Dec 10 2006

Apocalypto: a glimpse into the native past

Published by at 8:45 am under Current Events,Globe and Post

“We don’t like so much the Europeans who came to this place and killed all the people,” an Italian visitor to Vancouver recently remarked to me. He said it while looking at representations of native artwork at the Vancouver Art Gallery with a sincere kind of wonder mixed with a frustrated incomprehension.

According to my acquaintance, Europeans have the idea that their ancestors essentially came over to this part of the world and wiped out the native populations in a terrible explosion of genocidal bloodlust. He actually assumed that the First Nations were extinct in Canada.

I tried my best to explain to the new arrival that while Europeans did indeed commit terrible atrocities against the indigenous population, diseases brought over from Europe had contributed far more to their decline and their current state as a disempowered minority in their own ancestral lands.

Duplicitous diplomats and cheating traders didn’t bring these cultures to their knees. Typhoid, Tuberculosis and smallpox ensured that the European colonial experience in the Americas would meet little resistance.

Most people living on BC’s west coast are at least somewhat familiar with the history of the Pacific Northwest natives. On the coast, in the midst of plentiful resources and a mild climate all year round, the natives were able to sustain relatively stable societies over more permanent swathes of territory than was possible elsewhere – before contact with Europeans brought its familiar apocalypse.

Unlike their distant cousins to the south who had access to advanced metalworking and stone-hewing technologies, the Pacific Northwest tribes used wood for everything. Hence, no pyramids. No lost cities, like Machu Piccu. Not even a single house remains of their ancient civilization. It has all quite literally rotted away.

Only painstaking work by archeologists, anthropologists and our own First Nations descendants have given us some idea of what went on here long ago.

Mel Gibson’s new film, Apocalypto, will attempt to bridge that gap in our vision a little for the ancient culture of the Mayas, pre-contact. The film must surely suffer from inevitable innacuracies of the worst kind – the ones where there is no living expert who can point out the mistakes. But it at least attempt to show us what this part of the world was like before the coming of the others. I look forward to seeing it – as the first effort of a new genre.

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4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Apocalypto: a glimpse into the native past”

  1. on 10 Dec 2006 at 10:03 am

    But it at least attempt to show us what this part of the world was like before the coming of the others. I look forward to seeing it – as the first effort of a new genre
    its a Hollywood movie pure and simple

  2. on 10 Dec 2006 at 6:56 pm

    So… what exactly is the contradiction?

  3. on 11 Dec 2006 at 1:04 am

    well I can tell you one thing,its not going to teach anyone any thing about indigenous peoples.
    I suspect it will be full of violence and blood lust,based on sterotypes and questionable “history”.
    In my opinion the indigenous peoples were “civilized” the European invaders were the barbarians.In deed to this day First Nations are still fighting for basic justice.

  4. on 11 Dec 2006 at 4:36 am

    “its not going to teach anyone any thing about indigenous peoples.”
    You come to this conclusion, how, exactly? I assume you haven’t seen the film, yet.
    Indigenous nations in the Americas were hardly free of violence, war and, yes, barbarism, that has afflicted humankind. Native tribes were fighting eachother, and in the case of several southern American cultures, practicing human sacrifice, long before the Europeans arrived. Blaming the European contact for everything and assuming that natives are morally superior and lived in peaceful harmony before the Europeans just isn’t fair and isn’t backed up by what we now know.

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