Anthropology Friday: Hofsinde Gray-Wolf’s Indian Series: Winter Camping

Robert Hofsinde Gray-Wolf

My apologies for the recent lack of a formal Anthropology Friday–I just haven’t found much worth sharing lately. Luckily my bad luck reversed with the discovery of Hofsinde Gray-Wolf’s series of books about Native American culture.

According to the University of Southern Mississippi’s de Grummond Children’s Literature Project:

Robert Hofsinde was born in Denmark in 1902 and came to the United States twenty years later… On a painting trip in the north woods of Minnesota, Hofsinde came upon a young Ojibwa (Chippewa) Indian boy who had fallen into a pit trap and severely broken his leg. Hofsinde rescued the boy, set his leg, and carried him back to his village on a sled. In gratitude, the boy’s family adopted Hofsinde and gave him the name Gray-Wolf.

Time spent with the Ojibwa Indians changed the direction of Hofsinde’s career. He began to sketch the Indians and became so interested in their culture that for three years he stayed with the Ojibwa people. Over the next decade Hofsinde visited and studied Indian villages throughout the West and Southwest, painting and writing magazine articles about Indian culture. In the 1940s he and his wife Geraldine (whose Indian name was Morning-Star) began performing an Indian lore program for school children around the nation.

In the mid-1940s Hofsinde took his drawings to Morrow Junior Books, hoping to become a book illustrator. An editor suggested he write a book to supplement his own illustrations. The result was the well-received The Indian’s Secret World (1955). Hofsinde followed up with Indian Sign Language, and eventually wrote and illustrated thirteen more books over the next twenty year… Hofsinde died in 1973.

I doubt Hofsinde ever thought of himself as an anthropologist, but this is obviously no strike against him. The 40s and 50s were the golden age of American interest in everything Indian, and Hofsinde’s books are a pleasant example of the genre. I only regret that I only purchased a few of the books from the set in the shop, and now the rest are gone.

These are children’s books, but still informative. Today we’ll be looking at his Indian Fishing and Camping. Amazon provides a useful summary:

Only in our wilderness areas can we still see the country as the Indian saw it. Most of us find romance in this idea, but few of us know how to carry it out. In this book Robert Hofsinde tells us how we can fish and camp as the Indians did and how we can make the gear that they used. The Indians learned to make their fishing equipment from the natural materials they found around them. They obtained cordage from roots, fibers, and the inner bark of trees. Mr. Hofsinde shows how the Pacific Coast Indians fashioned their fish traps out of this cordage and describes the many ways other Indian groups put it to use. He also includes a chapter on Eskimo ice fishing, clear directions for making such equipment as hooks, spears, and spinners, and instructions for cleaning and cooking one’s catch. Exact, lovely illustrations by the author increase the usefulness of this book. It will add to the pleasure and safety of the modern camper and to the knowledge of anyone interested in Indian lore.

As usual, I will be using “” instead of blockquotes for the parts quoted from Hofsinde.

Winter Fishing:

“In the treeless arctic the winters are long and the summers are so short that even the hardiest berries often fail to ripen fully. The rivers and inlets, even large portions of the sea, are frozen over during nine months of the year. Even so, fishing provided much of the Eskimo’s food. He caught trout, whitefish, and salmon through holes cut in the ice and through the natural cracks that formed int he ice close to shore. Such fishing called for a great deal of skill and patience. When the fish ran in plenty, it did not take a man long to catch more than he needed. On day when the fish had taken to deeper waters, the fisherman often tried one hole after another and, at the end of the day, arrived home with only one or two small fish, or even with none at all.”

EvX: I am reminded here of the descriptions in Ingold’s Hunters, Pastoralists, and Ranchers of the variability of reindeer hunting economies–some years the hunters can kill a whole herd of migrating deer and so in one day provide for their needs for for many months, and some years the hunters miss the herd by a few miles, resulting in famine.

“Fishing through the ice also had its elements of danger, especially when it was done far from shore. A sudden change of wind or a sudden rise in temperature might cause large ice floes to break away. If this happened while a fisherman was intent upon his work, it was not uncommon for him to drift out into open water, and no one ever saw him again. …

“To protect himself from [the icy winds] at his fishing hole, the Eskimo at times put up a shelter. Such a shelter was usually nothing more than a large animal hide hung over a tripod made from driftwood. In addition to sheltering him a little, it also gave him a dark interior, which helped him to see deeper into the water. …

Netsilik man fishing with spear in hand

“Sheltered or not, the ice fisherman still has a two-handed job. He must hold his line and lure in one hand and the spear in his other. At the moment the fish comes to the lure, he must strike fast and spear it. This is the thrill of the game.

“The Eskimo used an entirely different type of fishing gear from that of other Indians. …

“The Eskimo usually made his fishing rod from a piece of driftwood fourteen inches long. Whittled into a flat shape, it had a deep notch cut into each end. At one end the fishing line was fastened. When not in use, the line was wound around the rod lengthwise, with the notches holding it in place.

“The fishline was made of whale bone. This type of bone did not come from the skeleton of the whale, but from the flexible, comb-like baleen strip, which is the food strainer found in the mouth of the toothless blue whale and the right whale. The baleen was split into very fine strands, which never kinked. When ice formed on the wet line, a quick shake snapped it off.

“On the free end of the line the Eskimo tied a small jigger, or lure, crafted from a piece of bone or ivory. These pieces usually represented very small fish or, most often, shrimp. …

“The scoop net was very important. With it the Eskimo fisherman scooped loose pieces of ice out of his fishing hole. It was also used to keep the hole open, for in the cold air new ice formed rapidly over the open water. The net, too, was made from baleen strips. The hoop from which the net hung was formed from a sliver of moose antler that had been boiled in water until pliable and then bent into shape. …

“In the winter these scoops were carried everywhere by the villagers, and although they had been designed for one purpose originally, the Eskimo boys invented a new use for them. They became quite expert at picking up a scoopful of snow and throwing it with a great deal of force and accuracy at any a chosen target.

