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  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 56 - I'm Never Googling That Again (Body Parts Week)

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

Sam's Episode Notes: Old Man Roasts Squirrels - a Native American folk tale about the anus.

I did think long and hard about doing something serious and educational this week. I looked up body snatchers, and how people in the 1840s used to hide shotguns and even landmines inside coffins in order to stop granny from getting taken by the so-called 'resurrection men'.

I looked into the art of reconstructing the dead, and the incredible but gruesome sculptures made in Europe in the 16th century of skeletons reading books made out of their own skin, playing their own spines as flutes and even using their own hearts as yo-yos. But firstly it was grim and secondly I didn't think it would translate that well into audio.

Then I looked at anatomical skeletons, and how in the 19th century French bones were the best you could get; the preparation techniques meant that they didn't leak grease and stink in the summer, and were always well cared for by their previous owners: German bones were rough, and British bones were yellow and deformed from industrial pollutants and working conditions. Even then, due to the healthy supply of guillotined French criminals and noblemen who weren't always reunited for storage, there was no guarantee that the head of your skeleton would match the body, especially if you were a poor medical student, in which case you'd find yourself working on a skeleton made up of spare parts, which would quite often have one leg significantly longer than the other. And very occasionally two left arms.

But then I found something much more constructive to learn about, Tom. I started looking up the mythology of the anus. And it turns out there is quite a bit – China has various gold-eating lions who stole from the gods and so had their anus' sealed, making them like giant millionaires piniatas when you split them open, and Japan has the Shrime, which translates as Buttocks Eye, a demon with an eye for a bum who liked to jump out at travelling Samurai, strip off, wink at them and disappear into the woods. And that, took me on to this. My story for this week. And i'm equally ashamed and proud of myself for finding it.

It's an origin story from native North Americans. And it's the story of how one of our body parts got its appearance, and how a certain animal got its whiskers.

And it is a brilliantly silly story which has inspired me to do a lot more reading into native American folk and myth. Now, because native americans had an oral storytelling tradition, there's a hundred variations on this story, probably thousands more which were never captured or translated. I'm working off two versions, one from the Winnebago of Nebraska translated by Sam Blowsnake and John Baptiste in 1912, and one from the Blackfoot of Montana, which appears in a 1908 book from the American Museum of Natural History. It's called Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians by Clark Wissler and DC Duvall, it's available online and whilst some of the opinions in it are... dubious... The stories themselves are incredible. They and very rude and very funny and I've got a great mental image of some stuffy academics sat around a campfire blushing whilst being told these incredibly bawdy stories. It's a story called Old Man Roasts Squirrels, the Winnebago version is Trickster catches ducks.

Now Old man and Trickster are one and the same, they are the native American creator, who forced the Earth to rise from the ocean. But far from being a force for good and someone to be worshipped, he's seen in most stories as an incompetent fool at best, and an curmudgeonly arsehole at worst. He's long since abandoned the world and gone elsewhere to cause trouble, and is absolutely not someone to be worshipped – he's definitely just there to be laughed at. Which is a great start, huh? Something other religions could learn from.

So Tom. This is the story of Old Man Roasts Squirrels, or how your bumhole got wrinkled. And also how the Lynx came to be. Incidentally, this story was collected at the same time as Rudyard Kipling was writing his Just So stories. So get ready to compare and contrast.

Old man was walking along and he heard some squirrels playing a game. They would roll around together in the ashes of a fire until one of them couldn't stand the pain, and then the other would be the winner. Old man, being hungry, thought “ah ha”, and challenged the squirrels to join in the game, saying they had to keep their eyes closed and the last one to scream in pain, won. As soon as the squirrels lay down in the ashes, he covered them up and roasted them, then sat down for dinner. When he'd eaten all he could, there was still lots of meat left, so he hung it above the ground for safety and got ready for bed. But whilst he slept, he always had his little friend watching his back. And little friend is a quote. And what was his friend called, Tom? Little Brown Eye. Yes, whilst he slept, his arsehole would watch the meat to make sure no one stole it, letting out it's, quote, special warning if anyone came by.

