I visited the “Community and Culture: North Carolina Indians past and present” exhibit at NC Museum of History, Raleigh. Though the exhibit was much smaller than I had expected, it presented a few cultural practices that have been maintained throughout the years by the Indians of North Carolina. I enjoyed talking to the docent, Linda who was very helpful and informative.
One of the first collections was about Corn, and how it was important in almost every aspect of life for the early Indians. From food to fuels to mats, the corn plant was used in a variety of ways by the Indians. When the Europeans explorers came to land, they too understood the importance of corn, and said that American corn was superior to the corn in Europe. Replications of John White’s (the explorer and artist who sailed to NC in 1585) drawings which showed the planting and consuming of corn by the Indians were displayed. I was surprised at the detail in one of his works which showed a field of corn along with the rotation of the crops. The size of the original corn is much smaller than today’s genetically modified corn. Another display about how Indians have been associated with corn comes from advertisements of corn that represent Indians stereotypically.
Another exhibit pertaining to Pottery was displayed. Linda explained how the method of pottery was different from Plain Indians and Eastern Indians. Even among the South Eastern Indians, there were distinctive styles and often a change of style depending if they were influenced by the European method and designs of pottery (she talked about the Catawba Indians, which we saw as a class at the UNC archeological department). Linda pointed out how the Western and Plain Indians pottery designs are mainly geometrical, as a result of replicating the rock and stone features of their environment, while the Eastern Indian pottery tends to have biological designs (birds, animals , trees), as a result of living in areas surrounded by trees, forest, and wildlife. Though I have seen quite a few Indian artwork, this difference never struck me, and I was glad to have learned that Intricate present day art work of Senora Lynch was on display.
Exhibit on Indian games/sports such as “Chunkey” and Stick ball were interesting, and it was good to see that these sports were still being practiced and remembered by the NC Indians. An excavated canoe, estimated to be about 2,500 year old was on Display. The canoe was found on Lake Phelps NC, along with 30 others like it, and all predate back to about 3000 years ago. This shows that Indians had a efficient system of transport, long before I could have imagined. These boats were made of cypress, popular or pine wood-trees present in the landscape of NC. These canoes were made/formed out of the wood by burning it, and then scraping the char off. These canoes are among the oldest and longest in the Nation, showing that Indians have lived in many regions NC for a very long times, a fact that is often downplayed in history. Today there are canoe builders/artists to try to keep the method of making these canoes alive, by using the ancient techniques.
The docent, Linda and I had a long conversation afterwards on how we both got involved in Native Indian History, and the history of mixed heritage of the U.S. She was talking about how the museum was planning to expand it Native American Exhibits and their quest for artifacts and the processes involved. In the end, I invited her to check out our class website.