“An equally useful article was the spear… When a fish was attracted to the lure dangling just below the water line, the Eskimo struck down quickly with the poised spear. This quick thrust impaled the fish on the center prong. …

“The Eskimos ice fished with a single baited copper hook or with a four-pronged ivory jigger. These were the earliest, pre-European fishhooks, and they were made without barbs from copper found on the surface of the ground or in veins in the earth. An Eskimo bent up a thin piece of copper to form a hook, which was a little at the bottom than at the top. …

“A barbless hook was necessary in the arctic. In that cold climate a fish froze slid almost the instant it was brought out of the water. When an Eskimo caught a fish on his barbless hook, he could dislodge it with a deft jerk without removing his mittens, so his hands remained perfectly dry.

Here’s a good illustration of the two-handed line-reeling technique

“The Eskimo also never touched his wet fishline, even when he pulled it in. Holding the short fishing rod in one hand and his ice scoop in the other, he lifted part of the line with the scoop, the next part with the rod. He alternated between the scoop and the rod, cisscrossing, until he had wound up the entire line and had pulled the fish out of the hole onto the ice.

“One fish the Eskimos caught in warmer weather was the salmon. During the summer, when the salmon migration was on and they passed through the shallow arctic streams to spawn, the Eskimo fishermen blocked their way with large boulders. As the fish darted about in an effort to reach open water, they walked among them and speared them by the hundreds.”

On the more general subject of camping:

“The Indians were camping long before the Europeans came to America. Some of them had permanent villages. Others, such a the Plains Indians, moved their camps as they followed the buffalo The woodland Indians made their camps throughout the forest, as they gathered berries and maple sap or went fishing. These early camps were not like the vacation camps we know today, but were places where work had to be done constantly. Canoes needed patching, a new paddle was required, buckskin clothing had to be mended, and other seemingly endless tasks had to be performed.

Voyageurs at Dawn, by Frances Anne Hopkins, 1871

“Camping was still hard work when Lewis and Clark and the men of their expedition explored the West from 1804 to 1806. Night after night, wherever the end of of the day found them, they set up camp, checked over their equipment, cooked their rations, and slept–often in a pouring rain. Shelters and sleeping bags were unknown. They had no portable stoves or lanterns. In fact, each man’s gear was held to a minimum.

“The Canadian voyageurs also camped at night along their watery highways. We can be sure that they slept well, for according to some of their old journals, their day started at 2:30 in the morning and ended at 8:00 in the evening, with only a rest now and again for ‘a pipe.'”

EvX: According to Wikipedia:

The voyageurs were French Canadians who engaged in the transporting of furs by canoe during the fur trade years. Voyageur is a French word, meaning “traveler”. The emblematic meaning of the term applies to places (New France, including the Pays d’en Haut and the Pays des Illinois) and times (primarily in the 18th and early 19th centuries) where transportation of materials was mainly over long distances. This major and challenging task of the fur trading business was done by canoe and largely by French Canadians. The term in its fur trade context also applied, at a lesser extent, to other fur trading activities.[1] Being a voyageur also included being a part of a licensed, organized effort, one of the distinctions that set them apart from the coureurs des bois. …

The voyageurs were regarded as legendary, especially in French Canada.[5] They were heroes celebrated in folklore and music. For reasons of promised celebrity status and wealth, this position was very coveted. James H. Baker was once told by an unnamed retired voyageur:

“I could carry, paddle, walk and sing with any man I ever saw. I have been twenty-four years a canoe man, and forty-one years in service; no portage was ever too long for me, fifty songs could I sing. I have saved the lives of ten voyageurs, have had twelve wives and six running dogs. I spent all of my money in pleasure. Were I young again, I would spend my life the same way over. There is no life so happy as a voyageur’s life! [6][7]”

Despite the fame surrounding the voyageur, their life was one of toil and not nearly as glorious as folk tales make it out to be. For example, they had to be able to carry two 90-pound (41 kg) bundles of fur over portage. Some carried up to four or five, and there is a report of a voyageur carrying seven for half of a mile.[8] Hernias were common and frequently caused death.[7] Most voyageurs would start working when they were twenty two and they would continue working until they were in their sixties. They never made enough money to consider an early retirement from what was a physically grueling lifestyle.[9] …

Music was a part of everyday life for the voyageur. Voyageurs sang songs while paddling and working, as well as during other activities and festivities. Many who travelled with the voyageurs recorded their impressions from hearing the voyageurs sing, and that singing was a significant part of their routine. But few wrote down the words or the music. As a result, records of voyageur songs tend to be skewed towards those that were also popular elsewhere in Canada.[7] Examples of Voyageur songs include “À la claire fontaine” (a favorite), “Alouette“, “En roulant ma boule“, “J’ai trop grand peur des loups“, and “Frit à l’huile“. Another such song is titled “C’est l’aviron qui nous mène”. It goes as follows:

M’en revenant de la joli’Rochelle, J’ai rencontré trois jolies demoiselles, C’est l’aviron qui nous mèn’, qui nous mont’

C’est l’aviron qui nous monte en haut.[31]

