If you want the complete story of our trip to Egypt, you should read this. Anna is a better note-taker, an accurate writer and a wonderful traveling companion (as is Ian, her traveling companion).
Not as a criticism but a suggestion, Anna really should be writing a traveling blog with all of her internet information linked so readers can find them more easily. But in the meantime, here are links to some of the sites Anna has included in her PDF, which is below:
I while have your attention (I hope), I would like to direct you to a podcast brought to my attention by Will. It is from the BBC series “You’re Dead to Me”, which promotes learning history “with comedy and without the crippling student debt”: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p09tvhv8
Here is Anna’s report on our trip to Egypt (use the bar on the right to see all pages):
We interrupt my travelogue through Egypt for a bike trip across the state of Arkansas.
Why Arkansas? Because my sister has ridden across all the lower 48 states except two: Arkansas and Utah. Now she is down to one: Utah, where I have promised to be the Supplies And Gear (SAG) person because I cannot keep up with her.
There, I have said it. No more sibling rivalry. I have surrendered. I will forever be a half mile behind her — or more.
We started this ride in Fort Smith, Arkansas, right on the Oklahoma border and the Arkansas River, headed to the Mississippi River and Memphis, some 300 miles away by Mary Jo’s route.
Day One: The weather was chilly but clear. My new electric-assisted bike was working fine. It was Sunday morning, and the traffic was light. And for once in my rides with my sister, I cannot be blamed for cutting short the day’s ride. That blame goes to a nail that found itself lodged in Mary Jo’stire somewhere near Midway, AR. We were 54 miles into a 77-mile ride when Mary Jo stopped, walked up to me and announced she had a flat tire. “Front or rear?” Rear. Ugh.
We decided to call the SAG team, otherwise known as our spouses. MJ spouse Don arrived for the rescue, and after a Mexican lunch at our first overnight stop in the town of Dardanelle, three of us spent more than an hour changing the tire.
If it hadn’t been for that nail, I might have shortened the ride.Somewhere in those 54 miles, I discovered that the auxiliary battery I bought to make sure I could make the average of 80 miles a day was not charged. So soon after those 54 miles, my bike would have been without power, and it would have been up to my two legs alone to get us to Dardanelle. The SAG team does not answer the phone on those calls.
After the tire repair, I examined my batteries, found the right slots for the charging tabs to go into and set them up for overnight.
Day Two: We rode 20 miles on a foggy morning before stopping for breakfast at the Mather Lodge in Petit Jean State Park. I’d go back to Arkansas just to stay at the lodge. The website says that the “native log and stone facilities (were) constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) beginning in 1933. The CCC built trails, roads, bridges, cabins, and the focal point of the park, historic Mather Lodge, a 24-room lodge overlooking Cedar Creek Canyon with a restaurant, meeting rooms, and gift shop.”
The story behind why the park is called Petit Jean is a charming — but sad — one. I hope you can enlarge and read it on the menu page I photographed.
Concerned about whether my bike and batteries would last the 90 miles for the day, I did lots of coasting to reserve battery power. Coasting downhill is the only time I can get ahead of my sister, who holds back on the descending grades. So somewhere on Arkansas Route 300, I got way ahead of her, so far ahead that I missed a turn. At the bottom of the hill, Mary Jo told me I had missed it and we had to ride back a mile, adding two miles to the day’s ride. Maybe because of coasting or maybe because the batteries have more juice than I thought, I made the 90-mile ride to Little Rock with power to spare. And I was feeling pretty good about staying less than a half mile behind my sister, until after dinner when she acknowledged that her electric-assisted bike had run out of power. At what point in the ride? About 75 miles, which means that she rode the last 15 miles on her own power. The ego balloon popped.
