Kipling 1

I hope to be writing soon about Kipling and writing, but here are some preliminary thoughts as well as an entertaining and little- known poem.

He was one of the greatest writers of the 19th and 20th Centuries. He is unread and endlessly dismissed by the pseudo- literate as a children’s writer, a racist, a simple colonialist. In fact he is both a bard and an elusive and ambiguous modernist who is admired by an unlikely group that ranges from Henry James to Angus Wilson and, albeit with some ambivalence, Christopher Hitchens, whose typically provocative esasay can be found here. (May be available only to Atlantic subscribers).

I want to highlight one of his paragraphs. He says:

“The paradox underlying all of Kipling’s work, whether it be his letters, his poetry, or his stories, is a horror of democracy combined with an exaltation of the common man. He always ostensibly preferred the grunt or the ranker to the officer, the humble colonial servant to the viceroy, the stoker and the sailor to the admiral. His songs about engineers and artificers—of which “McAndrew’s Hymn” is a sterling example—show, moreover, a real appreciation of modernity and innovation, and may explain why he attracted the attention of the Nobel committee when, as critics sniffed, Swinburne, Meredith, and Hardy were still alive, and a “blacksmith” should not have been preferred to a “goldsmith.” Probably no compliment could have delighted him more. Yet in his heart he disliked industrialism and the mass civilization that it brought in its smoky train”

He is on to something, but maybe missing it by a bit. Kipling’s dislike of democracy was not as much a wish to tell others what to do but, at least sometimes, a startlingly libertarian rejection of all tyrannies, including that of the majority. In several late stories that might be called science fiction, he makes fun of “primitives” who retain the savage 20th Century belief that, because one more person believes “A” than “B”, that “A” is therefore right. His fiercest reaction to this principle is the chant “McDonagh’s Song”, a refusal to BE tyrannized by anyone.

An excerpt:

“Whether the People be led by the Lord
Or lured by the loudest throat;
If it be quicker to die by the sword
Or cheaper to die by vote-
These are things we have dealt with once,
(And they will not rise from their grave)
For Holy People, however it runs,
Endeth in wholly Slave.

Whatsoever, for any cause,
Seeketh to take or give
Power above or beyond the Laws,
Suffer it not to live!
Holy State or Holy King-
Or Holy People’s Will-
Have no truck with the senseless thing.
Order the guns and kill!
Saying – after- me:-

Once there was The People- Terror gave it birth;
Once there was The People and it made a Hell of Earth.
Earth arose and crushed it. Listen O ye slain!
Once there wasThe people- it shall never be again!”

For electing rulers democracy may well be the best we have. For micro- managing behavior I’m with Kipling. Most of the things I enjoy are so arcane the majority doesn’t know they exist– and I’m afraid they’d ban them if they did. Oh, wait; they already HAVE banned “hunting with dogs” in Kipling’s England.

A Legend Returns…

Sometimes no human agency need be involved in “Re- Wilding”. The introduction of Yellowstone wolves only hastened a natural process– wolves were already coming in from the north.

It has been almost ten years since Arizona rancher, hunting guide, and coservationist Warner Glenn cut a track in the Peloncillo Mountains of southern New Mexico, deep in the wild country that once sheltered Geronimo. The cat ran and ran; the hounds had him bayed up again and again, but he always ran before Glenn and his daughter Wendy could get up to them.

Finally (from his book Eyes of Fire) : “I was completely shocked to see a very large, absolutely beautiful jaguar crouched on top, watching the circling hounds below…I was stunned by the beauty of the scene. This was a first for me. I had been 60 years waiting to see this beautiful creature”.

He took several photos before the cat ran. It bayed up in another canyon. Warner got up close, hoping for better pictures. “Within ten feet of me, the jaguar looked up, then crouched down with his eyes locked on me. When I realized what that look meant, I knew he was coming to get me!”

“He exploded out of that hole towards me, with fire in his eyes… Maple and Cheyenne met him head on as I jumped backwards. Right there, they saved me from having my lap full of biting, clawing jaguar”.

All participants survived.

Warner and his wife Wendy are part of the Malpai Borderlands Group. You can see more jaguar photos and other good things on their Endangered Species link. Like all private grassroots conservation groups they can always use a dollar. Eyes of Fire was originally printed to provide a fund to compensate anyone who lost cattle to jaguars, and to protect habitat. If there is enough demand maybe they will print another edition– or maybe they still have some in stock, for less than Amazon prices.

