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Snakes and boogers, boogers and snakes

October 8, 2009

Doing a bit of research for something else I’m trying to write, I ran across something thought provoking on the Southern Band Tuscarora site:

After years of harsh treatment, land encroachments, loss of hunting and fishing lands, kidnapping of women and children to be sold into slavery, broken treaties, raping of the Tuscarora women and children, beating and/or murdering the men.

And on July 8, 1710 the Tuscarora Confederacy even sent 8 wampum belts to Penn. at Conestoga begging for a cessation of the hostilities and atrocities committed against them. By the first belt, the older women and mothers sought that they might fetch wood and water without risk of danger. By the second belt, the children born and those to be born begged for room to sport and play without fear of death or slavery. . .

The Seneca made a place for some of the Tuscarora to dwell and they were added to the cradle board of 5 Nations. To this day the stragglers that went there are still on the cradle board. 250 families migrated north out of 800 families in NC, Of those Tuscarora who remained in NC they signed yet another treaty with VA. It too was broken, the grievances continued until the Tuscarora finally rebelled against the settlers September 22, 1711. The rebellion lasted three days and resulted in the settlers raging a three year war against them to eradicate them from this land.*

How is this bit of history relevant now? Women and children still aren’t safe.

I realized just what a continuing thing this is in the lives I people I know, just a couple of years ago, reading Diana Gabaldon’s A Breath of Snow and Ashes, not-so-greatly** set in the North Carolina mountains in the mid 18th century. An English character gets abducted by a band of robbers and opportunistic slavers, on her own property. (Living away from the authorities had both benefits and drawbacks in that time and place; nobody was safe when there was so much profit to be made.) Not too surprisingly, some of them also rape her, and plan to sell her as a prostitute. My immediate reaction? “What a dumbass, not even carrying a knife!”. Not entirely to my credit.

It only then struck me that my Nana’s irrational fear of literal snakes, and insistence on taking a shotgun along to pick berries especially with a small child along, very likely came from family memory of exactly this kind of scenario. I knew that kind of thing had been a problem well into the 19th century, but hadn’t thought about it much, maybe to preserve my own sanity. By the time my grandmother came along, the metaphorical “snakes” and “boogers” referred to in order not to unduly scare kids had gotten interpreted as real snakes. Sadly, this has resulted in the deaths of a lot of snakes, venomous and otherwise.

This would probably also be the reason that a lot of people back home still think it’s a good idea to let (sufficiently mature, well-educated on safety) kids carry knives and .22 rifles: they used to be safer that way. In the worst case they’d look unmanageable, and get killed outright instead of abducted and abused, I’d imagine–the same logic still applies if someone is trying to abduct you. I can’t say that this is a totally bad idea even now, judging by the couple of cases I know of personally in which lone pervs were wounded and/or just scared off by kids. This should not be necessary, but the kids in question did not get abducted, tormented, and likely put in a shallow grave. You may not get bands of organized robbers and slavers lurking in the woods these days, but you still run into the occasional crazy who will attack women or children–I lump the groups together only because most dangerous creepazoids do–if they think they can get away with it. I still carry a (marginally legal in the UK) knife, mostly for utility purposes, but not entirely.***

They don’t just lurk in the woods–or alleyways–anymore. (Unless you’re close to the Appalachian Trail, where you’ll practically trip over sick predators, few of them local.) That doesn’t mean that they’re not all over the place, nor that you’re safe walking around alone.

In 1920, at the age of 13, my great-grandmother got raped, then kidnapped and held in a brothel after she became visibly pregnant. One of her sisters had to shoot up the place to rescue her. The cannibal(s) responsible in this case? Not a gang of raiders, but her much older brother-in-law. Even after that, her other sister apparently did not see any option other than to continue living with that fine character, while he abused her and their children. At that time, my great-grandmother was very lucky indeed not to end up like her acquaintance, Carrie Buck, who was in foster care/unpaid domestic servitude in the same town. Still, other people made my great-grandmother and her children feel ashamed for life. My late grandfather would be mortified if he knew I were talking about it now. Those snakes and boogers were still around, only some of them were hiding in the house by that point.

