Friday, May 6, 2011

What's in a name???

Since the Native American community is upset over Bin Laden's code name, Geronimo, let's look at Geronimo. I can't say I feel angry they used that name...but when I read about the news of Bin Laden's death, I we go, the Native Americans are going to be upset. While discussing the whole "name thing", I found that there are a lot of things people believe about Geronimo which are not true.

First of all, his name wasn't Geronimo. Really. That was a name bestowed upon him after a Mexican raid. His real name was Goyathlay. The meaning of the name is not fierce at all, I couldn't recall it right away, but looked it up. His name means "one who yawns", not a very scary name for such a fierce warrior!

The name Geronimo came, because as he was battling the Mexicans in 1858, they would shout "Saint Jerome" in Spanish as they died by his hand. Some thought that the name shouted ("Jeronimo") was Goyathlay's name, and it stuck.

His anger is said to have come from his family being killed when he was a young man, The Mexicans killed his wife, children, and mother. I would think that would make anyone angry enough to seek revenge.

Another incorrect belief about Geronimo, is that he was a chief. He wasn't, he was a warrior who was famous for raiding Mexican and American camps and towns. The part that people don't like to talk about, is that he also raided the Native Americans. He didn't kill them as much as take what he needed from them, he did however kill many Mexicans and quite a few Americans. Recent research has shown that he was an equal opportunity raider. Some tribes hated Geronimo, and others loved him. Between 1820 and 1835 over 5000 Mexicans died in Apache raids. He did later remarry, and have more than one wife.

Another incorrect belief was that he was born in America. He was born in Mexico, not the US, although the land where he was born is now part of New Mexico.

He became a sort of celebrity after surrendering to the US in 1886, and died from a fall from his horse. The actual cause of death was that after lying in the cold all night, pneumonia finally claimed the life of the warrior, at 80 years of age.

I can see why the military may have used Geronimo's name. He was said to be able to walk without leaving tracks (and we know how hard we searched for Bin Laden without finding clues of his whereabouts); he was said to be very spiritual (and even though Bin Laden was not a good man, his attacks were based in belief that this is what Allah wanted); he was a spiritual leader of his tribe (so was Bin Laden);he was a fighter; he was said to be able to survive many bullet wounds over his lifetime (and Bin Laden was said to have illnesses that needed attention and monitoring, making them both a little invincible); the US Army was told to capture Geronimo (and Bin Laden) "dead or alive".

I can clearly see the point of not wanting a famous warrior named after a person as heinous as Bin Laden, but I also can't say Geronimo was a nice guy. Thousands of lives in retaliation for the lives of his family does seem a bit excessive. He also had raids for horses, food and water. He would take those from anyone, including Native Americans. He would be someone I would like to go back in time to meet. Was he that fierce? Was he a little crazy or have anger issues? Did the killing of his family make him "snap"? Was he truly a visionary who could see the future, and was he really telepathic? Did he have a sense of humor? What was the real Geronimo, or better yet, Goyathlay, really like?

There are numerous and varying accounts of Geronimo's life, all the way to his surrender, and terms of that surrender. He was certainly a hero of the Chihuahua Apache, that is for sure. He was also feared by many, and became a symbol of a warrior was. He was very brave, or maybe a little crazy. We will never know for sure.

For some obscure reason, and there are several tales as to why, the name Geronimo was shouted by the military before jumping out of planes, we still did it when I was a kid. If you were jumping out of a tree, you would yell "Geronimo", maybe Saint Jerome protects people who fall from the sky.

Late in life,after his surrender, Geronimo did embrace Christianity. He said that he was raised to believe that there was something after death , but never learned specifics of it. Christianity gave him specifics. He even said "I am glad to know that the President of the United States is a Christian, for without the help of the Almighty I do not think he could rightly judge in ruling so many people. I have advised all of my people who are not Christians, to study that religion, because it seems to me the best religion in enabling one to live right". He did belong to the Dutch Reformed church, but was expelled for gambling. It shows he was independent and spirited to the end!

Whether he was good or bad, or a combination of both, he was certainly an interesting person, a loyal person and a brave person. Certainly not a person who deserves to be associated with one of the most hated men in the world, although at the time when he roamed the southwest, I would bet he was one of the most hated men in the world. I guess it just depends whose side you were on!

The other twist to this story is that although Bin Laden was originally code named Geronimo, the actual raid was renamed "Neptune's Spear", I would guess most likely as the Navy is the branch that finally captured him.

In the end, they are two fighters who will go down in history. Geronimo's history has been softened, and he is revered by many, and even though we will never revere Bin Laden here in America, you can bet that many others will. I would say the Mexicans have no love lost for Geronimo, although Americans may think he was a brave warrior. It all depends on what side of the fence you are sitting on.

Either way, there are at least twenty two films with Geronimo as a main or important character, I doubt Bin Laden will reach that level of fame.Geronimo did get to live out his life, although he later regretted surrendering. Bin Laden, won't get that luxury.

I wonder what Geronimo would think of Bin Laden?

Have a wonderful weekend all, and Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms out there!

Peshaui Wequashimese

(C) Dr. R M Reiter Wolf PhD
May not be used copied or reproduced without prior written permission.

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