Conclusion: Burying the Rock or Preparing the Turkey?
The white people made us many promises, more than I can remember. But they never kept but one. They promised to take our land, and they took it.
Finding is the first act The second, loss.
Whereas the mythology of the Pilgrims and Puritans, the Promised Land, Plymouth Rock, and Thanksgiving still is firmly embedded in national narratives, iconography, and cultural practices, protest against this WASP version of American beginnings has not abated. Native American organizations have enacted a counter-cultural practice at Plymouth: Burying the rock. On Thanksgiving, November 23, 1995, Moonanum James (Wampanoag), leader of the United American Indians of New England, gathered over 300 Native people and supporters of all nationalities at Plymouth Rock, where “the protesters climbed across a fence to get to the rock and buried it covering it with sand and erecting an indigenous warrior flag on top of it” (“Native People”). This symbolic burial of Plymouth Rock, as the activists explain, “capped the 25th anniversary of the National Day of Mourning speak-out held here in Plymouth. The Day of Mourning is a protest against the U.S. celebration of the mythology of Thanksgiving, and against the racist ‘Pilgrim’s Progress Parade’” (ibid.). The parade referred to here reenacts Pilgrims walking to church, muskets and bibles in hand. Moona- num James comments that “[t]hey want to act as though we sat down and ate turkey and lived happily ever after. That is simply not true - and we keep coming back year after year in order to give answer to their lies” (qtd. in ibid.). And in regard to the Mayflower Compact, he states:
There was no room in that Compact for women, lesbians and gay men, and the poor, let alone for Native people or our sisters and brothers of African descent. We call on all oppressed people to unite and join the fight against the racist and murderous ruling class, and not glorify the Mayflower Compact but to condemn it and the system it created. (qtd. in ibid.)
Illustration 7: ‘Illegal Pilgrims’
Yaakov Kirschen, The First Thanksgiving (2006).
Political protest not only counters sanitized versions of American history in which the Pilgrims and Puritans are painted as victims of an oppressive society rather than as genocidal colonizers, but also other commemorative rituals that are part of the national fantasy of the Puritans which arguably function to suppress the more gruesome aspects of their story. Many aspects of Thanksgiving, “America’s most loved holiday” (Dennis, Red 81), are by and large later fabrications: The turkey, for one thing, was certainly not part of the Thanksgiving celebration in 1621. Archaeologist James Deetz, who worked at the site of the first settlement of the Pilgrims, points to a long-standing misconception:
We finally found some turkey bone after ten years of digging. The circumstantial evidence is that it wouldn’t be likely [that the Pilgrims ate turkey]. Turkeys are very hard to kill and the matchlocks of the period weren’t very good for hunting. (qtd. in Dennis, Red 100-101)
Dennis elaborates how the American turkey industry has fabricated the traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner in the latter decades of the 19th century (cf. ibid.). The Thanksgiving turkey turns out to be a fiction - and a market-driven capitalist fiction at that.
And yet, religio-political devotion to the idea that the USA is a (or the) Promised Land and the fantasy of Puritan national origins are still somewhat hegemonic. Many comparisons have been drawn between the Protestant legacy of the Pilgrims and the Puritans and contemporary Evangelicals in the United States, as both groups adhere to Biblical literalism, strive for a theocratic society, and do not allow for a functional differentiation of the social world: in their view, religious doctrine underlies all aspects of public and private life. And religious fundamentalism and evangelicalism cannot be neglected as a political force. But even more structural reverberations of Puritan thought can be found in contemporary politics: Kevin R. den Dulk discusses what he refers to as “Evangelical Internationalists” (cf. his article of the same title), and Jeremy Mayer has pointed out the ideological proximity between US-American evangelicals and conservative religio-political groups in Israel, who share, and bond over, an exceptionalist and Promised Land rhetoric: chosen people both (cf. “Christian Fundamentalists”). We may consider this a transnational dimension of the Promised Land myth.