Day Three: I was slow. I do not like riding in the rain, which started before we got outside the city limits of Little Rock. It rained until we arrived at England, AR, 37 miles into the ride. The only good thing I can say is that Mary Jo’s route had us on beautiful roads: Hardly any traffic, smooth pavements, trees along the route. Besides being a great bike rider, my sister is also a pretty good navigator. She has to stop along the way to dig out her reading glasses to study her Garmin, her written route in a rain-proof folder and check her cell phone if there is coverage. Even when I think she has led us astray, I follow. We turn onto a road that says “No Outlet,” I’m riding behind her (a half mile back). “Road closed”? Who cares? There will be a trail at the end of it. Or a way through a construction zone, as happened in the photo below. “Sometimes it works, sometimes not,” Mary Jo said. “This time, it worked.”
I also do not like riding in the wind, which I thought came up after the rain even though my sister said, “This is not too bad.” So I was slow. So slow that at 64 miles, we called in the SAG team 13 miles short, realizing that getting to Clarendon, AR, before dark could be a problem.
In my defense, I would like to point out that walking 1.8 miles across the heaped-stone gravel “shortcut,” did not help our time. Still some work to do on navigation, sis.
Day four: It rained all night and into the morning. Rained hard. Enough that we walked to breakfast and decided to drive with the SAG team to Marianna, AR, ahead of the rain.
We kept dry for 60 miles into Memphis, TN, but were disappointed in the Mississippi River Levee because you can’t see the river from on top of the embankment, which is covered with crumbly gravel.
The Big River Trail was an assortment of trails, roads and turns, one of which I slipped in gravel and came down hard on my side. Two miles from the end of the ride — but better than two miles at the start of the ride, as Josh at the bike shop pointed out.
The bike lane across the Mississippi River is on a converted railroad bridge, fenced in with very few people on it the day we came across.
Despite the flat tire, the rain and my fall, we made it across Arkansas. When the woman at the bike shop, which is shipping my bike back to Seattle, heard about our journey, she said: “It was an eventful ride.”
And we ended it all with a ride in a pink Cadillac limo to a dinner with Elvis at the Marlowe Restaurant (order the ribs).
Every article or book I have read about Egypt includes this quote from Herodotus (circa 490 — 425 BC): “Egypt is a gift of the Nile.”
So there. I have included it, too.
But I wonder if the Nile River might some day take back that gift or stop giving. Especially as Egypt and the 10 other countries that the Nile runs through “mistreat” the river.
Earliest traces of humans in Egypt go back 250,000 years, but the Nile’s gift started long after that when the climate changed and most of Egypt became a desert. Only place left to live was along the Nile. Today, 99 percent of 109 million Egyptians live on five percent of the land — along the Nile, according to a talk given to our tour group by Hany Hamroush. He has a doctorate in geochemistry from the University of Virginia, and returned to Egypt to teach at Cairo University and the American University in Cairo (AUC). His main research is on the impacts of the Nile River and the environmental changes in Egypt now and in the past.
The Nile gave Egypt river currents that flow south to north to float ships down the river and predominant winds that blow north to south to sail up the river. Trade, communications and finally a nation, a civilization. The Nile in Egypt comes from the White Nile, which starts in Lake Victoria in Uganda, and the Blue Nile, beginning in Ethiopia. Eighty-five percent of the runoff in Egypt comes from the Blue Nile, which brings with it lots of mud. Every year around June, the Nile floods in Egypt, bringing rich soil to plant crops in, water to irrigate them.
The dam rises 366 feet above the river, is two and a quarter miles long, a half mile wide at its base with a road on top. No more silt from the Blue Nile, but many more megawatts of hydro power. As Toby Wilkinson puts it in his book “The Nile: A Journey Downriver Through Egypt’s Past and Present”:
“The High Dam has regulated the flow of the Nile, consigning the annual inundation — the natural phenomenon that built Egypt — to the history books.”
I could find no one who thought the High Dam was all good or all bad — and I admit I did very few man-on-the-street interviews while in Arabic-speaking Egypt. But in the reading I have done and the few people I talked to in Egypt, the consensus was “some good and some bad.”
Good because the dam brought about “medium floods,” as Hamroush put it. No more famines with low inundations. No more catastrophic floods like the one in 1927. The flood in 2021 was worse than the one in 1927 but not felt in Egypt because of the High Dam, said Hamroush. The dam produces about half of the electricity used in Egypt. Lake Nasser, the 300-mile-long waterway behind the High Dam, now has a productive fishery. The High Dam opened more land with year-round irrigation for agriculture.
