terrorized systematically in Guatemala during the 1970s to 1990s without the approval of the Guatemalan state (the military) and of the United States, (since the US pays the bills and provides training for the terrorist officer corps).
In the United States many white people and government agencies are still actively seeking possession of Native land and resources. If this were part of a general campaign to break up large landholdings, create small farms, and open up resources for development, we could at least see it as a non-racial, non-imperialist issue. But when low-income, land-poor Indian people are the sole target and large landholding corporations (such as the Southern Pacific Railroad) and government agencies (in other words, the Bureau of Land Management) experience, little pressure we can be sure that the Native American is still officially and socially perceived as a legitimate victim.
The federal government of the US is very aggressive in seeking to condemn Indian land for dams and is extremely reluctant to return even admittedly-stolen land. On the other hand, that same government gave the Southern Pacific and Central Pacific railroads fantastic quantities of Indian land which was to be sold to pay railroad construction costs. Much of the land is still owned by the Southern Pacific or its successor corporations (11 percent of California). Some of this land was apparently obtained by fraud (for example, claiming that the Sierra Nevadas extended to Utah in order to get a larger land grant) but the federal government has never taken any land back from the S.P. Railroad on legal grounds.
The former S.P. Railroad, for some reason, was not perceived by European-Americans as being a fitting target for their animosity but Wisconsin and Washington State Indians (with virtually no land base left, in most cases) are. So are the Sioux, the Yavapai, the Pit River Indians, and so on. One is tempted to repeat the words of Black Hawk, in reference to the white people who had invaded northwestern Illinois in the 1820s-1830s:
I had not discovered one good trait in the character of the Americans that had come to the country! They made fair promises but never fulfilled them!1
Another facet of organized systems of aggression is that the governments, syndicates, corporations, or groups controlling or profiting from such behavior also control the greater part of the organs of public opinion modification. Historically the state, the Christian churches, powerful newspapers, and so on have conspired frequently to use patriotism, sectarian fervor, news, and propaganda to not only justify aggression, genocide, slavery, and torture but also to make the masses willing (or even anxious) participants. More significantly, as indicated earlier, the entire national culture becomes pervaded by myths, values, and habits of action and thought conducive to the perpetuation of a wétiko society.
Thus in much of the Euro-Mediterranean world, in Europeanized areas overseas, and in certain other mass societies, the common training of large numbers of people is that of a hustler. The individual may learn to be a hustler in business, or in school, or in scientific research, or in politics, but his basic attitude is one of fierce competition to “get ahead” of other people. The Hollywood movie industry frequently exults the “two-bit” hustler (as in the popular movie Paper Moon), as well as cardsharks, racketeers, gangsters, “hit-men,” violent secret agents (a la James Bond), violent cops, and so on. Movies may occasionally oppose such behavior, but usually after making it clear that money and the “good things in life” are frequently to be found in close association with crime, crooked business deals, big-time politics, Las Vegas gambling, and so on. In any case, the wétiko world creates an intensive propaganda system designed to perpetuate the values of such a system. And I say “designed” because wétikos and those accepting the ethics of a wétiko world would find it hard to avoid mirroring those values in their world.
The material prosperity within successfully imperialistic societies, especially for middle-class and upper-class citizens, unfortunately serves to not only hide internal decay but also to blunt people’s desires for truth, justice, and personal authenticity. Even when obvious examples of wrong-doing appear, or evidence of unspeakable atrocities, the bulk of the citizenry will refuse to take any action, in some cases because of a fear of reprisal, but more commonly because of a desire to continue to enjoy their prosperity without being disturbed. Thus the German people’s acceptance of Nazism, the South African white’s acquiescence in wholesale exploitation of the non-white majority, the tolerance of racism, discrimination, and injustice in the United States, and the support of ethnocide against Native Americans in Central America.
The wétiko world is one of dramatic contrasts: the wealth of the oppressor and the poverty of the oppressed, the modern buildings of Brasilia and the bodies of Indians dumped into the river to make the new capital possible, the great museums and art collections in European cities, and empty tombs or looted archaeological sites in non-white regions.
Organized crime is indeed profitable. But it is also ugly, corrupting, and brutal. All of us should remember that the terror and suffering lurking just beyond the curtain of wealth ultimately enters into even the gardens of the affluent; and, more importantly, that material wealth and power seldom seem to bring to their possessors the spiritual and psychological nourishment which human beings truly need. Organized crime robs the oppressed, but it also, finally, robs the oppressor as well. As Thich Nhat Hanh wrote,
If love exists, there are other things that exist also. There is ignorance, there is violence, there is craving. Humankind suffers because many of us make other people suffer. We have created war a little bit everywhere. We want to consume so much and because of this we have created a lot of suffering for each other.2
1 Black Hawk, Autobiography, 78.
2 Thich Nhat Hanh, Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, 186-187.
I HAVE read that at the beginning of the twentieth century the world was full of “optimists” who believed that science and technology, representative forms of government, and political reform movements promised a new, brighter day for all human beings. Of course, I am sure that these optimists were white people and not First Americans, Africans, or Asians, for whom life was going down and not up. But in any event, at least the white ruling classes could be optimistic. Now, however, after another century of butcherings, dictatorships, and destruction of the environment, it is clear that the world faces either destruction or an era of super-police states (very much as Orwell predicted in 1984). A few years ago I wrote,
A “machiavellian” mass society valuing wealth-acquisition and typified by exploitative relations must, inevitably, be a violent society, using force to protect the “haves” and the “hope to haves” from the “have nots” and outsiders. Such a society, will destroy itself because its greed will cause it to consume its own resources and even its own people. No self-restraints can effectively be imposed because the society’s very nature, its internal dynamic, is to consume. Its voracious appetite will cause it to literally eat itself. When sufficiently weakened, other similar social monsters will finish it off – if anything remains.1
And so it is. The wétikos destroyed Egypt and Babylon and Athens and Rome and Tenochtitlan and perhaps now they will destroy the entire earth. But neither the “junkie” looking for money for a shot of heroin nor the capitalists destroying the Amazonian forests for big profits are able to stop their own destructive behavior. They are diseased people, the one a petty thief or murderer because of a chemical insanity and the others crazy with the wétiko psychosis – cannibals.
