Monday, April 13, 2009

thanksgiving, 1676

thanksgiving of that year was celebrated with the severed head of wampanoag chief Phillip stuck on a pole in the middle of plymouth. phillip was the son of massassoiet, the chief who had signed a treaty of friendship with the english their first tough year at plymouth. unable to stem english dispossession of native rights to land, phillip was goaded into fighting so that the english could take final and total control of southern new england. he knew he would lose, but fought anyway.

the decisive blow was struck by the mohawks, allies of the english, who struck in the summer of 1676.

one of the most tragic notes on this war was the fate of the so-called "praying indians," natives who had moved into missionary-organized "praying towns," cut their long hair (if men), and witnessed their belief in jesus christ. the beleaugured english, paranoid about enemies within, loaded hundreds of them into canoes without food or blankets, and sent them to Deer Island near Boston Harbor. they died in the harsh winter wind -- they who had given up generations of culture to adapt to english ways and an english God, kicked out to die for it.

phillip's head was left on the pole for 20 years, proof of the result for any native person who dared resist White hegemony.

i learned all this from an excellent PBS program mixing re-enactment and interviews with historians and archaeologists, which gave the narrative much more texture than the usually simplistic tale of mistrust and woe. the first twenty or 30 years of puritan/native coexistence shows how much possibility there was as long as the english (enough of them, anyhow) were committed to peace and friendship. once those lovers of peace were gone, there was nothing to hold back the greed of the colonists. in this program we see clearly how colonial occupations proceed on various levels at once -- economic, cultural, social.

phillip's nine year-old son was imprisoned in boston during that savage, triumphalist thanksgiving when Our God was shown to be stronger than their gods. afterwards he was sold into slavery in the west indies. can that kind of shock and grief be imagined? did he live to age ten?

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