Bad because the rich silt stops behind the High Dam. So chemical fertilizers must be used so that the country’s agriculture can feed the nation.
With the higher dam, more land cultivated, chemical fertilizers and more irrigation (think of the Nile as the only water source in Egypt — no rain, no snow pack inside the country), it sounds like agribusiness in the making. However, I looked for but only saw two tractors while in Egypt. Lots of donkeys, horses and manual labor. If Egypt can grow enough food by hand, more power to them.
More bad: Hamroush also pointed out that while silt is stuck behind the High Dam, there is less flow in the Nile so that any silt that reaches the Nile Delta doesn’t completely wash into the Mediterranean Sea. So the delta is sinking, and because of climate change, the sea is rising. The natural geological subsidence of the delta is 6.6 millimeters per year; the global sea rise is 3.3 millimeters per year. Doesn’t sound like much, but in 50 years it could affect four to eight million people, says Hamroush.
With more constant irrigation (mostly for sugar cane) there is more water damage to the foundations of ancient structures. Archeologist Kent Weeks discusses that in this video.
As Wilkerson puts it in his book: “The confident assertions of the High Dam’s cheerleaders, back in the late 1950s, now have a hollow ring. As one son of Aswan laconically put it, the High Dam ‘is slowly killing Egypt.’ “
And that’s not all. The Egyptians may now be paying more attention to how the Nile is treated, especially since someone else is doing the treating. Ethiopia has built and has filled the lake behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile. The concrete dam rises 475 feet above the river. The lake behind it covers 724 square miles (about the size of Houston, Texas). It will double Ethiopia’s output of electricity. Sounds good for Ethiopia, bad for Egypt.
For Egyptians, this could lead to ontological security—or the preservation of state identity. As this Carnegie article says:
“Ontological insecurity may arise when internal and external developments disrupt the continuity of established identities and worldviews. It could be argued, then, that the GERD project threatens the continuity of Egypt’s enacted world that sees the Nile as a living being inseparable from Egypt’s history, culture, and civilizational identity. Thus, developments related to the project could force Egypt to redefine its national identity that is centered on the Nile River.”
So the Nile could be caught between two huge dams, the High Dam in Egypt and the GERD in Ethiopia, sort of like the Colorado River in the United States, caught between Hoover and Glen Canyon Dams among others. Recently, the U.S. federal government came out with three options for how to use the water from the dwindling Colorado River, which could mean cutting off water to 10 million Americans or plugging the irrigation canals that support a “$4 billion industry that employs tens of thousands of people and puts vegetables in supermarkets across the country during the winter.”
Maybe the question more germane to the United States should be: What if the Colorado River stopped giving?
Ramses II had more than 100 children, and he probably had more than one wife. Maybe a harem or a concubine or two — or three or more. But he had one favorite wife, named Nefertari, and he built her a temple right beside his. Much smaller than his temple at Abu Simbel but more than the other mothers got.
Abu Simbel is on Lake Nasser, an artificial lake formed after the building of the High Dam at Aswan. Abu Simbel is about 700 miles south of Cairo, Egypt, and we flew and bused to visit. However, we visited other sites before leaving for Aswan and Abu Simbel. At Dahshur, we received a lesson in early pyramid building from a re-engineered pyramid that would collapse on itself if the angle of the sides were not changed, then to a “step” pyramid, think of smaller boxes stacked on top of each other. The Step Pyramid of King Djoser is considered the oldest stone structure on Earth, built more than 4,700 years ago. My favorite part came inside the tomb of Kagemni, a government official for King Teti (circa 2330 BC), where Eman, our guide, gave us our first lesson in hieroglyphics. The bas-relief carvings on the walls of the tomb show scenes from daily life.
But let’s get back to Abu Simbel. Pictured below is the Nefertari structure, at night during the light show and below that on our daytime visit. Known as the Temple of Hathor, a god usually depicted as a cow or woman, goddess of love, pleasure, patron of dancing and music. The six 30-foot statues show Ramses and Nefertari, her dressed as Hathor and the same height as Ramses’ statue. “Instead of knee-height, as most consorts were depicted,” according to Lonely Planet’s Egypt guidebook. Told you she was a fav.
