Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Before the 'story of dead, white men'

I believe the readers of this blog are pretty well-read so let me ask you this question: In the late-1700s New York City became the largest city in North America, north of Mexico. What city previously held the title?
Come on now; you studied history in high school and maybe university too, you must have learned this. Well, so did I and if you are like me you will be floored by the answer: Cahokia.
Cahokia? Where is Cahokia?
It was in what is now Southern Illinois. It was abandoned in the year 1200 after being occupied for 500 years. In its day it was larger than London, England. You've heard of London, haven't you?
Everybody has heard of London. So why not Cahokia?
The answer, I'm ashamed to say, is because history -- as recorded in books and taught in our schools -- is the story of dead white men. They are all dead; they were all white, and they were all men. No wonder it is so boring.

Cahokia had a population back then of about 15,000 and if you included suburbs -- yes, it even had suburbs -- took in nearly 50,000 people! It was one of the largest cities in the world. You would think this would be common knowledge, wouldn't you?
If you have heard of Cahokia at all I bet it is for its 'mounds.'  In fact we called the people who lived east of the Mississippi River for 2000 years 'Mound builders.' That is a pretty denigrating term. They don't sound too smart, do they? Funny we didn't call them 'Pyramid makers' because many of those mounds, from Florida to Canada, were once pyramids!
If you want a paradigm-shifting experience, get the Ancient Civilizations of North America course from The Great Courses company. It is taught by Professor Edwin Barnhart, director of the Maya Exploration Center and a PhD of Anthropology from the University of Texas.
It is a revelation what archeology and anthropology tell about the past, our past.
The first city east of the Mississippi was built about 1,500 years BCE which is the politically correct way of saying before Christ. That was a long time ago. It had 5,000 inhabitants.
These people were surveyors, astronomers, architects and social planners.
They built many Woodhenges -- like Stonehenge, only out of wood -- all over the place. Out on the Plains and Prairies people made what we have come to call Medicine Wheels for the same purpose -- astronomical observation -- and for other reasons that to this day we can't figure out. They have been in continuous use for 6,000 years.
These ancient people built hundreds of miles of irrigation canals in the desert and apartment buildings up to four stories high and with as many as 1,500 units.
They had extensive road networks all over North America. Copper miners from Lake Superior could move their ore all the way down to kingdoms in Florida in just weeks.
Eventually they had vast agricultural complexes. It has been said there is more forest in the eastern half of the U.S. today than at first contact with Europeans; that is how much land was in cultivation 500 years ago.
They numbered in the tens of millions, at least, and their civilization was one of the most advanced in the world.
So what happened? Well, first of all let me point out they are still here; they are the First Nations peoples of North America. Archeology shows they have been here for at least 14,000 years and maybe for as long as 30,000 years. Their history as shown through archeology is nothing short of awesome.
But in short, those first Europeans brought diseases that in a matter of decades killed 90 per cent of the population. Ninety per cent! By comparison, the Black Death in the Middle Ages killed 40 per cent of Europeans. We all know about The Plague. It was written about extensively by, you guessed it, dead white men. Well the North American "Plague" that hit Indigenous Peoples was more than twice as lethal! It all but wiped out entire nations and the ones left were attacked on all sides by the invading Europeans.
Actually N. America's was far worse
You can learn all about what happened after contact in this Great Courses program: Native Peoples of North America. It isn't pretty. However, if we are ever to achieve reconciliation with First Nations in our countries we must first have all the facts. Before you get too bummed-out remember that despite the plague and the genocide, there are still First Nations alive and well today. They have made it against all odds.

The Great Courses are university-level courses that you can watch on your computer or smart phone or listen to in your car. There are usually 36 or so half-hour lectures per course. They are taught by top instructors in their fields.

1 comment:

joe overman said...

I've heard of, and read about Cahokia. Just don't remember too many details.

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