To this day, school children learn this song as part of French Canadian culture. These songs served a dual purpose for the voyageurs. Not only would they be entertaining during long voyages but their rhythm would help synchronize their paddling.[32] One fur trader, Edward Ermatinger, had the forethought to record some of these songs. This is how eleven voyageurs songs came to be known today. Ermatinger travelled for the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1818 to 1828 as a clerk and learned these songs firsthand. These came to light only in 1943 when the Ermatinger family archives provided them to the Public Archives of Canada so that they may be copied.[33] …

La Chasse-galerie by Henri Julien

La Chasse-galerie, also known as “The Bewitched Canoe” or “The Flying Canoe,” is a popular French-Canadian tale of voyageurs who make a deal with the devil in order to visit their sweethearts during the night, who are located a long distance away. It is a variant of the Wild Hunt. Its most famous version was written by Honoré Beaugrand (1848–1906). It was published in The Century Magazine in August 1892. More recently, the Quebec brewery Unibroue has incorporated a version of the legend into the name and artwork of its highly respected strong ale, Maudite (“Damned”).[34]

EvX: It annoys me when people claim that back in the fifties, books/media about Indians were just a mish-mash of stereotypes without respect for the differences of individual tribes. They talk about fifties books/media as though it were all terrible and insulting, with no regard for the quality works nor the value of popular interest in Indian cultures. Today the whole idea of reading about and being interested in Indians is deprecated. I think this attitude does more harm than good, because people are much more likely to protect and care about people they’re interested in than people they hardly ever hear about.


Cathedral Round-Up #19: You are the Hope of the World–The SJWs of 1917

Sometimes material for these posts falls serendipitously into my lap–such is today’s case: I have inherited from a great-grandparent in the Puritan line of the family a slim volume from 1917, Hermann Hagedorn’s You are the Hope of the World: An Appeal to the Boys and Girls of America, and oh boy, is it a doozy.

Since I’m dong a lot of quoting, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes for readability.

“YOU ARE THE HOPE OF THE WORLD! Girls and boys of America, you are the hope of the world! In Europe, boys of your age are dying daily by hundreds, by thousands! Millions lie dead or wounded; or, fam- ishing in prison camps, watch the slow wasting of body and mind. Millions! Can you imagine it? Five million! Ten million! God knows, how many million more! Twelve million. Fifteen million, perhaps. It is an impossible figure — so huge that it means nothing. …

“Europe does not know yet what she has lost. Europe has great scientists still, great poets, great tellers of tales, inventors, merchants, physicians, preachers. But they are old, or aging. They will pass away, and Europe will look around and cry: “My old heroes are passing. It is time for my young heroes to take the places of honor.” And Europe will call for her young heroes. Europe will call for new poets, new tellers of tales, new scientists, new inventors, new merchants, new physicians, new preachers. And no one will answer. No young heroes will appear. …

“over there across the ocean every twenty seconds, on an average, down goes a brave boy, and out goes another can- dle, and on one of you over here suddenly falls a new responsibility. You don’t feel it, but there it is. That French boy or that English or German or Russian boy, may leave his watch- fob to his brother and his watch to his best friend, but he leaves his chance in life to you. He might have been a great scientist and drawn some wizardry, yet unknown, out of the air; he might have been a great musician, a great engineer; he might have been the immortal leader men have been looking for, ages long, to lead the world to a better civilization. He’s gone, dead at nineteen. Young America, you are his heir! Don’t you feel his mantle on your shoulders? …

[Says the young American:]””It makes me sort of sorry for Europe. Why, when the old duffers die, they’ll holler for new men and —”

“”There won’t be any new men.”

“”They’ll get into a scrape — perhaps another war like this — and they’ll holler for a Washington or a Lincoln, or even for a What’s-his-name? — Joffre — or a What’s-his- name — Lloyd George — to pull ’em out, and there won’t —”

“”There won’t be any Washington or Lincoln or Joffre or Lloyd George.”

“”Who’ll there be?”

“”Perhaps nobody — in Europe.”

You sit a minute, Young America, thinking that over. And then suddenly you rise to your feet, and throw away your cigarette, and frown, puzzled a bit. And then very slowly you say:

“”Why, it looks as though when that time comes — perhaps — it may — be — up to us.” Right you are, Young America!”

[EvX: Note that Hermann is predicting that in the event of another World War, Europe will not be able to produce for itself the likes of Churchill or Hitler.]

“Why, you say, are we the world’s hope? … You can’t evade it, Young America. The stars have conspired against you. Destiny, which made your country rich and gave her great leaders in time of need, and helped her to build a magnificent republic out of many races and many creeds; Destiny that brought you to the light under the Eagle and the Stars and Stripes; Destiny, that chose America to be the greatest laboratory, the greatest testing-ground of democracy in the world; Destiny, Fortune, God, whatever you want to call laid on you the privilege and the responsibility of being the hope of a world in tears. You can carry this responsibility and be glorious. You can throw it off, and be damned. But you cannot ignore it. …

“The world knows that in you, whether your ancestors came over in the Mayflower three hundred years ago, or in the steerage of a liner twenty years ago, lives the spirit of a great tradition. The world puts its hope in you, but not only in you. It puts its hope in the great ghosts that stand behind you, upholding your arms, whispering wisdom to you, patience, perseverance, courage, crying, “Go on, Young America! We back you up!” Washington, first of all! And around him, Putnam, Warren, Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Hamilton, Jeffer- son, Marshall, Greene, Stark!

[EvX: There follows a long enumeration of American heroes–let us note that at this time, Americans still had heroes and Yale’s students were not “angry, saddened and deeply frustrated” by the University’s decision to name a dormitory after Benjamin Franklin.]

