"More indigenous territory has been claimed by maps than by guns"
May 29, 2015 7:48 AM   Subscribe

 
Paradoxically, the blog does a disservice to indigenous Indians in this article, where their languages are entirely left out.

I can sort of see why this is, the article chiefly focuses on cities and indigenous languages are not spoken in the cities (e.g. tribal people in Ranchi learn to speak Hindi), but still it's a shame to not even mention languages like Santhali, Mundari, or Ho as being Indian languages when the whole premise of the blog is to acknowledge indigenous people.
posted by splitpeasoup at 8:13 AM on May 29, 2015


splitpeasoup: Sometimes, everything I learn about India seems to be an example of fractal intersectionality, with blossoming infinitely repeated patterns of exclusion and invisibility.
posted by idiopath at 8:44 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Previously: this fabulous map of an uncolonized Africa from a parallel universe.
posted by theodolite at 8:46 AM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


"History is written by the winners." Seemingly maps as well. Although I admit I'm glad I don't have to address a letter to Hii3einoon Niitbii3ihi3i’ Hoh’eni', Colorado, 80301...
posted by jim in austin at 8:49 AM on May 29, 2015


Rosencrantz was on to more than he realized when he declared England a conspiracy of cartographers.
posted by maxsparber at 8:52 AM on May 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


You have to take the maps for what they are I guess, but I'd agree, even from a position of pretty casual knowledge they seem to lack a lot of subtleties.

For example: The Great Lakes in Ojibwe is the transliteration (and according to the comments, a particular one of a few) for one of the peoples around the Great Lakes, and only one of the language families used in the area. Migration and the disruption caused by European colonialism make talking about original languages more complicated.
posted by bonehead at 9:15 AM on May 29, 2015


Okay, this is just annoyingly wrong. Apparently all of Europe has a "negligible" percentage of "indigenous peoples". (The Cornish, Welsh, Bretons, and Basques might disagree with that, I imagine.)
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 9:19 AM on May 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Scotland came very close this year to becoming an independent country. This map was made after the referendum vote to highlight the degree to which Scotland has been colonized by the English language. Glasgow is so rarely referred to by its Gàidhlig name, Glaschu. And while the difference may seem trivial, imagine the outrage the English would feel if forced to refer to their main city by it’s Gàidhlig name, Londain.

I think this fellow's mind might explode were he to learn that Gaelic is also a colonial language in Scotland.

Okay, this is just annoyingly wrong. Apparently all of Europe has a "negligible" percentage of "indigenous peoples". (The Cornish, Welsh, Bretons, and Basques might disagree with that, I imagine.)

It's laughably bad both in Europe and elsewhere. Indeed, without actually defining "indigenous" (even with a date, for example) it is impossible to make such a map. Yet the map itself acknowledge competing and differing definitions. It's basically junk.
posted by Thing at 9:25 AM on May 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


The francophone black people who live in "Hati Bohio/Quisqueya" might be surprised to discover that they aren't "indigenous" due to not being Taino.
posted by Avenger at 9:44 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


A true true-names map should be layered to pay attention to the subtleties. Each layer would then be determined by the people who live/lived in that area.
posted by dhruva at 9:53 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


still it's a shame to not even mention languages like Santhali, Mundari, or Ho as being Indian language

even from a position of pretty casual knowledge they seem to lack a lot of subtleties.


It seems like he would welcome comments and contributions.
posted by Miko at 9:56 AM on May 29, 2015


I guess that's what bothers me about them; lack of context. Being just images, it's too easy for someone to mistake them for being the One True Names for a place.

He's worked with scholars and elders to develop these maps, but, like in the Ojibwe case, some of those names are like asking a native of France for place names in northern Italy. I'm sure they're correct, in context, but perhaps not what other names the places might go by either.
posted by bonehead at 10:22 AM on May 29, 2015


It's kind of naive. Should a place in New York/Ontario get the Iroquois name, or the Huron name, depending on which native tribe ruled it at the time? Were places in New Zealand colonized, and then renamed, by the Maori from the peoples who lived there prior? And don't even get me started about the Bantu expansion.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:34 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is one of those things that will never make anyone happy. The history of humans is one of migration and colonization. And each set of people that came through gave names to things.

The phrase "indigenous peoples" is very problematic. In Mexico, for example, do we use Aztec names instead of Spanish ones? The conquering Aztecs gave Nahuatl names to places that already had names in a "more indigenous" tongue.

The movement of peoples is so dizzying that, in tracing my genealogy, I had concluded that I was Tarascan, a large tribe that was not under Aztec control. But then, it turns out, I am more likely from another tribe that migrated into Tarascan territory. They gave their own names to places.

What are the true "indigenous" names for these places then? Is it who was there first? Who was there the longest?
posted by vacapinta at 11:00 AM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Seconding that this will definitely not make people happy.

I'd been attempting to add Ojibwe place names to OpenStreetMap, despite a complete lack of knowledge of the languages and their many orthographies (hey, well-intentioned immigrant amateur not like that's ever gone wrong amirite, see all colonial history everywhere ever …). My attempts to use more nuanced three-letter language codes (such as oji instead of oj) would quickly get smashed down by some German bloke* who thinks that all language codes can only have two letters.

