Fisher opens up his study on the native Indians and the impact Christianity had in the southern part of the New England colony by making a fascinating discovery that had initially been overlooked by other scholars through the years. He candidly describes the findings that were made by the archaeologists who had been working at the behest of the Mashantucket Pequot Nation and who had relocated several historic graves that were believed to have the remains of native Indians. It is one of the graves that they found the remains believed to have being of a young girl of native Indian ancestry and who had been buried with a medicine bundle that contained not only the jaw bone of a bear but also a ripped apart page from the bible. The ripped apart page contained verses drawn from the book of Psalms which candidly talks about the celebration of heathen salvation (Fisher, 2012).
The contents of the medicine bag although likely to be mistaken for any other burial contents of that historic period, they form a crucial discussion perspective that Fisher explores all through the book, as he undertakes to elucidate the fluid boundary that existed between the native culture and the newly adopted English culture of Christianity. The contents of the medicine bag to some extend help depict the cultural dilemma that the native lived with, as they sought conformance to their ancestral practices as well as the need to conform to the dictates of the new religion. Fisher leverages on the findings discovered by the archeologists to support his assertion that the conversion of the natives to Christianity took place not only in a messy social but also changing cultural and political setting. The Europeans after settling in the south, they took initiative to spread their new religion as a means of influencing the natives to give up their conventional practices in favor of what the colonialists perceived as civilization.
All through the book, Fisher asserts that the ideology of religious conversion which infers to the change from one religion to another by an individual or even community, and which has been given credit for the spread of western civilization, colonization and Christianity has been inadequate on its own. He instead presupposes that there were more complexities, and dynamics at play and which necessitated the native Indians to adopt the new religions as well as the western way of life including education (Fisher, 2012). This is depicted by his outright use of religious engagement and affiliation rather than conversion to explain the uptake of Christianity by the natives. He explains that the time the settlers were moving and settling in the south, the natives were going through various hardships ranging from famine, economic hardships, as well as internal and external conflicts.
This is clearly captured through his description of the response that the natives made when they were offered conversion to Christianity as a way out of the challenges that they were going through. The native Indians at first were unfaltering by the approach used by the settlers to woo them to convert to Christianity and thus rejected the various advances although later as they got manipulated and realized that it was beneficial to them converting, they accepted the new religion. Based on Fisher (2012), the native believed that by accepting the new religion and the various western practices such as civil education, they would be able to gain knowledge that they would later use against the same Europeans to demand for liberty. The transition of the native Indians from rejection of the new religion to the later acceptance of the religion clearly elucidates not only the multiplicity but also the diversity that characterized their culture.
Fisher argues that the native communities in the New England colony took it upon themselves to experiment with the new culture that was being advocated for by the settlers, with some of the traits and elements that they perceived as worthy adoption been appropriated by the community. He posits that the native Indians were largely attracted to Christianity as a result of the desire to benefit from the education that was offered by the Europeans and which helped them gain an advantage during the troubled times that they were going through (Fisher, 2012). For example, in the book he undertakes to explain that the natives believed by converting to the new religion, the Europeans would let them be and thus be in a position to preserve their culture. He argues that the natives had suffered at the hands of the colonialists and thus sought to convert as a means of steering clear of any potential trouble that would further jeopardize their lives.
He explains that the settlers leveraged on various tactics such as manipulation to ensure that they hoodwinked the native communities and took away their land as well as curbed their autonomy. According to Fisher (2012), the conversion that took place as well as the decision by the native communities to get European education was meant to prepare the communities for their own liberation that would take place almost half a century later. For instance, he argues that the natives used the knowledge gained through the European education to not only start their own schools but also churches. This helped the local communities to remain enviably independent in later years as they took control of their separate schools and churches. Consequently, it is notable that it was through the education that the Indian great awakening was made possible and not through the Christian conversion as it has been purported by numerous scholars.
Fisher, L. D. (2012). The Indian great awakening: Religion and the shaping of native cultures in early America. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.