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Re: The Great Debate


Gil Hardwick <[log in to unmask]>


Gil Hardwick <[log in to unmask]>


Wed, 7 Apr 1999 10:43:48 PDT





text/plain (156 lines)

Jacqueline wrote:

> Exactly what are your sources for the pre-Roman Celtic world that lead you
> to this conclusions? I know I'm probably having an airhead moment, but I'm
> not familiar with any sources that indicate a pan-Celtic consciousness
> prior
> to the Romans. In fact, I sort of thought those folks identified
> themselves according to family structure....and that we had assigned the
> label "Celtic" instead of them identifying their culture as such.....and I
> sort of thought the Celts were a warrior society...and I didn't realize we
> could extrapolate their world view with any certainty.

We do not have to be familiar with "sources", especially of the Roman and Christian variety
which have proven biased and inadequate, and I suggest accompanied the decline of Celtic
culture and influence. Being a wordsmith myself, I am critically aware of deficiencies in my own
and my colleagues' prose, indeed in prose itself as a medium, and the harm it can do.

Instead of relying on the surviving literature of people antagonistic to the Celts anyway, let us
reasonably invoke interpretive models of human society now available. People are always
nevertheless people, and behave similarly in similar circumstances.

To begin, I have used the term "Aboriginal" interchangably with "Celt". That does not mean
that the word "Celt" denotes indigenous people as such, only that the word "Aboriginal" has
been employed to describe a commonality among diverse clans and residential groups
here in Australia, who refer to themselves separately as Tiwi, Bardi, Walmatjari, Pintupi, or
whatever as the case may be, without in any way contradicting or denying their overall
aboriginality. The only difference lies in whether we are referring to Australia, or Europe.

Thus we are able to invoke a common identity empowering these people in the face of
a colonial power whose master strategy is to create dissent among its adversaries, to
divide and conquer, and thus to rule. In a positive light, in contemporay democracy where
individual administrators are often sympathetic to the day to day reality of peoples' lives,
creating a common identity considerably facilitates administration without diminishing in
any way their separate identities. Thus we have peace and stability in our country.

We create, in other words, a unity in diversity which I do not believe is any different from that
created by the Irish High Kings, for example. It further provides a model for peace in Ireland,
in another context, or resolution of conflict in East Timor, or Kosova. In other words, we are
not simply making all this up as a dilletante passtime, but to provide real solutions and a real
foundation for recovery, to real people still struggling to cope with the withdrawal of European
colonial powers.

Secondly, I find no evidence that Celts were noticably a warrior society as such. Of course
their adversaries in battle would have that impression of them since that is their interface
with the culture. If the Celts were a warrior society, however, how is it that they a notable for
their unrelenting failure in battle?

In fact the Celts never bothered to build standing armies, or to train or discipline soldiers in
the arts of warfare. My clear understanding is that they simply approached every battle as
if were one big hurley match, their attitude to death being of course no deterrent. The young
bucks (and often strong women) in Aboriginal Australia had the same attitude, but that does
not mean that they whole society were warriors; typically less than 10-15% would ever be
involved in any sort of fighting at all.

During different periods there was greater instability and increasing intrusion by neighbours,
and thus more skirmishing than during periods of peace, but that does not make them a warrior
society. The greater picture emerging from archaeology is rather of a deeply spiritual people
counting their wealth in cattle and livestock, but nevertheless skilled artisans and extraordinary
rhetoricians and story-tellers.

Doesn't it strike you as odd, that the same things you assert are said of Aboriginal peoples here
in this country, by archivists of the same colonial power itself maintaining a professional military
class, and which invaded and settled here during the same historical period, that are said of the

> Hummm, let's change the argument here. Exactly what basis do you use to
> indicate your culture is Celtic? Do you speak a Celtic language? Is your
> community structured in the same manner as the traditional communities of
> Ireland, Gaelic regions of Scotland, Breton or Manx? Do your religious
> practices and beliefs mirror those in "Celtic" regions? Are your social
> institutions the same? Your social interactions? Exactly what cultural
> elements of the culture do you claim you possess? (I'm sorry but the
> genetic thing doesn't work for me. "Celts" were never genetically or
> racially distinct from any other group in Europe.)

