1491 (Magill's Literary Annual 2006)
Journalist Charles C. Mann’s interest in the pre-Columbian people of the Americas began in 1983 while he was on an assignment in Mexico covering a National Aeronautics and Space Administration program to monitor atmospheric ozone. On the scientists’ day off, Mann tagged along with them to the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá. His interest developed over the subsequent decades, as he visited various other Mesoamerican ruins, both on vacation and on assignment. This curiosity and examination of facts and theories, past and present, has led to a remarkable book about what might have been going on in the Americas before the Europeans arrived.
In the introduction in 1491, titled “Holmberg’s Mistake,” Mann describes a visit to the Beni, a Bolivian province “about the size of Illinois and Indiana put together.” During the early 1940’s, Allan R. Holmberg, a doctoral student, lived among the Sirionó tribe in the Beni. Holmberg reported them to be “among the most culturally backward peoples of the world.” The mistake Holmberg made was to assume that these people had always lived this way, that their way of life had remained unchanged from primitive times, and that they were essentially a people who had “no real history.”
In reality, the Sirionó of the Beni were the remnants of a tribe that had flourished in this region before smallpox and influenza arrived in their villages in the 1920’s. More interesting, their...
(The entire section is 1806 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2006)
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(The entire section is 42 words.)