Where there is a will there is a way

Saturday, January 15, 2011

America Before Columbus (National Geographic documentary 2009)

Powhatan women of the "new world" are represented as real women.

This is a National Geographic documentary. I found it at my suberb local video store, it orders in all kinds of TV shows. This is, in short, the true story of the settlement of the Americas, as only now is our culture ready to hear it. I want to hear it! I am the descendant of those who descended into America and Canada. I remember hearing in primary school about how my people killed all the buffalo, some just shot them from trains for "sport".

England at this time is a land tightly coiled with energy, becoming literate, and running out of land. Only the nobles own land, and most people are peasants that work the land, but can't own their own land. Only nobles go hunting for sport. Most of the forest has been cut down to use the wood and free up land. The rivers are now muddy and slow-moving because of all the runoff from farming. They used to flow quickly, and were full of fish. Eventually they were overfished and the people had to turn to the sea for fish for the first time, as they'd killed the freshwater resource. The largest difference which influenced the development of the people in Europe is that the Europeans have the big 5 domesticated animals, animals which happened to be very useful to us due to their natures: horses, pigs, cows, sheep, and goats. The heavy horses and cattle can help plow fields, and also help fields be more productive with their manure.

Anyways, there is alot of info that we don't commonly know, such as that the pigs that the Spanish brought with them when they arrived in the Americas became a major pest, eating the corn that the natives to America were planting in their fields. The Americas were so full of resources, the rivers were described as being more full of fish than water. In America, there was so much space that the animals there roamed in vast herds, and the people there would hunt the buffalo and it gave them all that they needed. But they did burn back forest to create even more rich grassland so the buffalo would "come to them". All the landscape in North America and south America was managed. It's fascinating to see all these civilizations enacted. It's done so well, with actors, giving you a glimpse of life here and there, contrasting, helping you understand who the people actually were for the first time. But even just knowing that the tomato, potato, the turkey, and so on were cultivated in South America over many years, is something we are all not really aware of. They contast visuals of the foods of each people, it's so cool. This is where we have come from.

An amazing graphic that stood out to me, was the "tree-falling" graphic. In Europe, they show the huge area of forest that is felled by people by speeding along a map, and trees falling down domino style as you speed along. This is our way of life. We needed wood for everything. When we got to the Americas, North America especially, we just went nuts there too. We exported wood for money, and again they show the swath of tree falling, over a huge area of the map.

It was interesting too, how we went over to North America, and lived in the fortified villages, stakes all around their villages for protection. Our cattle replaced the buffalo. We came there and took over their landscape with our own. We transplanted apple trees. Biological domination. We wouldn't have been able to take over if it weren't for the accidental destructiveness of the pigs we brought, and the microbes we brought like smallpox, that killed most people. Civilizations of people that had been living for so long, with the ways they had found on both continents, wiped out. They showed the European people, families who never could have owned their own land in Europe, especially in England, boating down the rivers of the New World in wooden boats. My favourite thing though is how they showed the native people, as people. Women laughing and talking. Perhaps we are far away enough from our domination of the New World, that our culture can admit to it. And now we are facing the evil of our own ways-- not to be too dramatic, but we lived unsustainably where we came from, and now we have used up the great bounty of this place. There is no new place to turn. We have to change.

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