At the upper far left (above) are carvings of baboons, active at sunrise and therefore greeting the sun and the sun god — something good to have on your temple. Ra-Horakhty stands between the broken statue of Ramses (down since ancient times) and the intact one. Nice to have gods on your temple as well. The temple was carved out of the mountain between 1274 and 1244 BC. Supposedly dedicated to gods Ra-Horakhty, Amun and Ptah, but Ramses shows up more than they do. With four statues more than 60 feet tall of himself, Ramses stared out over the Nile as a warning to any troublemaker who thought they would venture into his land.
If it’s Ramses’ temple, there have to be prisoners. Note the tied prisoners (above) who have different hair styles, representing that Ramses had conquests to the south, Nubia, and farther into the east of the Mediterranean Sea.
Let’s talk about those shining in the light. Kathy is always lit, but the rest of those in the sanctuary only light up twice a year, and Ptah, on the far right, never shines except when modern electric lights are on. As Ramses designed and built this structure, the first sunlight on February 21 and October 21 would shine far back in the temple to illuminate Ramses and two of the gods. But the sunlight stopped before falling on Ptah, a god of darkness. The special days were Ramses’ birthday and coronation days.
The structures at Abu Simbel represent two marvels, one in ancient times and another in more modern times. First marvel, that people more than 3,000 years ago with no power tools or bulldozers carved this out of the mountain in a way to make the sun shine where they wanted it to. Second marvel, that it was cut apart and moved more than 200 feet higher on the mountain when the High Dam at Aswan was built. The dam opened in 1971, and by then a venture headed up by UNESCO had lifted 35 temples, moving them above the rising lake waters. And the sun still shines. But now it falls on Ramses and two gods a day later.
If I haven’t yet endorsed Road Scholar, the group we toured with, let me do so now — just for the way they let us see Abu Simbel. A wander around in daylight, with Eman’s full explanation of it, the nighttime light show and then the early morning sail-by (video below) as we started sailing across Lake Nasser. Can’t say enough.
Ramses II is an egotistical pharaoh, as our tour guide Eman pointed out, a ruler who might think his statue the most important of the more than 500,000 exhibits in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. But that can’t happen here. We will let Ramses the Great lead us through our continuing Egyptian journey. But ignoring what else is in the museum could be seen as bowing down to Ramses. That’s something we don’t want to do since so many people who did never got back up.
The museum offers much more — more than you can see in a day, week or years. There’s the room set aside for items found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb, discovered by Howard Carter in 1922 (photography prohibited in that room). But Tut’s chair/throne is open for viewing (see below). More statues of other pharaohs and ancient Egyptian gods. Mummies, of course, and my favorite: The 52-foot long papyrus scroll of the Book of the Dead, the instructions a dead person needs to get to his second life. The scroll shows my slavery to the printed page, but the images from the more than 2,000-year-old document are as clear as something that came off my printer seconds ago. I could not get far enough away or have a wide enough lens to take in the whole scroll displayed on a museum wall. But here are photos of illustrations and the hieroglyphics:
Below are King Tut’s throne made of wood covered with gold and silver, ornamented with semi precious stones and colored glass. Lions’ heads protect the seat while the arms take the form of winged serpents wearing the double crown of Egypt (Lower and Upper) and guarding the names of the king. Found in Tut’s tomb in 1922.
The most famous bust of Nefertiti (1370 – c. 1330 BC) has been hauled off to Berlin, but the Cairo museum has several representations of the royal wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten, Tut’s father.
This statue of King Khafre (2558 – 2532 BC), below, was found at Giza, where the Great Pyramid sits. The second largest pyramid there was built by Khafre. The falcon god Horus sits behind Khafre’s head, providing protection and uniting earthly king with god.
Below is King Djoser (2667 – 2648 BC) who was buried in Egypt’s first pyramid, the world’s oldest monumental stone building.