Can the wétiko sickness be brought to a halt? Labor unions are created and sometimes become corrupt, reform movements appear and then are crushed or subverted, radical parties develop and then create dictatorships, and so on. And the society around us tends to be so mercenary and so superficial that almost every “counter-culture” will become only a new way for the media or the clothing manufacturers to reap profits. And if Yehoshu’a ben Yosef were to return? If he had returned to Europe anywhere from 300 AD to perhaps 1800 AD he would have been very likely burned at the stake. Perhaps he did, and was. As Bonita Calachaw said,
Americans are so narrow at times, that if Jesus was to appear I fear he would find it impossible to pass down the road…2
How many times have the Christians killed Jesus? Every time they have murdered a “heretic” or a heathen, every time they have worked to death or starved to death a victim of their oppressive colonialism. In this connection, the words of Father George Zabelka, the Catholic chaplain for the US atomic bomb crews during their attacks upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, are worth citing:
Calvary, the place where Christ suffered and died at the hands of the civil and religious politicians of his day, is the holiest shrine in Christianity. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are calvaries. For here, Christ in the bodies of the “least” was again tortured and put to death hundreds of thousands of times over by exactly the same dark and deceitful spirit of organized lovelessness that roamed Jerusalem two thousand years ago … Christ suffers and dies at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Therefore to condone or support war is to condone or support the call to “crucify Him.”
Father Zabelka admits his own guilt in relation to the bombings:
My explicit and tacit approval of what was being done … was clearly visible for anyone to see … I was the officially designated Catholic priest who by silence did his priestly patriotic duty and choose [sic] nationalism over Catholicism, Caesar over Christ … But this same failure on the part of priests, pastors and bishops over the past 1700 years is, I believe, what is significantly responsible for Hiroshima and Nagasaki and for the seemingly unceasing “Christian” blood-letting around the globe …3
1 Jack D. Forbes, “Why DQU?” in Aztecas del Norte: The Chicanos of Aztlan, 255-258.
2 Bonita Calachaw in Steiner, ed. Spirit Woman, 202
3 “Pilgrimaging East,” Charles McCarty, Fr. George Zabelka, Sarvodaya, 25 (1), January 1985, 54-57.
THE CHRISTIAN churches, by and large, long ago rejected the real Yeshoshu’a, as pointed out earlier. Lame Deer put it succinctly when he said,
You’ve made a blondie out of Jesus. I don’t care for those blond, blue-eyed pictures of a sanitized, cloroxed, ajaxed Christ … Jesus was a Jew. He wasn’t a yellow-haired Anglo. I’m sure he had black hair and a dark skin like an Indian. The white ranchers around here wouldn’t have let him step out with their daughters … His religion came out of the desert in which he lived, out of his kind of mountains, his kind of animals, his kind of plants. You’ve tried to make him into an Anglo-Saxon Fuller Brush salesman, a long-haired Billy Graham in a fancy night shirt, and that’s why he doesn’t work for you anymore. He was a good medicine man, I guess.4
The Christian churches, for the most part, confuse people’s values and make it easier for materialism, conformity, and the wétiko psychosis to control human beings:
A big Catholic church is being built for Indians on one of our Sioux reservations. It is shaped like a giant tipi. Over its altar hangs a huge peace pipe together with the cross … I don’t like it and many others besides me don’t like it. It is dishonest. Because there is a difference, and there will always be a difference, as long as one Indian is left alive. Our beliefs are rooted deep in our earth … and if you leave all that concrete unwatched for a year or two, our plants, the native Indian plants, will pierce that concrete and push up through it.5
You see, some elements of the Catholic Church, just like the Pepsi-Cola advertisers and the clothing manufacturers, are always looking for new ways to “capture a market,” sell something, by disguising its product in such a way that people are fooled. In the same way, the Mormons sponsor Native dance groups to travel around as “the Laminite Generation.” But to them it’s just a come on, because the spiritual meaning isn’t there. It’s just a side show to attract confused Indians. Then the “hard sell” comes later. Neither Mormonism nor Catholicism have much in common with Native American philosophy. The big Catholic “Tipi” cathedral and the huge, ornate, Mormon temples are all monuments to material splendor and to religions which seem to purposely shut out the natural world – the earth, the plants, the sun, the cold, the heat, yes and even the flies and ants, which are, to the Indian, all sacred (wakan).
There were no temples or shrines among us save those of nature … He would deem it sacrilege to build a house for Him who may be met face to face in the mysterious, shadowy aisles of the primeval forest, or on the sunlit bosom of virgin prairies, upon dizzy spires and pinnacles of naked rock, and yonder in the jeweled vault of the night sky! He who enrobes Himself in filmy veils of clouds, there on the rim of the visible world where our Great-Grandfather Sun kindles his evening camp-fire. He who rides upon the rigorous wind of the north, or breathes forth His spirit upon aromatic southern airs, whose war canoe is launched upon majestic rivers and inland seas – He needs no lesser cathedral!6
Even the pyramids and temple-mounds built by some Native people were not designed to close man off from the visible universe but, in fact, to imitate a mountaintop, to bring the worshipper closer to the elements of the world. And, indeed, it may be that the development of massive, enclosed temples and churches of whatever size, in Asia and Europe, correlates very well with the rise of the wétiko sickness. Why? Perhaps because the temple or cathedral clearly serves to separate the sacred from the profane, the religious from the secular, the realm of worship from the realm of work, money-making, and killing. The wétikos want people to box up their religion in buildings, where it can be isolated from the rest of life. Then religion comes into existence as a concept separate from life, worship can be largely centered in one place, and priests and preachers can make their living and gain great power by controlling the use of the little boxes where that which is “sacred” is stored away. But Native American beliefs are very different.
But our Indian religion is all one religion, the Great Spirit. We’re thankful that we’re on this Mother Earth. That’s the first thing when we wake up in the morning, is to be thankful to the Great Spirit for the Mother Earth: how we live, what it produces, what keeps everything alive … This land, we appreciate that. When the eye of the Great Spirit rises in the morning, we stand and worship and thank him for that wonderful land that we’re living in.7
Like Yehoshu’a and Buddha, Original Americans seek wisdom in nature. As Igjugarjuk, a Caribou Inuit (Eskimo) doctor, says,
When I was to be an [angatkut or doctor], I chose suffering through the two things that are most dangerous to us humans, suffering through hunger and suffering through cold …
True wisdom is only to be found far away from people out in the great solitude, and is not found in play, but only through suffering. Solitude, and suffering open the human mind, and therefore an angatkut must seek his wisdom there.8
4 Lame Deer, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, 162.
5 Lame Deer, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, 163.
6 Ohiyesa, Soul of the Indian, 5-6.
7 Joshua Wetsit, in Morey, Can the Red Man Help the White Man, 15, 47-48.
8 Igjugarjuk, from Knud Rasmussen, “Observations on the Intellectual Culture of the Caribou Eskimos,” 52-54, quoted in Astrov, American Indian Prose and Poetry, 297, 300.
Perhaps this is why black people in the United States have sometimes developed the most authentic forms of Christianity, because, even though they have been limited by the sectarianism and forms of church building, and so on, brought over from Europe, they have succeeded in developing a “spirit of living,” based upon suffering, sharing, and humility, which permeates their faith.
