Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Who owns slavery?

Slavery: Who owns up to it?

© by Michael Auld,Jamaican-born writer/artist
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Some humans refuse to own up to slavery. Yet, older than the Bible, the ownership of human beings continues today in one form or another. For example, according to English law, a man's wife was his property. This point is even more poignant as was demonstrated during an incident in the history of early America with an encounter between an Englishwoman and a Native American woman. The Englishwoman was appalled when she saw a Native American woman giving a horse away. Accustomed to her husband's rights of ownership, even of all   animals, the Englishwoman asked, "How can you give the horse away?" The Native woman replied, "This is my horse!"
slave (Slav), n. -- from Slav, one of a group of eastern, southeastern and central Europe, including Russia -- 1. a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another, also a bond servant.-- Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language
(Above): Painting of a 19th Century Arab slave market. Notice the ethnicity of each person. This ancient Arab slave trade scene was typical of the period, and has continued today. E.g. an Ethiopian artist/friend, as a young victim, was hoodwinked and sold in Aden where he later impregnated his master's daughter and had to escape and flee back home.

serf  (surf), n. 1. a person in the condition of servitude, required to render services to a lord, commonly attached to the lord's land and transferable with it from one owner to another. -- ibid
(Above): Illustration of a European master with his serfs. A scene similar to this European one could easily be found in Asia, Africa or the Americas. This English practice was the forerunner of slavery in America. In Jamestown, Virginia they began with indenture, i.e. a bond servant. Englishmen were the first indentures there after 1607. Africans, introduced to Jamestown in 1619 were saved from slavery to work as indentures at this place that some refer to as "Where America began." The next group up for servitude in Virginia was prostitutes brought to the colony, intended as "wives" for the indentured. The theory behind this introduction of matrimony for Englishmen was that they needed English wives since these wild, gold-hunting men would only settle down and establish a colony if they were married.
  • Slavery was one of the planet's first "equal opportunity" institutions, since almost all nationalities had the misfortune of being counted among the enslaved.
  • "Historically, slavery was institutionally recognized by many societies; in more recent times slavery has been outlawed in most [my emphasis] societies but continues through the practices of debt bondage, indentured servitude, serfdom, domestic servants kept in captivity, certain adoptions in which children are forced to work as slaves, child soldiers, and forced marriage. There are more slaves in the early 21st century than at any previous time but opponents hope slavery can be eradicated within 30 years."--Slavery,
As can be seen above, both slave and serf can be synonymous. Human beings are hardwired to survive at all costs, often by practicing denial. So, it is not surprising that we have, and continue to, survive the shame attached to the  "peculiar institutions" of slavery and serfdom. But, should we elevate these conditions to a badge of honor, that almost all human societies have practiced? Name the country or the people and you will find none that do not have descendants of slaves or serfs in their history.

On the first day he encountered the native people of the Americas, Colon (Columbus) wrote in his journal: "They should be good servants... I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highnesses." He also promised slaves "as many as they shall order to be shipped." Colon (originally Colombo), who came from slave/serf driven societies of Spain and Italy immediately saw the indigenous Caribbean Taino people as potential slaves.  Romans were notorious for having Greek slaves while the Greeks had Ethiopian slaves and the Ethiopians had their own local slaves. Africans were by no means the only enslaved people in the history of the practice. The very word "slave" comes from the Slav, a favorite group of Asiatic-European people that Arabs loved to enslave, especially blond female Slavs, among others. "Historian Robert C. Davis estimated that between 1530 and 1780 1–1.25 million Europeans were captured and taken as slaves to North Africa, principally Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, but also Istanbul and Salé."-- (see Wikipedia's- "Barbary Pirates" for more extensive information on piracy/slavery in the Muslim world).

In 1492, Columbus came into a hemisphere where slavery was a very ancient institution. Human beings, it seems, like free labor or love to use the labors of conquered people. Even the Bible guides us on how to treat our slaves. (Remember the Biblical story of Rachel who gave her slave girl, Bilhah, to Jacob, for the purpose of bearing children? Bilhah gave birth to Dan and Naphtali, who were considered legal sons of Rachel.). The enslaved groups that are found in this sacred Christian book are Moses' people, the Hebrews/Jews, and Ethiopians. Jews, however, like Indigenous Americans, don't quickly mention or "promote" their enslavement as Africans in the Americas do.

There is currently, an ongoing project to increase the knowledge of worldwide slavery and slave routes as well as the Underground Railroad in the Americas. There are even current and proposed monuments to this immorality. A UNESCO set of goals are:
"The Project aims to--(i) break the silence about the slave trade and slavery in various regions of the world;
(ii) shed light on its historical consequences, the many transformations and cultural interactions sparked by
those forced encounters, which have brought forth the diversity characterizing contemporary societies;
(iii) contribute to thinking on new issues and challenges that must be addressed by contemporary societies."

Many people in the Americas are descendants of slaves and/or serfs, yet African Americans, some Caribbean people as well as those in Central and South America with similar stories of slavery, are constantly reminded that the title "slave" solely belongs to them and their histories. For example, when Barack Obama became president, white writers eagerly scrambled to find his "slave ancestor".  At first, frustrated by the effort, they switched to his wife, Michelle, and then to his white mother. This phenomenon does not happen to white presidents of the USA. No one writes about their serf ancestry. Instead, researchers try to link white presidents to European royalty. President Barack Obama, it was recently written, is descended from a slave on his white mother's side of the family. Who knew? His African (Kenyan) father did  not come from slave stock. "Aw, shucks!" white writers must have said, then, "Aha! His white mother is part black. Gotcha!" Now these writers can sleep peacefully at night since they "outed" another prominent African-American. I am simply tired of seeing successful black Americans labeled as "a descendant of a slave" while their white counterpart gets a pass by not being linked to their serf ancestor. Rising above serfdom, an American or early European condition, should, in all fairness, be equally touted as a "badge of  honor" and automatically added to their biography.

