To what extent can "Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation" be seen as a textual product of genocide?
E. Agathokleous 2016
"That Native American peoples were [...] subjected to genocide should be self-evident,”
George Tinker, Missionary Conquest (1993).
While there is much debate on whether or not the treatment of Native Americans, the long history of wars, disease and movements that led to the decimation of the American Indian community, consists a case of genocide, George Tinker argues that events speak for themselves since the Native American people were victims of genocide not only concerning their physical demise but also expanding to religious, social and cultural aspects (5). According to the definition of genocide in the Convention on the prevention and punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the UN in 1948, genocide does not only involve the actual killing of a group of people but also the intent to destroy that group of people (280). Whether there was or not the intent for the complete eradication of Native American cultures is the main issue that causes the ongoing debate about whether or not the Native Americans were indeed victims of genocide. Complexity of the issue is also increased by the long history of the Native Americans that needs to be assessed, the large number of indigenous groups as well as the different interactions they had with others (Ostler 2). Genocide, as defined, also includes the enforcing of certain circumstances or the implementing of techniques that threaten survival. When examining Native American history, it becomes clear that contact with settlers had a massive impact on Native American’s population. Their relationship was a violent one, mostly due to expansion policies by the settler’s that faced Native Americans as an obstacle to their goals. Primarily used as slaves for gold expeditions, they then suffered from diseases against which they were not immune, they were subjected to enforced relocations but also their culture and religion were attacked in efforts of assimilation (Ostler 1).
Natalie Diaz, a Native American of the tribe of Mohave, published her first collection of poetry in 2015 and through it eloquently and passionately presents a variety of issues related to the Native American community. As she states in an interview given to Kaveh Akbar, her poetry consists of images that tell stories, stories she had either experienced or were created through myth and history. The issue of genocide is such that rouses responses from all kinds of people and also vast production of literature including texts, essays and poetry. As Daniel Terris states in his introduction of “Literary responses to mass Violence”, “the human impulse to respond with words and stories is impossible to suppress” (7), thus major historical events create debates and responses in terms of uncovering the truth but also expressing individual reception. As other examples of poems emerging from events of genocide, Diaz’s poem “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation”, could in a large extent be characterized as a textual product of genocide in terms of the historical and religious references to genocide it entails but also through its confining form and warning, unforgiving tone.
World history has been more than once been tainted with cases of genocide. The Armenian genocide in early twentieth century was caused by extreme Turkish nationalism and was an attempt of eradicating even the slightest trace of Armenian people and culture. The attacks on the Armenian people were so blatant and dire that caused reactions from many nations like France and Germany, which contemned these crimes. The Armenian genocide was a brutal one especially taking into account that it went on overtly and unrestrained eradicating anything Armenian, and causing the death of over two million people. (de Zayas J.D. 4). As a consequence it had a great affect on the production of poetry by Armenian poets. Like in the case of Native American poets, Armenian poets expressed the trauma of events during the killings and how people reacted to atrocities committed against them. “The dance”, a very descriptive poem by Siamanto, an Armenian poet killed by the Ottomans, gives eye witness testimony to the horror and the extreme violence during the Armenian genocide (Polain). Also, more recently Peter Balakian received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2016, for his collection “Ozone Journal” which also refers to the bloody past of Armenian killings and the danger of extinction while it also contains references to Native Americans as well providing a global connection to genocidal attempts and dangers (Pulitzer Prize Awards). Sylvia Gaboudikian, an Armenian female poet, does very well at expressing this pain of loss and the fear for the future in her poem “Perhaps” (Buchinger 2015). She expresses her love for Armenia, it’s fragileness but also the hope that the Armenian genocide would help “[purify] a world of lies” (8).