The mummy below is that of either Yuya or Thuya, and shame on me for not marking down which one it is. Yuya was husband to Thuya (1390 – 1352 BC). They are the great grandparents of King Tut.
Hatshepsut (1473 – 1458 BC), Egypt’s most famous ancient queen. What about Cleopatra? She brought the Egyptian rule to an end; Hatshepsut kept it alive during her 20-year reign and built several temples. Note the beard. She portrayed herself in statues and paintings with a male body and false beard.
We met Ramses II in Cairo at the Egyptian Museum, introduced to us by Eman, who was guiding us around her country.
An imposing figure, Ramses the Great looms over modern day humans as they enter the museum. His muscular arms are straight by his side, his left leg extended in front of him and his hands clasping bars. On the end of those bars, his identifying “cartouches” are stamped. He also has them on his shoulders and one on his belt. They are on the stand below him.
They are there so that when his soul comes to rejoin his body after he is dead, the spirit will be able to identify him.
Ramses ruled for 66 years, long before term limits. He lived to be 90 years old, which is remarkable at a time when the life expectancy was much less. High infant death rates brought down the average life expectancy to 19 years. Even those who survived childhood lived but 30 years for women and 34 years for men. Cleopatra died at age 38. Tutankhamun, who became king when he was 9, died when 19.
The Ramses II standing at the museum door is not the man at the end of his 90-year life. Why would you want your soul to finally show up and unite with a guy wearing Depends?
The Ramses we met is probably about 34 years old, said Eman. What age would you choose?
The museum Ramses II is very much alive. His arms stretch beside his body. If they were crossed in front of his chest, he would be dead. Legs together, same thing. His beard straight? Alive. Beard bent? Dead. Beard missing? It’s the Sphinx, whose facial hair was plucked and hauled off to the British Museum in London.
As was the Rosetta Stone, the piece of rock that deciphered the hieroglyphics used by the ancient Egyptians.
Not that Great Britain is alone in traipsing off with antiquities from Egypt. The famous bust of Nefertiti’s head and face? The one which seems to have an eye missing? (Not so, says Eman. The wife of Akhenaten from 1353 to 1336 BC had an eye disease and the bust is accurate in how she appeared). I’d have a picture of it here except that Nefertiti is now in Berlin.
The missing obelisk from the Luxor Temple, the largest one erected by Ramses II, now stands in Paris. Seventy-five feet tall, weighing 250 tons and carted off in 1829. In return, France sent Egypt a clock that has never worked. If Ramses only knew what has happened to his obelisk, there would be more than a beard whacked off. Ramses was quite vocal, at least in stone, about what he liked to do to those who opposed him.
These thefts-by-agreements between those oppressed and those doing the oppressing are common in history. Twenty-four dollars for the island of Manhattan. Thirty pieces of silver for your Savior. Chances of ever getting the obelisk, Nefertiti or the Rosetta Stone back to Egypt are probably better than returning Manhattan to the Lenape Indians, but not by much.
Desecration was another form of wrecking the ancient structures of Egypt. Ramses II took stones from previous buildings to build his own, and scratching out the hieroglyphics, images and names of previous rulers made it easier to forget them and draw attention to those now in power.
Thievery and destruction didn’t start with the colonial period; grave robbing became a get-rich-quick scheme as soon as the tombs were sealed, pyramids built or temples erected. It was easier to steal limestone that once topped pyramids (see the top of the pyramid to the right of the Sphinx above) than to quarry new stones for the latest structure being built, whether another pyramid, a temple or a foundation for your new mud hut.
Egypt’s ancient treasures are now well guarded, which makes grave robbing difficult. But Egyptians are very good about using what been left behind by Ramses the Great and others to bring in new money. In 2019, 13 million tourists visited Egypt. In 2020, tourists spent $4.87 billion dollars in Egypt — during the COVID pandemic.
Much of that money goes to hotels, Nile cruise ships, food services and tour groups, but the man in the street — make that sand — has a chance to earn some too. At the Giza pyramids, you can buy rings, bracelets, scarves, scarabs, hats, T-shirts. You can rent horses, carriages. You can ride a camel — and we did (even though Kathy says they stink).
