“I have always been interested in history,” said Darvin wiping the rain off his shirt and sipping a Belgium beer in the downtown Isaac’s in Lancaster. In an interview with Jaquemate Darvin, specialized in DNA analysis and interpretation, passionately interested in history and indigenous cultures he added: “I was intrigued by the kind of history not found in the history books. That has been my passion since I was very young. I realized as I grew up that history is always written from a certain perspective.”
There would appear to be a vacuum in the historic connection…
“There is only a certain aspect of history that is shared, isn’t that right? That is, if we are talking about history concerning economic development, indigenous culture, ‘Westernization,’ although the way history is taught in the schools is beginning to change. I have been dealing with this issue, trying to find out about Native American villages. But what are my sources? Colonial records! Documents made by white Europeans. Then you look at maps and well, there are oral stories in very specific communities all around here about Native American presence but if you look at the maps that information is not there. You have to think about who the map makers were: many of them people claiming land. You can find archeological evidence of a native village but it is not on the maps.
To what extent was indigenous culture been obliterated by the expanding invasion of white Europeans?
You go into isolated Native American communities and they are cheering the cowboys in Hollywood movies! They have been obliged to embrace Western values over their own culture, although they may even deny that if you ask them. It’s scandalous! The tide is changing and I think that according to whom you may be talking people might be offended by that story of submission. They would be ashamed, yet it is a reality.
History is written by the winners, don’t you think?
That is why the study of history is so difficult. If you ask anyone on the street they say OK we had our program and well then everyone has stories in their families. This has been passed down, my grandfather kept the secret but…You know, there was this Carlisle Indian school that operated up to about 80 years ago that took Native American’s from all over the country and brought them to Carlisle, which is about 40 miles from here and acculturated them into American culture. They weren’t allowed to speak their own languages and had to change their names. They were taken here from their families and brought here to be acculturated.
What happened to the different indigenous groups which populated this area?
There was a big struggle between Algonquian and Iroquois tribes. The Seneca branch of the Iroquois came down from western New York sometime between 1300 and 1450 and subdued the Algonquian peoples, before the arrival of Europeans. As more and more Europeans arrive the pressure increases for the indigenous peoples to move west. In the Lancaster area there were some Europeans but it wasn’t officially settle until the 17th century. The indigenous groups came here forced out of their home areas.
Was there much resistance?
Yes, there are stories about that if you go into the communities. There were several massacres and the physical removal of native people to reservations, things like that.
What practices did the white settlers take from the indigenous inhabitants?
When you think of the vegetables we eat here—corn, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, squash, peppers—all of these were taken from native people and today form an important part of our diet. True, cabbage, peas and wheat came from Europe but look at the great variety. Fruits too, strawberries, other kinds of berries.
Did the indigenous people cultivate those vegetables?
We don’t know exactly how they did it but over thousands of years they improved maize, corn. They ritualistically saved their best seeds for the next year as a sort of offering to the earth and planted it the next season. You do that generation after generation and your best seed becomes the normal seed.
What about their agricultural rituals?
Well, they had the three sisters: the corn, the beans that wrap around the corn and the squash that lies on the ground. They planted them ritualistically in small plots. And as fish was also included in their ceremonies, the remains became fertilizer for the plants. They didn’t understand agriculture scientifically as we do today but it was a ritual of giving to the soil in anticipation of a bountiful harvest.
What do we know about the spiritual ideas of indigenous culture?
In a general sense, it is a kind of pantheism in which god or the gods appears in everything around you. They referred to the Great Spirit that is the ultimate reality beyond them; the spirit is in animals, plants, water, in the air, in the wind, in the ancestors. This is basically similar to what you might find in any other indigenous peoples, in pre-historic times.
The way they built their houses reflected their spirituality, did it not?
Yes, we don’t think that way but really there is a spiritual connection. They would think that our houses were a waist of space compared to their round structures! The Algonquian cultures buried their dead in their houses, in the ground in their houses. You protect your ancestors so they will protect you. There is also evidence that when they moved they took their dead with them. I don’t know if that was a common practice but there are colonial records about that. In any event, what is common to pre-historic peoples everywhere is the contact with Mother Nature. Any language based on feminine and masculine refers to “mother” nature. Because creativity come out of birth, of plants or the birth of a child from its mother.
What are you working on now?
Sure. I am involved in tracking down Native American history and practices in this area, finding new things all the time. I was just talking to a Shawnee woman in York County who was talking about the origin of the Cocalico Creek, which I knew meant the den of serpents and she told me why it means that. If you go to the source, to the north of the county, there is this field of boulders—probably dating from the last ice age. She said the indigenous people in the area would hear amidst the boulders a sound like that of snakes and that’s why they called the creek born there “Colalico.”
Darvin L. Martin: firstname.lastname@example.org
DNA Analysis & interpretation