Re: Memory of Plague (was Re: diseases and immunity)

Gerold Firl (
9 Jul 1996 17:13:59 GMT

In article <4rp1ht$qva@elaine42.Stanford.EDU>, vanya@leland.Stanford.EDU (john tillinghast) writes:

|> I have been following this discussion of these incredibly lethal epidemics
|> in the New World, and they sound like events that be remembered for a long
|> time. (For example, in England the nursery rhyme "ring around the rosies"
|> is supposed to describe the effect of the Black Death -- to name a trivial
|> example.) So I am wondering how the affected peoples interpreted what was
|> happening (especially if they did not meet Europeans themselves), and how
|> the memory of the catastrophe was passed on in various cultures, if you
|> have that kind of information.

Crosby, in _ecological imperialism_, cites a kiowa legend: saynday,
the kiowa culture hero, was walking along in his way when he met a man
dressed like a missionary, in black suit and tall black hat. The man
spoke first: "Who are you?"

"I am saynday" was the reply, "who are you?"

"I am smallpox, and I come from across the eastern ocean. I am to the
white man as you are to the kiowa. Sometimes I travel ahead, and
sometimes I follow behind, but wherever I go I bring death. At my
gaze, children wither, women become ugly, and strong men are

I'm paraphrasing here, but that's the gist of it.

Contrast with the words of an early 17th century immigrant to
massechusetts, who wrote "the indians sicken and die, and thus does
god grant us title to this land." Both indians and whites saw the hand
of the supernatural in the american epidemics.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf