swillsqueal at yahoo.com.au
Sun Nov 24 16:24:02 MST 2002
Message from a friend...........
I wanted to share this passage from John Mitchells
book Trespassing. He uses Nashobah, an area just west
of Boston, to illustrate the progression of private
property. He follows the ownership of this land from
the Native Americans to the English, back to the
Native Americans, and then forever back to the
English. I have learned a thing or two about the
privatization of land from Mitchell's analysis of this
property. I found, interestingly that private property
really didnt become the concept we are familiar with
until about the seventeenth century. Just before the
Industrial Revolution in England, the feudal system
was very much established, and fixated on the village.
None of the entities below the royal family owned
land, but rather owned the right to use the land. Then
William the Conqueror decided to refine this feudal
system to his liking, and declared this particular
parcel of forest in England his private hunting
grounds. All those discovered in "his" forest would
have their hands cut off or were put to death.
These villagers had to this time told stories about
the Green Man, a mythical figure who was part human,
part animal and lived at the forest edge. They gave
offerings to the Green Man, who would return their
lost children from the dark depths of the forest. The
Green Man had several descendants, the most famous
being Robin of the Wood or Robin Hood. So it went plot
by plot, William proceeded to assess his holdings and
document them in the Domesday Book. This concept of
privatizing land was eventually rooted into our
Constitution with the fifth amendment: " nor shall
private property be taken for public use without just
Without any further ado, the creatively poignant and
amusing passage about Mr. Adam Fortunate Eagle:
This unique, somewhat bizarre, custom of one culture
not even recognizing the existence of another was
turned upside down a few years ago by a Chippewa
acquaintance of mine named Adam Fortunate Eagle. On
September 23, 1973, he boarded a plane he had
christened "Chief Joseph" and took off to claim Italy
for the Chippewas. Why not, he reasoned, if the
purported Italian navigator Columbus could do the same
for the Americas?
The whole gambit was a setup, of course; he had even
informed the Italian consulate in San Francisco of his
intentions, and to their credit, the Italian
government and the every hungry paparazzi took it very
Knowing he might encounter "native inhabitants,"
perhaps savage, Mr. Fortunate Eagle arrayed himself in
ceremonial attire for the big event, a fringed
buckskin war shirt, a silver turquoise ring, and a
traditional feathered headdress.
At dawn on the 24th, the "Chief Joseph" descended from
the clouds and landed upon flat ground beyond a
beautiful Italian city that the natives called, in
their language, Roma. Having got word of his arrival,
the locals were excited by the appearance of the great
man, reporters surrounded him, fawning, be he strode
through the crowed and raising a ceremonial spear,
drove it into the Italian soil and thereby claimed the
land for the Chippewas.
"Take me to your leader," he said to the assembled.
He was led to a grand palace, where he ascended a wide
flight of white marble stairs, and was ushered into a
spacious room where a small dark man in a gray suit
was sitting. The small man rose and greeted Mr. Adam
Fortunate Eagle warmly, clasping his right hand in his
and moving it up and down briskly-an apparent greeting
ritual of this culture. Fortunate Eagle was informed
through interpreters that this man was Giovanni Leone,
the current sachem, or president of the Italian
nation. The two chatted amicably, and while they
talked a message was delivered by a page. The
spiritual leader of that country, a sort of chief
medicine man, know as "The Pope," had heard of the
arrival of Mr. Fortunate Eagle and wished to pay
homage to the great explorer.
At eleven oclock the following morning, Adam
Fortunate eagle entered into a grand city within a
city. It was a vast, jumbled collection of buildings
almost, but not quite, equal to the great cities of
Teotihuacán or Chichén Itzá or the mountain retreat of
Machu Picchu, constructed on the American continent by
Mr. Fortunate Eagles fellow Americans some years
before the construction of the Italian edifices.
Inside the buildings were windows of colored glass and
many statues of people and long hallways of shinning
polished stone. The proud natives conducted Mr.
Fortunate Eagle to a room with an arched ceiling,
covered entirely with paintings of human beings-some
equipped with wings. In the center of the ceiling was
a painting of a scowling man with a white beard, his
arms outspread. This, the natives explained, was their
chief god, and this room, this chapel, as they called
it was one of their primary cultural centers.
Mr. Fortunate Eagle, still clad in his celebratory
dress, was mildly impressed with their temple. But he
had also seen the frescoes at Bonampak and the
paintings on the walls of his own temples and could
not, for all the world, see what all the fuss was
Then Mr. Fortunate Eagle was conducted by an entourage
of splendidly caparisoned officials into an inner
sanctum where their chief shaman held court. A door
opened and a man in white vestments and a conical hat
came forward and greeted him. Adam Fortunate Eagle was
informed that this was the famous Pope.
The Pope held out his hand, indicating by signs that
Mr. Fortunate Eagle should kiss a bejeweled ring he
wore upon his finger. The discoverer of Italy stared
briefly at this imposter, and then held out his ring,
the silver one, with the precious turquoise stone,
indicating through signs that the Pope should kiss it.
Instead, the Pope laughed heartily and took his hand
and held it while the two of them spoke of their two
nations. Speaking in English and with apparent
sympathy, the Pope said he understood the plight of
the Cheppewa people and the American natives.
"Thank you, my son," said the great discoverer.
Adam Fortunate Eagle returned to the Americas and
announced his discovery and there was a little
flurry-for fifteen minutes-in the American press. The
story was even written up in Time magazine. But it
didnt do much for the plight of the American
Indians. That story was written too long ago to
"The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land,
said, "This is mine," and found people naïve enough to
believe him, that man was the true founder of civil
society." Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1754
Mitchell, John Hanson. Trespassing. An Inquiry into
the Private Ownership of Land. Massachusetts:
"Man first begins to philosophize when the necessitites of life are supplied." Aristotle
"determinatio est negatio" Spinoza
"There are no ordinary cats." Colette
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