Author: Charles C. Mann Title: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus Narrator: Peter Johnson Publication Info: Minneapolis, Minn. : Highbridge Audio, p2005. Summary/Review:
This book attempts to reconstruct what the world of the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere was like before contact with the Europeans. Often what the first conquerors and colonists saw was not representative of the pre-Columbian reality as the diseases that preceded them decimated the Indians leading to political instability, and often a faction allying with the Europeans and hastening the demise of the culture in it’s entirety. Mann focuses on three main points, presenting evidence for and against these hypotheses:
the population of the New World was much greater than generally accounted for, possibly more populous than Europe
people arrived in the Americas much earlier than the popular Bering land bridge theory would suppose
the Indians left an indelible mark on the landscape, building cities, managing ecoystems, and even creating the Amazon jungle
In many ways this book raises more questions than it answers, but dang are they good questions. Ultimately, the full story of the pre-contact Americas may never be known, but the assumptions of what it was like have been tested and failed to hold up.
What seems unlikely to be undone is the awareness that Native Americans may have been in the Americas for twenty thousand or even thirty thousand years. Given that the Ice Age made Europe north of the Loire Valley uninhabitable until some eighteen thousand years ago, the Western Hemisphere should perhaps no longer be described as the “New World.” Britain, home of my ancestor Billington, was empty until about 12,500 B.C., because it was still covered by glaciers. If Monte Verde is correct, as most believe, people were thriving from Alaska to Chile while much of northern Europe was still empty of mankind and its works.
If you’ve been reading the Jamaica Plain A to Z series the past couple of weeks, you may be wondering how a neighborhood in Boston ended up getting named Jamaica Plain. The Plain part is deceptively simple. The area around Jamaica Pond where the central village is located is flat. Yet, other parts of the neighborhood are rather hilly.
The Jamaica part is more complicated. There are three theories behind the name.
It was named by colonial residents of the town of Roxbury who were celebrating Britain capturing the Carribean island of Jamaica from Spain.
The inhabitants of this region of Roxbury liked to drink their Jamaica rum plain, that is without ice.
But the most likely explanation is that the English settlers Anglicized the name of Kuchamakin of the local Massachusetts tribe. Kuchamakin was a regent for the sachem of the Massachusetts, Chickatawbut.
A little more Jamaica Plain history. Jamaica Plain has not always been part of Boston, but it has never been an independent municipality. Jamaica Plain, or Jamaica End, was originally part of the town of Roxbury in colonial times. Jamaica Plain joined two other neighborhoods – Roslindale and West Roxbury – in seceding from Roxbury in 1851 to form the town of West Roxbury. Jamaica Plain was the most densely populated area of independent West Roxbury and home to the town hall (now Curtis Hall). Desiring better municipal services, West Roxbury agreed to be annexed by Boston in 1874 (the original Roxbury had already joined Boston in 1868).
I could find no images of Kuchamakin, not even a sketch, but his name is said to mean “big feather.” In his honor, here is a photo of a big feather in Jamaica Plain. Read more on Native Americans in Jamaica Plain.
Post for “K” in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.
This novel is told from the point-of-view of “Zits,” a teenager of Native American heritage being passed through the foster care system and acting out in response. After growing increasingly and gruesomely violent, Zits is magically transported into other peoples’ bodies at different times in history including an FBI agent working against the indigenous rights movement, an Indian child at the time of the Battle of Little Big Horn, an Indian tracker working for the 19th-century U.S. Army, a pilot who trained an Islamic terrorist, and his own father. These experiences help him learn the effects of violence both a personal decision and societal impact. This is a pretty grim book but Alexie’s characterization of Zits brings an element of humor as well. The conclusion of the book is a bit corny, but I think it’s an effective story reflecting on some serious issues in American history and today.
Recommended books: Slam by Nick Hornby, Every Day by David Levithan, and Waylaid by Ed Lin. Rating: ***