However, the saga continues, as more jaguars are seen all the time. Ken Lamberton writes in the LA Times that the jaguar is becoming a frequent if elusive visitor, even to the Southwest’s suburbs.

” “What do I do about a leopard in my yard?”

“My mom is on the phone, and I’m not sure how to answer. She lives in the Catalina Mountain foothills north of Tucson where mountain lions can occasionally cause a stir. But a leopard?

“She tells me that it all began with the barking of her Maltese dog, and when she looked out the window, she saw a large cat moving along the inside wall of her courtyard. The cat, which measured nearly 5 feet long — with a tail of comparable length — leapt over the wall and disappeared. I told her to call Arizona Game and Fish.

“Tim Snow, a specialist with the department, arrived at her home a few minutes before I did, and although we searched, we couldn’t locate any tracks in the dry ground. Tim told me that he gets a few reports like this every year from the Catalina foothills. What my mom had seen in her yard, identified from a lineup of various photographs, was a jaguar, the dappled cat, the world’s third largest and the only one in the New World that roars”.

Rumor says that only spotted ones are seen in the north, but some are black. So, legend says, was the last one in New Mexico, killed in 1905 by a ranch wife with a bucket of poisoned milk, in the deep snows of winter at 7000 feet of altitude, not far from where we live.

Kazakh Rock Art

To compliment Reid’s photos of ancient American art I thought I’d show a few of mine from the Tamgaly site in Kazakhstan, located in low cliffs of volcanic rock in the steppes 170 km northwest of Almaty. The drive to them was a mixture of biological fascination (migrating birds of prey) and low humor (much confusion about both direction and directions, with a classic three stooges moment when three workers by the side of the road gave us two opposite bearings and an expressive shrug). The site iself stands silent in the midst of nowhere, with stone sentinel cairns on the ridges, just like in Mongolia– or New Mexico.

The oldest petrogyphs are bronze age, 1600- 1500 BC, and are of realistic animals and shaman figures. These are the ones that interest me most at the moment.

These hunting dogs, attacking a boar, have higher tails than the wolf– rather like the Russian Laikas of today.

Some later glyphs are playfully stylized. Look at the mirroring of form between dog and ibex.

But the most interesting to me is this one. Everyone agrees on the dog attacking the wild ass, with the horse in the background. But most falconers see an eagle or at least a falcon above the quarry, while one English archaeologist friend thinks it’s a dog. Dogs, in my experience, do not stand on their quarries’ backs, facing backward!

If it is a bird, it is the oldest known depiction of a way of hunting still alive today in this same country.

I should also give a space to my friend and guide Hagay, “Karate Kid” and world citizen, wearing what I can only call a typical Asian T- shirt, standing in front of the enigmatic “Dancers” panel.

Update: Nathan of Registan (whose blog anyone interested in Central Aia should read) mentions this site from Uzbekistan. This one on points to the east is excellent as well.

The Pristine Myth

Charles Mann, whose recent book 1491 was discussed in an earlier post, had this interesting op-ed in yesterday’s Christian Science Monitor. In it he takes on, as he does in his book, the popular misconception that prior to European contact, Native Americans lived in harmony with nature in a pristine eden. He quickly marshalls facts to show that the environment of the Americas in 1491 was not “nature in balance” but an artifact of Indian management, populated with tens of millions of people – possibly more than were living in Europe at that time.

Overall, Mann is quite right, but there is one corrective I would like to apply to this quote, “Although Indian engineering led to some disasters, for the most part its impact on the environment was…… subtle, transformative, and persistent.” We really should keep in mind these overreaching disasters: the Puebloan Abandonment of the northern Southwest and the Classic Maya Collapse of Central America. These were not small events and we should credit Native Americans with as much hubris as Europeans have.

To me, what is most interesting is Mann’s take on what this really means to the environmental movement. Much of what passes for environmentalism today is dedicated to taking humans out of the landscape so that it will be “pristine” as it was prior to European arrival. They do not understand that an authentic, pre-human environment for this continent would be far different than they think. In fact, it would have to be the environment of the Pleistocene.

Hurricane Katrina and this Blog

Here at the Querencia Blog we are as horrified as the rest of the world at the death and destruction brought to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina. This post is to let you know that we three contributors have a special interest in those events.

