Peter Farb

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Peter Farb (25 July 1925 - 8 April 1980) author, anthropologist, linguist, ecologist, naturalist and spokesman for conservation, was born July 25, 1925, in New York, NY to Solomon and Cecelia Farb. Beginning in 1950 he was a free lance writer for 30 years in the areas of the natural and human sciences, authoring many acclaimed books, including several books for young readers, and columns in national magazines. He died from leukemia, April 8, 1980, Boston MA.


Man's Rise to Civilization (1968)

Man’s Rise to Civilization As Shown by the Indians of North America from Primeval Times to the Coming of the Industrial State (1968)
  • Europeans had often thought that somewhere in the world must dwell a noble race, remnants of that golden age before man became corrupted by civilization. As reports of Indians filtered back to Europe, a distinguished French philosopher of the late sixteenth century, Michelle de Montaigne ...concluded that the Noble Savage has at last been found, for the Indian "...very words that import a lie, falsehood, treason, covetousness, envy, detraction, were not heard among them." Montaigne presented the idealized notion about the aborigines ...that foreshadowed the Noble Savage of Jean Jacques Rousseau.
  • By the seventeenth century, observers had reached the firm conclusion that American Indians were in no way inferior to Whites, and many writers took special pains to salute the Noble Red Man. The Jesuit missionary Bressani, who served in Canada from 1645 to 1649, reported that the inhabitants "are hardly barbarous, save in name. ...marvelous faculty for remembering places, and for describing them to one another." ...can recall things that a White "could not rehearse without writing." Another Jesuit enthusiastically corroborates... "nearly all show more intelligence in their business, speeches, courtesies, intercourse, tricks and subtleties, than do the shrewdest citizens and merchants in France."
  • Only a few years after the permanent settlement of Virginia, some fifty missionaries arrived to begin the massive task of converting the heathen. The Indians on their part, did not respond with alacrity to the idea of adopting a culture that to them, in many cases, seemed barbarous, indeed.
  • The Puritans in New England were not immediately presented with an Indian problem, for diseases introduced earlier by trading ships along the coast had badly decimated the Indian population. Yet when the Pequots resisted the migration of settlers into the Connecticut Valley in 1637, a party of Puritans surrounded the Pequot village and set fire to it. About five hundred Indians were burned to death or shot while trying to escape; the Whites devoutly offered up thanks to God that they had lost only two men. The woods were then combed for any Pequots who had managed to survive, and these were sold into slavery. Cotton Mather was grateful to the Lord that "on this day we have sent six hundred heathen souls to hell."
  • The Puritans failed miserably in their dealings with the Indians of New England, with scarcely a glimmer of kindness to illuminate black page after black page of cruelty and humiliation. There were many reasons that the Puritans were so much less successful with the Indians than were the Spaniards or the French or even the Englishmen. The Puritans insisted upon a high standard of religious devotion that the Indians were unable or unwilling to give. The Puritans lacked any way to integrate the Indians into their theocracy... nor were any Puritans specifically assigned to missionary tasks. The heart of the matter, though, is that conversion of the heathen was not one of the compelling motives--or justifications--for the Puritan settling of New England, as it was for the Spaniards in the Southwest.
  • The desire of Whites to occupy Indian lands, and the constant rivalry between French and English traders for furs gathered by the Indians, led to many skirmishes and several bloody wars, all of which involved Indians on both sides. The Whites were determined to fight it our with each other --down to the last Indian. These battles culminated in the French and Indian War of 1763, which represented a disaster to many Indian groups in the northeastern part of the continent. In May, 1763, an Ottowa warrior by the name of Pontiac fell upon Detroit and captured the English forts, one after the other. Lord Jeffry Amherst, who commanded the British military forces in North America... distributed among the Indians handkerchiefs and blankets from the small pox hospital at Fort Pitt--probably the first use of biological warfare in history.
  • Following the War of 1812, the young United States had no further need for Indian allies against the British, and as a result the fortunes of the Indians declined rapidly. By 1848, twelve new states had been carved out of the Indian's lands, two major and minor Indian wars had been fought, and group after group of Indians had been herded westward, on forced marches, across the Mississippi River.
  • ...the intensity of the indignation was in direct proportion to a White's distance from the Indian. On the frontier, the Indian was regarded as a besotted savage; but along the eastern seaboard, where the Spaniards, Dutch, English, and later Americans had long since exterminated all the Indians, philosophers and divines began to defend the Red Man.
  • About 1790 the Cherokee decided to adopt the ways of their White conquerors and emulate their civilization, their morals, their learning, and their arts. The Cherokee made remarkable and rapid progress in their homeland in the mountains where Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina meet. They established churches, mills, schools, and well cultivated farms... they adopted a written constitution providing for an executive, a bicameral legislature, a supreme court, and a code of laws.
