America and Indian race (19414-1)

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America and Indian race

INTRODUCTION

Traditionally, the very beginning of the United States’ history is considered from the time of European exploration and settlement, starting in the 16th century, to the present. But people had been living in America for over 30,000 years before the first European colonists arrived.

When Columbus landed on the island of San Salvador in 1492 he was welcomed by a brown-skinned people whose physical appearance confirmed him in his opinion that he had at last reached India, and whom, therefore, he called Indios, Indians, a name which, however mistaken in its first application continued to hold its own, and has long since won general acceptance, except in strictly scientific writing, where the more exact term American is commonly used. As exploration was extended north and south it was found that the same race was spread over the whole continent, from the Arctic shores to Cape Horn, everywhere alike in the main physical characteristics, with the exception of the Eskimo in the extreme North (whose features suggest the Mongolian).

GENERAL BACKGROUND

Origin and Antiquity

Various origins have been assigned to the Indian race. The more or less beleivable explanation is following. At the height of the Ice Age, between 34,000 and 30,000 B.C., much of the world's water was contained in vast continental ice sheets. As a result, the Bering Sea was hundreds of meters below its current level, and a land bridge, known as Beringia, emerged between Asia and North America. At its peak, Beringia is thought to have been some 1,500 kilometers wide. A moist and treeless tundra, it was covered with grasses and plant life, attracting the large animals that early humans hunted for their survival. The first people to reach North America almost certainly did so without knowing they had crossed into a new continent. They would have been following game, as their ancestors had for thousands of years, along the Siberian coast and then across the land bridge.

Race Type

The most marked physical characteristics of the Indian race type are brown skin, dark brown eyes, prominent cheek bones, straight black hair, and scantiness of beard. The color is not red, as is popularly supposed, but varies from very light in some tribes, as the Cheyenne, to almost black in others, as the Caddo and Tarimari. In a few tribes, as the Flatheads, the skin has a distinct yellowish cast. The hair is brown in childhood, but always black in the adult until it turns grey with age. Baldness is almost unknown. The eye is not held so open as in the Caucasian and seems better adapted to distance than to close work. The nose is usually straight and well shaped, and in some tribes strongly aquiline. Their hands and feet are comparatively small. Height and weight vary as among Europeans, the Pueblos averaging but little more than five feet, while the Cheyenne and Arapaho are exceptionally tall, and the Tehuelche of Patagonia almost massive in build. As a rule, the desert Indians, as the Apache, are spare and muscular in build, while those of the timbered regions are heavier, although not proportionately stronger. The beard is always scanty, but increases with the admixture of white blood. The mistaken idea that the Indian has naturally no beard is due to the fact that in most tribes it is plucked out as fast as it grows, the eyebrows being treated in the same way. There is no tribe of "white Indians", but albinos with blond skin, weak pink eyes and almost white hair are occasionally found, especially among the Pueblos.

Major Cultural Areas

From prehistoric times until recent historic times there were roughly six major cultural areas, excluding that of the Arctic (see Eskimo), i.e., Northwest Coast, Plains, Plateau, Eastern Woodlands, Northern, and Southwest.

The Northwest Coast Area

The Northwest Coast area extended along the Pacific coast from South Alaska to North California. The main language families in this area were the Nadene in the north and the Wakashan (a subdivision of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock) and the Tsimshian (a subdivision of the Penutian linguistic stock) in the central area. Typical tribes were the Kwakiutl, the Haida, the Tsimshian, and the Nootka. Thickly wooded, with a temperate climate and heavy rainfall, the area had long supported a large Native American population. Salmon was the staple food, supplemented by sea mammals (seals and sea lions) and land mammals (deer, elk, and bears) as well as berries and other wild fruit. The Native Americans of this area used wood to build their houses and had cedar-planked canoes and carved dugouts. In their permanent winter villages some of the groups had totem poles, which were elaborately carved and covered with symbolic animal decoration. Their art work, for which they are famed, also included the making of ceremonial items, such as rattles and masks; weaving; and basketry. They had a highly stratified society with chiefs, nobles, commoners, and slaves. Public display and disposal of wealth were basic features of the society. They had woven robes, furs, and basket hats as well as wooden armor and helmets for battle. This distinctive culture, which included cannibalistic rituals, was not greatly affected by European influences until after the late 18th cent., when the white fur traders and hunters came to the area.