Another event of genocide that led to literary production of texts had as end target the complete eradication of a minority group of people in Rwanda. In 1993, the International Commission of Investigation on Human Rights Violation in Rwanda since October 1, 1990, issued a report concerning the mass killings of the Tutsis. As it is stated in the findings, which were established by eye witnesses’ testimonies and mass grave excavations, citizens were targeted and killed by their government just because they belonged to the specific group of the Tutsi, and that their elimination was considered by their opponents to benefit the greater good (3-7). These events happened right after political turbulance that led to a civil war and ultimately had a count of half a million people of the Tutsis that were a minority with atrocities that involved spontaneous street killings (Straus 1). Michaella Rugwizangoga, also a female poet, like Diaz and also touched by the monstrosity of the attacks against her people found expression through poetry, for the pain of loss caused by the Rwandan genocide. In her poem “Identity” she stresses how she had to give up her home due to hatred and violence (27).
Indigenous people also find expression through the art of writing, often reflecting on history and events incorporating also personal criticism and views. Many, if not all, of the contemporary Native American poets share evidence of genocidal influence in their poems, at many times using irony or even sarcasm to state their objection to it. The theme of genocide seems to be unavoidable especially when it comes to Native American poets, still enrolled and active members of Indian reservations, people who grew up in reservations even if they left them at some point of their lives (Nelson, 46). Adrian Louis and Sherman Alexie are two examples of poets whose poetry can be considered as “social criticism” against the treatment of the American Indian Community, (Nelson 47). Louise Erdrich is also among those writing about racism displayed against the American Indian community based on historic events that aimed to suppress or destroy it altogether. Special places in Native American literature hold native women poets which also stress injustice and lack of respect against the natives. According to Indrani Dewi Anggraini, poems written by Native American female writers have become more in numbers and are gaining all the more attention since they create a link to Native American culture through which people can connect and better understand it. Native American female writers seem to incorporate the pain of loss and the suffering for the long painful history of their people in their writing, searching for an identity that suffered attacks and pleading for a place in society (1).
Natalie Diaz, turned to writing after a successful basketball career. Her poem “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation” appears in “When My Brother Was An Aztec”, a collection of poems in which she deals with issues of identity and memory through stories and events sourcing both from the past but also personal experience. In this collection, which was a Kessler Poetry Book Award finalist and won the American Book Award in 2013, narrow-mindedness and prejudice against the Native American cultures are elements in her poems that examine how the Native American cultures were altered or managed to survive through time and opposition facing numerous challenges through time. (Copper Canyon Press)
In “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation”, Diaz uses a form frequently used in the Hebrew Bible. Psalm 19, is one of the most early and well known abecedarian compositions and it’s form came to be discussed as a form of “constrained writing” due to the confinement the abecedarian form entails (Callaham 2009). This confinement may be paralleled to the confinement of the Native American community, both by settlers but also Christian Missionaries that attempted to impose their religion on the indigenous without any regard for their own religion and culture, a notion closely connected with the mental element of the genocide legal definition. The title itself relates the poem to the Anglican Church quite bluntly stressing the subjugation of wild Indians by it. Angels and Christmas pageants, as well as the Nazarene church, which was founded in the United States and focused on sanctification and moral purity (Ellwood, Alles 316) refer to the attempts of missionaries to convert Native Americans to Christianity and subsequently bring them under the control of the church. The speaker clearly expresses dismay and indifference for Christian customs which are irrelevant to Indians, “Maybe in a Christmas pageant or something” (13) the word “something” stressing how whatever it is, it is not really important to the speaker or other Indians. There is also blame for discrimination since “everyone knows angels are white” (16) as Diaz writes with a dose of irony. Since church power was highly important, Spain, France and England set up expeditions with the “salvation of the savage soul” (Stock 368) as an axiom. While the Native community already suffered from killing attacks and murderous diseases, missionaries arrived to claim they offered civilization, disguising their purpose for power and domination under a noble cause. Even though missionaries and pilgrims failed to fully convert the Natives they demanded full conversion and assimilation with no respect for native culture, practices and customs (Ostler 6). There was no real progress however since even though some tribes adopted European religious practices they never fully indulged into Christianity and at the same time also held their own Native rituals, symbols and beliefs (Fisher 102).
- Quote paper
- Elena Agathokleous (Author), 2018, Native American Genocide in Natalie Diaz' Poem "Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/995917