Given all that newspapers are cutting these days – reporters, editions, delivery routes and even themselves – paring away on comics might seem like something no one would miss. And then along came Dilbert, the strip’s offensive creator and the hullabaloo leading to first newspapers and then the distributing syndicate dropping Dilbert into the office trashcan.
I visited the museum during a weekend reunion of former editors of The Lantern, the Ohio State student newspaper. Brian Basset, a former colleague at The Seattle Times and an OSU alum, was there signing books as was Derf Backderf, another OSU alum. As much as I love Red and Rover, I ended up buying a book from Backderf, mostly because I have a good friend who calls himself Derf – Fred spelled backwards. Backderf added a special signing of the book for my Derf:
Backderf has been called an illustrator who creates “cartoons with footnotes,” and his book “Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio” is very much in that vein. In fact, it is the best illustration (no pun intended) of what happened that day, the days leading up to it and what followed after the shootings.
Let’s start with the STILL exhibit, which ended in October 2022. The name comes from calling the civil-rights movement “accomplished” with Congress passing of the civil-rights legislation in 1964. But now “with the aid of today’s technology, the truth can finally be witnessed on television screens around the world.” We could start with Rodney King, then George Floyd, Tyre Nichols and on and on. And STILL the fight continues for social justice in America. We could add a cartoonist identifying a whole segment of society as a hate group and telling other parts of society to stay away from them. STILL the fight goes on.
The exhibit featured the work of Brumsic Brandon, Jr., who created the comic strip “Luther.” Brandon called his motivation to “draw cartoons with social commentary came from his experiences of being Black in white racist society.” His daughter, Barbara Brandon-Croft, also took up cartooning, drawing “Where I’m Coming From” from 1989 until 2005.
While at the museum, I was allowed a short, escorted tour of the stacks, where they have stored all of their materials. Cartoons, comics, newspapers, etc. are being converted to digital, and the paper copies are kept in a climate-controlled environment. Here’s a video that tours the “behind the scenes:”
I was never a big fan of “Peanuts.” I was more into comics that told a continuing story, such as Steve Canyon, Steve Roper, Dondi, the Phantom and Dick Tracy. And there in the Billy Ireland Museum was Chester Gould‘s drawing desk, complete with the dark spots where the creator of Dick Tracy struck matches to help dry the ink he drew with.
It turns out that Schulz wasn’t all that fond of Peanuts either. Under the display of the first three days of Peanuts, October 2 through 4, 1950, the plaque tells us that Schulz sold his comic to United Features Syndicate, which changed “virtually everything about the strip.” Single-panel-cartoons market was glutted, the executives decided, and they wanted a four-panel strip. Schulz’ name, “Li’l Folks” was too close to another competing strip called “Little Folks.” So they changed the name of the strip to “Peanuts” — a name Schulz always disliked.
I’m hoping that newspapers, other publications and comic book stores will keep comic strips and cartoons on their pages and on their shelves. It would be a shame if future generations had to go to a museum to see them.
We had a decent docent at the 9/11 World Trade Centers Memorial when we visited in October 2022. He might have been born before September 11, 2001, but probably not much before. He pointed out and explained many of the exhibits at Ground Zero (see below the videos).
Afterwards we visited the part of the exhibit where pictures of those who died are displayed with stories about them. A sad place. Then we came across a guide who was talking about the World Trade Centers on that day. In the video below, she details what happened: How much fuel the planes were carrying, how far into the buildings the jets penetrated, how long the towers stood until the beams melted and folded, allowing 15,000 people to escape, including herself. Then she asked for questions. First one: Tell us how you got out?
So then she told us about how thousands of New Yorkers left the buildings — not in the way you might imagine.
This was the best part of our tour that day, and there was only one question left to be asked, and I did not ask it: What was her name?
Here are some of the other exhibits at the Memorial:
The Vesey Street stairs, now known as the “Survivors Stairs,” were intact after the collapse of the World Trade Center. They were to be destroyed until a federal review process found evidence from survivors, preservationists and other advocates that the stairs should be saved.
