Date: Sun, 19 Sep 1999
From: Dan Moonhawk Alford [responding to Dennis, Rene, Robert Firth]:
1) Sequoyah, a Cherokee Indian, invented a syllabic script for the Cherokee language (although Bob Richmond informed me that Cherokee is a tone language and Sequoyah did not indicate tones);
According to Sequoya's direct descendants, Sequoya did not invent anything (no matter how much the missionaries of the time wanted to take credit for bringing the 'talking leaves' which he supposedly drew his inspiration from), but was simply the last of his tribe's Scribe Clan (the rest having been massacred by militia and God-fearing settlers making *their* country safe for 'progress'), the last who had knowledge of a writing system that dated back to before the Invasion. But the white culture, the victors who write the books, decided long ago that it knows better than the Indians about the Indians' own history. Our loss. See Tell Them They Lie for direct quotes from this book.
2) the Miao language of southern China was written in a syllabic script by a missionary, Samuel Pollard, in 1904. (The script is giving way to Latin script.)
What do the speakers of Miao say about that? Does it make sense to anyone here that anyone, much less a missionary, trained in ALPHABETIC literacy only (no linguistics training back then) would actually devise a syllabic system from whole cloth?
3) The Cree Native American language of Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan in Canada is written in a syllabic script invented in 1840 by a Protestant missionary.
Again, self-serving missionary crap refuted by the Natives themselves -- who are only in the latter half of the latter-20th-century finding their own English voice. According to Blackfoot Native scholars, the Cree Syllabary comes from an ancient Blackfoot Syllabarium which has always been in one family, and they were always told, "You guys camp way over there," so that the writing system would not corrupt the oral traditions -- the only intentional practice of 'balanced literacy' I know in the past two millennia.
Again -- linguistically untrained missionaries who know only alphabets developing a syllabic system? I don't THINK so. I've worked first-hand on a missionary-devised writing system from early in this century -- Petter's Cheyenne -- and I'm here to tell you that it was pathetic. Having no linguistics training and knowing the systems of English, French and German, he completely blew off the voiceless/whispered vowels of Cheyenne: if he didn't hear them, he didn't write them, thereby obscuring the integrity of the phonemic system.
Do I believe the Indians over the righteous missionaries? Yes, I guess I do. The Indians have fewer reasons for distorting the truth, and have a history of better integrity, from my experience with both. It's perfectly true, of course, that the missionaries were the first to translate the Bible into Native language writing, but that's not the same as developing from scratch. Bending a writing system to describe the ideas of a foreign desert religion is not the same as inventing the writing.
I can't do anything about the mountains of misinformation out there in books about Native American peoples and their cultures, especially regarding the presence/absence of pre-Columbian writing systems (I'm surprised you didn't include the ancient Micmac birchbark writing, which Father Pacifique wrongly took credit for), but what I can do is give the loyal opposition side from the Natives' own account of their own history (not 'pre-history' to them when they have oral traditions, the term being predicated on writing alone) whenever I see these ideas crop up on lists such as this..
And now .. back to our regularly scheduled programming.
warm regards, moonhawk
On Mon, 20 Sep 1999, Robert Firth wrote:
If it had been solely up to the Spanish Invaders, for instance, we would today have no Mayan Codexes and would be arguing whether ANY writing ever evolved in the Americas. Evidence indeed!
And no, I don't think info about the Syllabarium is public yet. (How convenient?)
Can you tell me how a missionary could come up with the idea of writing consonant signs and then rotating them in the Four Directions to indicate different vowels? What ancient language that they might be trained in would give them that idea?
Larger picture: we can confirm that Native peoples in what we call Mexico (modern borders) and further south had writing, but north of there, everyone is lying who claims they had writing. It was the missionaries who handed out strange syllabic systems like Easter eggs to the poor benighted savages.
It's very possible that the same golden plates of writing originally in possession of a minor tribe who joined the Cherokees long ago (according to Traveling Bird) were those that were stolen by Brigham Young, who had been snooping around the area of the Cherokees, who then founded Mormonism on them. A Mormon renegade last year, I believe, broke the code of silence about them and said they were in some ancient writing system and contained a primitive history of the Americas. Angel Moroni indeed! That was simply prevaricative disinformation to cover the theft and hide the existence of Native writing systems in North America. Who among the Invaders do you suppose would write such a history in a weird writing system instead of a European-language alphabet? OR, of course, the Natives are simply lying to their own children, much less us, about their own history in a grandiose way.
When does the cultural, cognitive and spiritual imperialism stop? When do the surviving colonized Natives get to tell their own truth without being branded as liars because most of their confirming evidence has been burned and looted by the marauding colonizers? When do they get a break?
PS -- it's always cool to spell correctly the key term you're giving opinions on.
warm regards, moonhawk
On Mon, 20 Sep 1999, Daniel Harms wrote:
I'm not sure if this is an apt comparison - the stelae in the ruined cities would have been hard to explain away. And the fact is that Maya writing did survive, and continued to be performed for centuries after the Conquest. Paradoxically, it was de Landa, the destroyer of the Mayan codices, who took down the first Mayan syllabary (though he thought it was an alphabet).
It may be cultural prejudice, but it has some scholarly benefits. I have done some work on the Necronomicon, an ancient book that contains the most powerful black magic in the world - or so those who believe in it tell me. When I ask where I can find a copy, they say they've never seen one - all copies were hidden or destroyed by the Inquisition (despite the fact that magical manuscripts are by no means uncommon in collections today). Same story.