If you have ever heard a song sung in a black church, like “If I Can Help Somebody,” or if you have ever heard the late Martin Luther King, Jr. speak, you must know that you are experiencing the true potential of Christianity in the United States. And perhaps that is why Martin Luther King, Jr. was harassed by the FBI and finally murdered, because religion was, for him, a thirst for justice that could not be confined only to sermons. Such men are dangerous in a wétiko world. The fundamentalist preachers usually support the status quo, they sell religion instead of used cars, but their world is comprised of the Nixons, Reagans, Bushes and the military empire, and they thrive on it.
The churches offer no answer to the wétiko psychosis, by and large. Yes, even the black church, because the beauty and power of black Christianity has really evolved in spite of the black churches – it is carried by black people in their collectivity, and not by their preachers alone. Organized black sects can easily lend themselves to dogmatism, narrowness, and a concern with the petty and the superficial. Black Christians would do well to look to their African and Native American origins instead of being dominated solely by the theology of their European oppressors.
Significantly, the “Sanctuary Movement” (giving sanctuary to persecuted refugees from the North American assault upon Central America) and the “peace movement” have revitalized many main line Protestant and Catholic churches in the United States. Along with “liberation theology,” they represent forces that may bring Christianity back into communion with the real Yehoshu’a.
Count Zinzendorf, a Moravian Church leader, attempted to convert Kakowatchiky, a Shawnee man of Pennsylvania, to Christianity in 1742. Kakowatchiky thanked the count for his concern and said,
He himself was an Indian of God’s creation and he was satisfied with his condition and had no wish to be a European … He liked the Indian way of life. God had been very kind to him even in his old age and would continue to look well after him. God was better pleased with the Indians than with the Europeans. It was wonderful how much he helped them.9
A century later Luther Standing Bear tells us,
The Indian loved to worship … There was nothing between him and the Big Holy. The contact was immediate and personal, and the blessings of Wakan-tanka flowed over the Indian like rain showered from the sky. Wakan-tanka was not aloof, apart, and ever seeking to quell evil forces. He did not punish the animals and birds, and likewise He did not punish man. He was not a punishing God. For there was never a question as to the Supremacy of an evil power over and above the power of Good. There was but one ruling power, and that was Good.10
9 Paul A.W. Wallace, Conrad Weiser, 144, as quoted in Paul A.W. Wallace, Indians in Pennsylvania, 123.
10 Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle, 256.
THE WÉTIKO psychosis, and the problems it creates, have inspired many resistance movements and efforts at reform or revolution. Unfortunately, most of these efforts have failed because they have never diagnosed the wétiko as an insane person whose disease is extremely contagious. Nor have they, generally, understood that the non-wétikos, whether flunkies, pimps, or the most oppressed, are often “secret carriers” of the disease. Such people become active wétikos only when conditions are favorable (such as when power is seized during a revolution).
Quite clearly there are many “fronts” on which one can become engaged if one’s goal is to help bring about a just world. In his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Friere has described a method of revolutionary education designed to help oppressed people develop a “critical consciousness,” an ability to perceive their objective conditions, to analyze why they are oppressed, and to comprehend that dehumanization is at the root of all oppression. Friere’s method helps the oppressed to see that love and humanization are the proper goals of social change, and that any adoption of the values of the oppressors merely insures the continuation of dehumanization.
The development of a “critical awareness” on the part of the oppressed is certainly a necessity and, of course, it is not a new approach. Tecumseh and his brother Tenskatawita (“the Shawnee Prophet”) were engaged in just such an effort in the period from 1802 to 1814. Tecumseh and other teachers traveled from Canada to Alabama and the lower Mississippi Valley, attempting to help Native people to grasp fully the implications of US imperialism.
But Tecumseh’s movement differed from Friere’s ideas in several important respects. First, Tecumseh did not hope to “humanize” the oppressors, because he apparently believed that that was beyond the Native People’s capabilities. Second, Tecumseh sought to separate the Indian from the white by preserving Native independence and keeping white people out of Native territory. (This would be impossible in a situation where the oppressors comprise a ruling class living in the same territory as the oppressed.)
Finally, and most significantly of all, Tecumseh’s movement possessed a “spiritual” base. The Native teachers recognized that men have to be “cured” of their spiritual sickness before they can build a just society. Thus Indians gathered together at Tippecanoe village to purify themselves, cleanse themselves of alcoholism and alien habits, and learn how to live once again as responsible, authentic people.
Friere’s methodology – helping people to understand the social-political world around them – is vital, and yet something is missing. The flavor is European and if it has a “religious” element it consists in a kind of humanism. Humanism represents, of course, an admirable philosophy within the framework of European materialism and agnosticism. On the other hand, a critical method limited to the arena of socio-political human behavior as perceived through materialism is one which will never solve the problem of wétikoism. Why? Because one must take “critical awareness” beyond the limits of purely human situations in order to fully grasp the milieu in which we humans actually have our existence.
I believe that efforts to achieve justice in the socio-political arena of life are essential. But the basis for those efforts, if they are to be successful, must rest on the spiritual regeneration of each of us who are engaged in such struggles.
If the wétiko psychosis is to be overcome, and if we are to be cured of the disease, the answer lies in what I call religion, which is following the “good, red road” or the “pollen path” for all the days of our lives. This is not to say that a person has to become an Indian, or follow Native American ways. No, because when we pull away the wétiko sickness from our eyes and look at things in honesty and humility, we find that the teachings of the great medicine men, the great holy men, of the world are actually similar – they point in the same direction. They may not be identical, but that is okay, because they all provide us with examples only. I don’t believe they ever meant for us to become robots, duplicating every act of their lives, or phonographs, repeating every word of their prayers, or imbeciles, refusing to use the miracle of our own minds, or clods, failing to dream our own dreams, or blobs, never seeking our own visions. Other people’s visions are their own, not ours, and it is wrong to use them as an excuse for not finding our own if we can.
Most of the great teachers of the earth have taught things, or set examples, which can help us overcome the wétiko psychosis. “Psychosis” means “sickness of the soul or spirit.” And so it is that we must turn to those things that have to do with the spirit or soul when we seek to find a cure. Pragmatism and opportunism offer no answers, nor do the psychiatry or psychotherapy of the usual kind. Wétikos can be very pragmatic at times and people treated by psychologists or psychiatrists can learn to adjust or “accept themselves.”
Adjustment and self-acceptance is not what is needed. To adjust to a wétiko society is to become insane. To accept one’s self is bad if it means accepting personal behavior which is ugly, exploitative, or which represents a surrender of the need for freedom, change or growth. Juan Matus through Carlos Castaneda teaches us that we have the power to change and that no matter how oppressed or abused we have been we, at some point, have to assume responsibility for our own acts.
Siddartha Gotama (the Buddha) taught more than 2,500 years ago that humans can break away from the wétiko disease and from other barriers to a satisfying life by following an individual path wherein they steer clear of dogmatism, sectarianism, greed, and organized religion in the normal sense.