Nothing is the same, and never will be the same. It need not be the same. By your criteria,
any invading power can enter a country and over generations systematically destroy its
native institutions and transport its peoples to far flung lands, then spread propaganda to
the effect you do here, by asserting that those same people are somebody else entirely,
and placing the onus on them to prove otherwise.

Unfortunately for them, we keep track of our lineages. We know who our forebears are, where
they were born, where the lived, and what was their fate. We have no obligation to justify to you
or anybody else our striving to research our origins and reconstruct our identity on that basis,
since it is sufficient in itself that we are in fact merely pursuing our legitimate social and cultural

If it does not turn out the way you want it to be, or the way your "sources" assert it was sometime
in the remote past, well that's just hard cheddar.

Nobody is "making anything up" at this end. The discipline and research is meticulous, and
as we so choose to refer to ourselves as Celts, taking that from what we know our forebears
called themselves, then so be it.

> And I hate to ask, but what is the deal with the "Christian Churches"? The
> Celts are predominately-at least nominally-a "Christian" people and have
> been since around the time of Colum Cille. To argue that the peoples of
> "Celtic" regions are being oppressed by the Christian church is to argue
> that
> these communities are oppressing themselves.

Oh dear me. This paragraph represents a manifest and cynical ignorance of the order
posted by McEwan.

Firstly, not all Celts are or ever were Christian by any stretch of the imagination. "Nominally"
means just exactly what it does mean; that the Celts have been *named* Christian by both
the civil administration and the Church hierarchy, with violent despatch. Whole villages have
been burned and their inhabitants slaughtered to enforce compliance (oddly inconsistent
for a religious movement preaching love and peace), yet in the absence of such barabric
practice do we find today any significant percentage of Celtic people who are regular or
consistent church-goers?

In Australia, among the whole population, at Christmas Church attendance is less than 1:3,
and at Easter 1:4. For the remainder of the year attendance is around 10%. The population
as such is not even nominally Christian, and in fact still seek a far more satisfactory and
appropriate spirituality consistent with their origins as a people, and with this landscape.

> As far as re-defining anthropological theory.....isn't that what we do with
> we say we are part of a group because our grandparent was part of that
> group, even though we have no daily contact with that group? By the logic
> we are being given I would be a Irish/German/Scottish and probably African
> somewhere a long the line. But the fact is, my lineage does not dictate my
> culture. My culture is established by my daily patterns and belief systems.

Anthropological theory, like all good theory, is constantly under review. The moment facts
fail to comply with the construct, then it is the construct which is discarded and a new one
created to articulate and explain the observation being made.

For that matter, who is "we"? I don't have contact with my grandparent's group because they
are all dead and gone. I have contact with the group of my own generation, and my children's generation. But that doesn't make my grandparents any less my grandparents, going all the
way back up my family tree as far as I can trace them. That actuality is unalterable, whatever
lack of contact there may be between me and them, and however it might bind me to them.

It is that, in fact, which makes me Celt, and not Zulu or Pakistani. My children are also of
Chinese lineage, but they are being raised as Celts through their own preferance, having
spent much of their early lives living in China, and able to make comparisons of their own.
That does not make our culture superior to the Chinese, it is merely a decision made within
the family on which path the boys predominantly want to take, and both parents supporting
them in that.

Of course your culture is established by your daily patterns and belief systems, but surely
you are not making it up all over again on a daily basis. Surely it has its roots in something.

There is a lot of new work being done here on the absence of time as a cultural construct,
which poses rhythmic events by which we regulate our daily lives, and what has been termed
"abiding events" by which we distinguish different periods in our lives. They might vary from
such periodic life-cycle events as births, deaths and marriages, but also such occasional
and unexpected events as exceptionally bumper crops, cyclones, invasions, emigrations,
or even the advent of a particularly gifted speaker, or entertainer.

We all remember the Beatles, but that doesn't make me English. Charles Stewart Parnell
and John O'Leary also loom large, but none in my mind near as large as my great aunts.


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