Another post in the series at Return to Mago.
2021 is already shaping up to be a strange year.
Yesterday a mob, incited by the outgoing President, assaulted the US Capitol to disrupt the transfer of power to a duly elected Democratic president. The events leading up to the assault were a faint background noise in my mind, but early news sources are saying that the seditious plan wasn’t exactly a secret, leading everyone to scratch their head over the apparent poor preparedness of law enforcement.
At no point in the insurrection did I think I was watching our democracy fall. We have an imperfect democracy, being one that does not work hard enough to overcome (or in some cases even creates) obstacles to voting for Native and African Americans as well as poor people of all races and the disabled. But I was reminded that we do, at least today, have a strong enough democracy to easily deflate a violent coup. For that I am grateful.
What I mostly felt yesterday was embarrassment. The American people should never have elected as their president the kind of man who refused to leave office after a clear defeat, to the point of directing his minions and supporters to subvert the democratic process. I found myself partially agreeing with the statements of the Iranian foreign minister on the subject, and wholeheartedly agreeing with the comments of Congresswoman Liz Cheney, daughter of the evil Dick. I even thought Mitt Romney gave an exemplary speech on the insurrection. Wasn’t expecting that.
Adding to my embarrassment yesterday was the fact that I live in Congresswoman Elise Stefanik’s district. Yes, that one. The Republican who actually objected to counting election results after the attempted coup. While most Republican members of Congress abandoned their shameful plan to challenge the will of the American people to Donald Trump’s advantage, Stefanik formally challenged the results when Congress reconvened late yesterday. She did denounce the violence of the attacks, but her continued objection to accepting the results of a lawful election, in the face of all that had happened, was a clear affirmation of Trump’s violent conspiracy campaign.
Stefanik is not a steadfast soldier to the nutwing cause. She occasionally breaks ranks and votes with Democrats, reflecting the mixed political leanings of her district, which is increasingly leaning Democratic. This is the district that sent Kirsten Gillibrand to Congress. Stefanik needs a lot of support from outside this district to maintain her seat, and Trump threatened to wreak his revenge on Republicans who did not raise a formal objection in Congress to Joe Biden’s victory. Following the violent insurrection, most Republicans decided to abandon their symbolic objections designed to curry favor with an outgoing president, who will still have political influence when he leaves office. They said the President went too far. Stefanik, feeling weak, followed through with her objections. She certainly demonstrated the failings of her moral character, but I think she made a political miscalculation as well. Time will tell.
What Wednesday’s insurrection demonstrates most clearly is that people in a democracy don’t resort to violence when they are strong. Violence is the path of weakness. Trump is weak. He may even be removed from office with less than two weeks left in his presidency. It’s seriously being discussed. Stefanik is weak. The rebels who stormed the Capitol, even the bare-chested Heathen with the ripped bod, are weak. Our democracy, though certainly troubled, is strong.
I spent most of yesterday working on the Solstice video, and then it didn’t survive publication. Here it is again.
I’m taking the rest of the year off. See you at the New Year.
Enjoy the video. I’m taking the rest of the year off. Check back at the New Year. Hearth
I seldom review books on this blog these days, and never children’s books, but I wanted to discuss a few pieces of misinformation that I found recently in the (beautifully illustrated) book Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island, by Jennifer Thermes, geared to grade school children. Misinformation about the Munsee-Delaware Indians can be found many other places, not just in this book, but I’ll use it as a touchstone since it’s the latest perpetuation I’ve found of certain well-worked themes.
Manhattan’s original inhabitants are referred to in the book as “Lenape,” which, while not incorrect, is misleading in its imprecision. Lenape is often used for referring to groups speaking the Unami-Lenape language. Many groups of people originating around what is now the New York City area spoke a related language to Unami-Lenape called Munsee and referred to themselves as Munsee people. To make matters more confusing, both groups refer to themselves as Lenape (in different spellings) in their own language. The cultural demarcations between the groups, such as they were, have been blurred through centuries of dislocation and colonialization, but at this point there are still two distinct languages.
So Lenape isn’t wrong, exactly, but I would refer to people originally controlling Manhattan as Munsee, Munsee-Delaware, or Munsee-Lenape. This is how they refer to themselves today. Alternatively, there are even more specific words that could be used, though they are rather obscure. It seems like Lenape would be the anti-colonialist word of choice to use in place of Delaware, which comes from the name of an English colonial ruler, but when used by non-Natives it’s mostly just confusing.