The religious life, Malunkyaputta, does not depend on the dogma that the world is eternal; nor does the religious life … depend on the dogma that the world is not eternal. Whether the dogma obtain, Malunkyaputta, that the world is eternal, there still remain birth, old age, death, sorrow, lamentation, misery, grief, and despair, for the extinction of which in the present life I am prescribing …1
This emphasis upon “how to live in this life” is well to keep in mind in a world where Christian missionaries fight with each other over “full immersion” versus “partial immersion” in baptism, where Muslim sects wage war upon each other, where scientists spend vast amounts of the people’s money to artificially create life or to explore space or to invent weapons, and where some academics devote their lives to squabbling over abstract theoretical conceptions which have no bearing on the suffering of mankind. None of these things help us to solve the basic questions of each and every human life, but by diverting our energies, or our resources, or by creating hate and fear, they serve to doom millions of people to ugly or unhappy lives.
It is a striking fact that both traditional Buddhism and Native American religions tend to avoid theology, perhaps partly on the grounds that the “study of God” is impossible or at least presumptuous, but also because such a study leaves the problems of this life still to be solved for each individual. To the Lakota, for example, Wakan-tanka (the Great Holy or Mystery) is not conceived as a single individual power, but rather as a mysterious, unfolding, collectivity-in-unity very analogous to the ancient Mexican conception of the unfolding of Ometeotl described in chapter one.2
Gotarna went on to say,
And what, Malunkyaputta, have I explained? Misery, Malunkyaputta, have I explained; the origin of misery have I explained; the cessation of misery have I explained …
Now this, monks, is the noble truth of the cause of pain: the craving which tends to rebirth, combined with pleasure and lust, finding pleasure here and there; namely the craving for passion, the craving for existence, the craving for non-existence.
Now this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of pain, the cessation without a remainder of craving, the abandonment, forsaking, release, non-attachment.
A very specific part of Gotama’s teachings had to do with the elimination of hatred and selfishness and the cultivation of love and sharing. For,
hatred is not appeased by hatred. Hatred is appeased by not-hatred alone.
May creatures all abound in weal and peace;
may all be blessed with peace always;
all creatures weak or strong,
all creatures great and small;
creatures unseen or seen,
dwelling afar or near,
born or awaiting birth,
– May all be blessed with peace! …
– an all-embracing love for all the universe
in all its heights and depths
and breadth, unstinted love,
unmarred by hate within,
not rousing enmity …
Gotama insisted that each person had to follow his own path, because enlightenment is a personal experience, unique for each individual.
Therefore … be ye lamps unto yourselves. Rely on yourselves, and do not rely on external help.3
1 Buntt, The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, 30-49.
2 See also DeMallie, The Sixth Grandfather, 91.
3 Burtt, The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, 30-49. Black Hawk also said that he believed “that every man must make his own path.” (Black Hawk, Autobiography, 105.)
There is no doubt in my mind that most Native societies were organized in such a way as to encourage people to avoid greed and excessive craving as well as to emphasize non-possessiveness and humility. On a positive note, Original Americans emphasized the interdependent relationship of all living things and the daily practice of open expressions of thankfulness and kinship.
The four-leggeds and the wings of the air and the mother earth were supposed to be relative-like … The first thing an Indian learns is to love each other and that they should be relative-like to the four leggeds.4
And Ruby Modesto tells us, we should talk to the plants and to the earth:
Thank you mother earth
for holding me on your breast.
You always love me
no matter how old I get.5
SUCH ATTITUDES, it would seem, often lead to reciprocal behavior on the part of the natural world and animals, thus greatly diminishing “misery.”
Examples can be cited of Indians carrying rattlesnakes long distances in order to get them away from roads traveled by white people, so as to protect the rattlesnake from an unprovoked death. Perhaps this kind of attitude is the reason why, according to Ruby Modesto, an old underground Cahuilla ceremonial chamber
was guarded by a rattlesnake. A big rattlesnake. But somehow it knew the medicine men. If a stranger tried to enter the kiva, the snake would drive them away. But when the puls [medicine men] entered, the snake just slid into some unused corner of the kiva. It never bothered them.6
It is crucial that one emphasizes the freedom of the individual and a non-coercive path, since even the teachings of Gotama have sometimes become perverted when possessed by “Buddhism” as a sect. Why does this kind of thing happen to “organized religion?”
In the case of Buddhism perhaps it was because the wétikos who often dominated India, China, and Japan could not tolerate the notion of having societies comprised of free human beings seeking their own fulfillment in beauty and love. Instead, for example, the ruling classes of Japan wanted samurai who were willing to die for their masters, peasants who were passive and exploited, and a rigid system of exploitation which made it possible for the “lords” to live in splendor.
In Japan and elsewhere, Buddhism has often been corrupted into the perfunctory performance of well-regulated ritual. This type of “canned religion” gives the masses some sense of participation in the religious life while at the same time keeping them in their roles as peasants, servants, soldiers, and functionaries. A wétiko society seeks, it would appear, to prevent the people (except for a select few) from pursuing their own spiritual fulfillment since the economy and the politics or such a society requires masses of laborers who live a regulated, predictable, conformist life. “Obedience” is the objective, not true “salvation.”
Needless to state, the evolution of Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodoxy, and most forms of Protestantism is virtually identical with the above, and apparently for the same reasons.
Brother, you say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit; if there is but one religion, why do you White people differ so much about it? Why not all agree, as you can all read the book? …
Brother, we do not wish to destroy your religion, or take it from you. We want only to enjoy our own …
Brother, we are told that you have been preaching to White people in this place; these people are our neighbors, we are acquainted with them; we will wait a little while and see what effect your preaching has upon them. If we find it does them good, makes them honest, and less disposed to cheat Indians, we will then consider again what you have said.7
4 Black Elk, 1931, in DeMallie, The Sixth Grandfather, 188-189.
5 Modesto, Not for Innocent Ears, 72.
6 Modesto, Not for Innocent Ears, 38.
7 Red Jacket’s reply to Missionary Cram, 1805, in Forbes, The Indian in America’s Past, 58-59.
So the real test of a spiritual path is not to see how many monuments result, or how many converts are obtained, or how many prayers are repeated over and over again by imitative voices, but rather the test is: How do people who follow that path behave? How do they behave towards other humans? How do they behave towards the earth? How do they behave towards other living creatures? Are they doing evil? Are they free men and women who will stand up to evil? Or are they passive foot-soldiers trained to surrender their minds and hearts to their masters?
But how difficult it is! We are asked to “Honk if you love Jesus.” We are asked to be “born again” and yet it is often in those areas with the most “born-again” people (Texas, Oklahoma, and the rest of the “Bible Belt”) that racism, bigotry, exploitation, corrupt politics, militarism, and showy super-consumption occur frequently.
But you shall know a tree by its fruit and by its fruits the wétiko world stands condemned.
“Animism” is the somewhat derogatory term that European scholars have used for decades to refer to the native, folk religious beliefs of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Animism is a nice way of saying “heathen,” “pagan,” or “primitive.” But maybe, after all, animism is not such a bad word, for it has to do with life; it means “life-ism.”