“You remember what the British officer said of Marion’s band? “They go without pay, they go without clothes, living on roots and drinking water — all for liberty. What chance have we against such men?” …

“All Europe paid tribute to pirates in Barbary, and America paid tribute, because everybody was doing it; it seemed to be the style. But then some Bashaw in Tripoli or Tunis, seeing easy money, jacked up his price. And Europe said: “Oh, all right. If you’ll only keep quiet!” But the little U.S. cried: “No, you dirty pirate! We’re hanged if we’ll pay you another cent!” And the ships went over, gallant ships with all sails full, and there was no more tribute-paying after they came back! …

“Rogers and Clark are behind you, Fremont, Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, Sam Houston, Davy Crockett. You remember? “Thermopylae had its messengers of death, the Alamo had none.” The frontiersmen, the Indian fighters, the pioneers are behind you, dauntless of spirit; the colonists of Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, the New Netherlands, the Carolinas; the settlers in wild lands, pressing westward … the brave builders of the West are behind you, … John Brown of Osawatomie is there! And there, Sherman, Sheridan, Meade, Thomas, Farragut, Grant, silent, tenacious, magnanimous! Stonewall Jackson, Stuart, Lee! And in the midst of them, the greatest of all, Lincoln, with his hand on your shoulder, Young America, saying, “Sonny, I’m with you. Go on!” …

“[WWI] has to many of you, perhaps, seemed merely a brawl in the dark among thieves, or a midnight riot in a madhouse. The issues have been confused. … Because the Right was hard to catch and hold, we cried that there was no Right in it. That was the comfortable point of view. …

“As the months went by, one truth began to emerge with increasing clearness from the smoke and welter and confusion. We saw, dimly at first, then more and more clearly, that the War was not merely a war between competing traders, a war for a place in the sun on the one side, and economic supremacy on the other; but a war of conflicting fundamental ideas. We were slow to see this. It took a revolution in Russia to open our eyes; it took the joyous shout of the countless Siberian exiles, welcoming freedom, to open our ears. But we understand now. We know at last what the war is about. We see at last what the Allies have seen from the beginning, that this is a war between kings and free men. The nations that believe in kings and distrust the people have challenged, with intent to destroy, or incapacitate, the nations that believe in the people and won’t let the kings out in public without a license, a muzzle and a line. It is a war between autocracy and democracy, and beyond that, it is a struggle for the extirpation of war; a struggle between the powers who believe that there is profit in war and the powers who know that there is no profit in it; between the powers who are looking back to a sort of earnest cave-man as an ideal, and the powers who are looking forward to a reasoning, reasonable, law-abiding man with a ballot.

[EvX: Note the many ways in which this is an absurd lie. Did the Kaiser of Germany and the Czar of Russia pitch their armies against each other because one of them was an autocrat and the other a democrat? Did the Communist Revolution in Russia result in freedom, liberty, or democracy for the people there, or mass famines, secret police, and gulags?]

“Blacker and sharper every day, against the lurid glow of flaming villages and smouldering cities, looms the Peril of Kings, and louder and grimmer from millions of graves rumbles the Doom of Kings. If there is any validity in human evidence, and if the logical conclusions of clear minds from clear-cut evidence mean anything at all, this Great War was begun by kings and sons of kings. It will not be ended by kings. It will be ended by folks named Smith and Jones and Robinson; and the kings and sons of kings thereafter will eat their meals through wire baskets, and there will be number-plates on their collars. Foolish dudes and silly women will keep them as pets. Out of this agony of death is coming “a new birth of freedom.”

[EvX: Again he is wrong, for the Russian Czars were not kept as pets (what?) but cruelly murdered shortly after this volume appeared, even poor little Alexei who had certainly never done another human a single ounce of wrong.]

“Young America, if in these days there is one thought emerging like a green island out of the turbulent sea of conflicting opinions, it is that civilization demands the spread of the democratic idea. Kings take to war as Congressmen take to Appropriation Bills. There is no question about that. Nothing in history is surer. … When kings wanted glory, they went and took it out of their neighbors; when they wanted gold, they made war and got it; … And when their people rebelled, they went to war for no reason at all, but just to quiet them down. A good many men died and a good many women became destitute in the course of those adventures, but kings have romance on their side and they have always made believe that they had God on their side, too. The Kaiser isn’t the first king who has chattered about Me und Gott. He is merely the last of a long, sad line of self-deluded frauds. Kings gain by war, and cliques of nobles or plutocrats gain by war; the Lords of Special Privilege thrive and grow fat on aggression.

“But the people do not thrive on it. Smith and Jones and Robinson do not gain by aggression. Uncle Sam might annex Cuba, Mexico, Canada, and South America to-morrow, and Smith and Jones and Robinson would gain nothing from it all. They would lose. For public attention would be so fixed on the romantic glitter of conquest that, hi its shadow, corruption would thrive as never before. Progress within the nation would cease while we pursued the treacherous will-o’-the-wisp of imperialism into distant marshes. Smith and Jones and Robinson know this, and where they control the government, there is not much talk of colonies and the White Man’s Burden. The governments that are controlled by Smith and Jones and Robinson, which means the Common People, are called democracies; and in so far as they are true democracies they are a force for the abolition of war.

[EvX: Were Hermann correct, the US would have never expanded past the territories of the original 13 Colonies, would have never conquered Texas, Mexico, Cuba, etc., and we would be much the poorer for all of this land we had obtained. Likewise, the US would not have entered WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War I, Gulf War II, etc., while those monarchies in the Middle East–like Saudi Arabia–would be out conquering their neighbors.

Of course, our author does protect his position with a “no true Scotsman” clause.]

