If there’s one thing that few of us like to consider, it’s torture. I know that when I watch THE LAST OF THE MOHIGANS, I fast forward through those scenes that are full of abuse and torture. And if this is the case, you might wonder why in the world I am posting about it. Well, in doing research for my next book, like it or not, I have had to take a deep breath and confront what others have written about Native Americans in those pages that I’m reading.
If you’ve watched 50’s movies about the West, you might have noticed that they demonstate torture now and again. Hero’s are tested by it — heroines are nauseated to the point of grief over it. And the Indians themselves test their enemies by it. It goes without saying that torture is a human rights violation (non-fair treatment of prisoners) and one could say — if they look closely at world history — that a culture which indulges in torture is a culture on its way out. Look at Rome, the Druids, the Eastern Indians, the Mayans and Aztecs, Egypt, Spain and the Middle Ages when the robber barons owned castles that came complete with dungeons and the “very best” torture equipment. In truth, history shows us — if you really care to study it — that times of enlightenment are noted not by outrage and war against one’s fellows, but rather by a people’s kindness and indulgence toward one another.
So, if torture so marks a culture and a people who indulge in it, why is it done? I gotta admit, I don’t really get it, but after considerable reading lately I think I at least have come to grips with what I feel is why some people within a culture feel they must indulge. And here’s what I’m hoping you’ll help me with — your understandings of what this is all about.
From my research, I can’t find that the Northern Plains Indians indulged much in torture. They were more prone to end their enemy’s lives right there on the battlefield. Certainly there was no (or perhaps little) torture within the Northern Plains Villages. As a matter of fact, I can find no reference to it at all. On the battlefield, yes. But not in the vaillages, themselves.
This was not the case for the southern Indians, however. There is ample record of the torture of prisoners amongst the southern tribes, the Apache and Comanche and the Pawnee specifically. But why torture? Why torment another living soul? In reading over the book, THE DEATH AND REBIRTH OF THE SENECA by Anthony F.C. Wallace, we learn that Mary Jennison — who was a captive of the Seneca, described her husband at one time in these terms, “During the term of nearly fifty years that I lived with him, I received, according to Indian customs, all the kindness and attention that was my due as his wife. — Although war was his trade from his youth till old age and decrepitude stopt his career, he uniformly treated me with tenderness, and never offered an inslt… He was a man of tender feelings to his friends, ready and willing to assist them in distress, yet, as a warrior, his cruelties to his enemies perhaps were unparalleled… In early life, Hiokatoo showed signs for thirst for blood, by attending only to the art of war, in the use of the tomahawk and scalping knife, and in practising cruelties upon every thing that chanced to fall into his hands, which was susceptible of pain. In that way, he learned to use his implements of war effectually, and at the same time blunted all those fine feelings and tender sympathies that are naturally excited by hearing or seeing, a fellow being in distress. He could inflict the most excruciating tortures upon his enemies, and prided himself upon his fortitude , in having performed the most barbarous ceremonies and tortures, with the least degree of pity or remorse.”
It goes without saying that one might be violently inclined towards those who inflict pain upon one’s own loved ones. In fact, governments traditionally count upon this emotion in their people, and often use it to accomplish their own ends. It’s possible that a similar thing was extolled in Native America. After all in those days, one needed to present a unified and strong /terrible image to one’s neighbors — for one’s own mere survival.
Anthony F. C. Wallace also writes in THE DEATH AND REBIRTH OF THE SENECA, that with this image of what makes a man a man — i.e., that he be kind to his own people,but devilish and cruel to his enemies — it’s no wonder that the youth grew up to immulate that very image. Of course the E:uropeans who came to this continent were also cruel — and especially so to the Native Americans. Perhaps it was an age of cruelty. I don’t know about that, but I do know this: perhaps one can in his/her own life, set an example of understanding and kindness. In reading history, I am struck over and over by how much one person can influence for the positive so many people. Kindness, understanding, taking no harsh measure without talking it over very well first, have influenced more people than all the evil, pain and torture in the world. Maybe it was meant to be that way. I like to think so anyway.
In this day and age of terriorism, of torture, of fear of the other guy and ill-manners in general excused because of fear, perhaps it might be important to remember the code of the West, where one trusted one’s neighbors to such a degree that a man stood by his handshake, alone. One can set a good example, one can show kindness. Pain does exist, torture exists in our world today – governments the world over defend themselves on their “right” to torture the enemy — in self defense of course — but that doesn’t mean one has to do the things governments do. The world literally lives and shines on the good works of people.
In my own mind, I’ve finally set it all to rest. I think I understand why those in power feel they must inflict pain and suffering. But that doesn’t mean I have to agree — and it certainly doesn’t mean I have to imitate those who would inflict pain — heaven forbid.
So what do you think? Why do you thnk others engage in inflicting pain and suffering on others? One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that perhaps people think of another as different from themselves, as though they don’t think, feel, love, etc. But I digress. What do you think? Come on in — let’s talk.