Although almost all human societies, past and present, had slaves, the current label "slave" is often synonymous to Negro, black or African American. A case in point: A beautiful, dark, brown-skinned African-American teacher at D.C.'s Eastern High School (whom I knew) who visited Egypt a few years ago, overheard a word used to describe her in a Cairo marketplace. When she asked what the Arabic word meant, she was told, "slave". So much for visiting Mother Africa.

The more accurate term used to describe some New World people's ancestry should be "enslaved" +African (enslaved African), or +European (enslaved European), or +Native American (enslaved Native American), or +Asian (enslaved Asian), etc. Slavery is a condition associated with defeat. Although many "New World" people are descended from slaves, serfs, conquers and the conquered, I refuse to think that term  "slave"  is a badge of honor. For the sake of one's own self worth, personal history should not begin with defeat. By contrast, European-American history usually begins at an early stage of life with princes and princesses. Why, even serfs can marry a prince or kiss a frog-prince and marry him. In American lore, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is followed by Prince Charming, Prince William, Queen Elizabeth and other royals. I have often wondered why Americans are so enamored with the British Queen Elizabeth, a person with whom, from personal experience, I identify with colonial subjugation. Have they forgotten the American Revolution? In pre-independence Jamaica, every movie theater began the show with a picture of a waving British flag, the image of the queen, while we stood to the playing of "God Save The Queen", a brainwashing melody uncannily sounding like an American national song.

How was slavery practiced in some of the world's cultures?

(1) Early American Slavery

Slavery in North America did not start in 1619, as some writers seem to believe. A common practice among some Amerindians was to steal women from another tribe or, after a battle, take the vanquished warrior's wife and children and incorporate them into the victor's tribe. The earliest recorded Spanish evidence of this practice in the Americas was encountered by Columbus in the Virgin Island's St. Croix in 1493. After his ships returned to the Americas and his men went ashore, some Taíno women who were captives of the Carib of Ay-Ay (St, Croix) ran down to the beach and pleaded with Columbus to return them to Boriken (Puerto Rico). Columbus refused to get involved..

In Amerindian North America the treatment of the enslaved took many forms. The Slave Killer object below is evidence that speaks for itself.

(Above): The Slave Killer --
 Sculpture of a Columbia River prehistoric "Slave Killer" club represents a stylized wolf carved in quartzite. Stone clubs from this region date to the pre-contact period prior to the 18th Century, and may well have been carved many hundreds of years before the earliest contact with Europeans. It is not certain what the precise usage was, but the term "Slave Killer" was used since the 18th Century to describe a club of similar configuration which was used by chiefs of certain Pacific Northwest Coast tribes to kill a slave at a ceremony, as a demonstration of power and extravagance.--The club is inscribed with "Clatsop County, Oregon."

(2) Egyptian Slavery

(Above): Egyptian wall relief showing Nubian captives. Egypt traded for gold, leopard skins, honey and ivory with their southern neighbors in Nubia (modern Ethiopia) The Nubian conquest of Egypt, then under the invading Hittites, restored pharaonic rule and culture to Egypt. Some of Egypt's great rulers were Nubian, who returned power to the Egyptians.
 There is some controversy whether there was slavery at all in ancient Egypt. The differences of opinion stem mostly from how slavery is defined. Theory and practice of Egyptian slavery were, as far as we can ascertain, quite different from those of Greece, Rome or the southern states of the USA, where slaves were wholly at the mercy of their owners with little protection from society, and more in line with the kind of slavery practiced in the rest of Africa.

"Hem"  (Hm), generally translated as 'slave' and originally meaning body, was seemingly a person with lessened rights dedicated to a certain task such as the service of a god (since the 1st dynasty) or the royal administration. The hemu (pl. of hem) are mentioned in the context of private persons only since the end of the Old Kingdom.
    Since the Middle Kingdom foreign slaves mainly from Asia became increasingly numerous. They were either prisoners of war or traded by slave merchants. Their period of enslavement in Egypt was often limited. Debt slaves or prisoners of war were at times set free after serving for a certain period. Some of the slaves were personal servants of individuals. Others belonged to estates of temples and noblemen. They were often taken during a military campaign or bestowed by the king. But how is one to interpret the following Old Kingdom inscription:
"There were presented to him the things of his father, the judge and scribe Anubisemonekh; there was no grain or anything of the house, [but] there were people and small cattle."-- The biography of Metjen, 3rd dynasty-- J.H.Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part I § 171

Were these people  just tenants, free to move away if they wanted to, or - as the context seems to suggest - more likely part of the estate, perhaps with a social position similar to that of a medieval serf? Such inscriptions, tying together land and labourer, occur frequently throughout Egyptian history.
    For want of better words slave and slavery are used on this website to refer to people with significantly reduced rights and their social state.

(3).  Mexica (Me-she-kah) or "Aztec" Slavery:

(Above): Codex illustration of a Mexica or "Aztec" prisoner or slave. Notice the collar that was used to retard his easy escape.

"Slaves or tlacotin also constituted an important class in Mexico. Aztecs [or Mexica] could become slaves because of debts, as a criminal punishment or as war captives. A slave could have possessions and even own other slaves. However, upon becoming a slave, all of the slave's animals and excess money would go to his purchaser. Slaves could buy their liberty, and slaves could be set free if they had children with or were married to their masters. Typically, upon the death of the master, slaves who had performed outstanding services were freed. The rest of the slaves were passed on as part of an inheritance. [An uncanny similarity to the European-American form of the same institution - George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had similar provisions in their wills - Some planters who fell in love with their slave/ concubines, left land, goods and money to their common-law wives and their mixed race (they would be octoroons, quadroons, etc., or mulatto) offspring. There is a story of an American planter who had himself buried on a hill, sitting in a chair, watching over his widowed common-law wife's inherited property, so that, even in death, no one could reverse the bequeath to his beloved soul-mate].