Matt is the one up to his ears in this as he lives in Baton Rouge. Luckily that city was spared the worst and Matt and his family are fine. As the next closest city, Baton Rouge is bearing heavy burdens of the human cost of Katrina as it fills with refugees. Matt has briefly told us the story of two close friends of his living in New Orleans who were compelled by circumstances to stay and ride out the storm. They barely escaped with their lives but eventually made their way to Baton Rouge and are staying with Matt. Matt is far too busy to be contributing much here for the time being, and he and his family and friends are in our thoughts and prayers.

Steve has a number of friends who live in New Orleans and has shared with us the stories they have sent him telling him of their struggles to evacuate ahead of the storm and their dismay at facing the loss of home and employment. We are glad they are safe.

I spent my undergraduate years in New Orleans where I got my BA at Tulane University. I came to know and love the city and the Mississippi Coast. I worry about my old friends and schoolmates who are still in the area and hope they are safe. Tulane is one of the great universities of this country and I am concerned about its future as an institution. There are rumors that the school may reconstitute itself in another city and hold classes this semester.

In my opinion this is probably our country’s worst disaster in terms of loss of life, dislocation of population, and physical destruction since the Civil War. New Orleans has been forever changed and we will all be living with Katrina’s consequences for many years to come. There is information all over the blogosphere and the media on how you can made contributions and help. I would encourage you to do so.

The Newest Indians, DNA, the Black Cherokee, and the Trail of Tears

It’s becoming popular to be an Indian. There are substantial numbers of people in our country who have at least partial Native American ancestry who have never acknowledged this part of their heritage as it was of no benefit to them. The historical record shows how badly this country has treated Indians, so for many it was easier to hide their Indian-ness and identify with an ethnic group that would insure them better treatment.

But this ethnic switching approach has been breaking down as the country as a whole becomes more multi-racial and people are more comfortable identifying with a minority group. Also, with the advent of Indian gaming and casinos, there are all sorts of benefits to being an Indian. In an article entitled “The Newest Indians” in last week’s New York Times Magazine, Jack Hitt discusses this trend, especially as seen in the eastern part of the US.

I’ve seen this myself. Recently I was making small talk with an elderly lady as I was leaving and she was coming in to meet with a local anthropologist. She said, “Three weeks ago, I didn’t even know I was an Indian. Dr. _______ checked my genealogy and showed me how I was. It’s so exciting!” It’s great that people are interested in and comfortable with their ancestry.

One point that Hitt curiously missed in his essay is the use of DNA testing to verify claims of Indian ancestry. That is turning into a business niche for some companies, I have found out. In fact this google ad for a DNA testing service dropped into our blog a couple of weeks ago. These tests are proof positive, but unfortunately for some people, the Indian tribes (Federally recognized tribes) themselves are the arbiters of who is and is not a member. Most tribes do not recognize DNA testing and usually use genealogy to trace to ancestors who were “certified” as Indians by government officials in the past. This has led to some bitter fights here in California, where some of the gaming tribes have reviewed the geneaology of all of their members and dropped people from the rolls based on the results. The outcome was larger slices of the casino money pie for the remaining members. Many tribal members do not like DNA testing for just this reason – they may not like the results they get.

This leads us to this LA Times piece about a woman in Oklahoma who has been trying to prove membership to one of the Cherokee bands in that state. DNA testing supports her claim, but she does not have the right paperwork in the genealogical record and the Cherokee will not recognize her. Her story was especially interesting to me in that her background was as a Black Cherokee.

The history of the Black Cherokee is not commonly known. The Cherokee as well as other tribes in the Southeast had black slaves in the early part of the 19th Century. When they were moved to Oklahoma by the Indian Removal Act in the 1830s, their slaves accompanied them on the well-known Trail of Tears. Approximately 15,000 black slaves came with the Indians to Oklahoma. There were held as slaves until freed by the Federal government in 1866 and were a reason that the Cherokee fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War – another fact not commonly known. These freedmen were usually accepted onto tribal rolls and there was intermarriage between Indians and Blacks. The woman in the LA Times story has this mixed heritage and can prove it with her DNA tests. But one of her freedman ancestors didn’t have the right certificate.

The story of the Black Cherokee also takes us to the reasons why the Indian Removal Act was passed and the Southeastern Indians exiled to Oklahoma. Most school history books will tell you that it was a desire to take their traditional tribal lands, and that’s true as far as it goes. But there is much more to the story.