Still standing, the Last Column, or Column 1001B, was near a spot where many first responders died. The remains of some missing members of Fire Department New York Squad 41 were found nearby, and “SQ41” was painted on the column, the first of many marking those who died.
Eleven members of FDNY Ladder Company 3, led by Capt. Patrick John Brown, entered the North Tower before it fell. They were among 343 fire fighters who died that day.
Now that it is 2023, it’s time to catch up on the travels of 2022. Let’s go back to October and the last of three museums we visited in Washington, D.C.: The National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The path through the museum starts in Africa and takes the visitor through . . . actually, I’m not sure where it ends because we read, viewed and absorbed so much along the way that the museum keepers had to chase us out the exit doors – without even a visit to the bookstore or the gift shop. We made it past the civil-rights era of the 1960s and somewhat beyond.
I mostly got stuck in Africa and the early years of slavery in American colonies. Took me forever to stop reading about Queen Nzingha, who “had fought against (Portuguese) colonial and slave raiding attacks for decades.” She “died on December 17, 1663 at the age of 80. Unfortunately, her death accelerated Portuguese colonial occupation, as well as their Atlantic slave trade activities in central west Africa.”
Or, the slave trader Henry Laurens, who wrote to his son that he hated slavery while becoming rich from it. Now that I have been introduced to former slave Olaudah Equiano, I’d like to read his autobiography. I’d also like to read more about the 1808 law that prohibited importation of enslaved people to the United States but was a boon to the domestic slave trade as those slave already here and their progeny became more valuable.
I was especially stuck on the narrative laid out in this video, which I returned to twice (people love it when you go backwards through a crowd going forward through a museum):
Essentially, it says that when Africans arrived in the colonies, all of which held enslaved people, the system of slavery was not laid out. There were parts of the country where workers — Native Americans, European indentured servants and slaves – “labored, lived and rebelled together.” So new laws “defined who was enslaved and who was free. By 1750 the system of slavery was racialized and had become more uniform . . . The law based slavery on African descent and made it hereditary and lifelong. It took indentured servants out of slavery; it created whiteness.” (my italics)
“It created whiteness.” That seemed an odd thing to me, something that did not need to be created. White is white, it’s a color, and anyone who can see has some vision of what white is and how it differs from other colors. On further thought, it seemed that those who brought slavery to this neck of the woods should have sorted out who would be slave and who would not be. You might have thought they’d have this all figured out before spending the time and money to round up thousands of people in Africa, send them across the Atlantic and expect them to do all the work. But no. Previous efforts at assembling labor hadn’t worked out very well: Native Americans kept dying from the diseases Europeans spread to them; the problem with indentured servants was that they were indentured, they left when their term was up. But Africans, who seemed to survive longer than your local Indians and had less voice in things than indentured servants did? That’s what makes way for “racializing” slavery. Make slavery hereditary and forever. If you’re a slave, so are your children, their children and so on.
And, give whites the privilege to get out of it. Best to create a new societal term for what “white” means: a segment of society that is exempt from slavery, from chains, whipping, sold away from your family, endless toil picking cotton to sell to England textile makers to build a strong, rich country in a place that used to be a land sparsely populated by people who had their own way of living.
Black Hawk was put in ball and chains, then dragged around the country and humiliated after he was captured while trying to protect his village and cornfields from the whites, defined above, who thought they had more right to them than the people who had lived there for hundreds of years. As he was paraded around the East Coast, his opinions were asked on many subjects, including what to do about the negroes, as he called them. He had a plan, which he hoped would be adopted:
“Let the free states remove all the male negroes (his italics) within their limits, to the slave states – then let our Great Father buy all the female negroes in the slave states, between the ages of twelve and twenty, and sell them to the people of the free states, for a term of years – say, those under fifteen until they are twenty-one – and those of, and over fifteen, for five years – and continue to buy all the females in the slave states, as soon as they arrive at the age of twelve, and take them to the free states, and dispose of them in the same way as the first – and it will not be long before the country is clear of black skins, about which, I am told, they have been talking, for a long time, and for which they have expended a large amount of money.”
