Friday, October 30, 2015

Nyuck Nyuck Nyuck

Them Bones, pages 10-25, continued

For the previous entry in this series, click here.

Our main man, Madison Yazoo Leake, having passed through a time portal at the beginning of this chapter, finds himself separated from his Army companions and much further in the past than he had planned. Setting out, after several days of fruitless waiting, for the site of Baton Rouge, he is bathing in a stream (cleaning off several days of dirt and passenger pigeon poo) when a group of local people happen upon him.

The encounter, like so many first encounters between very different people, goes poorly. The three men who stumble upon Leake are obviously indigenous Americans, as their breachcloths, adornments, bows, and facial tattoos indicate. Their hairstyles remind Madison of the Three Stooges, so he names them Moe, Larry, and Curly, giving an air of absurdity to what becomes an anti-climactic exchange.

The three travelers are startled by Leake, and more so by his horse. They try to communicate with him by repeating simple stock phrases: "Nah Sue Day Ho" and "Cue Way No Hay." I don't know from what Native American language Waldrop borrowed these sentences, and Leake doesn't know either; the only non-English languages he speaks are Spanish and Greek, the latter learned during the Cyprus War. He tries English and Spanish greetings out on Moe and Co., then tries gestures, and at last, worried that one of them will hurt his horse, fires a warning shot. The carbine shot does not startle the Indians - perhaps they have heard such weapons before? - and with an air of disappointment, Moe says a short closing phrase ("Ah muy nu-ho") and he and his companions depart.

Waldrop did well to make this encounter disappointing but non-threatening. Leake now has an incentive to follow the Three Amerindian Stooges, and he trails them back to their village. This proves a small town near the Mississippi River, with a palisade enclosing fifty houses and two high mounds. A building, probably a temple, surmounts one of the mounds. Outside of the settlement stand fields of beans and corn, planted in rows. This is an unrealistic detail, by the way; Native Americans generally planted different crops together on raised hillocks, to avoid soil  depletion. Waldrop did get the crops themselves right.

It appears that the inhabitants are expecting M.Y.L. Nearly all of them have taken shelter inside the town palisade, watching Leake approach with their spears handy. One Indian man, however, remains out in the fields to welcome the stranger. He is simply dressed, has no tattoos and only one small earring as adornment, and is carving some sort of stone with - another anachronistic detail - a metal blade. The anachronism, I suspect, was one Waldrop intentionally included. The greeting is obviously an odd person, not only in appearance and disposition, but also in how he greets Leake: not in an indigenous American dialect, but in one of the languages Leake knows, the one he learned in Cyprus.*

Coming next: Warrant Officer Smith reports.

(Above image courtesy of the National Park Service:

* The greeting was most likely "Chairete," the Greek word for hello.

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