“They have been called to die for their country, but you are called to live for your country. Those who die in the fight for democracy, die for more than their country; they die to build a lasting peace. You who live for the service of democracy, live for the service of more than your country. You live to build, out of the agony and the ashes, a better world than the sun has yet shone upon! …

“”Or put it another way. Somebody who tells you that everything isn’t all hunkydory with America is a bad American, eh?”

“”You bet. If Teacher tried to get off any knocks on Uncle Sam, I’d tell my father, and my father’d get her discharged.”

“”You’re off, sonny. And your father’s off. All you spread-eagle people, who think that the only way to be loyal to Uncle Sam is to pretend that he’s perfect as a cottonwool peach, are off. Your Uncle Sam isn’t perfect, sonny. In fact, he’s just about a hundred thousand miles from perfect.” …

“But the only way our U.S.A. ever will be good and great is for us all to look at ourselves, to look at our nation squarely and without blinking, and keep our minds alert lest we get into bad company and do things that George and Abraham might not like. But Teacher says, in effect: “No! Don’t look at your own faults. Look at the faults of others and forget your own. You’ll be much happier that way!” … Young America, there are times when I should like to see Teacher shot at sunrise in that empty lot down the block. For that sort of jabber is, in the first place, a lie. And in the second place, it’s a damned lie. And in the third place, it’s treason, for it makes you think there’s nothing for you to do. And that’s like putting a bomb under the Capitol. Young America, I know you don’t like to have me say that democracy isn’t a success. It sounds disloyal somehow. But it isn’t disloyal. It’s just trying to look at things squarely, and without blinking, … Democracy is n’t a success — yet. Government of the people, by the people, for the people, is n’t achieved — yet. Do you think it is? You remember what the Grand Old Fellows said in the Declaration: Men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights . . . Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Look about you. Does it seem to you that the slums in your own city afford life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to the men and women and children, freezing and starving in winter, sweltering and starving in summer? Does it seem to you that the factories where children work eight, ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day help those children achieve those unalienable rights? …

“It is a mystery to me, Young America, why the great men, whose lives and heroic deeds make up the history of this Republic, should have permitted us, the nieces and nephews of Uncle Sam, to take democracy, to take the principle of popular government, as lightly, as carelessly, as we have taken it. Perhaps they lacked imagination to see what a republic, based as firmly as ours, might accomplish with an alert and conscientious citizenry; perhaps, like Lincoln, they were too busy with enormous problems, concrete and immediate, to do more than point out the direction of progress; perhaps they were just optimistic, trusting blissfully in the old convenient notion that, by means of some piece of divine jugglery, some light- fingered shifting of omelets under a hat, the voices of five, ten, fifteen mil- ion farmers, factory-hands, brokers, lawyers, clerks, longshoremen, saloon- keepers, Tammany Hall heelers, murderers, repeaters and Congressmen, became the Voice of God.

“Our great men have been loyal to the principle of democracy. … But few, if any, have hammered into our heads the simple truth that democracy is like religion… what definite thing do we ever do to keep alive that little sprig of democracy which is native in the heart of every American girl and boy? What do we do to feed it and tend it and water it? America depends for its life, its liberty, its happiness, on a wide-awake and conscientious citizen- ship; but what do we ever do to build up such a citizenship? …

“What school or college that you ever heard of has in its curriculum emphasized the prime importance of citizenship? I suppose they teach you some civics in your school, and I’ll bet you a dollar it’s drier than algebra. Perhaps they give you a dab at current events — mostly events, and mighty little, I’ll swear, about the current on which they float. For history, I suppose they give you the same accumulation of pleasant legends they gave me when I was fifteen or thereabouts. All about the glory, and nothing about the shame, the stupidity, the greed! As though you were a fool who did n’t know that no man and no country can be all good or all bad; but that both are a mixture of good and bad, and will be loved by their children even if they do make mistakes! …

“Every American boy becomes a hand in the great Factory of Public Welfare we call the United States, the day he is twenty-one. He knows he is going into that factory, and his elders know he is going into it, and they all know that his happiness and their own happiness may depend on his loyalty to the interests of that factory and his understanding of the machinery of that factory. You’d think they’d tell him some- thing beforehand about machinery in general, wouldn’t you? You’d think they’d prepare him a bit to be a good mechanic when his time came. The machinery is so fine and delicate, you’d think the Directors would insist on reducing to a minimum the risk of smashing it up.

“But they don’t…. These Directors go from school to school, and instead of scolding the school-teachers for failing to give you training in government-mechanics, they pat you on the back, Young America, and tell you to be good factory hands, nice factory hands, loyal factory hands; and that the Factory is the grandest factory in the world, and you ought to be glad that you belong to that particular factory, because it is a free factory, where every one can do exactly as he pleases. The Directors say a great many uplifting things, but do they take you to the machine and explain it to you, and stand over you until you know what makes it go? Oh, no! Nothing like that! They tell you that you are the greatest little mechanic in the world and then leave you to wreck the machine as thoroughly as your native common sense will permit. As for freedom — for the ignorant and the untrained there is no such thing as freedom. The ignorant and the untrained are slaves to their own inefficiency. Those only are free who know. Young America, girls and boys can be trained to the work of citizenship even as greenhorns can be trained to the use of machinery; trained in the home, trained in school, trained in college. And we must be trained, Young America, if this country is ever going to be the wise, the just, the humane force for progress in the world that we want it to be. …

I have gone about like Diogenes with a lantern, trying to find a man or boy who has seen or even heard of a school or college that tried deliberately, fearlessly, and thoroughly to train its girls and boys to be intelligent citizens. Colleges teach government and history, but the courses are optional. Nothing in their catalogues suggests that a patriotic citizen will apply himself to these subjects. Physics may be compulsory and Latin or German or French may be compulsory, for those constitute Culture; but never by any chance the subjects that constitute the background for good citizenship. … Do [teachers] bend over you with a blessing or a club and say: You’ll be a decent citizen, my son, or I’ll know the reason why!” — do they? You would think your school- masters had never heard of such a thing as citizenship.