TRIBES: Abenaki, Algonkin, Beothuk, Delaware, Erie, Fox, Huron, Illinois, Iroquois, Kickapoo, Mahican, Mascouten, Massachuset, Mattabesic, Menominee, Metoac, Miami, Micmac, Mohegan, Montagnais, Narragansett, Nauset, Neutrals, Niantic, Nipissing, Nipmuc, Ojibwe, Ottawa, Pennacook, Pequot, Pocumtuck, Potawatomi, Sauk, Shawnee, Susquehannock, Tionontati, Wampanoag, Wappinger, Wenro, Winnebago.

The Plains Area

The Plains area extended from just North of the Canadian border, South to Texas and included the grasslands area between the Mississippi River and the foothills of the Rocky Mts. The main language families in this area were the Algonquian-Wakashan, the Aztec-Tanoan, and the Hokan-Siouan. In pre-Columbian times there were two distinct types of Native Americans there: sedentary and nomadic. The sedentary tribes, who had migrated from neighbor ing regions and had initally settled along the great river valleys, were farmers and lived in permanent villages of dome-shaped earth lodges surrounded by earthen walls. They raised corn, squash, and beans. The foot nomads, on the other hand, moved about with their goods on dog-drawn travois and eked out a precarious existence by hunting the vast herds of buffalo (bison) - usually by driving them into enclosures or rounding them up by setting grass fires. They supplemented their diet by exchanging meat and hides for the corn of the agricultural Native Americans.

The horse, first introduced by the Spanish of the Southwest, appeared in the Plains about the beginning of the 18th cent. and revolutionized the life of the Plains Indians. Many Native Americans left their villages and joined the nomads. Mounted and armed with bow and arrow, they ranged the grasslands hunting buffalo. The other Native Americans remained farmers (e.g., the Arikara, the Hidatsa, and the Mandan). Native Americans from surrounding areas came into the Plains (e.g., the Sioux from the Great Lakes, the Comanche and the Kiowa from the west and northwest, and the Navajo and the Apache from the southwest). A universal sign language developed among the perpetually wandering and often warring Native Americans. Living on horseback and in the portable tepee, they preserved food by pounding and drying lean meat and made their clothes from buffalo hides and deerskins. The system of coup was a characteristic feature of their society. Other features were rites of fasting in quest of a vision, warrior clans, bead and feather art work, and decorated hides. These Plains Indians were among the last to engage in a serious struggle with the white settlers in the United States.

TRIBES: Arapaho, Arikara, Assiniboine, Bidai, Blackfoot, Caddo, Cheyenne, Comanche, Cree, Crow, Dakota (Sioux), Gros Ventre, Hidatsa, Iowa, Kansa, Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, Kitsai, Lakota (Sioux), Mandan, Metis, Missouri, Nakota (Sioux), Omaha, Osage, Otoe, Pawnee, Ponca, Sarsi, Sutai, Tonkawa, Wichita.

The Plateau Area

The Plateau area extended from above the Canadian border through the plateau and mountain area of the Rocky Mts. to the Southwest and included much of California. Typical tribes were the Spokan, the Paiute, the Nez Perce, and the Shoshone. This was an area of great linguistic diversity. Because of the inhospitable environment the cultural development was generally low. The Native Americans in the Central Valley of California and on the California coast, notably the Pomo, were sedentary peoples who gathered edible plants, roots, and fruit and also hunted small game. Their acorn bread, made by pounding acorns into meal and then leaching it with hot water, was distinctive, and they cooked in baskets filled with water and heated by hot stones. Living in brush shelters or more substantial lean-tos, they had partly buried earth lodges for ceremonies and ritual sweat baths. Basketry, coiled and twined, was highly developed. To the north, between the Cascade Range and the Rocky Mts., the social, political, and religious systems were simple, and art was nonexistent. The Native Americans there underwent (since 1730) a great cultural change when they obtained from the Plains Indians the horse, the tepee, a form of the sun dance, and deerskin clothes. They continued, however, to fish for salmon with nets and spears and to gather camas bulbs. They also gathered ants and other insects and hunted small game and, in later times, buffalo. Their permanent winter villages on waterways had semisubterranean lodges with conical roofs; a few Native Americans lived in bark-covered long houses.


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