Reading essays from "At Home on the Earth." Discovered Meridel Le Sueur, whose essay "The Ancient Peoples and the Newly Come" was very moving to me. I haven't read much about the mid-west. It's always amazing to me that people often think I'm from the mid-west - and it's true my father was Scandinavian, but not a farmer, rather a seaman from Denmark, and he wanted to keep as close to the sea as possible! - was not a land-lubber at heart by a long-shot. So he settled along the Delaware River, near its mouth in Delaware Bay. He liked the semi-indigenous people of that region. By the way, if you'd like to see a wonderful video produced by the University of Pennsylvania about the Lenape people, called the Prophecy of the Fourth Crow, click here. It's a YouTube kind of thing and lasts about six minutes.
The people pictured would be the native people of our area. I cannot become a tribal member because I can't prove my ancestral relationship to the tribe, but that is all right. There are many of us who can't make the paper trail connections, but we know what our heritage is. Even if I didn't have ancestors from the local native american mix (Nanticoke, Powhatan, Lenape, Shawnee, Mohawk, Seneca, Susquehannah, etc) I could still be a 'Friend' of the Natives because it was the culture I grew up in. I could not agree more with the motto of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, "Lenape Culture - The Root of Pennsylvania." For me, this is true. For me this is the root of the culture I was brought up in, although we labored to assimilate into what we thought was white culture. We had a sort of 'dual' culture, but the root culture was Indian.
Yesterday, I remembered a doll that came briefly into my hands. Let me tell a little story here: in our neighborhood a number of my friends had cloth dolls that were black girls on one side and white girls on the other. Or dolls that you could turn upside down to make black or white, each with a different pretty skirt. My husband says he's never seen a doll like that, but he didn't have sisters. I'm just assuming these dolls were all over, but maybe not. Who knows? Did you have a doll like that? Do you still have it? Anyway, I told my mother I wanted a doll like that, and she said she thought she might have something like that on hand - not exactly the same, but similar - and she produced a small, poorly made cloth doll that frightened me. On the back of the doll's head, if you pushed the hair aside, there was a small brown face. It really scared me! I didn't like the doll, and after not too long a time, it disappeared from my stash. Don't know what happened to it, but my mother seemed keen on 'getting rid' of things that related to the other cultures we were part of.
Anyway, can you imagine my surprise when I read about the first doll pictured at the University of Pennsylvania exhibit on the Lenni Lenape?
Anyway, the realizations, etc, keep coming although at a slower pace. I've begun studying the Lenape Language - also a feature offered by the Lenape Nation of Penna website.I think I've mentioned before how much my mother loved the various native words that were part of our street names, etc, in Philadelphia, and I have found that the sound of spoken Lenape resonates inside me very deeply. I'm thrilled to have found a venue to study it more.
I've been thinking of my father, and how he fell in love with the people of our area, and married my mother and produced me, when I just happened to read another essay in "At Home on this Earth," this one by Mabel Dodge Luhan who was a wealthy back-Easterner - she felt great discontentment with her own 'native' culture and went through three marriages before she discovered New Mexico, fell in love with a Pueblo Indian named Tony Luhan, married him and lived with him there for forty years until her death. I love some of the things she writes about the Pueblo, because this is exactly what I found in so many of the people I grew up around: "The Indians all fell into their own soft speech together, a language that was a blending of outdoor sounds, like running water and the wind in the trees, but that was particularly musical from the kindness in it, often falling into tenderness that was very caressing to the ear. There always seemed to be this loving kindness in them, not sentimental at all but the expression of the smooth concord of their lives."
Mabel Dodge Luhan struggles in this scene to experience the world 'directly,' not through the mediation of the 'great works of art' that she felt sepated her from her own experience of nature. She writes, "It had begun to appear to me that there had always been a barrier between oneself and direct experience; the barrier of other people's awarenesses and perceptions translated into words or paint or music, and forever confronting one, never leaving one free to know anything for oneself, or to discover the true essence in anything.
"This landscape made me think of a painting by Constable with its thick, soft, faraway clumps of trees, and then I was impatient because I did not want to connect this new world with the old. I wanted it to be itself alone and not a part of any past I had ever known. I did not want to be reminded of old familiar things.
"The grassy banks of the ice-cold pale water were as untouched as though no one had ever been there before; no footprints, no vestige of humankind, marred that empty hermitage. Tall trees stood with their trunks plunging deep into the grass and white violets and wild strawberries were thick in the cool shade. Everything in this garden was composed like poetry, and romantic like poetry may be. 'Shakespearian,' I thought, and then quickly dismissed the analogy. Was one to be forever reminded of something else and never to experience anything in itself at first hand? My mind seemed to me a waste-basket of the world, full of scraps that I wanted to throw away and couldn't. I longed for an immersion in some strong solution that would wipe out forever the world I had known so I could savor, as though it were all there was to savor, this life of natural beauty and clarity that has never been strained into Art or Literature. No - everything in the world outside had been distilled into art, defined by ruthless, restless, wordmongers, or other artists in transformation, and they had used it all up. I did not want that old world any more. I knew unless I found a new fare I would admit 'actum est' and give up."
Interesting to me, because I went through this exact same phase when I was younger and discovered the wastes of the California desert east of the Sierra, and of Nevada. I associated this 'awakening to what is' with a spiritual change in myself, less as an aesthetic change, and also interestingly, I associated this change with my husband, whom we had reason to believe was part-Indian (Lenape, like me), and with the natural environment of California with its empty miles of seacoast, its grassy hills, granite mountains and its high desert terrain. His consciousness seemed already capable of appreciating an environment that to my mind, distorted as it was, was nothing but empty desert or wilderness. (My mind was 'distorted' by the stereotypes of the mainstream culture of my time, which had no appreciation for desert-terrain, thought it was okay to blow up atomic bombs in it, even though there were people living nearby, not to mention animals and plant eco-systems. During this period, I lived a kind of 'double life' - what I really felt inside, and what I felt obliged to express and engage in in the outside world.) I'm finding that as I embrace my innate Lenape cultural-consciousness - and flesh it out by familiarizing myself with the culture as it has been preserved by those who never forgot their true identity - I feel more 'oneness' within myself.
Well, I hope you can see how the flow of this post holds together. Wanishi! :-)