Perhaps that is what we need, “lifeism,” more respect for life, more respect for the living, more respect for all forms of life. That is a tree that has borne good fruit. That is a tree that still bears good fruit.
But animism is not a religion, or a church or a sect or a movement. It is a direction, a tendency, a pointing towards, a feeling – and that is good because by the time a religion has a name and a structure and a fixed creed it is probably no longer religion at all.
The following Lenápe Spring Prayer conveys a feeling of kinship and love for all living things, in the context of deep gratitude and happiness:
My relatives, I am thankful now this day that we are thinking how the blessings come when our father Great Spirit remembers us and we can see that we have lived to see together the spring time. That is why we are thankful when we see everything coming up and our grandfather trees they send out buds. Now all over the universe it looks fine … Also we feel it when our elder brother the sun puts forth heat. He sympathizes with us and besides these our grandfathers the thunders give us plenty of water. All is that created by our father the Creator. Even it is said every mánitu [spirit-power] prays because sometimes we hear our grandfather trees, that they pray earnestly when the wind goes by. That is enough for making anyone think and to bring happiness when one sees the wonderful works of our father, how well it affects us all year long.8
I MET A medicine man, one of my uncles. “Tell me about the Great Spirit,” I asked him.
He is not like a human being, like the White God. He is a power. That power could be in a cup of coffee. The Great Spirit is no old man with a beard.9
8 Speck, Oklahoma Delaware Ceremonies, 77.
9 Lame Deer, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, 39-40.
HOW DOES one get on a good path? Gotama tried in his teachings to help his listeners discover their path by understanding that pain and misery arise from self-centered craving. Native American teachers often begin with helping others to understand their relationship to the entire world. It is interesting that the methods used by both Gotama and Native American teachers are essentially empirical, that is, are based upon observation or direct perception (either in the form of “common-sense” direct experience by way of the senses or by means of dreams, visions, and other non-ordinary experiences).
For example, the fact of our absolute, utter, complete dependence upon the earth is used by native teachers as a part of self-understanding. It is empirically obvious that we are not only children, sucking at our earth-mother’s breast all of our lives, but that we are also mixed with, and part of, that which Europeans choose to call the environment. For us, truly, there are no “surroundings”.
I can lose my hands, and still live. I can lose my legs and still live. I can lose my eyes and still live. I can lose my hair, eyebrows, nose, arms, and many other things and still live. But if I lose the air I die. If I lose the sun I die. If I lose the earth I die. If I lose the water I die. If I lose the plants and animals I die. All of these things are more a part of me, more essential to my every breath, than is my so-called body. What is my real body?
We are not autonomous, self-sufficient beings as European mythology teaches. Such ideas are based upon deductive logic derived from false assumptions. We are rooted, just like the trees. But our roots come out of our nose and mouth, like an umbilical cord, forever connected with the rest of the world. Our roots also extend out from our skin and from our other body cavities.
Nothing that we do, do we do by ourselves. We do not see by ourselves. We do not hear by ourselves. We do not breathe, eat, drink, defecate, piss, or fart by ourselves. We do not think, dream, invent or procreate by ourselves. We do not die by ourselves.
That which the tree exhales, I inhale. That which I exhale, the trees inhale. Together we form a circle. When I breathe I am breathing the breath of billions of now-departed trees and plants. When trees and plants breathe they are breathing the breath of billions of now-departed humans, animals, and other peoples. As Lame Deer said,
A human being, too, is many things. Whatever makes up the air, the earth, the herbs, the stones is also part of our bodies …1
Who was my mother? An egg? Who was my father, a little animal called a sperm? But where did this egg and this sperm come from? They grew inside a woman and inside a man, but they had their own life-paths distinct from those of the man and the woman. Their bodies, that flesh, my ancestor, grew inside of them and what was it? It was the earth, it was the sky, it was the sun, it was the plants and animals. We are very lucky to have so many wonderful mothers and fathers!
I live in a universe. I am a point of awareness, a circle of consciousness, in the midst of a series of circles. One circle is that which we call the body. It is a universe itself, full of millions of little living creatures living their own separate but co-dependent lives. They live, fight, make love, split, and die independent of my consciousness, most of the time. If some of them get disturbed or get hurt they might tell me about it so that I can help them, so that I can get them some food, or scratch them, or get rid of their left-overs.
Another circle is all of the other things which I am completely dependent upon – Gishux, the sun, the air, the water, and so on. Another circle is all of the things that fill my consciousness – the things I see, smell, hear, and so on. Another circle is the source of my dreams, consciousness, insights, gifts or powers, ideas, and “intuitions.”2,3
But all of these “circles” are not really separate – they are all mutually dependent upon each other, they are all mixed up with each other, they all overlap and move in, and out, of each other.
And that mutual dependence blurs into the circle of love, that mystery, that glue that holds all of this together. Scientists may call it attraction, or affinity, or magnetism, or gravity, as well as affection, symbiosis, kinship, community, family, compassion, or whatever. But there is that circle, that mysterious circle, that makes life possible.
1 Lame Deer, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, 149.
2 See Forbes, What is Space? And Forbes, What is Time?
3 See Forbes, “Kinship is the Basic Principle of Philosophy.”
But Europeans of modern times, and other materialists or dogmatists, seldom undertake this kind of analysis, an analysis based upon empirical frankness and an honest desire to learn. Instead they allow myths and dogmas to distort or predetermine their conceptions. (I do not pretend that my thoughts as such, are “true,” but merely that they express my feelings and perhaps point in a direction which others might find helpful.)
Maybe it’s this: many Europeans cannot tolerate mystery, especially mystery in the “real world.” Native People, on the other hand, admit that there is mystery, and accept joyfully the task of living in such a wonderful world.
“Love” is another thing. Many modern peoples and wétikos everywhere do not love the earth. The earth is dead, they say, just a kind of a big rock, and besides, even if it were alive it has no soul, or mind, or spirit. So why love it? Why love anyone or anything? Why love one’s wife? Do you love her because she is alive? Do you love her because she has a soul? Do you love her because she has a vagina which makes your penis happy?
Love is a mystery. So in one sense it does not matter whether the earth is alive or not. Our love for her is something we give. And in return she gives us her love. Does she ask if we are alive or have a soul? How do we know that we are alive? We move, but everything moves. We change, but everything changes. We breathe, but everything breathes, each in its own way. We procreate but so does everything else, inorganic or organic. (What is procreation? The process of producing “youngsters”? Then perhaps the planets, moons, and so on, are children of some departed sun who gave its life in childbirth. Then we are the youngsters of the earth. Ah, but the earth cannot produce us by herself alone. But who can produce youngsters by themselves, or by itself? Not humans! Without food, air, water, and heat there is not going to be any sexual intercourse or any new little babies. We cannot reproduce by ourselves. Nothing can.) And death; death is another circle that affects all things. How can a sun die if it never had life? All things participate in the circle of death, but as mentioned earlier, death is life. The egg died (or changed) to give us life. The sperm died to give us life. We all die to create life.