[EvX: Note the contradiction between our author’s certainty that democracy must be explicitly taught in order to succeed, and his complaint that in the past 140 or so years of this country, no one has bothered to teach it, and yet we had not descended into autocracy.]

“You may be too young to die for democ- racy; but no girl or boy is ever too young to live for democracy! Your country is at war. You can- not go to the front. But, in the high- est sense, you are the true Home Guard. Are you going to do your part? In your nation’s critical hour, girls and boys of America, what are you going to do?…

“Unlike the college boy who prefers to stay away from baseball games, the citizen who prefers to stay away from the polls does not lose caste. No one has been taught to see him for the contemptible shirker that he is. For there is no tradition of public service. Young America, it is your opportunity and your obligation to create that tradition; … set forth and gather a friend or two friends or three friends about you and… determine that henceforth you will think about the needs of America, and argue about the needs of America, and give your hands and your hearts to serve the needs of America; and consider any man or woman, boy or girl, who does otherwise, a traitor to the United States and a traitor to the principle of democracy!…

“You must not only run ahead of your parsons and your schoolmasters, you must yourselves awake your parsons and your schoolmasters! Some of them are heavy sleepers, as you know. Bang on the door and drag them out of bed. Not too ceremoniously! Riot, if need be! There are too few riots in American schools and colleges against the cramping conservatism of the elder generation. …

“If your elders in school and college will not volunteer to lead you, lead yourselves, and demand their support! Speak gently to Teacher, speak persuasively to Teacher, but if words don’t wake him, RIOT, girls and boys of America! Do you call yourselves really Americans? Then jump to your feet, resolved that this great nation shall no longer waste its opportunities!

“Think what the republican hearts hidden behind the gray khaki of Germany would give for the democratic institutions you possess! Their lives would seem to them payment ridiculously inadequate. And you possess these institutions and shrug your shoulders and say, in effect, that you should worry what happens to them. Do you say that, you who read these lines? If you do, you are base, and deserve to die as Benedict Arnold died, in a garret in a foreign land, cursing the day that he betrayed his country! Does that sound harsh and violent to you, girls and boys of America? I tell you, the time has passed when we could afford to chatter lightly over the teacups concerning the needs and the shortcomings of our country. Smash the cups, Young America, and come out and fight, that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth. Fight! …

Your elder brothers will have to fight with guns; many of them will have to die here or with their fellows-in-democracy in France and Flanders. … To you, girls and boys of ten, twelve, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, is given a work every bit as grand as dying for your country; and that is, living for the highest interests of your country! Those interests are the interests of democracy. If, therefore, you live for the highest interests of America, you live at the same time for the highest interests of the world. In that struggle, the goal is neither nationalism nor internationalism. It is democracy. It is a lasting peace among nations; and, as far as it is humanly possible, amity among men. Go to it! Go to it, girls and boys of America! You are the hope of the world.”


EvX: After completing the book (it is a short read and you may finish it yourself if you wish before continuing with this post,) I looked up the author’s biography on Wikipedia and managed to actually surprise myself by how thoroughly Cathedral Hagedorn was:

Hermann Hagedorn (18 July 1882 – 27 July 1964) was an American author, poet and biographer.

He was born in New York City and educated at Harvard University, where he was awarded the George B. Sohier Prize for literature, the University of Berlin, and Columbia University. From 1909 to 1911, he was an instructor in English at Harvard.

Hagedorn was a friend and biographer of Theodore Roosevelt. He also served as Secretary and Director of the Theodore Roosevelt Association from 1919 to 1957. Drawing upon his friendship with Roosevelt, Hagedorn was able to elicite the support of Roosevelt’s friends and associates’ personal recollections in his biography of TR which was first published in 1918 and then updated in 1922 and which is oriented toward children.

(Funny how Teddy Roosevelt has been nearly completely forgotten these days, compared to his fame back when Mount Rushmore was carved.)

Notes on Timbuktu

Medieval trade routes through the Sahara and Timbuktu
Medieval trade routes through the Sahara and Timbuktu

“Much has been written on the Fondo Ka’ti, the huge collection of old manuscripts in Arabic now preserved in a library in Timbuktu with considerable aid from the government of Andalucia. The collection’s founder seems to have been a ‘Goth’ (al-Quti) from Grenada, who left Spain circa 1468 AD.”

Timbuktu is an ancient, famous town in modern-day Mali. Today it is a tiny, super-dry, and far from the beaten track, but in previous centuries it was an important crossroads for cross-Sahara trade, famed for its gold, scholars, and university.

(I am, finally, trying to read through some of the many ancient PDFs cluttering up my desktop. Today’s is The Meanings of Timbuktu, though I must admit that at nearly 400 pages, I’m mostly skimming and reading the conclusions of chapters. Note: many of the contributors to this book cannot write and I can’t recommend it unless you are A. dying to know more about Timbuktu and B. willing to wade through Marxist academic bullshit.)

Centuries ago, the area was much wetter–about 8.5 thousand years ago, there were some major lakes nearby, perhaps because the climate was different or the river had taken a course through some low-lying areas. Even just a few centuries ago the area was wetter than it is today (the river has shifted, making Timbuktu much less important than it used to be. Archaeological surveys show a bunch of old, abandoned settlements (including possibly cities) in nearby areas that are now uninhabited desert, but Mali doesn’t exactly have money for archaeology. (And the security situation isn’t great, either.)

