Monday, November 23, 2009

Book review Comanche A History of a People

I've just finished “Comanches The History of a People by T.R. Fehrenbach. It has affected me in ways I never imagined it would. Yes, the book is sad – it's a book about destruction but it also relevant to today's world where similar tensions exist between peoples and between development and protection.
”Authoritative and immediate, this is the classic account of the most powerful of the American Indian tribes. T.R. Fehrenbach traces the Comanches' rise to power, from their prehistoric origins to their domination of the high plains for more than a century until their demise in the face of Anglo-American expansion.”
That is accurate and understated because this book really does cover a lot of ground and it is written in a very readable style. I did struggle with a sense of unease at some of the uncompromising descriptions and judgements.
“History is brutal... The story of the People is a brutal story, and it's judgements must be brutal. These judgements may offend those who would have man be a different kind of being, and the world a different kind of place.”
I am one of those, yet when you look around the world today and see the brutality of people to other people – well, perhaps understanding the brutal nature on people is a very worthwhile endeavour.
”As Dee Brown states, “For a complete history of the Comanches, this book probably has no equal”
and that fits with my view; a slightly qualified endorsement. But as a qualifier it is small and didn't detach from my pleasure in reading the story of the People.. I recommend the book even though as stated,
“Any history of the People, no matter who writes it, must suffer from the fact that records were kept only by the People's enemies.”
They called themselves Nermernuh or the People and were known as Comanche
“The few thousand Nermernuh or People, who lived and died on the plains and were destroyed as an independent people, shaped the continent in ways that few modern Americans have seen or understood.”
“... they destroyed the ancient dream of Spanish empire in North America; they shredded the Mexican frontier; they blocked the French advance into the South-west; and they delayed the advance of the Anglo-American conquest of the continent for almost sixty years.”
I am embarassed to admit that I, like many people, when I think of Native Americans – the image of the Plains indian comes to mind. Hunting the buffalo, living in tipi, counting coup and so on. Hollywood has a lot to answer for because that image of Native Americans is a small sample of all of the Native American peoples. All of the peoples had their own beliefs and ways of living. Just as here in this country it is fair to say that although all are maori, there are differences between Ngai Tahu and Nga Puhi. Native American peoples, with their vast continent are also different to each other, yet are still all Native Americans.

The Comanche were people of the plains. Of course nowdays there are no plains or buffalo. The descriptions of the destruction of the People and their lives, including inconcievable destruction of the plains and the buffalo are heart-breaking, especially when you consider it was all done for the ignoble purpose of making money.
“...40,000 hides left Dodge by rail in a single day” “...during 1872-74, 1.5 million hides went out of Dodge alone” “ ... the records show that between 1868 and 1881 the bones of thirty-one million animals were sold for fertilizer in the state of Kansas. After 1881 there were no records, for there were neither bones or buffalo.”
The attitude that drove the destructions is still here today. It is here in this country and we have to resist it – for the benefit of everyone and everything.

 I cannot get the final pages out of my head. They describe how 3 years after the last wild Comanches were brought into the agency, the military finally agreed, in 1878, that the tribe could go on a hunt. They were filled with joy, the older men and women described the wonders of the hunt to the young people. They talked of the great richness of sucking the marrow from the bones and satisfaction of riding the Plains and chasing the buffalo. They danced and prepared their horses and arrows. They rode out, under military escort, and they rode for miles and miles, for days and days. All they found were bones. The buffalo were gone.

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