And so we learn, if we are willing to travel a path of knowledge, something about ourselves, which is to say that when we study ourselves, we are studying the universe and we are studying part of the Great Creative Power, and when we study the world we are also studying ourselves. But to follow this path one does not study like a dogmatist.
A man goes to knowledge as he goes to war, wide awake, with fear, with respect, and with absolute assurance … For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to travel its full length. And there I travel looking, looking, breathlessly … Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question … Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good, if it doesn’t it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn’t.4
Following a path of knowledge should not be a matter of dogmatism, nor should it be a matter of surrendering one’s life to someone else, or a matter of ambition or simple gratification. There are many kinds of paths, such as the paths of Carlos Castaneda, focused on a deeper and deeper understanding of other levels of reality, levels normally reached only by means of dreams, visions, and/or a concentrated spiritual quest. As Juan Matus tells us (through Carlos) a path is only a path and one should not follow it if it goes against one’s inner feelings or convictions. But one’s decision to keep on the path or to leave it should not be based upon fear or ambition. According to Castaneda’s teachers, a “warrior” is different from the average person because of the consistent choice of a “path with heart.” The warrior knows that the path has heart when he or she finds a “great peace and pleasure” traveling on it. The path with heart leads one on a “joyful journey” while paths without heart will lead to curses and weakening.
4 Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan, 43, 106-107, 194-195.
Native American teachers also look to the universality of death and to the impermanence of all material things as a source for guidance in conducting one’s life and finding a good road to follow.
Is it perhaps true that one lives on the earth?
Not for always on the earth:
only a little here.
Although being jade it shatters;
Although being gold it breaks;
Although being quetzal plumage it tears,
Not for always on the earth:
only a little here.5,6
Let us see, is this real,
Let us see, is this real,
This life I am living?
Spirits, who dwell everywhere,
Let us see, is this real,
This life I am living?7
JUAN MATUS tells us that,
death is the only wise adviser that we have. Whenever you feel … that everything is going wrong and you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong … Your death will tell you ‘I haven’t touched you yet.’8
But while your death can reassure you and make you strong, helping you to realize that you still are alive in this marvelous world, one’s death also teaches us to gain control over our own lives. We do not have time to live as pimps for wétikos. We do not have time to engage in petty jealousies or ugly acts.
Whatever you are doing now, may be your last act on earth. It may very well be your last battle.9
Knowledge of death helps us also to find a good road, because perhaps it can bring us to deep considerations of our place in nature. Black Elk said,
It is good to have a reminder of death before us, for it helps us to understand the impermanence of life on this earth, and this understanding may aid us in preparing for our own death. He who is well prepared is he who knows that he is nothing compared with Wakan-tanka, who is everything; then he knows that world which is real.10
A predilection with death alone, though, without other understandings, might be injurious. A seeker after wisdom will be very much aware of the inevitability of death.
But to be concerned with death would force any one of us to focus on the self and that would be debilitating – so the next thing one needs to be a warrior is detachment. The idea of imminent death, instead of becoming an obsession, becomes an indifference.11
The fundamental message of one’s own imminent death is to live a life that is worthwhile, one that is filled with precise acts, beautiful acts, meaningful acts, that help to take one along the pollen path, the path that only a wisdom-seeker can travel. And what is a wisdom-seeker? A man or a woman who fearlessly seeks to be truly authentic as he or she travels onward in beauty and humility seeking knowledge.
A voice said [to Lame Deer]
…you are sacrificing yourself here to be a medicine man. In time you will be one … You will learn about herbs and roots, and you will heal people. You will ask for nothing in return. A man’s life is short. Make yours a worthy one.12
5 Castaneda, A Separate Reality, 217-218 and The Teachings of Don Juan, 105-106.
6 Miguel León-Portilla, La Filosofia Nahuatl, 60, my translation.
7 Pawnee song, in Astrov, American Indian Prose and Poetry, 109.
8 Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan, 55.
9 Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan, 109.
10 Black Elk, Sacred Pipe, 6.
11 Castaneda, A Separate Reality, 180.
12 Lame Deer, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, 15-16.
Sadly, the world of the wétikos tends to divert us from our authenticity, tries to degrade us, tries to fool us with the false masks of arrogance, sophistication, and hedonism, tries to lure us off our road with the temptations of greed and materialism, and teaches us to quest after victories which are hollow or meaningless.
Your friend [an old, wealthy man] is lonely because he will die without seeing … He feels he threw away forty years because he was after victories and found only defeats. He’ll never know that to be victorious or to be defeated are equal …
Our lot as men is to learn and one goes to knowledge as one goes to war … And so you’re afraid of the emptiness of your friend’s life. But there’s no emptiness in the life of a man of knowledge, I tell you. Everything is filled to the brim … I am not like your friend who just grew old … For him, his struggle was not worth his while because he was defeated; for me there is no victory, or defeat, or emptiness …13
It is not the concrete, material results of one’s life that are important, for all such things can be destroyed, lost, or dissipated rapidly. It is rather the quality of our acts, of our struggle, of our motives, of our love, of our perseverance which are truly significant. As Black Elk said,
the power of a thing or an act is in the meaning and the understanding.
The wétiko psychosis is a sickness of the spirit that takes people down an ugly path with no heart. They may kill, but they are not warriors. They may learn skills, but they acquire no wisdom. They may be surrounded by death but they do not, or cannot, learn its message. They chase after the riches or rewards of a transient world and delude themselves into believing that big tombs and monuments can make it permanent. Above all, the wétiko disease turns such people into werewolves and vampires, creatures of the European’s nightmare world, and creatures of the wétiko’s reality.
They have taken their Satan to the four corners of the world, and they have made him their God.
But this earth of ours is not ugly. Nor this sky, nor this sun, nor this moon. Nor are the animals and the plants ugly. We live in a mysterious, marvelous universe and it offers us a chance to be cured by its loving embrace.
Peace … comes within the souls of men when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the Universe dwells Wakan-tanka, and that this center is everywhere, it is within each of us.14
The idea of following a good path, a path of beauty, has been central to most Native American philosophy. The annual “Big House” ceremony of the Lenápe people was, in fact, an enactment of the task of human beings in following the “White Path” (Path of Light) of the Creator, overcoming obstacles represented by greed and other negative social possibilities.