Enslaved Aztecs were employed as traveling merchants called pochtecah. They were a small, but important class as they not only facilitated commerce, but also communicated vital information across the empire and beyond its borders. Some were often employed as spies. This slavery was very different from what Europeans of the same period were to establish in their colonies, although it had much in common with the slaves of classical antiquity. [ Sahagún doubts the appropriateness even of the term "slavery" for this Aztec institution. -- Bernardino de Sahagún (1499 – October 23, 1590) was a Franciscan friar, missionary priest and pioneering ethnographer who participated in the Catholic evangelization of colonial New Spain (now Mexico). Born in Sahagún, Spain, in 1499, he journeyed to New Spain in 1529, and spent more than 50 years in the study of Aztec beliefs, culture and history)]

First, as seen above, [Mexica/"Aztec"] slavery was personal, not hereditary: a slave's children were free. A slave could have possessions and even own other slaves. Another rather remarkable method for a slave to recover liberty was described by Manuel Orozco y Berra in "La civilizacion azteca" (1860): if, at the tianquiztli (marketplace; the word has survived into modern-day Spanish as "tianguis"), a slave could escape the vigilance of their master, run outside the walls of the market and step on a piece of human excrement, and then present their case to the judges, who would grant freedom. They would then be washed, provided with new clothes not owned by the master, and declared free. Because a person who was not a relative of the master could be declared a slave for trying to prevent a slave's escape, people typically would not help the master prevent the slave's escape.

Orozco y Berra also reports that a master could not sell a slave without the slave's consent, unless the slave had been classified as incorrigible by an authority. (Incorrigibility could be determined on the basis of repeated laziness, attempts to run away, or general bad conduct.) Incorrigible slaves were made to wear a wooden collar, affixed by rings at the back. The collar was not merely a symbol of bad conduct: it was designed to make it harder to run away through a crowd or through narrow spaces.

When buying a collared slave [see above illustration], one was informed of how many times that slave had been sold. A slave who was sold four times as incorrigible could be sold to be sacrificed; those slaves commanded a premium in price. However, if a collared slave managed to present him- or herself in the royal palace or in a temple, he or she would regain liberty. An Aztec could become a slave as a punishment. A murderer sentenced to death could instead, upon the request of the wife of his victim, be given to her as a slave. A father could sell his son into slavery if the son was declared incorrigible by an authority. Those who did not pay their debts could also be sold as slaves.

People could sell themselves as slaves. They could stay free long enough to enjoy the price of their liberty, about twenty blankets, usually enough for a year; after that time they went to their new master. Usually this was the destiny of gamblers and of old ahuini (courtesans or prostitutes). Motolinía reports that some captives, future victims of sacrifice, were treated as slaves with all the rights of an Aztec slave until the time of their sacrifice, but it is not clear how they were kept from running away. [Toribio of Benavente, O.F.M. (1482, Benavente, Spain-1568, Mexico City, New Spain), also known as Motolinía, was a Franciscan missionary and among the first 12 clerics to arrive in New Spain in May 1524.]

The children of poor [Mexica aka Aztec] parents could be sold, usually for only a certain time period. Slaves could buy back their freedom. Slaves that escaped and reached the royal palace without being caught were given their freedom instantly." -  -Aztec Culture and Society,  (also from Wikipedia-"Slaves")

(4) The Spanish (in Jamaica)
A print of the exploitation of indigenous American labor by Spaniards in Peru by Theodore de Bry, America. part 6. Frankfurt, 1596

The first people to be enslaved by the Spanish in the Americas, were the indigenous Taíno. Later, other participants in the endeavor were the Portuguese, English, Dutch and the French. At first, Jamaica was temporarily spared because of the Spanish lack of interest in that island and "relegated [it] to oblivion for a number of years" since, as Columbus reported, there was no gold there. The island only took on importance after the voyages of Alonso de Ojeda and his rival Diego de Nicuesa since Jamaica was the closest to the Continent which provided easier access for the conquest of Mainland America. In 1519, Hernán Cortés had used Cuba as the launching point to invade the Mexica in Central America. The mass introduction of Africans as slaves, came after 1517 when Frey Bartolomé de las Casas pleaded with the Spanish crown to replace enslaved Tainos with enslaved Africans. The dwindling supply of Lucayo Taino conch divers from the Bahamas forced into pearl diving off Venezuela's Margarita Island, was also cited by him as added cruelty towards the Indios. The Taino pearl divers, once known for their beautiful hair and smooth skin, appeared like "disheveled dogs covered with sores and dying from the bends. Some Spanish individuals, like the islands' Governors and the churche's Abbots had personal enslaved Africans, and we can assume, Mulattoes. For example, the free blacks in Spanish Jamaica, called horros, belonged to a distinct strata of the island's society. They made up one of the city's four groups of the island's militia. The island's combined mulatto and Yamaye Taíno made up another one of the four militias in the city. Interestingly,  another group, the creoles, i.e. those Africans born in the island, were to be "given bows and arrows to help to protect the island from" marauding Englishmen, et al. (Spanish Jamaica by Francisco Morales Padrón, p.156). Some enslaved Africans in Spanish Jamaica, gained their freedom while others whom the island's masters were ordered by the Crown to be replaced upon their deaths, only gained their freedom by dying.