*: the majority of OSM remote editors are male, and live in Germany.
posted by scruss at 11:19 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


How come the top of the maps this guy made himself is always north, south, east, or west? That's so orthoganist.
posted by XMLicious at 11:27 AM on May 29, 2015


“There is no truth in cartography,” Engel said. “Colonial powers, without the consent of indigenous people, drew up imaginary political borders, which, more often than not, don’t reflect any real natural or cultural boundaries.”

Indigenous names, on the other hand, describe the landscape, animal life or cultural events, he said.


Yeah, this is just your standard Noble Savage nonsense. Of course there's truth in cartography, and there are lies in cartography, no matter who's doing it (see above comments for applicability to this guy's work), and figuring out which is which, when you can even do it, and when it even makes sense, which much of the time it doesn't, is a lifetime's work for which asking This Indigenous Guy I Happen to Know isn't a shortcut. I would love to see a well-done project layering all the historical and linguistic variants for as many places as possible—every town in Europe has a bunch of them, though most have long been ignored/forgotten (see here for samples)—but you're not going to do a decent job if you start out with this childish "white colonialist bad, indigenous person of color good!" mentality.
posted by languagehat at 12:05 PM on May 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


some of those names are like asking a native of France for place names in northern Italy. I'm sure they're correct, in context, but perhaps not what other names the places might go by either.

I feel like the answer to this is "yes." Place names don't exist in any objective sense; they're entirely culturally determined. Many different groups can give separate names to the same place. And there are place names in every language for places outside their home area: "France" is one of them, for instance. People in France don't call it "France."
posted by Miko at 12:55 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would love to see a well-done project layering all the historical and linguistic variants for as many places as possible

I would like that too, but in the meantime we have this and it is an interesting start and a point reasonably well taken. One property of successful colonization is the power to rename and force those names to stick.

I do find it interesting how many Native American place-names remain on the map without anyone really thinking of them as Native American much. New Jersey, New York, and New England are full of such names.
posted by Miko at 1:06 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


> I would like that too, but in the meantime we have this and it is an interesting start and a point reasonably well taken.

But all it is is a point made; the actual details are not important (I presume the creator would say)—what's important is to show that colonialism is bad and the Man stole everything from indigenous people, including place names! I'm sorry, I don't find that particularly interesting any more. I like details, and I like them correct.
posted by languagehat at 5:27 PM on May 29, 2015


Wow, those maps are ugly.
posted by signal at 5:37 PM on May 29, 2015


  People in France don't call it "France."

They call it “here” …
posted by scruss at 6:29 PM on May 29, 2015


or "home"
posted by Miko at 6:44 PM on May 29, 2015


Around here the most intense arguments lately have been around renaming creeks and other landscape features that were previously known as "Squaw Creek" or "Squaw Mountain." This NYTimes article gives a hint of how intense the pushback can be -- and this is just to get rid of an offensive slur, not rename and redraw an entire landscape around indigenous identity.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:55 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Apparently Jews are European; I wish the author had been around to explain that to the Nazis.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:12 PM on May 30, 2015


"Istambul"? And, eh, Turks are not indigenous to Turkey! Do they get a pass because they are not European? is there an implicit statute of limitations after which indigenous names can be extinguished?
posted by Autumn Leaf at 6:49 AM on May 31, 2015


Apparently Jews are European; I wish the author had been around to explain that to the Nazis.

Um, aren't European Jews... European? (If the author is calling, say, Yemeni Sephardic Jews "Europeans," that is a different case; I am not sure what is being referred to here.) And besides, Slavs and "Latins" are also indubitably European but that didn't stop Hitler from looking down on them as well (though without the same singular animus that he held for the Jews).
posted by dhens at 4:42 AM on June 1, 2015


Well, it doesn't mean much, is my point. Yes, I suppose you could call a group that had been in Europe for a thousand years "European" - but Jews were socially, culturally, and ethnically distinct from other Europeans, and they maintained strong ties to Jewish communities in other parts of the world. The fundamental Jewish rabbinic works are the Babylonian Talmud (composed in what is now Iraq c. 1300 years ago) and the Shukhan Arukh (composed in what is now Israel, c. 500 years ago), but the basic commentaries on them are those written in and around France (Rashi and Tosfot, c. 1000 years ago) and Poland (Rema, c. 500 years ago). Oh, and the Shulkhan Arukh is structured around the Arba Turim, written in what is now Spain about 700 years ago. So there's really no geographical consistency that lets you say "these Jews are European but those are Middle Eastern".
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:41 AM on June 1, 2015


That's... a strange way of looking at it. Some Jews were socially, culturally, and ethnically distinct from other Europeans, and some Jews maintained strong ties to Jewish communities in other parts of the world, but many didn't; in fact, many Jews did their best to assimilate into the societies around them and would have been appalled to have you tell them they weren't really Europeans.