I am truly thankful, my kindred, I am happy that I stand in this our father’s path, the beautiful White Path of the Great Spirit … So perhaps if earnestly we help each other, quite unexpectedly we might gain a spiritual victory if he, the Creator, hears our appeal.15
One path often followed by Native People is to learn directly from the animals and from the earth:
I have noticed in my life that all men have a liking for some special animal, tree, plant, or spot of earth. If men would pay more attention to these preferences and seek what is best to do in order to make themselves worthy of that toward which they are so attracted, they might have dreams which would purify their lives. Let a man decide upon his favorite animal and make a study of it, learning its innocent ways. Let him learn to understand its sounds and motions. The animals want to communicate with man, but Wakan tanka [the Great Spirit] does not intend they shall do so directly – man must do the greater part in securing an understanding.16
Love of mother earth was not simply an abstraction for many Native Americans. Luther Standing Bear tells us how the Lakota people loved the earth:
The old people came literally to love the soil and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth … The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing, and healing …
Wherever the Lakota went, he was with Mother Earth. No matter where he roamed by day or slept by night he was safe with her.17
13 Castaneda, A Separate Reality, 88.
14 Black Elk, in John Epes Brown, “The Spiritual Legacy of the American Indian,” Tomorrow, Autumn 1964, 302.
15 Witápanoxwe, in Speck, Delaware Indian Big House Ceremony, 131.
16 Brave Buffalo, in Densmore, Teton Sioux Music, 172.
17 Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle, 192-193.
Thus it is that the process of learning from the earth, the animals and “nature” cannot be cold and “scientific” only, but must include love, the magic stuff of the universe. Juan Matus tells us of the “beloved” of Genaro, a Mazateco knowledge-seeker who, at that moment, became a luminous ball, swimming on the earth:
“Genaro’s love is the world … He was just now embracing this enormous earth but since he’s so little all he can do is swim in it. But the earth knows that Genaro loves it and it bestows on him its care … Genaro roams on the paths of his love and wherever he is, he is complete … This is the predilection of two warriors,” he said. “This earth, this world. For a warrior there can be no greater love … This lovely being, which is alive to its last recesses and understands every feeling, soothed me, it cured me of my pains, and finally when I had fully understood my love for it, it taught me freedom.”18
For some, the Good Red Road includes the necessity of suffering, or of the sacrifice of something which really belongs to us alone such as our very flesh, or, for others, our lives as they are lived in service to others.
The way I look at it our body is the only thing which truly belongs to us …
The difference between the White man and us is this: You believe in the redeeming powers of suffering, if this suffering was done by somebody else far away, two thousand years ago. We believe that it is up to every one of us to help each other, even through the pain of our bodies … We do not lay this burden onto our god, nor do we want to miss being face to face with the spirit power. It is when we are fasting on the hilltop, or tearing our flesh at the sundance, that we experience the sudden insight, come closest to the mind of the Great Spirit. Insight does not come cheaply, and we want no angel or saint to gain it for us and give it to us second hand.19
What this kind of perspective might mean in terms of the gift of one’s life is expressed by Cesar Chavez, the great Indigenous-Chicano organizer:
When we are really honest with ourselves, we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us. So it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of men we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life. I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice. To be a man is to suffer for others. God help us to be men.20
For many, true wisdom and beauty is found in living one’s life in such a manner that “good acts,” acts of beauty, gradually and incrementally lead to a depth of spiritual understanding every bit as profound, albeit different, from that experienced by the directly personal spiritual quest which, after all, can be marred by excessive self-centeredness. As a Navajo woman, Mary Morez, has said,
When I grow old, I want to know I’ve left something behind. Not as an artist, but as a human being who loves and cares and tends and helps other human beings. To do that is to walk in beauty.21
And finally, when death touches a new path will open up for us, a path faced by most traditional Native Americans with confidence and beautiful thoughts, as illustrated in this old Wintu song by Jim Thomas:
Above shall go
The spirits of people
Swaying with dandelion puffs in their hands.22
18 Juan Matus, in Castaneda, Tales of Power, 284-285.
19 Lame Deer, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, 198, 208.
20 Ahora!, vol. 3, no. 3, January 28, 1972, 1.
21 Mary Morez, Arizona Republic, November 22, 1974, as quoted in Katz, I Am the Fire of Time, 164.
22 Jim Thomas, in D. Demetracopoulou (Dorothy Lee), “Wintu Songs” Anthropos, vol. 30, 1935, 485.
The Universe is our Holy Book
The Earth our Genesis
The Sky our sacred scroll
The Animals our teachers
The Mountains our prophets
The Winds our equations
The Birds our prayers
The Flowers our miracle
The Sun our source
The Moon our messenger
The Waters our testaments
The World our study
The Great Mystery our Grandfather and
our Beginning and our End.
And it is said that
our Garden of Eden is
which is the entire world
and we have never
been expelled from it
in the magic garden
of the Creator
we are living still
with all of our relatives
as the old ones say,
the winged ones of the air
and the creatures of the waters.
The philosopher-teachers of this Native
The American philosophers,
above all, they say,
we must be relative-like
with the Universe
and with all of the other
which are, together,
our Sacred Family.
And our Mother and Grandmother is the Earth
upon which we graze
upon whose breast,
it is said,
we suckle all of our lives
never being weaned
And our Father is the male
power, coming from the Grandfather-
side of the Great Mystery
nourishing us with the colossal
immensity of the Sky, of the Sun,
still also of male rain,
without which the Earth
could feed us not
and all would die.
And the Old Ones say:
look outward seriously
look inward intently
look outward carefully
look inward diligently
look outward respectfully
look inward humbly
The Old Ones say
outward is inward to the heart
and inward is outward to the center
there are no absolute boundaries
no single body
We don’t stop at our eyes
We don’t begin at our skin
We don’t end at our smell
We don’t start at our sounds
I can lose my legs
and go on living
I can lose my eyes and go on living
I can lose my ears
and go on living
I can lose my hair my nose
and go on living
but if I lose the water
If I lose the air
If I lose the Sun
If I lose the plants and animals
For all of these things
are more a part of me
more essential to my being
than is that
which I call “my body.”
A mountain for seeking visions,
An ocean for getting dreams,
A lake of mirrors to give us names,
Sacred Circles arounding us.
Black Elk has told us that
at the Center of the Universe
the Great Holy,
and yes, that Sacred Center
is within each of us, as with
Huehuetéotl, the Sacred Fire,
in the Center of the sweatlodge.
And we know that our eyes are
that indeed we do not
“see” the world at a distance,
that our “seeing” is within
our heads, within our minds.
For if the eyes were windows
we could pick up a dead creature’s
eye and look directly through it
like clear glass
but any hunter knows
it can’t be done.
The visions we find on the mountain-top
inward they are looking in dreams
outward they are looking for signs
but both inward
do not leave us
for we are not separate
we are like the atomic nuclei
which cannot be studied
except in motion
because motion is of their essence
and we cannot be studied
for we do not exist alone.