In other words, there appears to have been a massive reduction in the number of people in the area and the scale of organization in the past 500-1,000 years, with possibly greatly shifting population levels over the millenia.

Today, people in Timbuktu write with erasable ink (eg, charcoal,) on wooden slates, much like people using chalk on slate or carving into beeswax and then smoothing the beeswax. The art of paper-making typically spread alongside the spread of Islam (for the production of Qurans and the like,) but paper-making never took off in Timbuktu, even during eras when suitable materials were more abundant.

The lack of paper-making makes me think the book is over-rating Timbuktu’s role as an historical mecca for sub-Saharan scholars. It may have been relatively important, compared to the rest of the area, but probably small on the global scale.

Nonetheless, there are about 20,000 old books/scrolls in Timbuktu’s archives, most probably in need of preservation. Another survey mentioned in the book estimates 100,000+ books/scrolls in the area. (Mali doesn’t have a lot of money to devote to preserving fragile old manuscripts.) Most of these are probably religious documents (eg, Qurans, hadiths, legal opinions on the application of Islamic law, etc.) but some are philosophy, poetry, history, etc.

Due to age and degradation, the book I am reading deals primarily with more recent, less fragile texts.

Around 1750, a genre of historical writing emerged and then disappeared.

Muslim preference for hand-written Qu’rans appears to have retarded the development of printing in Islamic areas (at least around Timbuktu.) Source cited on page 151 claims first printed book arrived in Mauritania in 1861, though printed books were probably imported before then.

Note the importance of printed Bibles in the development of European literacy. Even today, so many Bibles are printed that cheap copies are practically disposable.

Estimate of a quarter to half a million books owned in northern Nigeria in 1900, most of them religious texts, many (religious) school texts.

There clearly were boom periods [in books]–first the sixteenth and then the nineteenth centuries–with different books coming to hand … but I think overall the book trade did not ‘work’ in West Africa. For example, in 1900 there were few if any ‘modern’ books either available to buy or in circulation in Kano… There was no waaf-financed library buying books systematically, no bookseller importing contentious texts for an avid reading public. … Did the shortage of local books lead to a pre-colonial ‘brain drain’?

The author concludes that the local scholars were highly dependent on private collections (as are modern scholars in the area.) These private collections were hidden during the colonial period (their owners were concerned about colonialist authorities stealing their books,) leading to a mis-perception that they did not exist. Since the end of colonialism, folks have been trying to gather up and properly preserve the manuscripts, but being buried and otherwise hidden for years has not been kind to them.

Timbuktu conjures a string of fond memories of my own youth. For the sake of the people of Mali, I hope Timbuktu (or any other city, perhaps one situated closer to the Niger’s modern course,) rises once again to its former glory.

Kalamazoo, Timbuktu, Katmandu, Machu Picchu…

Anthropology Friday: Smith’s Sacrifice Among the Semites

Guys, I was really excited to bring you W. Robertson Smith‘s Sacrifice Among the Semites, (1889) but it turned out kind of disappointing. It contains, in fact, very few descriptions of sacrifice, among the Semites or anyone else.

Like Tyler, he has an “evolutionist” view of religious history, but the essay feels more proto-Freudian; it was with no surprise that I found that the very next essay in my textbook deals directly with Freud.

Nevertheless, it does have some interesting parts that I think are worth sharing. Smith doesn’t offer (at least in this essay) much support for his claims, but he did spend much of his life studying Semitic religion. According to Wikipedia,

After graduation he took up a chair in Hebrew at the Aberdeen Free Church College in 1870. In 1875 he wrote a number of important articles on religious topics in the ninth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. … took up a position as a reader in Arabic at the University of Cambridge, where he eventually rose to the position of University Librarian, Professor of Arabic and a fellow of Christ’s College.[1] It was during this time that he wrote The Old Testament in the Jewish Church (1881) and The Prophets of Israel (1882), which were intended to be theological treatises for the lay audience.

In 1887 Smith became the editor of the Encyclopædia Britannica after the death of his employer Thomas Spencer Baynes left the position vacant. In 1889 he wrote his most important work, Religion of the Semites, an account of ancient Jewish religious life which pioneered the use of sociology in the analysis of religious phenomena. He was Professor of Arabic there with the full title ‘Sir Thomas Adams Professor of Arabic‘ (1889–1894).

However, it also says (regarding the work from which today’s quotes are taken):

After 75 years Evans-Pritchard, although noting his wide influence, summarized criticism of Smith’s totemism, “Bluntly, all Robertson Smith really does is to guess about a period of Semitic history about which we know almost nothing.”[25]

With those caveats, let’s begin (for readability, I am just using “” for Smith’s portions):

“The sacrificial meal was an appropriate expression of of the antique ideal of religious life, not merely because it was a social act and an act in which the god and his worshipers were conceived as partaking together, but because… the very act of eating and drinking with a man was a symbol and a confirmation of fellowship and mutual social obligations. The one thing directly expressed in the sacrificial meal is that the god and his worshipers are commensals, but every other point in their mutual relations is included in what this involves. Those who sit at meat together are united for all social effects, those who do not eat together are aliens to one another, without fellowship in religion and without reciprocal social duties. …

“Among the Arabs ever stranger whom one meets in the desert is a natural enemy, and has no protection against violence except his own strong hand or the fear that his tribe will avenge him if his blood be spilt. But if I have eaten the smallest morsel of food with a man, I have nothing further to fear from him; “there is salt between us,” and he is bound not only to do me no harm, but to help and defend me as if I were his brother. So far was this principle carried by the old Arabs, that Zaid al-Khail, a famous warrior in the days of Mohammed, refused to lay a vagabond who carried off his camels, because the thief had surreptitiously drunk from his father’s milk bowl before committing the theft. It does not indeed follow as a matter of course that because have eaten once with a man I am permanently his friend, for the bond of union is conceived in a very realistic way, and strictly speaking lasts no longer than the food may be supposed to remain in my system. …

“The Old Testament records many cases where a covenant was sealed by the parties eating and drinking together. In mot of these indeed the meal is sacrificial, so that it is not at once clear that two men are bound to each other merely by partaking of the same dish, unless the deity is taken in as a third party to the covenant.”