And sure enough, after a short while, a crow landed nearby. Little Brown Eye let up a frightful warning call, waking Old Man up. So he rolls over, takes a look and thinks pah, stupid Little Brown Eye woke me up for nothing, and goes back to sleep.

Shortly afterwards, a Lynx comes up. Sure enough, Little Brown Eye, ever watchful, screams and screams and farts away, but old man is so deep asleep he doesn't wake up, and the Lynx runs off with the meat.

Now, in the morning, he's furious obviously. You little shit, he cries, yelling at his arse. You didn't wake me up! And he's so angry that he takes a red hot stick from the fire and shoves it up his arse. The stick was made of willow, which for ever more was known to the Blackfoot as stinky wood. That's a quote, by the way.

Following the trail of the squirrel blood and grease, he quickly found the Lynx. You stole my food, he shouted, now you'll be punished. And he broke off part of the Lynx' tail, smashed his head against a rock until its nose became flat, and then grabbed hold of its back legs until hey were stretched out, giving the Lynx its unique appearance. And, Tom, here's where I think the storyteller may have been messing with the fusty white academics at the camp fire. Because as a finishing touch, Old Man rips off his pubes and shoves them up the cats nose, giving it whiskers.

Incidentally, pubes is the word used in the original 1908 text, no flowery Victorian language here.

It's only at this point, now he'd had his revenge, that Old Man noticed his bum was rather sore from having hot ashes shoved into it, and so he's hopping around in pain trying to find some relief until a gust of wind blows over his bum – incidentally he's naked, is old man, due to being repeatedly shit on by angry birds in an earlier story.

So he notices the wind is cooling, and runs to the top of the nearest mountain. At the top, he demands the wind blows and blows, but it's not enough relief for his burned arse. Blow, blow, blow!

And the wind blew until a mighty storm was whipped up, picking old man up by the arse and flinging him down the mountain, tumbling over and over until he reached the bottom and crashed into a birch tree, which he was furious about for ruining his fun and slashed with his knife, giving the birch its unique cut bark.

Now, the Blackfoot don't mention this, but in the Winnebago version, at some point between showing a cat full of pubes and hiking up a mountain, Trickster, as he is to the Winnebago, realises he's got even more problems; his insides are dragging along the ground behind him. Quote. So he's either got a prolapsed anus or particularly bad piles as a result of his ordeal. No worries, he gathers them up, dusts them off and pops them back in where they belong before trying to stitch Little Brown Eye back together. Unfortunately he's in a lot of pain, is Little Brown Eye, and won't stop twitching – so Trickster makes a right hash of it, and that's why bumholes are wrinkly to this day.

So there you go, Tom. What a wild ride and a frankly brilliant creation story for Lynx, birch trees, and rectums.

Do go and find Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians by Clark Wissler and DC Duvall, by the way, inevitable 1908 anthropological posturing aside it's got some brilliant, brilliant stories.

Tom's notes:

William Lanne

I’ve gone Australian again this week. We discuss Australian history a lot in this podcast don’t we? What is more, I’ve gone 19th Century Tasmania; a place and time I visited a few episodes back when talking about the cannibalistic serial killer Alexander Pearce.

Whenever we talk about Australian history, there are a few recurring themes (for example; European’s getting lost and aboriginal Australians laughing at their incompetence). I’m going to explore another theme this week; treating Aboriginal Australian’s like shit.

Here’s a brief summary of European treatment of Aboriginal Australian; white man arrives on continent, white man fucks over black man, audacious black man retaliates, white man doesn’t think this is very nice, white man commits ethnic genocide, white man surprised when remaining black man turn to alcohol.

So, my topic for today should hopefully throw up some silly opportunities for us but is also a sad story of how aboriginal Australians were treated.

Let me take you, like I did 3 episodes ago, to Van Diemen’s land, modern day Tasmania off the south coast of the Australian mainland.

In the first quarter of the 19th century, white settlers and Aborigines weren’t getting along too well in Van Diemen’s Land. It takes two to tango right? So I’m sure the Aborigines weren’t always the most pleasant neighbours but it is worth pointing out that they had occupied Australia for a rather long time, and the white settlers had only just turned up and were quickly trying to take over everything. The greedy white man is a common epithet expressed by indigenous cultures in most colonised areas of the world.