  • Before the passage of the Removal Act of 1830, a group of Cherokee chiefs went to the Senate committee that was studying this legislation to report on what they had already achieved... They expressed the hope that they would be permitted to enjoy in peace "the blessings of civilization and Christianity on the soil of their rightful inheritance." Instead they were... denied even the basic protection of the federal government. The Removal Act was carried out almost everywhere with total lack of compassion, but in the case of the Cherokee--civilized and Christianized as they were--it was particularly brutal.
  • ...five thousand finally consented to be marched westward, but another fifteen thousand clung to their neat farms, schools, and libraries "of good books." So General Winfield Scott set about systematically extirpating the rebellious ones. Squads of soldiers descended upon isolated Cherokee farms and at bayonet point marched the families off to what today would be known as concentration camps. Torn from their homes with all the dispatch and efficiency the Nazis displayed under similar circumstances... No way existed for the Cherokee family to sell its property and possessions, and the local Whites fell upon the lands, looting, burning, and finally taking possession.
  • ...they were set off on a thousand mile march--called to this day "the trail of tears" by the Cherokee--that was one of the notable death marches in history. Ill clad, badly fed, lacking medical attention, and prodded on by American soldiers wielding bayonets, the Indians suffered severe losses. An estimate made at the time stated that some four thousand Cherokee died en route, but that figure is certainly too low.
  • Up to 1868, nearly four hundred treaties had been signed by the United States government with various Indian groups, and scarcely a one had remained unbroken. By the latter part of the last century, the Indians finally realized that these treaties were real-estate deals designed to separate them from their lands. In the last three decades of the nineteenth century, Indians and Whites skirmished and then fought openly with ferocity and barbarity on both sides. Group by group, the Indians rose in rebellion only to be crushed...
  • General Phil Sheridan... had urged the destruction of the bison herds, correctly predicting that when they disappeared the Indians would disappear along with them; by 1885 the bison were virtually extinct, and the Indians were starving to death on the plains. ...the Indian Wars finally ended; and with the enforced peace came an economic recession in the West, for the United States government had spent there about one million dollars for every Indian killed by 1870.
  • The Whites were in full control ... remnants were shifted about again and again... All of which led Sioux chief Spotted Tail, grown old and wise, to ask the weary question: "Why does not the Great Father put his red children on wheels, so he can move them as he will?"
  • A well-intentioned movement had gained support to give the remnant Indian populations the dignity of private property, and the plan was widely adopted in the halls of Congress, in the press, and in the meetings of religious societies. ...the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887 ... provided that after every Indian had been allotted land, any remaining surplus would be put up for sale to the public. The loopholes... made it an efficient instrument for separating the Indians from this land. ...The first lands to go were the richest--bottom lands in river valleys, or fertile grasslands. Next went the slightly less desirable lands... and so on, until all the Indian had left to him was desert that no White considered worth the trouble to take. ...Between 1887, when the Dawes Act was passed, and 1934, out of 138 million acres that had been their meager allotment, all but 56 million acres had been appropriated by Whites. ...not a single acre was judged uneroded by soil conservationists.
  • The victory... was complete except for one final indignity. That was to Americanize the Indian, to eliminate his last faint recollection of his Indian traditions--in short, to exterminate the cultures along with the Indians. ...Orders went out from Washington that all male Indians must cut their hair short, even though many Indians believed that long hair had supernatural significance. The Indians refused, and the battle was joined. Army reinforcements were sent to the reservations to carry out the order, and in some cases Indians had to be shackled before they submitted. ...attention of the Americanizers was concentrated on the Indian children, who were snatched from their families and shipped to boarding schools far from their homes... usually ... for eight years, during which time they were not permitted to see their parents, relatives, or friends. Anything Indian--dress, language, religious practices, even outlook on life... was uncompromisingly prohibited. ...They had suffered psychological death at an early age.
  • Within a century or so after the discovery of America, more than fifty new foods had been carried back to the Old World, including maize, turkey, white potato, pumpkin, squash, the so-called Jerusalem artichoke, avocado, chocolate, and several kinds of beans. (Potatoes and maize now rank second and third in total tonnage of the world's crops, behind rice but ahead of what is probably man's oldest cultivated grain, wheat.) The European has turned for relief to drugs and pharmaceuticals the Indians discovered: quinine, ephedrine, novocaine, curare, ipecac, and witch hazel. ...Many historians believe that the Constitution of the United States and those of several state governments were partly influenced by the democratic traditions of Indian societies.
  • No sooner did the first Whites arrive in North America than a disproportionate number of them showed that they preferred Indian society to their own. ...Throughout American history, thousands of Whites exchanged breeches for breechcloths.