On to another piece of misinformation, which is the etymology of “Manhattan.” The book says it comes from a Lenape word “mannahatta” and means “island of many hills.” That’s a lot of meaning to pack into four syllables, especially for a language from that island and those hills. Wikipedia derives Manhattan from another purported word, “manahataan,” and translates it as “place where we gather wood to make bows.” Both derivations, if true, involve speculation on root words and exceptions to Munsee grammar rules. It’s more likely that the Dutch mangled some other word, which may or may not have been Munsee. What I have heard from Munsee speakers is that the name Manhattan comes from the (verifiably real) Munsee word “munahan,” which means “island.” So the Munsee might have called Manhattan a hilly island, and European speakers may have truncated the place name and mispronounced it. But Manhattan does not mean “island of many hills.”
On to the sixty guilder question: how did the Dutch acquire “Manhattan”? At least the book equivocates “As the story goes” before repeating that the Dutch West India Company “bought the island from the Lenape in 1626 for approximately $24 worth of wampum beads and trinkets. For Native people, the idea of owning the land was as crazy as owning the land we breathe. More likely, the Lenape only thought they were agreeing to share the island with the Dutch.”
It was all a misunderstanding! Those Indians, too naïve or too spiritually enlightened, take your pick, just didn’t know what they were doing.
Think for a moment. If I were to buy a block of present-day Manhattan, I would not be able to call it the Manhattan Republic of Hearth and live completely by my own laws. I would still be subject to the laws (and taxes!) of New York City, not to mention New York State and The United States. If any of these governments decided they wanted the land for some purpose, they could purchase it from me (no matter who I bought it from) at a price they decided was fair. In virtually every country on earth, the land ultimately belongs to the nation that governs it. The Dutch West India Company was a private company doing business on foreign soil. The sale of land was an acknowledgement of that relationship. To me, this doesn’t sound like naivete or enlightenment; it sounds like business. It certainly was not a relinquishment of sovereignty, and the subsequent establishment of a European government on that land was not misunderstanding, it was theft.
As for the amount of money that changed hands, in present day dollars it was much more than $24, and Manhattan real estate has gone through the roof, but the price of the land is not a material point. The Munsee, like many Natives, wanted to trade with the Dutch, so if they wanted to give the Dutch West India Company a sweetheart deal to facilitate trade, that was their calculation. A poor calculation, as things turned out, but not an unreasonable one based on information available to both parties at the time.
This is a long complicated explanation for a children’s book, but the whole thing can be explained in simple words:
The people who originally lived on Manhattan are known as Munsee-Lenape. They are still around, though most of them live in other places. They left because the Dutch and the English stole the land. The name Manhattan might come from a Munsee word meaning “island,” but we don’t know.
And leave out the part about how many wampum beads. It really doesn’t matter, does it?
I caught this rainbow on Main Street in Keene Valley village midweek. This unusually strong double rainbow (the one in the upper portion doesn’t show up well in the photograph) was seen midday. Rainbows are the symbol of the goddess Iris, messenger of Hera. Iris is an amiable goddess who carries glad tidings for all the gods.
Here’s a picture I made this week for a 2021 calendar. This is for the Strawberry Moon (June). It depicts a Delaware Indian story about a turtle and a hummingbird. The two agree to race, but Turtle tricks Hummingbird by sending a look-alike friend to wait near the finish line.
A late winter has finally arrived. About 25 degrees Fahrenheit and that feels cold, quite unsettling in a place where winters typically move far below zero at night for days, even weeks, at a time. First electricity outage of the winter occurred a few days ago, though for less than an hour. When I first moved to the Adirondacks, electricity outages were a constant problem, but they’ve become less frequent. Still, there’s trepidation at the thought of potentially losing heat on a cold cold night.
I went on my first hike in winter boots this week, with only a dusting of snow on the ground. Didn’t bother with the camera, since the battery becomes exhausted quickly. My first ten minutes in the cold, I decided I would only go for short winter walks this season, maybe half an hour or so. Then I stayed out a full hour and didn’t want to come back even then. I’d forgotten how special a winter hike can be, and what a good mood it leaves you with.
Rough-legged Hawks are back in Vermont! I saw more than I could count on my drive to Middlebury. They spend time in Northeast farming country during the winter, hunting small rodents in open fields. I don’t see them in the Adirondacks, probably because there isn’t as much open country, there’s more snow, and it’s a bit colder. In the spring Rough-legged Hawks will head north, as they breed in the Arctic region. They are circumpolar birds, found in North America and Eurasia.