By the turn of the 19th Century, the Cherokee (and other tribes to a lesser extent) had taken on a course of partial acculturation to White ways. They kept their unparalleled knowledge of their environment and added to it the benefits of modern technology and European crops and domesticated animals. And they were phenomenally successful! Many had large farms and plantations. Ten percent of the Cherokee owned slaves – roughly the same percentage as in the White population at that time. Some Cherokee lived in houses like this:

This was the home of Chief Vann of the Cherokee located in Northern Georgia. At the time of his death in 1809, he was one of the richest men in the US. This is not what we typically think of as a Native American dwelling. Many lived in European style houses, if not all as grand as this. They sent their children to mission schools and in addition to their farms and plantations operated stores, inns, ferries, and other businesses.
By the 1820s they had organized a republican style government with a written constitution, courts and procedures for law enforcement. Also at this time, the Cherokee Sequoyah
had invented a syllabary or “alphabet” for his language so that it could be written. A newspaper called the Cherokee Phoenix was printed as were the Bible and other books. So yes, the Whites wanted the Indian lands in the Southeast. But the deeper truth is that the Cherokee were just too successful in White terms. They were too much competition and Whites used their political and military power to get them out of the way.

Captain Sir Richard F. Burton

I discovered Steve and I share a fascination with Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890) when he put Burton on a list of “Good Things from Britain #5” in solidarity with the UK after the 7/7 terror bombings. Those of you who are not familiar with the life of this explorer, linguist, soldier, diplomat, travel writer, anthropologist, archaeologist, Orientalist, master swordsman, poet, raconteur, etc. will find a short bio and some other interesting things at this site. Another entertaining access to Burton is the 1990 movie Mountains of the Moon which is authentic to the spirit (if not every fact) of his explorations in search of the source of the Nile.

I have a very firm memory of a chance encounter I had at age 15 in the Frayser Branch of the Memphis Public Library with The Devil Drives, Fawn Brodie’s estimable biography of Burton. The dust jacket bears the famous Leighton portrait of Burton showing the great scar on his cheek where the Somali spear went in. I picked up the book and have been enthralled ever since.

I have collected books by and about Burton for many years and they are often hard to come by. My primary purpose in putting up this post was to let fellow Burton-lovers know that The Narrative Press has put out a number of his travel writings in handsome trade paperback editions. I bought Goa, and the Blue Mountains from them recently.

It was to my great delight that I actually got to use one of my Burton books as a reference on a cultural resources project I managed years ago. Burton is best known for his explorations in Africa, India, and the Middle East. He only made one foray into America and his account of it, The City of the Saints centers around a trip he took to Salt Lake City in 1860. My project was a pipeline in Wyoming that went between the towns of Evanston and Casper. Its right of way cut a significant historical resource, the Oregon Trail, in several places. The Trail and its landmarks are still highly visible in Southwestern Wyoming.

Burton took a stagecoach on the Oregon Trail route to reach Salt Lake City. His account of that journey is perhaps the best contemporary description of the Trail. In his thorough way (which drove his readers nuts) he gave verbal descriptions of each stop, used a sextant to plot their locations, gave the distance and time it took to travel between each stop, what he ate, and on and on. Burton tells us, if you want to emigrate from Independence, MO to Oregon, what type of wagon to buy, its price, what type of draft animals to use, a list of supplies to take, their quantities, price, and unit of measure. All information hard to find anywhere else.

I’ll ad a final sidebar to this story. I had to coordinate my evaluations of the effect of the pipeline on the Oregon Trail with a BLM historian. Her name was Kathy O’Neal. She was new on the job and very competent, practical and professional. She met and eventually married an archaeologist pal of mine, Mike Gear. After a few years, they left cultural resources work and decided to write some books of their own.


Sorry for nonexistent blogging! Two reasons:

(1) Libby has broken four ribs, tripping on a dog- rucked rug and falling onto the corner of a brass- bound chest at the foot of the bed. Years of guiding in places like the Himalayas, climbing in the Tetons, kayaking around Baja, and her only injuries have been here– breaking a shoulder in the garden a few years ago, and now this. And both were dog- related.

(2) Matt, in Baton Rouge, is taking in refugees from the storm.

I hope Reid and maybe John Carlson can take up a little of the slack until we are back on our feet.