Slavery in Jamaica was complex both for the African, Taíno and mulatto. Spanish enslaved Africans in Jamaica were treated more cruelly than those in Santo Domingo, a fact cited by the author Padrón who stated that none in that larger island felt forced to escape to form Maroon settlements as was the practice in Jamaica. Treatment of enslaved Africans differed on both islands. However, when the other competing Europeans, like the English, attacked Jamaica, the Africans helped the Spanish to fight the external opportunists off from within their own fortified enclosures. These Afro-Spanish Jamaicans were feared by the marauding opportunists as formidable foes. The majority of enslaved Africans brought to the island then were a homogenous group that came from "the western sub-region of the Gulf of Guinea (Gold Coast, Slave Coast), with the Coromantis  (Coromantyns, Koromantis) [i.e. Asante, Fanti and Akyem, a combined name "Coramantees"]. The Gold Coast of Africa, mainly supplied prisoners of war from the Akan people who were then vassals of the Denkyera --a powerful Gold Coast kingdom of Akan people, relatives to the Asante or Ashanti-- before the Asantehene, king, Osei Tutu (c. 1695 – 1717), and his cousin, the priest Okomfo Anokye broke away from Denkyira/Dutch subjugation during the Asanti (Akan) War -- The Battle of Feyiase]. Some Angolans were also clandestinely sold to the Spanish against the Crown's edict, while 150 slaves (probably a mix of Taíno and African) were abandoned on the island's North Coast by marauding Frenchmen who had raided Santo Domingo (Haiti/Dominican Republic). The Crown had refused to grant licenses or asientos for the importation of Africans to Jamaica.

"Up until 1665, the importance of [enslaved Africans] continued unchanged. Since the economy [sugar, cattle, agriculture] depended on them as its fundamental column." (ibid, p.157). It was during the ensuing five year Spanish vs. English struggle for the island history that the African Maroon societies expanded. During this period the Spanish Crown encouraged them in the struggle for Jamaica by awarding them with freedom with "full peace, comfort and rest."

So, there! Maybe you are descended from a prince or princess, however, who among us is not the descendant of a slave, serf, or criminal? Don't believe me? Ask an Australian from that former British penal colony. Maybe this information about an ancestor should be kept in the closet, until outed by a writer/nosy-researcher, of course. Poor Barack Obama, he remained salve-free during his first brief 15 minutes of fame .

Monday, March 18, 2013

Opechancanough : The first American hero

  © by Michael Auld, ( and

An Overlooked American Hero: For March 22nd
(Above): This is a computer enhanced watercolor of how Opechancanough may have appeared wearing the traditional turkey feather headdress, freshwater pearls and symbolic body paint. He was the Algonquian leader (who succeeded his late brother Powhatan II) of a vast empire whose territory included large areas in the states of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia-- Like his older brother, he may have also visited Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The painting is based on a watercolor illustration of an Algonquian man done by documentary artist John White who accompanied the 1585 English exploratory voyage to the "New Found Land Of Virginia". White later became governor of the failed "settlement" of Roanoke.
  "He began in 1610 what the American Revolutionaries achieved in 1776"
It would seem that this man should be the first Native American to be called a hero and given those deserved rights and privileges, like the Civil Rights heroine, Rosa Parks.
Opechancanough was the architect of the First Anglo-Powhatan War that took place from 1610-13 in Virginia.
Never one to claim defeat as long as he lived, he rebounded with the Second Anglo-Powhatan War that took place from 1622-32. "In 1622 the English knew they were at war. On March 22 there was a massive [coordinated] assault on the English plantations on the James River. English trading vessels in the York River basin, and perhaps the Rappahannock area, were also attacked. About one-fourth of the English living in Virginia on that day; at least another fourth died within the year from Indian sniping, from the famine caused by English inability to plant crops under Indian fire."-- Powhatan Foreign Relations: 1500 - 1722, Edited by Helen C. Rountree, Pp. 190.

 During the Third Anglo-Powhatan War (1644-46), Opechancanough was taken to the battlefront on a litter He was later captured and martyred when shot in the back by an English colonist while imprisoned.
His descendants are Still Here!

Opechancanough's Descendants

(Top): Photograph of one of the youngest descendants of Opechancanough, Naat'aani Opechan with his Dine (Navajo) mother, Ani. Next to her is a non-Native Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro. Naat'aani's Pamunkey/Tauxenent father, Kiros, is on the right. In Dine, Naat'aani means "Leader". (Bottom): Family wisdom keeper and great-grandmother, Georgia Mills Jessup (Pamunkey), is just one of the many descendants of Opechancanough.

In reality, the territorial and cultural histories of the United States of America began at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, with the establishment of the first successful permanent English settlement in North America. The American Revolution and Opechancanough's Wars share a similar quest, to rid the fledgling country of the English. The people who became "Americans" (through acculturation) were distinct from the English and had done so by first "going Native" and surviving off Powhatan II's generosity. During those early years, the English survived by trading or stealing Powhatan corn since they did not grow enough crops to feed themselves. The English were more interested in growing "brown gold" (tobacco) which was traded overseas as a major cash crop. Pocahontas' second husband, John Rolfe, previously had introduced a milder Taino tobacco to the American colony. The indigenous Caribbean Amerindian cash crop helped to finance the American Revolution. Americans became distinct from their colonial master, the English, by adopting Native American lifestyles and customs. For example, "historians, including Donald Grinde of the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, have claimed that the democratic ideals of the Gayanashagowa [the Great Law of Peace of the Iroquois] provided a significant inspiration to Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and other framers of the United States Constitution"-- It seems fitting that the first hero of this pivotal founding of a country was the Native American, and a man named Opechcancanough (pronounced in English as Opi-can-canoe).

(Top): !980's photograph of Powhatan's Mantle viewed by Rose Powhatan (Pamunkey/Tauxenent). (Bottom): Photo of the mantle showing a man between his two totems, a mountain lion and a deer. Surrounding them are circles representing 32-34 Algonquian nations in the kingdom, approximately between 18,700 to 19,250 square miles.

We should make a commemorative statue to the American hero Opechancanough who was a  younger brother of  paramount chief Wahunsenacawh  (Powhatan II, the statesman who expanded the confederation of 8 Algonquian nations into one of 34 before he was 60 years old). As seen above, Opechancanough was  primarily known as the  nationalist war chief who masterminded the inter-tribal Indian rebellion  of 1622, and later 1644, until he was assassinated (shot in the back) while held in captivity by  the English colonists in  Virginia in 1646. There are many theories about the true identity of Opechancanough as well as his rationale for instigating the ingeniously coordinated Virginia Indian rebellions. 

