Monday, December 23, 2013

Such Were the Joys, 1834 Edition

A brief anecdote from my current research on the Midwest Indians:

In the 1820s the Episcopal Church set up a mission station and school for the Indians residing near Green Bay, Wisconsin. At the time the local Native American population consisted of a few Menominee communities, a colony of Stockbridge Indians (Munsees and Mahicans) from western New York, and (after 1832) a settlement of Oneida immigrants. The school, under the direction of Reverend Fish Cadle – really, you can't make these names up – offered instruction in the 3 Rs, grammar, and geography, but it attracted few students, and I get the impression that the church drew few converts. Part of the reason for this lies in the religious history of the eastern Wisconsin Indians: some of the Menominees were already Christian (Catholic), as were many of the Oneidas, and the Stockbridges had already founded their own Presbyterian church. A larger problems, I think, was the willingness of the missionary teachers to use corporal punishment on children not used to such treatment at home, and the difficulty the missionaries had feeding their students. Food was expensive in Green Bay and the Anglican missionary society was very parsimonious, so the few dozen pupils at the school were underfed and “sickly,” according to the report of a church inspector. This stood in contrast to the abundance that one could find at some local Indians' tables: when ministers visited local Oneida families in 1834 their hosts treated them to “pork and beans...chicken pies, squashes, potatoes, peas and rice pudding.” I do not get the impression that the missionaries learned very much from this experience, but there are clear messages for modern readers less invested in Rev. Cadle's ideology: the Indians of eastern Wisconsin were not “blank-slate” pagans awaiting the Episcopalian Gospel, and neither were they starving savages – indeed, they could better feed their guests than the missionaries could provide for their students. (David R.M. Beck, Siege and Survival: History of the Menominee Indians (2002), 125-127; Jackson Kemper, "Journal of an Episcopalian Missionary's Tour to Green Bay, 1834," Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin 14 (1898): 394-449, quotes pp. 426, 433.)

Perhaps, in the manner of many missionaries, Cadle and his co-workers believed they were offering students more important treasures than mere material sustenance, but it's hard to appreciate geography or Christian theology on an empty stomach.This was a lesson that did not escape other missionaries: Franciscans in New Mexico and Texas often drew in potential converts by accumulating large food supplies, or at least grain crops and herds of beef cattle, in their missions, and observers of the Baptist mission to the Kansas Shawnees opined that many families had placed their children with the boarding school in order to feed them, which (given the hardships the Shawnees experienced during Removal) may well have been the case. If one believes that one cannot turn Indians into Christians without completely isolating them from their community and old lifeways, one has to make some effort to feed and shelter the converts, unless one wants them to become dead converts.* “Grub first, then morals,” as the playwright said. (Andrew Knaut, The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 (1995); Juliana Barr, Peace Came in the Form of a Woman (2007); Kevin Abing, "A Holy Battleground: Methodist, Baptist, & Quaker Missionaries among Shawnee Indians," Kansas History 21 (1998): 118-37.)

* That missions and boarding schools often had very high rates of epidemic disease was something missionaries deplored but attributed to God's will. Until the nineteenth century missionaries' medicinal toolkit was generally no more effective than that of their Native American converts, a point Andrew Knaut makes in his book on the Pueblo Revolt.

Friday, December 13, 2013

I Am the Emperor and I Want Dumplings

Readers of this weblog are probably familiar with the term "Columbian Exchange," with whose definition I will not trouble them. That a similar matrix of intercontinental exchange covered the Old World well before Columbus's day is well known to world historians, but as James Millward's new book is the first I have read that proposes using the term "Silk Road" as a shorthand label for these exchanges. Part of the useful Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press, The Silk Road focuses on the exchange of people, plants, animals, goods, technologies, and ideas within Eurasia between 3500 BCE and 1500 CE, particularly during the last millennium or two of this long period. Millward observes that the Central Asian steppe region, with its abundance of grass and horses and shortage of practically everything else, occupied an analogous position in the Silk-Road exchange system to the Atlantic Ocean: it was the dangerous but efficient transit zone that tied the civilizations around it together. The various nomadic cultures and empires of the region, such as the Scythians, the Xiongnu, the Seljuk Turks, and the Mongols, served the same function as Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch mariners of the early modern era: violent and exploitative as they were, they also created the trade networks that enriched and disrupted the surrounding cultures.

Within the Silk-Road system, Central Asia supplied an abundance of horses, which remained one of central Eurasia's most important trade goods - as late as the eighteenth century the Mughals were importing 50,000 central-Asian horses into India every year. The steppeland peoples also introduced the chariot, the cutting-edge war machine of the late Bronze Age; developed the equestrian rituals, such as polo games and royal hunts, that became features of aristocratic life from Europe to China; and invented the stringed instrument known to the Arabs as the oud and to southern Europeans as the lute. From India came cotton, lemons, sesame, the humoral theory of disease (which Galen brought to Europe and traders to China), and the Jakata tales, which may have inspired the 1,001 Nights. Europe supplied wine and viniculture - first developed in the Caucasus but popularized by the Classical Mediterranean cultures - as well as new types of beans, peas, and alfalfa, and a new weapon, the trebuchet, of which the Mongols became very fond. It is an open question whether new crops or new military technologies spread faster through the Silk-Road trading network.

From China and East Asia, the network diffused several plant species eagerly adopted in the Middle East and Europe, such as sugar cane, peaches, almonds, and millet, as well as the new technologies of paper-making (which reached Europe via Spain in the thirteenth century) and gunpowder, which helped build the empires, notably Russia and Qing-dynasty China, that eventually conquered Central Asia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Chinese sericulture - that is, knowledge of how to make silk - gave the Silk Road its name, and Chinese silk was itself an important trade good, but other cultures spent considerable effort learning how to make it themselves, with the Byzantines (for instance) learning the secrets of silkworm-raising by the sixth century. The same was true of China's eponymous blue-and-white kaolin porcelain, which in the early-modern era became one of the most widely copied artifacts in the world, produced by Safavid Persians, Ottoman tile-makers, the Dutch porcelain center of Delft, and Mexican Indian workers in Puebla.

Of particular interest to your narrator was the emergence of a distinctive foodstuff whose origins are obscure, but which probably could not have existed without the Silk-Road exchange system: the dumpling. The distinctive triangular potsticker, cased in wheat-flour and stuffed with pork, chicken, horse meat, pumpkin, and/or various spices, first appeared in central Asia in the eighth century CE* and spread as far west as Italy and as far east as Japan. Various Eurasian cultures steamed or fried these pastries and served them with "soy sauce, vinegar, sour-cream, yogurt, butter," and broth. I write here in the past tense, but these are the same dumplings one can order at most Chinese restaurants today, and I like to think they are the same kind of food that Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria (r. 1835-48) demanded in the one coherent sentence he ever spoke: "I am the emperor, and I want dumplings." Food fit for a king, in other words, though readily available to modern commoners.

* Millward notes that archaeologists discovered a "dessicated dumpling" in a 1,200-year-old tomb near Astana, Kazakhstan. Despite its advanced age and condition I'll bet my petite amie's dogs would still eat the thing if one allowed them.

The potsticker image above is courtesy of haleysuzanne, is available under a Creative Commons license, and may be found here.