  • Why did transculturalization seem to operate only in one direction? Whites who had lived for a time with Indians almost never wanted to leave. But almost none of the "civilized" Indians who had been given the opportunity to savor White society chose to become a part of it. ...Nor does this problem relate solely to the American Indian. Some of the first missionaries sent to the South Seas from London, in the eighteenth century, threw away their collars and married native women.
  • One of the things that amazed the earliest explorers, almost without exception, was the hospitality with which Indians received them. When the Indians later learned that the Whites posed a threat, their attitude changed, but the initial contacts were idyllic. ...Hospitality and sharing were characteristic of all Indian societies.
  • Why did not Indians enter White society, particularly in view of the numerous attempts by Whites to "civilize" them? The answer is that White settlers possessed no traditions and institutions comparable to the Indians' hospitality and sharing, adoption, and complete social integration. ...Whites who educated Indians did so with the idea that the Indians would return to their own people as missionaries to spread the gospel, not that they might become functioning parts of White society.
  • Voluntary assimilation, known as Indianization in the Americas, is one response that has occurred at other places and in other times when two cultures collided. An unusual manifestation of it is when the whole dominant culture takes up the ways of the conquered. That does not happen very often, but it did occur when the Hyksos conquered Egypt about 1700 B.C. and when the Romans conquered the Greeks in the second century B.C.
  • When today's remnants of Indian societies are examined closely, it is seen how well some have worked out a compromise with their White conquerors--acculturation without assimilation.
  • After the Spaniards settled the Southwest, the Navajo began another burst of cultural borrowing--or, more actually, stealing. Spanish ranches and villages were so depleted of horses--not to mention sheep--that by 1775 the Spaniards had to send to Europe for 1,500 additional horses. After the Pueblo Rebellion against the Spaniards was put down in 1692, many Pueblo took refuge with their Navajo neighbors--and taught them how to weave blankets, a skill for which the Navajo are still noted, and to make pottery. During this time the Navajo probably absorbed many Pueblo religious and social ideas and customs as well, such as ceremonial paraphernalia and possibly the Pueblo class system.
  • By the time the United States took possession of the Southwest in 1848, after the Mexican War, the Navajo had become the dominant military force in the area. ...The American soldiers who marched into Santa Fe had no trouble with the Mexicans, but the Navajo stole several head of cattle from the herd of the commanding general himself, not to mention thousands of sheep and horses from settlers in the vicinity.
  • 1863, Colonel Kit Carson was ordered to clear the country of Navajo Indians and to resettle any survivors at Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico, where they could be "civilized." Carson's strategy was the same as that applied against the Plains Indians a little later: He destroyed the Navajo food base by systematically killing their livestock and by burning their fields. Carson's "Long Knives" (his soldiers so named because of their bayonets) also cut off the breast of Navajo girls and tossed them back and forth like baseballs. ...Ultimately, about 8,500 Navajos made what they still call the "Long Walk" to captivity at Fort Sumner, three hundred miles away. After they had been there for four years, the Navajo signed a peace treaty that entitled them to a reservation of about 3,500,000 acres, much less than they had held previously.
  • A culture that is in the process of being swamped by another often reacts by physically grappling with the outsiders. But it may wage a cultural war as well. Such defensive actions have been given various labels by anthropologists: nativism, revivalism, revitalization, and messianism. All are deliberate efforts to erect a better culture out of the defeat or decay of an older one. ...The reactions of primitive peoples overpowered by Eurasian colonial empires have usually been much more extreme. Their lands appropriated, their social system ripped apart, their customs suppressed, and their holy places profaned--they tried to resist physically but they were inevitably defeated by the superior firepower and technology of the Whites. As hopelessness and apathy settled over these people, the ground was prepared for revivalistic and messianic movements that promised the return of the good old days.
  • There are strong parallels between the hope for salvation of the Jews and the hopes of the Indians who followed native prophets, between the early Christian martyrs and the Indian revolts against United States authority, between the Hebrew and the [native American] Indian prophets. ...the Jews and early Christians have served as models for oppressed peoples from primitive cultures... Almost everywhere the White missionary has penetrated, primitive people have borrowed from his bible those elements in which they saw a portrayal of their own plight...They regard the arrest and execution of a native on charges of being a rebel against White authority in the same terms as the trials undergone by the Hebrew prophets or the passion of Jesus.
  • In 1680 the Pueblo Indians, led by a prophet named Popé who had been living in Taos, expelled the Spaniards. ...About one fifth of the Spanish population of 2,500 was killed outright, and the rest fled to El Paso, Texas. Everything of Spanish manufacture or ownership ... was destroyed. The god of the Spaniards was declared dead, and the religious ways came out into the open again. ...The Pueblo confederation broke apart and the people warred among themselves. In 1692 the Spaniards marched back to victory.