Some believe that Opechancanough may have been the captured Indian youth, initially taken to Mexico, where he was baptized and given the name "Don Luís" and educated by the Dominicans. He was later taken to Spain. During his two years in Spain, he met King Phillip II. While he was in Spain, he was generally assumed to be "the son of a petty Chief". He eventually left Spain for Havana, Cuba, in the company of Dominican missionaries. Don Luis carried on the Powhatan tradition of being a great speaker, and seems to have mastered the art of persuasion. He convinced the Dominicans to return with him to his homeland, under the pretense of helping them in their quest to "Christianize" his fellow tribesmen. Phillip II wanted to establish a missionary settlement in the Tidewater region of Virginia (then known as "Ajacan"). Some historians believe that Opechancanough was that unnamed captive, and his experiences among the Spanish may have influenced his deep distrust of European settlers in the "New World". He must have known that their plans for colonization would result in the cultural annihilation and displacement of his people by the Europeans.

The above caption under the illustration exhibits the writer's (Rountree) misgivings. First, the English concept of royalty allowed them to recognize "kings" and "queens" among the Native American leadership, especially because of the expanse of Powhatan II's territory. Second, Algonquians, who the 17th century English met, were considered to be extremely tall (e.g. Powhatan II was described as over six feet tall). In comparison, the average height of late 16th century Englishmen was 5 feet 6 inches. 
 Another theory about Opechancanough's distrust of Europeans can be found in the writing of John Smith. Smith boasted of having shamed the well-respected leader by holding a pistol to his breast while marching him in front of his assembled tribesmen. Smith, as seen in his memoirs of the Pocahontas Story (Pocahontas: Patron Saint of Colonial Miscegenation? by Kiros Auld --, tended to exaggerate his power and stature. The Pamunkey warriors laid aside their weapons in an attempt to save the life of Opechancanough, not out of cowardice, but in solidarity of their love for him. Opechancanough was shown an egregious lack of respect by John Smith -- ibid

On March 22nd, some Eastern Woodlands Native Americans, in the know, will quietly celebrate Opechancanough's strategic attempts to rid his territory of the increasing number of English interlopers.Why not join Virginia Natives by including in your meal for that day, turkey or venison (or any Virginia game animal, i.e. raccoon, muskrat, etc.), plus vegetarian succotash and corn bread or pone (two Powhatan Algonquian words). Or, as a learning assignment, you may want to practice a few of their following American words: 

"In addition to other current Algonquian dialects and dictionaries, the Powhatan's language is not dead. Algonquian is the language of the first indigenous Americans to intimately interact with the English. Their words below survive in the English language as Caucus -- from corcas. from caucauasu or "counselor". First recorded by Captain John Smith. Today, it is a political meeting, especially on Powhatan II's old territory where, according to an English chronicler, he liked to caucus with surrounding tribes (on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC) to make decisions. The chronicler also stated that 'Powhatan never left his territory'; Chipmunk -- from chitmunk. Hominy -- corn; Honk-- from honck or cohonk, a Canadian goose. It is associated with the sound made by the bird, or associated with winter or a year. The Powhatans called the "Potomac" River "the River of the Cohonks" for the noise made by the yearly arrival of the geese there. To honk, honky, and honky tonk all come from cohonk; Match coat -- from matchcores, skins or garment; Maypop -- from mahcawq, a vine with purple and white flowers that has an edible yellow fruit; Moccasin -- from mohkussin, a shoe; Muskrat -- from mussascns; Opossum -- also possum, from aposoum, or "white beast"; Papoose -- an infant or young child; Pecan -- a nut, from paccan; Persimmon -- a fruit; Poke weed -- from pak, or pakon, blood + weed; Pone (Corn Pone) -- from apan, "baked". Powwow -- from pawwaw, an Algonquian medicine man. A dance ceremony used to  invoke divine aid in hunting, battle, or against disease. Now used as a Pan-Indian word for a social dance festival; Racoon -- from aroughcun; Susquehanna -- from suckahanna, water; Squaw -- a vagina, associated with a derogatory term for an Indian woman, now obsolete; Terrapin -- a turtle, from toolepeiwa; Tomahawk -- from tamahaac, tamohake, a weapon. From temah- (to cut off by tool) + aakan (a noun suffix); Tump (tump line) -- a strap or string hung across the forehead or chest to support a load carried on the back. -- "

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Yamaye Taino ("Arawak") of Jamaica revisited

The "Arawak". Were they Jamaican?
  © by Michael Auld,Jamaican-born writer/artist
   ( and

Above: Etching of the image of the Taíno ("Arawak"), one of the peoples indigenous to the Caribbean, along with the scientific term for the group. It is obvious that the artist never saw a Taíno woman since her body type, facial features and hair style are not Amerindian. She wears a nagua, a clothing article worn by married women. She holds a bow and arrow, weapons that an Island Carib woman used with deadly force against one of Columbus' longboat-men chasing a canoe off the coast of St. Croix in 1493. She holds a macaw-like parrot, probably the kind endemic to the Caribbean, now extinct. The last red macaw in the wild was shot, for its feathers and meat, in Cuba in 1864. Jamaica's Yamaye Taíno were known as excellent bowmen.

Above: Watercolor painting by Jacques Barraband (1800 approx) of an actual Cuban macaw. It was the smallest of the macaw family. This bird represents the last remaining example of a Caribbean macaw. They were captured for display in Europe and only a few of their skins remain today.