His plan would clear the country of white skins, too, no matter the definition. He’d be called a pedophile today and put back in chains for sex trafficking. What he proposed seems impossible, maybe naive. But Black Hawk did not think this was beyond the capacity of whites. After all, they had dragged all these Africans to America and were in the process of removing all the Indian tribes from east of the Mississippi to the west of that river. If whites could do all that, why not turn everybody brown, much like me, said Chief Black Hawk.
The American Indian museum has a harder tale to tell than the other two. You can walk through the Holocaust museum tracing the antisemitism from ancient European pogroms to the death camps at Auschwitz. African-American museum starts in Africa and tells the degradation that have happened to black people from slave roundups in Africa, the Middle Passage, slavery in the Americas, Jim Crow, desegregation and the events that brought on the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Native American museum tells the tale of many clans and tribes spread across the Americas. What those people believed, the stories they told and how they were treated by Europeans and colonists is hard to wrap up in a straight walk through the museum’s halls.
I had expected our three-day, three-museum visit, which someone termed a “white liberal guilt trip,” to go this way: genocide, slavery and more genocide. But the word “genocide” was never heard or written in the exhibits I saw in the Native America museum. Instead, the theme seemed to be: “We’re still here!” Despite all that was done to us – disease, wars, massacres, reservations, boarding schools, restrictions on our languages – we’re still here.
From all the products advertised with Indian names, you can’t deny their presence. The museum had everything from an Indian motorcycle to the maiden on the Land O’Lakes butter carton. There are several rooms telling how several tribes understand the universe. From duality to this wonderful story told through the glass art of Seattle’s Preston Singletary. (After January 29, 2023, the exhibit moves on to Chrysler Museum of Art, Virginia, where it will be from March 3, 2023, to June 20, 2023).
“The Raven and the Box of Daylight” tells a Tlingit creation story about how light came to the world. Part of the introduction to the exhibit includes this: “Shdal’eiw Walter Porter (1944-2013), the eminent Tlingit American historian, mythologist, and storyteller, once stated. ‘The importance of mythology is that it’s universal. Every culture has the same information disguised in story.’ We hope you recognize some of your own story here.” The part about immaculate conception in the Raven story has a familiar ring.
This video tells the story of a fallen star, who is much more friendly than Lucifer, who would rather “reign in Hell than serve in Heaven,” as Milton told us.
The closest I saw where genocide got its due was in a room dedicated to the United States’ Indian Removal Act of 1830. Signed into law by President Andrew Jackson, it got its start from Thomas Jefferson, who said, “The end proposed should be their extermination, or their removal.” Encroaching colonists get Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas, and you get Oklahoma, after 4,000 of you die trekking there.
While not aware of it, I first learned of the Indian Removal Act back in third grade when I read “Chief Black Hawk” by Frank L. Beals, part of the American Adventure series and I read them all. I’ve been trying to erase that glowing view of American history since about age 25. I’m still waiting for Chief Black Hawk to replace Andrew Jackson on the U.S. twenty-dollar bills.
Jackson thought the act would “prevent annihilation, not cause it.” (“Andrew Jackson and his Indian Wars,” Robert V. Remini, Penguin Group, 2002, p. 228) Get away from us white folks so you can “perpetuate your race.” But Jackson’s tongue might have been “as forked as a chicken foot,” as Mastubbee, a Choctaw elder, said. (p. 248)
This is where the museums start blending, where the ideas come together. The Indian Removal Act sounds an awful lot like Holocaust museum’s “Final Solution.” Where the horrible things that happened to Jews remind me of what has happened to African-Americans and Native Americans.
Remini ends his book with this statement: “To his dying day on June 8, 1845, Andrew Jackson genuinely believed that what he accomplished rescued these people from inevitable annihilation.”
The American Indians are still here, as the museum attests. But I’m reminded of Seminoles begging at a roadside stand on a 1950s trip to Florida and then of children begging at the Wounded Knee site in 2015.
You’re still here, and I’m glad, but I hope the next 60 years are better for you than those that have passed between my visits to the Seminole stand and to Wounded Knee.