  • 1762... A Delaware Indian prophet appeared in Michigan and preached a doctrine that he said had been revealed to him in a vision. He called for the cessation of strife by Indian against Indian, and a holy war against the Whites to be carried on only with bows and arrows. ...finally a practical man, an Algonkian named Pontiac, arose to lead them. He formed a confederation and attacked English forts all along the Great Lakes until he was ambushed and his forces utterly defeated. But his unsuccessful holy war festered... Forty years later the Shawnee Prophet ... twin brother of Chief Tecumseh, repeated the promises of the Delaware Prophet: liberation of Indians and extirpation of the Whites. Tecumseh established the greatest Indian alliance that ever existed north of Mexico. He and his emissaries visited almost every band, tribe, and chiefdom from the headwaters of the Missouri River in the Rocky Mountains to as far south and east as Florida. Indians everywhere were arming themselves for the right moment to attack the Whites when, in 1811, Tecumseh's brother, the Shawnee Prophet, launched a premature attack at Tippecanoe... the Indians were defeated by General William Henry Harrison, who was later elected President of the United States... Tecumseh rallied his remaining forces and joined the British in the War of 1812. He fought bravely in battle after battle, but in 1813 his 2,500 warriors from the allied tribes were defeated decisively, once again by General Harrison.
  • Inspired by the teachings of Smohalla, Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé in Idaho rebelled in 1877. Before he was trapped only thirty miles short of refuge in Canada, he had consistently outwitted and outfought a superior United States Army... although he forbade his warriors to scalp or to torture, the Whites massacred his women and children. Finally, with most of his warriors dead, his people starving, freezing, and maimed, Chief Joseph walked toward the White generals, handed his rifle to them, and said: "I am tired of fighting ... My people ask me for food, and I have none to give. It is cold, and we have no blankets, no wood. My people are starving to death. Where is my little daughter? I do not know ... Hear me, my chiefs. I have fought; but from where the sun now stands, Joseph will fight no more forever."
  • After the Ghost Dance spread across the Rockies to the Plains tribes it ran amok. ...The fervor attacked the Plains tribes virulently, particularly the Sioux, who were at that time the largest and the most intransigent or them all. The Sioux had been forced to submit to a series of land grabs and to indignities that are almost unbelievable when read about today. At the very time that the news of the Ghost Dance reached them, they were being systematically starved into submission--by the White Bureaucracy--on the little that was left of their reservation in South Dakota. The spark to ignite the Sioux was also present in the person of their White-hating leader, Sitting Bull, a veteran of Custer's last stand in 1876.
  • From Rosebud, the Ghost Dance spread like prairie fire to the Pine Ridge Sioux and finally to Sitting Bull's people at Standing Rock. The Sioux rebelled; the result was the death of Sitting Bull and the massacre of the Indians (despite their ghost shirts) at Wounded Knee in 1890.
  • Every Messianic movement known to history has arisen in a society that has been subjected to severe stress of contact with an alien culture--involving military defeat, epidemic, and acculturation
  • Almost every messianic movement in the world came into being as a result of hallucinatory visions of a prophet. One point must be emphasized about the prophet of a messianic movement: He is not a schizophrenic, as was so long assumed. A schizophrenic with religious paranoia will state that he is God, Jesus, the Great Spirit, or some other supernatural being. The prophet, on the other hand, never states that he is supernatural--only that he has been in contact with supernatural powers. (Of course, after his death, his disciples tend to deify him or at least give him saintly status.)
  • Invariably the prophet emerges from his hallucinatory vision bearing a message from the supernatural that makes certain promises: the return of the bison herds, a happy hunting ground, or peace on earth and good will to men. Whatever the specific promises, the prophet offers a new power, a revitalization of the whole society.
  • What most impresses the people around the prophet is the personality change he has undergone. ...when stress reaches a certain intensity in the culture, only certain individuals feel called forth to become prophets while most do not. In any event, the prophet has emerged in a new cultural role, and his personality is liberated from the stress that called his response into being in the first place. Immune to the stress under which his brethren still suffer, he must appear to them supernatural.
  • Today's American bemoans the extermination of the passenger pigeon and the threatened extinction of the whooping crane and the ivory billed woodpecker; he contributes to conservation organizations that seek to preserve the Hawaiian goose, the sea otter of the Aleutian Islands, the lizard of the Galapágos Islands... But who ever shed a tear over the loss of the native American cultures?
  • Millions of dollars have been expended to excavate and transport to museums the tools, weapons, and other artifacts of Indians--but scarcely a penny has been spent to save the living descendents of those who made them. Modern man is prompt to prevent cruelty to animals, and sometimes even to humans, but no counterpart of the Humane Society or the Sierra Club exists to prevent cruelty to entire cultures.

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