Above: Illustration of a Taíno ballplayer wearing a carved stone belt, according to one researcher, used to change the body's center of gravity, making the player more agile. Puerto Rico has a number of excellent examples of these belts that were ornately carved from one piece of rock. Here, the player hits the heavy, solid rubber ball with his hip. Underneath the player are images of balls that bounce (originally with the aid of rubber) used in a number of contemporary games whose roots are in the Mesoamerican team sport invented by the Olmec civilization of Mexico's Yucatan. This illustration by Michael Auld was taken from one done in Madrid, Spain in the 1500s and reported by an ambassador to the Spanish Court. The game and rubber ball spread around the world in the guise of (L-R) volleyball, soccer, basketball, American football and tennis.

Yamaye was a recorded name, at the time of Cristóbal Colón (Columbus), for the island of Jamaica. Frey Bartolomé de las Casas estimated that there were approximately six million Taino in the northern area of the Caribbean at the arrival of Columbus in the Americas in 1492. Generally, the islanders within the large Taino ethnic collective of Caribbean Amerindians called themselves by the names for their islands. They were, Yucayas or Lucayas (Bahamas), Caobana (Cuba), Kiskeya or Aytí (the island of Hispaniola shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Boriken (Puerto Rico) and Yamaye (Jamaica).

There were earlier, pre-Taino inhabitants of
the Caribbean who may have come from Belize, the Yucatan, and Florida starting over 6,000 years ago. They were the true human discoverers since they may have come into a pristine area of their Western Hemisphere that the 15th century Spanish thought was the biblical Paradise. (Some Europeans also thought that the Caribbean was the fabled Greek "Atlantis", thus, the "Antilles"). This "D" shaped area contained a vast sea and hundreds of islands and small "cayos",  a Taino word from which "cay" and " key" were derived. The agriculturalist ancestors of the Taíno began to arrive at around the time of the birth of Jesus the Christ, mainly from South America.

The British term "Arawak" for the Yamaye Taino people of Jamaica, has been incorrect and is still mistakenly used by some Jamaicans and writers 50 years after the island's independence, however, less frequently now. The Taino spoke a distinctly different Arawakan language of which the other major Caribbean branch, Cariban, is also a member. Technically, Arawaks are the neighbors of the Mainland Carib in northern South America. They are as distinctive on that continent as the Island Carib or Calinago of the Eastern Caribbean island of Dominica. The Island Carib are also different from their Carib relatives in the Guianas and Venezuela, especially since they intermarried with the earlier occupants of their islands, the Ortoiroid people. Although they have descendants in other islands, the Island Carib is the only indigenous group in the Caribbean to have a reservation, the Carib Territory, that elects chiefs and council members every four years.

Puerto Ricans, Dominicans (D.R.) and Cubans, for example, have continued to use the name Taino for their ancestors because Spanish speakers in the Caribbean acknowledged continued contact with that extensive, sophisticated and complex Precolumbian Caribbean society. Many of them exhibit strong Taino features and claim descent from their indigenous people. The Taino told the European intruders who they were. In 1493, they told Columbus that they were "Taino", meaning the "Good" or "Noble" people, differentiating themselves from their captors on St. Croix, the Canib or Carib (Strong Man), a warrior society dominated by men. The Taino, like some West African societies, were matrilineal, so, when Spanish or Africans intermarried with them, their children learned Taino cultural retentions from their mother's knees. This may be one of the reasons why we have incorporated many Taino gifts into Caribbean contemporary cultures. On land, they were the major work force and woodsmen with intimate knowledge of their territories. Intermarriage with the Taíno was encouraged by Spain, while Englishmen preferred to marry their own women and continued to have children with the women of the subjugated.

There are many Jamaican genetic descendants of the Yamaye Taino. Other additions to the Taino gene pool in Jamaica, survive in families who came to the island as Cuban and Haitian immigrants. So, Taino genetic retentions are more abundant than one may suspect. One example is of a prominent Jamaica-Welch athlete/sports caster whose DNA results, in a BBC survey, indicated 6% Taino ancestry. During Spanish occupation, the island was a destination point or refuge for many of the world's people, some fleeing the Inquisition. Typically, this influx included Mores and other Africans, Sephardi Jews, Celts, Portuguese and others. After the English capture of Jamaica in 1655 other Amerindians came to the island, although not in large numbers. For example, Miskito Indians of Nicaragua/Honduras were used by the British to track down Maroons. According to one source, Native Americans "from the Carolinas were sold into slavery by the English to plantations in the Caribbean". This was in addition to the deportation of the Pequot prisoners of war to Bermuda after their war in Connecticut/New England .

There are many Taino retentions on which Jamaica was built, from which the island continue to profit. Many of what one calls "Jamaican" foods, fruits, spices, medicines, etc., etc., are Amerindian in origin. Maroons still weave Taino hammocks from the bark of the medicinal Yamaye trumpet tree, jerk pork on a Taino barbecoa with Yamaye spices (pimento and Scotch bonnet peppers) while fishermen carve Taino canoas (canoes) out of that culture's sacred ceiba tree we call "cottonwood".  Even this giant tree, also sacred to the Maya,  has the same spiritual connotations with beings seen by Jamaicans as "duppies", probably from the Taino word, "opia", a spirit of the dead. Jamaican bush medicines are mostly made from endemic plants that the Yamaye introduced to the Spanish and their African or mulatto (i.e. European-Yamaye or European-African mixed) runaways. This escapee trend began with the indigenous Yamaye Taino who fled to the mountains to avoid Spanish work camps/ranches to become cimarrones, later called Maroons by the English. These independent groups, the Eastern and Western Maroons, survive in Jamaica on a smaller scale than they did in early Spanish and English-Jamaican histories. Maroon groups were increasingly made up of a variety of ethnic Africans with similar concepts of resistance.

Akan-speakers from Ghana, West Africa made a more dominant impact on African retentions in that group. So, it was also among the larger multi-African Jamaican society where the Akan folk hero, Anansi the spider-man dominated the island's folkloric tradition. One explanation for the Jamaican accent, linguists say, is "English spoken with Twi (Akan) intonation and not British English."

