The Codex of Native Stories

by LA Jamison

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I have to admit that sometimes I feel sorry for myself. I think we all have the violin playing moments. And indeed, compared to your average Joe, I've been through a lot more than some. But one unique struggler, warrior, and fighter who has went through a lot and continues to, in my mind, are native peoples across the globe.  They continually fight extinction of their homelands and cultures and given very little regard to provisions even in their displacement by colonizing societies.  Genocides haven't stopped since we wiped out Native Americans and Hitler took on the Jews.  I could get into the Jews and Syrians and all the others and their genocides but I want to stick to more of those natives who live off the land.

So let's return the natives. Mass numbers of natives being killed, or displaced with no home are hard for our minds to get around.  But recently in a book I am reading called "The Codex" by Douglas Preston, I read something profound.  The book is about 3 brothers who are put on this quest by their presumed dead father to find a Codex and treasure.  It is the father's way of making real "men" out of his sons. The story reads in part like a combination of The Amazing Race and Indiana Jones and a descent page turner I am enjoying. In the story there is a character named Don Alfonso, a native of Honduras, who knows how to eventually get one of the brothers and his team to this mysterious destination the Sierra Azule where this codex and the fathers treasures might be. 

In this particular scene in the story, the antagonist Haust is up on a mountain killing natives in order to make sanctuary in a ruined temple. This team of one of the brothers (all the brothers have all split up to get the treasure for themselves) who has hired Don Alfonso are arguing what they should do. This is when Don Alfonso speaks up and shares what his native history is since they seem to be discounting his advice. I found it the most profound summary of how natives, anywhere in the world, must feel and experience non-natives. When we hear of things like the Dakota Pipeline on the news, we may identify with how important the fight is while others want the natives pushed back for oil. But, it is hard to really know what their life is like living under that constant abuse even if we sympathize with them and believe in the cause. These are people of innocence from such greed and speed. They are true people of God because they are in touch with nature more than modern society, and nature has the hand-print and essence of God all over it. A nature we have largely paved over to get "busy".  So listen as this fictional sage describes his life because even though it is fiction, it really is a great summary and description.  Having read and study some of native culture, I think this, even as a fictional account, rings pretty true for the things I have read but additionally combines them into a quite a scope of their experiences as a whole.

 Dakota Pipeline protest march--Wallstreet Journal

Dakota Pipeline protest march--Wallstreet Journal

"Many years ago, when I was a boy, I remember when the first white man came to our village. He was a small man with a big hat and pointed beard. We thought he might be a ghost. He took out these turdlike yellow lumps of metal and asked if we had seen anything like it. His hands were shaking and he had a crazy look in his eyes. We were afraid and said no."  Alfosno goes onto describe that a month later a rotting boat appears with only the man's skull in it. They burn the boat and "pretend" it never happened.

The native goes onto describe the next visitor in the next year as a "man in a black dress and hat" who was kind. He "gave us food and crosses and dunked us all in the river and said he had saved us." This man "got a woman with a child", crossed the swamp and was never seen again.

After that Alfonso describes more men "looking for the yellow shit" who were "crazier than first.., molested our daughters and stole our boats and food and went up river."  The only one to return was a man with no tongue who was not able to tell what happened to the rest of them.

I found this next visitation striking and entertaining: "Then came new men with crosses and each one said the other men's crosses were not the good kind, that their's was the only good one, the rest were junk. They dunked us in the river again and others redunked us saying the first ones had done it wrong and then others came and dunked us again until we were thoroughly wet and confused."

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Next comes a white man who identifies himself to Alfonso's tribe as an "anthropologist". He is described as someone who 'lived with us, learned our language, and told us that all men with crosses were deficients."  He describes him as staying there a year "prying into our personal business and asking a lot of stupid questions.  These ranged from sex, who was related to each other, what they ate and drank and where they went after death. Alfonso describes himself as one of the "wicked young men" who are amused by the man writing all these things down saying he would put them in book in America and make them famous. So, these wicked young men begin telling him falsehoods as a form of entertainment.

Next come men from upriver with soldiers, guns and papers that they all must sign. They were forced to agree to a "new chief" who was much bigger than their own and "a face pocketmarked like a pineapple" and they were forced to hand over any land that proved to have oil underneath.  When the real chief protests, they take him to the forest and shoot him.

"Then came soldiers and men with briefcases and said there had been a revolution and that we have a new chief and said that the old one had been shot."  Alfonso describes them having to sign more papers and more missionaries coming who built schools and brought medicines. "They tried to catch boys and take them away to school, but they never could."  Alfonso describes their next chief as being his own grandfather, Don Cali, who asked for volunteers to go understand these white people "crafty as demons". Alfonso volunteers and allows himself to be captured. He describes himself as a model student who submitted himself to having his hair cut, wearing 'itchy clothes and hot shoes' as well as submitting to beatings for speaking his native language of Tawahka.  He stays there in La Ceiba for ten years learning both Spanish and English and says "I saw with my own eyes who the white men were". 

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Alfonso later goes back to his tribe to tell of the horrors and they cry about what they will do. He tell his tribe they will resist them by agreeing with them: " After that, I knew what to say to the men who came to our village with briefcases and soldiers. I knew when to sign papers and when to lose them... I knew what to say to the Jesus men to get medicine, food and clothes."  Sad but also funny is when he says, "Everytime they brought a picture of a new chief...I (threw) the old out...I thanked them and hung the new picture in my hut with flowers."  And this is when we learn the true of status of Don Alfonso as the last chief of that tribe and has just earned himself the leader of this new group of men and women who will clearly need his wisdom in a territory they know nothing about. 

Beyond native peoples being closer to God than most of us through the connection to the arms, legs, hands and heart of God expressed in nature itself, we too need native people.  They should be uplifted and taken care of and respected.  They carry big hearts, heavy burdens that modern society has placed on them, and a connection to a certain set of wisdom and spirit we would all do so much better to emulate rather than decimate.