Disinformation can be presented in many forms. Besides outright untruths, perhaps the most insidious are incomplete or cherry-picked facts, often legitimized by subtle weasel words, distractions from the matter at hand, and unsubstantiated conclusions.
A case in point is a brief reader-question and expert-answer in a prestigious national magazine popularizing history, science, etc. The reader asked if American Indians had a written language. That question should have opened up a very large can of worms. The responding “cultural specialist” from an important museum framed the answer narrowly by stating: “The Timucua were among the first to have a written system…”
Without identifying the Timucua, the respondent hid behind the weasel word “among” to remark on a Franciscan missionary in 1595 at St. Augustine in Florida developing that system for the native population. This was followed by remarks sanctified by ethnographic authorities on the Cherokee syllabary invented by Sequoyah over 200 years later in 1821. This simple answer was perhaps factual but essentially dis-informative.
Perhaps there was an early Franciscan missionary in that fanatically Jesuit Spanish colony on the Florida coast, but his using the Latin alphabet to write their language was of dubious and short-lived benefit for the natives themselves. By 1600, the Timucua people had been exterminated by diseases and genocidal violence.
Behind that weasel word “among,” several facts of singular importance to the reader’s question were omitted. In “America B.C.” by Barry Fell (1976), a scholarly book denigrated and dismissed by said ethnographic authorities, a lengthy discussion with comparative examples shows that the Micmac peoples of Maine and the Canadian Maritimes had a hieroglyphic writing system with clear relations to the Egyptian! In the early 1700s, a French cleric rendered Psalm 116 in the Micmacs’ well-developed system. Meanwhile, the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs were not deciphered until 1823 by Champollion. I can’t begin to explain how or when this happened, but the Micmac had at some time long before 1595 clearly made this writing system their own.
The most subtle weasel word involved in the cultural specialist’s answer to the reader’s question was “American Indian.” The expert quickly limited the question to North American indigenous peoples, conveniently ignoring indigenes of the rest of the Americas. I’ve not encountered any evidence of writing systems in South America, but the late Michael Coe and several other noted scholars of Mesoamerica have now decoded the hieroglyphic writing system of the Maya, revealing detailed histories of their lost worlds from some two thousand years ago.
To return to the famous Cherokee syllabary created by Sequoyah, there has been fascinating research on the Pre-Columbian peoples of the (North) American Southeast by Richard Thornton (https://apalacheresearch.com) showing that the peoples of the Creek Confederacy had in earlier centuries developed a syllabary of their own. Apparently, Sequoyah used that unique creation in formulating his system. This appropriation of native history to the Cherokee nation is part and parcel of their wider cultural/historical imperialism. In spite of their claim to have lived in the area “for thousands of years,” the Cherokee only immigrated into the Southeast (from Canada) in the 19th century after the United States government had mostly cleared it of other indigenous tribes following the Creek Wars and the Trail of Tears.
But I’m not through exposing official disinformation. The Timucua people in the specialist’s answer were a major mound-building culture in the Southeast well beyond the St. Augustine area. We know most about them from the artist, Jacques LeMoyne, who accompanied the refugee Huguenots who were (among) the first French to settle in the New World.
Under Rene de Laudonniére, they established Fort Caroline in 1564; the Spanish founded St. Augustine in 1565 and proceeded to slaughter and/or drive the French out. LeMoyne painted scenes of the Timucua like this later engraving of Laudonniére with Atore, son of the native “king of kings” Satouriona, at the column raised by the earlier French explorer Jean Ribault, image courtesy of Wikipedia:
Now we come to official disinformation in the form of alternative truth. Jean Ribault reportedly planted this column at the mouth of what he called the River May. Establishment dogma was that this was the St. John’s River in Florida, and in the first half of the last century the impartial State of Florida and City of Jacksonville jumped on that interpretation to “reconstruct” Fort Caroline there as a historical attraction. Again through the research of Richard Thornton, it’s now clear that Fort Caroline was in fact built at the mouth of the Altamaha River in southern Georgia near present-day Savannah. For purposes of the almighty tourist dollars, however, the official disinformation still stands.
My point in this tirade is that we shouldn’t blindly accept simple answers to complicated questions. Behind every supposedly historical fact, there’s usually a whole world of extenuating circumstances and alternative explanations that are derided and denied by establishment authorities. We always have to dig deeper to discover the real truth—and try to figure out who benefits how by promoting official disinformation.
Superb analysis !👏👏👏👏👏👏