The fundamental Christian text is the Bible, which is a Middle Eastern document; does that make Christians Middle Easterners?
posted by languagehat at 8:13 AM on June 1, 2015


in fact, many Jews did their best to assimilate into the societies around them and would have been appalled to have you tell them they weren't really Europeans.

The number of Jews who assimilated into European culture is markedly low. Jews maintained their own language, practices, and council across most of Europe, and were kept separate by most European countries, and saw themselves as decidedly not part of the mainstream. My brother once mentioned to my father that he felt weird about talk of war with Russia (this was the 80s), as we were Russian, and my father immediately reminded him that our grandfather would have responded that we were not Russian, but Jewish.

Assimilationist movements took place mostly in Western Europe, but even then found itself directly in conflict with the rise of Nationalism, which often continued to see Jews as interlopers.
posted by maxsparber at 10:31 AM on June 1, 2015


Beyond that, I should point out that one of the central ideas in the Jewish experience is that of diaspora -- that we are a people who were forcibly dispersed from our homeland, and one day will return.

The fact that European Jews saw themselves as Middle Eastern, sort of (those aren't the words they used to describe themselves) is no more surprising than African-Americans seeing themselves as Africans in America, or me, as an adopted Irish-American with a mother who was an Irish citizen and a father who was from England, seeing myself as having a heritage in Ireland and the British Isles.
posted by maxsparber at 10:39 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


> The number of Jews who assimilated into European culture is markedly low. Jews maintained their own language, practices, and council across most of Europe, and were kept separate by most European countries, and saw themselves as decidedly not part of the mainstream.

You're lumping together all sorts of different situations. Of course at times and places where Jews were kept separate, they were separate, duh. But as soon as more liberal laws were put in place, large numbers of Jews (urban, largely) took advantage of them to meld as far as possible with the culture they saw and admired around them. This is so obviously true for, say, 19th-century Germany and the USSR that I'm surprised I even have to mention it. On the other hand, for "European Jews saw themselves as Middle Eastern, sort of" I'm gonna want citations, even with the weasel-word addition.
posted by languagehat at 2:29 PM on June 1, 2015


I respect you, but if you're going to demand that I asterisk my own experience because you don't trust it, you're way out of line. I assure you the Jewish experience in Europe was not defined by assimilation, and you are welcome to do your own research to confirm this.
posted by maxsparber at 4:19 PM on June 1, 2015


And this is where I exit this discussion.
posted by maxsparber at 4:20 PM on June 1, 2015


The fundamental Christian text is the Bible, which is a Middle Eastern document; does that make Christians Middle Easterners?

The situations aren't parallel, but a frequent slur against Catholics was that they were loyal to the Pope (or "the Church of Rome") rather than to their own country. Part of the reason for that was the international nature of Church scholarship, in which you might have an Irish monk studying in a German monastery that had been founded by an Italian. Similarly, Rabbi Isserles in Poland felt the need to annotate and distribute copies of a halachic work written in Israel, to take local variances into account; and that text from Israel was structured around one written in Spain, because it was more convenient to follow a format that people were already used to. It's all one big rabbinic culture with texts and people going back and forth.

I think we need to take a step back and be explicit about the period we're considering. Historically (loosely, before the Enlightenment) Jews were basically seen as aliens who could be admitted or expelled at will; and they frequently were. This wasn't just a political thing but a cultural and religious one: Jews ought to be in that position, because they were being punished for their sin in rejecting Jesus. Symbolically, all Jews were the Wandering Jew; their "real" home (albeit one from which they had been expelled) was Palestine. In fact, I've seen photos of pre-WW2 German and Austrian signs, apparently erected by local municipalities, saying things like "Jew, go back to Palestine. You are not wanted here!"

With the rise of Westphalian sovereignty and the Enlightenment you had a whole debate over the nature of national versus personal identity, and an awkward crystallisation of two incompatible ideas: that there is a French or Bavarian identity (which implies that there are people who are more French or more Bavarian) and the idea that personal attributes do not determine an individual's national identity. This sort-of worked when dealing with Protestants and Catholics, but for many people the sticking point was the acceptance of Jews as fellow nationals, i.e. what was called "the Jewish question". So you had things like the Hep Riots which were popularly explained as being a reference to Jews' status as aliens ("Hierosalyma Est Perdita", i.e., "Jerusalem is destroyed"), and legal exclusions of Jews that went on until after WW2. In fact, Jews were not formally admitted to Spain until 1968!

So at the time Jews were denied a European national identity, what national identity did they have? I think the only answer is that if they had one, their national identity was "Jewish": it was only their geographic dispersal that would make you say otherwise. In any event, it would be perverse to say that they had a general European identity at a time when they could have no specific European identity. The question of whether being Jewish is ipso-facto to have a Middle Eastern identity is a tricky one, but I think it begs the question: the idea of a geographically-defined identity just doesn't work for everybody.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:09 PM on June 1, 2015


[Folks, the history of the Jews in Europe is a rich topic but not the subject of this thread, so let's table it there. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:08 PM on June 1, 2015


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