My seeing, ordinary seeing
is, after all,
part of a continuous bright path running
from the Sun
which gives us light
through all of the jects
(the comings and goings)
which assume the forms
in my mind, yes
and all of these jects
are part and parcel
of a Rainbow Path
a stream of continuity
which arrives in my consciousness
as brilliant pictures,
But there is no break
there is no wall
the eyes being only one more step
from Sun to Me
and the eyes themselves
and the nose in front
and the brain when seen
are also part of the same
transaction belt which we call the
ject-stream of knowing,
the two-directional path of perception.
Is this life real
that I am living
Is this life real?
Is this life real?
so says an old Native song,
a song straight into our heart of wonder,
of not-knowing what it all means
since all seeing
in the brain
in the mind.
But these brain-visions
are not “ours” alone
we are not inventors of them
for the perceptual transactions
the Rainbow Path
flows whether we like it or not
it bangs upon us
it howls within us
it bowls us over with its force
it caresses us with its sweetness
it continuously surprises us
it is our Universe
and we are not bounded by it,
we are, indeed, its vibrating,
Some scientists say
the world started with a “Big Bang”
but there is no “Bang”
without an “Ear”
without a “Hearer”
for sound is a jet-stream
incomplete without a receiver.
Some scientists think
they can study a world of
matter separate from themselves
but there is no
(knowable to us at least)
nothing can be known
without being channeled
through some creature’s senses,
the unobserved Universe
cannot be discussed
for we, the observers,
being its very description
are its eyes and ears
its very making
is our seeing of it
our sensing of it.
Is there Light without seeing?
Warmth without feeling?
Explosion without pushing?
Motion without two
without a point of otherness?
We and all the animals and
We complete the world
We are its skin
We are its tops
We are its flutes
We are its maracas
We are not alone,
If the world be a drum
we are its taut skin
with its messages
If the world is a vast movie
we are its screen
showing bright colors
sounds and even touches
in the theatre
of our minds
If the Universe is like a great ocean
we are its tidal stream
with an ebb and a flow
for we both receive
and transmit as well
indeed, becoming messages
Perception is not a one-way stream
it is a transaction
a going both ways
a ject as I call it
a coming and a going
a tidal estuary
back and forth.
And we are at the tip of the pamptico
and shore crabs
waiting for the
tide to depart
waiting for the
tide to return
but for us the flow is continuous
in both directions
a true trans-jectory
a constant pamptico.
Communion it is
a constant com-union
bound with the gluest of glues
to all that is
we have a Body of the Close Vicinity
a constantly changing
A Universe of the Close Vicinity
a world of cells
of living creatures
bound up with us
interlocked with us
living, dying, and being born
independent of our consciousness.
And in that Universe of the Close Vicinity
there is also
a whole world of little bugs
bacteria and other strains
who habit with us
and such is the mutual
dependence of our interaction
that they digest our food
and feed us
for we could not exist
nor they without us.
So we are a series of circles,
we live in an endless
sequence of circles
our Consciousness is one,
our Body of the Close Vicinity
our Universe of the Close Vicinity
our Body of the Near Vicinity
being the air we breathe
the salt water of which we are made
the plants and animals in us
all that is our flesh
and which goes in and out
of our flesh
for the Earth is also our Body
and the Air around it
and the Sun
What a crowd of marvelous
Bodies we have
circles after circles
to the very edge
of the feeble state
of our knowledge
where Light bends
and galaxies hurtle away
from each other
seeking perhaps edges of the Great Mystery?
the center of our apple
for we are
Self-Aware we are
I, ich, yo, je, ni
My, mich, me, moi, ni
And what is this Ni-ness
I think not
for we cannot divide ourselves
into that which we cannot
perceive, cannot know
an awareness of self-awareness
of I and other
Of a point of self-awareness
in a sea of things
a sea of images
a pamptico of flowing
But there is a steady center
to which we believe we can assign
a history, a name.
Images brought by Light and Touch call me “Jack”
I call myself “Ni”
in Lenápe and Renápe
I am I-me
Sometimes I’m “Forbes”
I am named
and that is a marvel
to think on,
that we are named!
is so fundamental
to be named
is to be perceived!
I am named,
therefore I am?
Mbyá people of Paraguay
in the story of creation
tell us that The Creator
conceived the origin of human speech
conceived the foundation of love
before the existence of the Earth,
before the existence of human beings,
a short sacred hymn of words
and we were created to speak,
to give names to things,
to sing sacred words of love
were we not?
from the very beginnings
names of the perceived,
of the world?
A mountain for seeking visions,
An ocean for getting dreams,
A lake of mirrors to give us names
Sacred Circles arounding us.
To give things names
To give things numbers
with numbers and names
we structure, yes, we shape
our special world
Names come at the very beginning
can anyone dream up a world
with no names, no words
no markers, no pointers
no categories, no distinctions
All the animals have names
Smell #1, Smell #2
What is my number;
the number of me?
am I one or 50 billion?
My body of the Close Vicinity, well,
it’s 50 billion living things,
the only thing I have
that is “One” is my
All else can be divided,
So my number is,
in the Maya way,
But the small child
or the big adult
when the body of the Close Vicinity bleeds
or has a malignant growth
but neither is alarmed
if there is no air—
is that true?
Shall we deprive
self-styled independent man
of his air,
covering his mouth and nose,
and shall we watch him kick
like a frantic baby?
The air and the water
and the plants and animals
are all part of that
same circle of bodies we must protect,
for they are all part of us
must be renewed
and the H2O
Thus, it is seen that our bodies are not one
and all linked, one to another,
like Siamese Twins.
Consciousness rests like
a well-set jewel
in a golden ring of cells
in a silver ring of nerves
in a ring of bone
in a ring of blood
in a ring of light
in a ring of sound
in a ring of taste
in a ring of smell
in a ring of touch
in a ring of food
in a ring of flesh
in a ring of air
in a ring of water
in a ring of motion
And it is Motion,
it is Movement,
Uli in Nahuatl,
which is our Original Mother-Father
which comes from
of male and female
of what the Maya call
Heart of Heaven, Heart of Earth,
Hurricane, the Begetter, the Maker
and what we call also
the creator of us all, and
the Great Creative Power,
the Great Mystery
which is not one
which is beyond number
which is able,
the old ones say,
to think and thereby move,
to think and create a world.
the Great Mystery
is like a huge atom
already in motion
motion being its nature
male and female
being its gender
motion and power
being its thought.
Perhaps we are Ideas in the mind
of our Grandfather-Grandmother
for, as many nations declare,
by mental action
and indeed we know
for all else
is within consciousness
even as soup
cannot be soup
without resting in its container.
So be it well proclaimed!
our boundary is the edge of the Universe
to wherever the Creator’s thoughts
The Universe is our Holy Book
The Earth our Genesis
The Sky our sacred scroll
The Animals our teachers
The Mountains our prophets
The Winds our equations
The Birds our prayers
The Flowers our miracle
The Sun our source
The Moon our messenger
The Waters our testaments
The World our study
The Great Mystery our Grandfather and
our Beginning and our End.
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