Anyway, the white settlers were frequently killing Aborigines they encountered and kidnapping the women and children. The government itself was awarding bounties for the capture of Aborigines so that they could be ‘civilised’ and resettled to areas that the white settlers didn’t want. In 1803, there were around 5-7 thousands Aborigines on the island. By 1861 there were about 6 (although many more of mixed descent).

There was even a chap called George Robinson who was appointed Protector of the Aborigines. There’s a misleading title. Robinson oversaw the relocation of 134 Aborigines to Flinders Island between the mainland and Tasmania. Here, the Aborigines were out of the way and could be civilised and turned into Christians. Flinders Island was shit by the way, cold, windy and many people died of disease.

In 1842 Robinson found a 7 year old boy (and the rest of his family) and had them taken to Flinders Island. This 7 year old boy was a chap called William Lanne (we don’t’ know his Aboriginal name). William Lanne became a whaler at the age of 20 and settled down living alongside white settlers. His life was pretty uneventful but what happened after his death is fascinating. He died at the age of 34.

As his body lay in a morgue in Hobart, a battle began to rage between the Royal College of Surgeons in London and the Royal Society of Tasmania over who should get his body. Why? Because he was thought to be one of the last pure-breed (I know, a horrible term) Tasmanian Aboriginal (presumably because all the other ones had been either killed, raped or made to integrate with European culture after being re-educated).

Anyway, what do you do with the body of a dead Aboriginal Tasmanian? Perhaps you respect his culture’s burial practices? Maybe you return his body to his tribe? Or maybe you just cut him up to prove your suspicions that Aborigines are sub-humans more closely related to gorillas? Welcome to Australia folks! Can you guess what it is yet? Yep, that’s right! Racism! The game that every Aussie can play! Including Aborigines if they really want to join in, although they’re usually playing drinking games.

So a chap called William Crowther requested access to the body of William Lanne but his claim was denied. So, Crowther, a politician and honorary medical officer, decided, now prepare yourself for this Sam, it’s really awful, decided to break into the morgue with his son, cut off Lanne’s head, remove the skull, replace it with the skull of a random corpse found in a neighbouring room, and leg it with Lanne’s skull. Crowther managed this by distracting the man working at the morgue by inviting him around for tea and getting his wife to make small talk with him for as long as possible.

When this theft was discovered, the Royal Society of Tasmania, here represented by a chap called George Stokell, keen to maintain the moral high ground here, cut of the hands and feet of the Lanne to prevent further attempts to collect samples of Lanne. Yep, makes sense. I mean I’d probably have just heightened security a bit and maybe buried him surreptitiously. But then I’m an idiot Sam, a half-wit.

The remains of Lanne’s body was buried in a rather large funeral. His burial was organised by his old whaling ship boss and a whole host of Lanne’s colleagues acted as pall-bearers (a mix of Europeans and mixed race Aborigines).

A few days after his burial, a grave digger found his coffin exposed, the body removed, a skull discarded on the floor and blood everywhere. It appeared that Crowther had stolen the body.

Rumour has it that Stokell made a purse out of some of Lanne’s skin and other scientists took choice pieces of the body as trophies.

What happened to the majority of Lanne’s body is not known with certainty. It has been argued that his body was sent to the Royal College of Surgeons in London by Crowther. It has also been argued that the skull ended up in the University of Edinburgh. Neither theory has been decisively proved.

In reality, there is a strong argument that both Stokell and Lanne had no interest in Lanne’s body parts for scientific reasons, rather, they just had a morbid desire to possess part of him as trophies.

The whole affair is fascinating because of what it says about the attitude of white-settlers to Aborigines and the willingness of scientific organisations to ignore ethics in the pursuit of science. In a similar vein, Lanne’s wife, a lady called Truganini, (also a pure breed) died in 1876. She demanded that she be cremated and her ashes spread over the D'Entrecasteaux Channel (Dontrecasto). Her body was buried, dug up after 2 years and put on display until 1947 in a Museum and finally cremated in 1976.

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