It took many years for the indigenous populations of the Americas to become the minority and in some areas they remained the majority. At least, their gene pool expanded to incorporate other ethnicities. There were just not that many arriving foreigners to match the teeming millions of indigenous Amerindians in a vast Western Hemisphere. Not every Amerindian or their cultural traits "died out" or became extinct. As it is with all epidemics, survivors become stronger. The re-population of North America with its growing numbers of "Hispanics" is proof that the indigenous Amerindian gene is rapidly multiplying in that part of the continent. Most of the people who illegally cross America's southern border have decidedly Amerindian genes. Chicanos are often proud of this genetic/cultural heritage. Salvadorians, Nicaraguans and South Americans make up the bulk of legal immigrants in some major eastern cities and suburbs.

Europeans, Africans and other Asians (the Taíno are an Asiatic people like the island's Chinese and "East" Indians) all arrived only within a short 500 years ago into a very ancient highly complex and technologically advanced Western Hemisphere. (Read the book "1491:  New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus" to get a better understanding of our hemisphere). Amerindian Empires rose and fell as they interacted via conquest, amalgamation or far flung trade routes. For example, archeologists found an ancient obsidian item in the Eastern Caribbean that was mined in the Mexican mountains. The obsidian, a volcanic glass, used in efficient tool-making or as ceremonial objects, also were used as scalpels for doing successful cranial surgery in Mesoamerica. Some of these surgeries were done to relieve life-threatening pressure sometimes caused by blunt trauma. These operations were yet to be successfully done in Europe hundreds of years later. This surgical tool, the obsidian scalpel, under an electron microscope, is sharper than its steel counterpart. The obsidian piece found in the Caribbean had followed the route of the hemispheric spread of maize (from another Taíno origin word, "maisi" the cereal crop seen by Columbus in the Caribbean in 1492).

Early indigenous Mexicans invented corn/maize from cross-pollinating wild grasses...
Photo of Teosinte, the grass origin of maize/corn.
Photograph of varieties of maize/corn and a corn husk doll with corn-silk hair (by Michael Auld). Native Americans in North America, like some Mesoamericans, have stories about a Maize god or Corn Mother and how the grain was first introduced to them. Early Mexicans created and developed a wide variety, sizes and colors of corn for almost any climate, soil and elevation. This is why the seed must be planted by humans. Today, there is ongoing controversy about "genetically enhanced" corn, an interesting scenario considering that this is how the grain was first created. China is today's larges producer of corn.

According to Britannica on Line, Corn Mother, also called Corn Maiden, mythological figure believed, among indigenous agricultural tribes in North America, to be responsible for the origin of corn (maize). The story of the Corn Mother is related in two main versions with many variations.: "In the first version (the “immolation version”), the Corn Mother is depicted as an old woman who succors a hungry tribe, frequently adopting an orphan as a foster child. She secretly produces grains of corn by rubbing her body. When her secret is discovered, the people, disgusted by her means of producing the food, accuse her of witchcraft. Before being killed—by some accounts with her consent—she gives careful instructions on how to treat her corpse. Corn sprouts from the places over which her body is dragged or, by other accounts, from her corpse or burial site.

In the second version (the “flight version”), she is depicted as a young, beautiful woman who marries a man whose tribe is suffering from hunger. She secretly produces corn, also, in this version, by means that are considered to be disgusting; she is discovered and insulted by her in-laws. Fleeing the tribe, she returns to her divine home; her husband follows her, and she gives him seed corn and detailed instructions for its cultivation."

... while Tropical Amerindians converted the poisonous cyanotic yuca/cassava into cazabe, the mold-resistant bread and the source of the word "cassava". Jamaica's popular bammy bread is reshaped cazabe since the Taino made large tortilla-shaped bread. The Spanish used Yamaye cazabe and their island for the  staging of the invasion of the mainland Americas. This was after they "borrowed" the hammock and used woven Yamaye Taino cotton for sails on their ships. The Yamaye were reputed cotton weavers and bowmen. (See Jamaica's Coat of Arms). Columbus came from a wool-weaving family and Taino craftsmanship did not elude his eyes.

Photograph of three of the Jamaican bammy, a bread made from the bitter cassava/yuca in a bammy presser or mold, next to a pencil for size contrast. The bitter cassava has a higher level of poison in its flesh. The toxic juice that is squeezed out to make meat tenderizing casareep, was once used by the Taíno for suicide when the early Spanish began to destroy their civilization. The sweet cassava/yuca is sold in many stores in the USA and was used, along with sweet potato and a woman's saliva, by the Taíno as a starter to make a fermented alcoholic beverage. The favorite bammy bread is best cooked in a skillet with coconut oil, however, it is sometimes baked to reduce the cholesterol level.  Hot, sliced and with added butter, its flavor is like a sourdough bread. The cassava/yuca/manioc, the source of tapioca, began to be exported by the Portuguese and Spanish around the Eastern Hemisphere's tropical cultures, beginning in the16th century
So, the next time you eat jerk, bammy, festival, anything cornmeal for that matter (porridge/pudding/dumplings/pone/blue drawers, i.e. dukanoo), naseberry, susumber, chaineyroot, makafat, strong back, Irish moss, sour/sweet sop, custard apple, genep, starapple, stinking toe, pumpkin, chocho, corn, cassava, yampie, callaloo, Indian kale, peanut, sweet potato, pepper pot, pineapple, beans/peas, pingwing; or smoke tobacco,  play football (from the Taino rubber ball game called "batey"), bounce a rubber ball, use a latex glove, chew gum (from the sap of the naseberry or "chicle" tree-- the source of a major chewing gum brand) or use a rubber band, just think "Yamaye", "Taino" or "Amerindian". These are but a few of the hundreds of items indigenous to the Americas.

