The Native Americans Thought That The Pilgrims Were Filthy, Irritating and Incompetent

Thanksgiving_SquantoThe Native American delegation who met with the pilgrims found them barely tolerable, but were more than happy to trade the beat-up old furs they used as blankets for useful trade goods.

Via Smithsonian Magazine:

On March 22, 1621, a Native American delegation walked through what is now southern New England to meet with a group of foreigners who had taken over a recently deserted Indian settlement. At the head of the party was an uneasy triumvirate: Massasoit, the sachem (political-military leader) of the Wampanoag confederation, a loose coalition of several dozen villages that controlled most of southeastern Massachusetts; Samoset, sachem of an allied group to the north; and Tisquantum, a distrusted captive, whom Massasoit had brought along only reluctantly as an interpreter.

Massasoit was an adroit politician, but the dilemma he faced would have tested Machiavelli. About five years before, most of his subjects had fallen before a terrible calamity. Whole villages had been depopulated. It was all Massasoit could do to hold together the remnants of his people. Adding to his problems, the disaster had not touched the Wampanoag’s longtime enemies, the Narragansett alliance to the west. Soon, Massasoit feared, they would take advantage of the Wampanoag’s weakness and overrun them. And the only solution he could see was fraught with perils of its own, because it involved the foreigners—people from across the sea.

Europeans had been visiting New England for at least a century. Shorter than the Natives, oddly dressed and often unbearably dirty, the pallid foreigners had peculiar blue eyes that peeped out of bristly, animal-like hair that encased their faces. They were irritatingly garrulous, prone to fits of chicanery and often surprisingly incompetent at what seemed to Indians like basic tasks. But they also made useful and beautiful goods—copper kettles, glittering colored glass and steel knives and hatchets—unlike anything else in New England. Moreover, they would exchange these valuable items for the cheap furs that the Indians used as blankets.

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  • Gergith

    Hahahahahaha. I never thought of that. We always think of the land deals when it comes to poor deals with natives… The Natives were fucking the white man DAILY when it came to beads/blankets for actual tools they couldn’t yet make! :p Genius! “You want this bead letter from a story book wampum in exchange for an axe that can cut down a tree? DONE!”

    • Matt Staggs

      Yeah, we tend to mythologize the Native Americans so much that we become blind to that kind of thing. The “noble savage” ideal causes us to short change these guys in lots of ways and makes us forget that Native American culture wasn’t in any way homogenous: The Americas, like any human-populated area, was home to many nations, all of whom had different reasons and ways to interact with the Europeans. They weren’t simpletons living in an Edenic paradise, they were humans -warts and all. They made war, some took slaves and practiced human sacrifice, they made treaties and had trade agreements, some had complicated economies and lived in enormous city-states. There were diplomats, politicians, soldiers and priests, just like Europe. Technological and cultural differences obscured that fact, I think.

      They thought the Europeans were just as nuts as the Europeans thought they were, and both thought they were gaining something from the others’ relative ignorance. Unfortunately, the Europeans’ particular madness – with a big boost from germs and superior technology – didn’t bode well for the Native American way(s) of life.

      I’m not making an argument for moral relativity here, or suggesting that the genocide of Native America was in any way excusable, only that we’ve got to get beyond thinking of America’s first peoples as fairy tale characters.

      • specialtasks

        Richard Slotkin wrote a series of history books on the mythology of the American West; the first one – “Regeneration through Violence” studies the first European Americans and their conflicts with the Natives and the Euro-American narratives that followed from those conflicts.A bit heavy but well-researched – recommended for Disinfonauts interested in that era.

        “Edenic paradise” – this is a theme that runs through the first book; America was/is not a paradise but the settlers very much envisioned it as such – the shining city on the hill with the natives representing the temptation and the potential “Fall” within the crucible of the American wilderness. One of the examinations of Slotkin is how this dynamic shifted for some as the Natives were seen as the ideal society in relation to the New World – this tension still exists today. In earlier times, the conflict was examined through “captive” narratives.

        • Juan

          Yeah, that captivity narrative is really powerful in this culture. It’s why you tend to get a lot of missing white women stories in the zombie media.

      • Juan

        Agreed. That Noble Savage thing really needs to be acknowledged for the limiting paradigm that it is.
        I got to see this unconscious dynamic played out all over the place in Peru, on the medicine trail. Some tourists are so naive, and the natives are so poor you can’t really blame the locals too much for taking advantage of them when they can.
        Many western tourists idealize the natives as these selfless, benevolent, people living in a state of grace in nature, and they get radically disillusioned when they get burned some how, and then have to deal their shattered expectations because what they were projecting onto natives, was just that, a projection of their own wishes. It’s really just the usual colonial attitude dressed up in New Age garb.

  • jose chung

    Haters gonna hate

  • Oginikwe

    Very interesting! Thanks for this article. :)

  • kowalityjesus

    You would have thought after 300 years, the development of germ theory, and the proliferation of vaccines, we would have figured out what to do about virgin soil epidemics. Nope. The beginning of this video shows a tribal leader recounting how White Man came into contact with a tribe from western Brazil in 1969, beginning an epidemic that reduced the population from 5,000 to 290. MAN that sucks.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNp9j1O3CKk

    Gotta say, virgin soil epidemics have been one of the most irreconcilable phenomena with respect to a deistic weltanschau. I have struggled for years to atone God’s justice with the idea that the ‘filthier/more populous’ population has a ‘deadly stinkfinger’ to anyone not acquainted with its disease-set.

    I do like the nod in the article toward the Papal Bull of 1537 which officially states that Indigenous Americans are NOT to be enslaved. Very poorly realized in the New World itself, it’s nice to see clergy were paying attention and paying heed in Malaga, Spain.

  • InfvoCuernos

    Ya, we knew this already. Stinky rude stupid Europeans were the main reason we left Europe in the first place.

  • Ted Heistman

    The Mongols Thought Europeans were dirty too.

    • Juan

      So did the Japanese, the Koreans, Chinese and Polynesians etc.

  • echar

    Viewing yourself, your kin, your ancestors, your nationtionality, etc… is a great way to set yourself up for limitations.

  • Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness

    Poor hygiene was the white man’s greatest weapon.

    • kowalityjesus

      That, and contiguity with a much larger and more populous continent, probably with equal or greater health problems. How many plagues came from the East?