What did Chief Seattle say?

In pursuit of historical veracity I came across extracts from F.J. Grant’s report (pp. 433-6 of his History of Seattle, Washington) of the speech of Chief Sealth—as translated from someone else’s Chinook translation of Sealth’s into English by Henry Smith, then printed in a now unreadable edition of the Seattle Sunday Star, 29 October 1887—the whole of which I found by looking at Furtwangler’s Answering Chief Seattle on Google.

As many removes away from some situated original as this might be, it is also a long, long ways from the widely reprinted text of “Chief Seattle’s speech” that circulates in the Green movement. What struck me was the sympathetic recognition of the burden of a bleak, unforgiving religion contained in this thoroughly hybrid text. Whether it is the voice of a white man, disenfranchised from the traditions of his forebears through some shattering encounter, or the voice of a chief seeing his people’s true doom, or some conversation between them, the description is painfully acute.

[p.14] Your god seems to us to be partial. He came to the white man. We never saw him; never even heard his voice; he gave the white man laws, but he had no word for his red children whose teeming millions filled this vast continent as stars fill the firmament. No, we are two distinct races and must ever remain so. There is little in common between us. The ashes of out ancestors are [15] sacred and their final resting place is hallowed ground, while you wander away from the tombs of your fathers seemingly without regret.

Your religion was written on tablets of stone by the iron finger of an angry god, lest you might forget it. The red man could never remember nor comprehend it.

Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors, the dreams of our old men, given them by the great spirit, and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.

Your dead cease to love you and the homes of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb. They wander far off beyond the stars, as soon forgotten, and never return. Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its winding rivers, its great mountains and its sequestered vales, and they ever yearn in their tenderest affection over the lonely hearted living and often return to visit and comfort them.

Wow. That’s much better than the cloying gleep that is usually reprinted.

As a child, I would find arrowheads and metates left behind by Gabrieleno or Chumash—and I give credit to my parents for making sure I knew those names. As an adult I have burnt and scattered both my parents, and I know exactly where they are, and what trees those ashes fed. That is not any practice their ancestors brought with them to Turtle Island, and although I know it’s a relatively new practice in my family, I do not know who taught us to do this.


Satirical bingo.

http://elusis.livejournal.com/1869260.html : what an excellent boardgame.

Bats in motion

This morning’s trawl of news items about bats turned up a wonderful article in Science News reporting on work by T Kunz on how bats use their wings to move. The arguments are interesting, but the wonder of the article is the videos: bats flying, running, swimming. Great stuff.

Buddhist exclusivism in Sri Lanka

Is this modernism, exclusivism or fundamentalism? I’ve got a chapter coming out (in Sharing the Sacra, ed. Glenn Bowman) in which I discuss local responses to a similar attitude among Pharping Tibetans, but this is sharper still. While recent academic study of Buddhism shows that it has always included deities of various flavours, the uncompromising attitude shown by the author of this peace gives me little hope for flexible, collusive processes such as those I documented in Pharping. Surely Nāgārjuna was right to list worshipping the worship-ables right after the ten precepts in his Ratnāvalī.

Tweets and twinges

I’ve been using twitter, linked to SecondLife and to FaceBook, as a way of communicating publicly. It’s a good thing because the FaceBook pages act like a sort of commentary; others react and add their own opinions. Very satisfying. No historical record, though, and that bothers me; it seems exactly the kind of public document that deserves presevation.

On an unrelated note, I smashed my right ulnar nerve at the elbow yesterday, very frustrating. Hurt a lot then, hurts sharply sometimes now, but I can’t feel anything in my pinky, outside of my ring finger or the edge of my right hand. Makes typing really hard. It’s as though it’s permanently asleep. It’s distinctly unpleasant to touch. like pins-and-needles but worse, and I can’t really control the fingers well. Hope it goes away. I did it in the stupidest way possible, by treading on the blade of a hoe and thus thus flipping it upright, sharply, into my own elbow. White lights pain >bam!< I came reeling out of the shed.


Okay, okay, I know everyone does these, but mine are much funnier mistakes.

On the left, what the student wrote. On the right, the correct word.

‘rest bite’                respite
‘peat bog’                pīṭha

My office smells

I walked in the door of my office this morning, having trod across the Old Aberdeen landscape. Rotting leaves, frozen ponds, barking dogs. Having heaved one sack each of papers to be marked and proposals to be considered out of the trusty pack, I plopped the laptop onto its stand, connected a few wires, and went to do my office pūjā while it whirred into its usual bewildered state. Pungent incense from a Viet grocery in Orlando waved at the Tārā and raven on the door, at the various manifestations of the Three Jewels over my desk. A postgrad across the hallway looked a bit startled.

Incense stuck firmly into a ricepot, I ambled down the hall with a kettle and a filthy glass pot. I scrubbed the coffee stains out of the pot, filled the kettle, retreated into my office and fired up the wee espresso machine kindly sold to me by another lecturer. Now my office really stinks: incense and coffee smells pour out from under my door and fill up the whole hallway.

Either my neighbours are really polite, or it smells like home to them too. Not sure which. I know somebody must think de-odorizers are a good idea, but who?