The Taino introduced Europeans to the Olmec civilization of the Yucatan's invention of rubber (made from the vulcanized sap/"blood" of a Tropical American tree), and the world's first team sport, the rubber ball game. In the Americas, the love for soccer, football, tennis, volleyball and especially basket ball has it roots in the ancient Amerindian sport, first seen by Europeans as "batu", played on Taino village "bateys" or clay-paved ball-courts. In the Caribbean, almost every village had one while in Central America huge, ornately carved stone stadia were the norm.

The Maya version of the Mesoamerican ballgame. The stone hoop to the right protrudes high from the left and right walls of a large stadium. The hole in the hoop is slightly larger than the ball that represented, in some cases, the sun's auspicious movement through the sky. In some of these games the winners or losers, possibly the captain of the team, was sacrificed, becoming an honored messenger to the gods. This game, still played in some Mexican villages, may have influenced the American inventor of basketball, a difference being that male players could not touch the ball with the hands. If the ball hit the ground it would be considered "dead" with the point going to the winning team. Hitting the ball through the hoop was more rare and would define the winning team.  Betting was the norm in both the Caribbean and Central America, and the Mexica (Aztec) lords wagered cities during some games. Rubber balls were imported into Mexico City from the Yucatan forests where the rubber trees grew. It is said that the ball courts were built at greater frequency when there was strife in the empire. The game was used to reduce wars and bloodshed between cities of the Mexica Empire.
Central American ballgames were not for sissies, but for warriors prepared to die, since the object was a struggle between positive and negative with the ball representing the ominous movement of the sun across the sky. The player's padded hip or forearm kept the ball, heavy enough to break limbs,  "alive" in the air. It was as agile a game as volleyball, except there was not a net between the two teams. The Taíno version was more social, however, with the same chance at gambling.

The Taino language and genetic markers are as "extinct" as English is in creole-speaking Jamaica, whose folks converse in  a language made up of Amerindian, European, African, Asian and Middle Eastern words. "Maka", for thorn (related to the now extinct Caribbean "macaw" parrots and the thorny trunk "makafat" tree), like "barracuda" for a fish, are Taino and Cariban words. For example, "jerk" is from a Maya term used to describe drying out and preserving meat, the same practice applied on the Taíno berbecoa (for "barbecue"), a concrete platform that Jamaicans use to sun dry coffee or cacao (coco/chocolate) beans.

Enlargement from a 19th century photograph of two Jamaican Maroons after the Morant Bay Rebellion. They were required by a treaty with the British in the island to help to put down rebellions and to no longer accept runaways. The treaty, signed before the American Revolution, created enmity between the Maroons and enslaved Africans in the island, that led to the Second Maroon War. As seen here, facial bone structures, especially that of the man on the left, exhibit Amerindian features.
The Maroons, who learned jerk from the Yamaye Taino, call their wooden cooking platform a "caban", the word that came from the Spanish "cabin". In Boston Bay, Jamaica, jerk pork can be cooked on a pimento/allspice rack over a pimento log fire, an unbroken Taíno-Maroon (and Precolumbian) tradition from the 16th century.

The Yamaye, like their relatives in the other large Caribbean Islands, had intricate governmental institutions. Why not? They were seafaring expert agriculturalists whose islands were divided into villages, districts and larger collections of "cacigazos" governed by local and regional caciques and stratified governing groups of sub-caciques, nobles (Nitaino) and spiritual advisers (bohuti) with larger groups of "commoners" with a segment of people the Spanish called "slaves". For example, the female cacique, Anacaona of Haiti, had over 100 caciques under her in the early 16th century. She was famous for her traditional "areito" a historical Taino ballad or a saga presented in the form of a song. Unfortunately, the Spanish governor, Nicolas de Ovando who succeeded Columbus, hanged her after massacring most of her 100 caciques who were assembled in the governor's honor. One of her caciques, Hatuey, escaped to Cuba where he later became a martyred folk hero at the hands of the perusing Spanish. To discredit the notion of the "docile Arawak", two incidents stand out;
(1) Hatuey spoke against the Spanish and their worship of their god whom he perceived to be "guanin", a 14 k gold alloy. When he was about to be burned at the stake, a Spanish priest told Hatuey that if he became a Christian his soul would go to heaven. "Are there Cristianos in Heaven?" Hatuey asked. "Yes", said the priest. "Then, I do not want to go there", Hatuey replied. So, they burned him.

(2) According to the book 1493, between 1492-93 some of Columbus' men were left on Hispaniola after one of the three ships sank. The erected fort called La Navidad (Christmas, the day of the first landing on Hispaniola) was attacked and wiped out by a Taino group of warriors (as retribution for rape, murder, and food-stealing) using blinding teargas "grenades", gourd-filled burning ash with crushed peppers, lobbed among the Spanish to disorient and blind them while Taino warriors, faces covered with bandannas, charged the confused Spanish through blinding smoke. Here is the first record of teargas and blinding pepper spray. Both La Navidad, the first Spanish settlement in the Americas, and the nearby Taino village were destroyed in a scorched-earth strategy.

Cuban and Jamaican Taino before and after Spanish arrival, continued to interact with the Central American mainland empires of the Maya and the Mexica ("Aztec"). Cortez met a Yamaye Taino woman in the Yucatan in 1519 while Columbus described the Yamaye of Jamaica's Bahia de Vaca (Cow Bay) across the sea from the Gulf of Mexico in terms that portrayed cultural sophistication. Their belief system, similar to Spanish Catholicism, included a supreme being (Yucahu Bagua Marocoti, god of the sea, and the yuca/cassava, without grandfathers) and lesser, often twin gods similar to Christian saints. This belief in duality, i.e. the balance of positive/negative, or good/evil, or night/day, is as Asiatic as their practice of shamanism. As a Maya man spoke about Amerindian philosophy, "life cannot exist without this balance.They need each other." The Taino belief system was also based upon this ideal. Taino influences in the island are taken for granted and are so subtle that their contributions to Jamaicanisms are often not recognized.