February 14, 2012

School diorama in A Gifted Man

In Case of Complications, last week's episode of A Gifted Man (airdate: 2/10/12), had a Native bit. A father and his little girl Pilar seek treatment in the clinic where Dr. Michael Holt works. Pilar's father is carrying a model of a Native village with little huts and a fence made of matchsticks.

Holt asks Pilar about it:Holt: Is that a diorama for school?

Pilar: Yeah. It's a village like the Manhasset Indian tribe lived in? Did you know they used to call Long Island Oponoma Paumanok?

Holt: I did not. What's that mean? "Land of Shopping Malls"?

Pilar: "Land of Tribute."
Here's some of the lore Pilar is talking about:

American Indians of Long Island, NYThe Indians called Long Island "Paumanok," which meant "land of tribute". This name, by the way, is among many others recorded in historical accounts under different spellings--partly because the Indians did not write and early colonists were not good spellers.

The Long Island tribes lived fairly prosperly. Chiefly they were hunters and fishermen, but some of them were farmers who raised beans and corn. Game, which was rather plentiful on the Island at that time included deer, bear, racoon, turkey, quail, partridge, goose and duck. Also seafood was plentiful where fresh water met salt water, many Indian campsites could be found at such inlets--where the natives caught crabs, clams, scallops, lobster, and many kinds of fish including herring, bass and bluefish. The Indians were expert fishermen, equally adept with bows and arrows or simple hook/string methods of catching fish.

According to early accounts recorded by the first European settlers, Indian houses in the area were dome-shaped structures from 10 to 20 feet in diameter, covered with grass. Clay covered openings at the tops of the dwellings prevented them from burning when fires were lit inside: the vents allowed smoke and heat to escape.

The primary medium of exchange among the Indians was wampum, ornamental groupings of small sea shells strung on the sinews of small animals or attached to the inner bark of elm trees.
Comment:  As usual, it's nice to see some genuine Indian lore in a TV show. It's easy to work it in if you try.

Anton the Shaman

As I noted before, one of A Gifted Man's recurring characters is Anton the shaman. After his introduction, the show revealed that his full name was Anton Little Creek.

I've never heard anyone except a Plains Indian with a name like that. The show seems to be suggesting that Anton is not just a New Age shaman, but a real Native shaman. If so, his beliefs and practices are more questionable than I thought. A New Age shaman can do anything he wants, but a Plains-style "shaman" should reflect the culture(s) he comes from.

The real problem, of course, is that the Plains cultures didn't have shamans. Instead, they had medicine men and healers. The concept of a Plains shaman who communicates with the dead is that much closer to being stereotypical and wrong.

For more on shamans, see MUKTUK WOLFSBREATH Revived and Indian Religion Isn't Shamanism.

Below:  Early Indian life on Long Island.

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