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Lived Experiences

Mona Das

By Chris Hedges  and Joe Sacco
Navayana, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 302, Rs. 595.00


This book, in the words of D.H. Lawrence brings forth ‘the essential American soul (which) is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.’ The nature of corporate American state has been captured through detailed descriptions of lives of its worst sufferers. The expanse of the book not just geographical but also in terms of time and subjects is massive. The book has been divided into five chapters, each chapter with an apt title, which in itself, summarizes the lived experiences of people. There is a certain historicity to every chapter however, occurences are very much here and now.   ‘Days of Theft’, the very first chapter describing the lives of native Americans on Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota is probably the most hard hitting. The accounts of the way native Americans were robbed of their land, livelihood, structures of governance, culture—in short, life, demolishes the myth of the American state having ever been a democratic, just state. Henry Benjamin Whipple, Chairman of Bureau of Indian Affairs made an official statement after the capture of Black Hill.   ‘I know of no other instance in history where a great nation has so shamefully violated its oath. Our country must forever bear the disgrace and suffer the retribution of its wrongdoing. Our children’s children will tell the sad story in hushed tones, and wonder how their fathers dared so to trample on justice and trifle with God.’   The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian according to the authors conveniently obfuscates this history of genocide, starvation and violation of treaties. There is a ‘wilful forgetting’ of the grave injustice done to the Cherokee population. This ‘wilful forgetting’ has been equated with the memory hole in George Orwell’s 1984.   The chapter starts with vivid descriptions of short, unimaginably miserable lives people have on Pine Ridge reservation in present times and links it to the tragic history of the white conquest. Rape and indiscriminate violence are seen as legacies of this history. One of the most heartrending stories of desperation of children is the one narrated by Verlyn Long Wolf, a native American, sixty-two years old. Her life including childhood has been a saga of alcoholism and abuse. In one of her futile attempts to escape this she narrates: ‘My brother and I, when we were ten and twelve years old, we picked fields of tomatoes and saved our monies. Forty two dollars. That ...

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