Nancy Shoemaker

in A Strange Likeness

Published in print April 2004 | ISBN: 9780195167924
Published online September 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780199788996 | DOI:

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American Indians and Europeans kept records of their international agreements in tangible form: wampum belts, calumet pipes, or eagle feathers among eastern Indians, and among Europeans, written accounts of what was said ending with signatures and wax seals. In meeting each other at diplomatic councils, they recognized how the other culture's contractual objects served the same purposes in that these objects stored the memory of the event in tangible form, were surrounded with ceremony to endow transient words with permanent significance, and, as mere distant facsimiles of oral conversations, were vulnerable to fraud and deceit. Benjamin West's painting Penn's Treaty with the Indians, commissioned by the Penn family to create a visual memory of fair purchase of Indian lands in place of missing written documentation, and the manipulation of words in the negotiations of the Delaware Walking Purchase, illustrate how writing was not a superior instrument for making Indian treaties than the Indian devices. Still, the illusion that European writing somehow assisted in the conquest of America has endured into the present.

Keywords: oral cultures; Indian treaties; wampum belts; calumet pipe; Penn's Treaty; Delaware Walking Purchase

Chapter.  8346 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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