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Thanksgiving as Tragedy 21 November 2006

Posted by VARANGALI in History, VARANGALI.

The 17th century highwayman Claude Duval once stopped a lady’s coach, and pocketed only ₤100 of the ₤400 he found. The rest he exchanged for a silent, moonlit dance by the side of the road. Immortalized in English lore as gallantry by a prince of thieves, I find the episode deeply unsettling. As Garret Keizer put it,

I have always been appalled by any attempt to compel an action that ought to be a freely chosen pleasure.

This is precisely what galls me about Thanksgiving.

On the face of it, it is a bittersweet kernel of what could have been: Native Americans and the Colonists sharing resources in harmony. But the power dynamics that underlay the feast were the same that would soon end Native American life. As such, it was little more than an innocent death row inmate’s last meal: a feast as a prelude to a massacre.

The difference between the Wampanoag tribe at the original Thanksgiving and Duval’s dancing partner is one of perception. Duval’s gallantry cloaked his dagger and musket, just as underneath the Pilgrims’ generosity lay a deep-seated belief that the land was theirs, as were its resources.

It is not simply ironic that this imbalance of ambition was expressed over something as pleasurable as a feast. It is tragic – to use something as universally uniting as the breaking of bread to give the lie to the ensuing tragedy that is the history of Native Americans in the United States of America.

Note: I expect an ABD rebuttal next week.



1. Rebecca Aguilar - 21 November 2006

As the descendant of indigenous peoples, I’ve become accustomed to feeling shame over what the European half of my ancestors did to destroy this way of life.

However, those who truly understand American history know what might have been if the Wampanoag had not shared resources.

The Thanksgiving feast does not come from the generosity of the Pilgrims, but from the generosity of the Native Americans.

The Wampanoag taught the newcomers how to fish and hunt game (including wild turkey), cultivate corn, beans, and squash.

2. James - 21 November 2006

Rebecca is right the Wampanoag saved the Pilgrims from starving to death. The Pilgrims were insanely unprepared for the rigors of New England. They paid for their incompetence with their lives dieing in droves in the first year. The Wampanoag took pity on the poor, starving white idiots proving once again that no good deed goes unpunished.

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