Interestingly, women and children not being safe was one of the major justifications used to overthrow some power structures 1000+ years ago in the Eastern Woodlands. I must add that some nasty attitudes may not have been nearly as entrenched as they are now; by at least one account, the Cherokee overthrew the Ani Kutani after a member thought he could rape with impunity. That was the last straw–showing beyond a doubt that this group was morally and spiritually insane, and unsuited to any kind of leadership. Elsewhere, too, women demanded that they and their children be safe, and successfully forced the issue. Men could not get away with beating or raping anybody, nor abusing and slaughtering noncombatants. It was seen as sick behavior, an indication of dangerous mental imbalance, and was one of the few things that would get a person killed because other people would never be safe around him. Hitting kids was never tolerable behavior, for anybody. Women had real freedom of movement and association. Since Contact, all of that sounds like some strange and wonderful utopian dream.

Sometimes I just marvel at the luxury of not having to be hypervigilant and at least half afraid while doing simple things like walking the dog–that, 300 years later, I might “fetch wood and water without risk of danger”. It really is hard to imagine by now. Andrea Dworkin expressed this very well in her “I Want a Twenty-Four-Hour Truce” speech.

This applies to all women. Native women get 2.5 times the cannibal madness, and still almost 90% of our attackers are non-Natives:

Sexual violence against Indigenous women is the result of a number of factors including a history of widespread and egregious human rights violations against Indigenous peoples in the USA. Indigenous women were raped by settlers and soldiers in many infamous episodes including during the Trail of Tears and the Long Walk. Such attacks were not random or individual; they were tools of conquest and colonization. The underlying attitudes towards Indigenous peoples that supported these human rights violations committed against them continue to be present in society and culture in the USA. They contribute to the present high rates of sexual violence perpetrated against Indigenous women and help to shield their attackers from justice.

Those snakes and boogers are still around. I know I’ve got multiple layers of PTSD from dealing with them, as do most of the other women I know.

If anyone had been doubting the relationship between the larger pattern of wétiko sickness and patriarchal crushing of women, that quote from Amnesty sums up the overt violence bit pretty well. You need a larger pattern of dehumanization going already to justify treating any particular group of people like that.

Just look at Iraq and Afghanistan, these days. Bear in mind that “About 16% of Afghan children are married under the age of 15, according to recent data from UNICEF. And there is evidence that the poverty of recent years is pushing down the marriage age further in some areas…In an unhappy forced marriage, the man can take a woman he loves as a second wife in Islamic and Afghan culture. But the girls are trapped. ” Cannibals abound.

Edit: I realized there was some room for confusion here, and wrote a new post clarifying some of what I was trying to say here, having to do with slavery.

* A lot of the survivors went north after that, some staying in Virginia with the Tutelo–though this was just a few years before some of the Tutelo also ventured north to live with the Cayuga themselves, for similar reasons. Some of them married into my mom’s family, from stories. It was interesting to find out who exactly was fleeing NC at that point in time, besides the Catawba.

** That series is a pleasant enough read overall, but I just couldn’t finish reading A Breath of Snow and Ashes. I’d noticed this in previous books, but this one made it abundantly obvious that the author did not know much about Cherokee or other Native cultures. Starting out ignorant is understandable, not doing enough research to get beyond stereotypes is not. Most of the Cherokee stuff seemed to come from James Adair, taken at face value. Adair, amusingly one of my ancestors, tried very hard indeed to interpret everything he saw within the popular Lost Tribes model****. The man could not even see/admit that he had married into a matrilineal society. Theda Purdue treats his material uncritically in Cherokee Women, which I do not recommend unless you’re looking for cognitive dissonance and bizarre conclusions. Gabaldon may well have used this as a source.

*** I am not big on Adrian Roman, but he does make some good points: “Indians carried knives as customarily as modern Americans carry a driver’s license. It was an all-purpose tool as well as a weapon. If a close-quarters altercation began, it’s reasonable to assume the combatants did not put down their weapons.”

**** This idea is what got the whole Beringia ball rolling. Really. The Lost Tribes reverted to a state so “primitive” that they forgot how to build boats. It’s still politically convenient, even if the Lost Tribes have mostly turned into Central Asians.

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