The Lord makes a covenant with Abraham:

15 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,[a]
    your very great reward.[b]

He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring[d] be.” … He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 …

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram… (Genesis 15:1-18)

Isaac and Abimelek make a covenant:

26 Meanwhile, Abimelek had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces. 27 Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?”

28 They answered, “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’—between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we did not harm you but always treated you well and sent you away peacefully. And now you are blessed by the Lord.”

30 Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. 31 Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they went away peacefully. (Genesis 26:26-30)

But the covenant between David and Jonathan involves no food:

16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.” 17 And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.

“Now in the most primitive society there is only one kind of fellowship which is absolute and inviolable. To the primitive man all other men fall under two classes, those to whom his life is sacred and those tho whom it is not sacred. The former are his fellows; the latter are strangers and potential foemen, with whom it is absurd to think of forming any inviolable tie unless they are first brought into the circle within which each man’s life is sacred to all his comrades.”

EvX: The gist of this is, I suspect, basically true, and I note it for its contrast with the modern world, in which not only are we supposed to be concerned with the lives of all strangers, but simultaneously, there is no longer anyone (outside of our nuclear families) to whom our lives are sacred.

“But that circle again corresponds to the circle of kinship, for the practical test of kinship is that the whole kin is answerable for the life of each of its members. By the rules of early society, if I slay my kinsman, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, the act is is murder, and is punished by expulsion from the kin; if my kinsman is slain by an outsider I and every other member of my kin are bound to avenge his death by killing the manslayer or some member of his kin. It is obvious that under such a system there can be no inviolable fellowship except between men of the same blood. For the duty of blood revenge is paramount, and every other obligation is dissolved as soon as it comes into conflict with the claims of blood. I cannot bind myself absolutely to a man, even for a temporary purpose, unless during the time of our engagement he is put into a kinsmans’ place. And this is as much as to say that a stranger cannot become bound to me, unless at the same time he become bound to all my kinsmen in exactly the same way. Such is, in fact, the law of the desert; when any member of a clan receives an outsider through the bond of salt, the whole clan is bound by his act, and must, while the engagement lasts, receive the stranger as one of themselves.

“The idea that kinship is not purely an affair of birth, but may be acquired, has fallen out of our circle of ideas; but o, for that matter, has the primitive conception of kindred itself.”

EvX: I don’t know about you, but I remember as a kid declaring myself “blood brothers”* with my friends, often with some kind of made-up ritual. Perhaps we’d gotten the idea from TV (I remember a scene in something or other I’d watched in which two or three kids cut their thumbs and pressed them together, then declared themselves blood brothers, but I never did that because AIDS is icky.) and perhaps the TV got the idea from the Indians or something like that. But either way, it was a thing we kids did.

*Yes we were girls but we still called it that.

“To us kinship has no absolute value, but is measured by degrees, and means much or little, or nothing at all, according to its degree and other circumstances. In ancient times, on the contrary, the fundamental obligation of kinship had nothing to do with degrees of relationship but rested with absolute and identical force on every member of the clan. To know that a man’s life was scared to me, and that every blood-feud that touched him involved me also, it was not necessary for me to count cousinship with him by reckoning up to our common ancestor; it was enough that we belonged to the same clan and bore the same clan name. … But the essential idea of kinship was independent of the particular form of law. A kin was a group  of persons whose lives were so bound up together, in what must be called a physical unity, that they could be treated as parts of one common life. The members of one kindred looked on themselves as one living whole, a single animated mass of blood, flesh, and bones, of which no member cold be touched without all the members suffering.”

EvX: There is a play by Voltaire which I read some years back, Zaire. The story, shortly, is of a slave girl (Zaire) in the Sultan’s court. The sultan has fallen in love with her and because of her virtue and modesty they are going to get married. But then Zaire discovers her father (whom she’d never met before, having been raised in the sultan’s court) is a French Christian. Her father dies a few minutes later and Zaire is now wracked with doubts because how can she marry a Muslim when she is a Christian? The sultan observes her strange, secretive behavior, concludes that she is having an affair, and kills her.

Back when I read this, it made no sense at all. Zaire’s spontaneous adoption of Christianity had nothing to do with a theology or belief–all that happened in the play to make her suddenly become Christian was that she discovered that her dying dad, whom she’s known for all of five minutes, was Christian.

I was attempting to understand the play’s actions through the lens of our modern understanding of religion as a matter of personal conscience, and ethnicity a matter of background genetics.

But Voltaire was clearly working within a tribalist framework, where Christianity = ethnicity, and ethnicity = tribe and you cannot marry outside your tribe.

Continuing on:

“This point of vie is expressed int he Semitic tongues in many familiar forms of speech. In a case of homicide Arabian tribesmen do not say,”the blood of M. or N. has been spilt,” naming the man; they say,
Our blood has been spilt.” In Hebrew the phrase by which one claims kinship is “I am our bone and your flesh.” Both in Hebrew and in Arabic “flesh” is synonymous with “clan” or kindred group.”

In the days when the judges ruled,[a] there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. …

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. Ruth 1:1-19