Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 8: No 2) >> Native American Representation in Simms's The Yemassee >> Page 38

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Page 38

Secondary Scholarship | 2000
Transcription Trade plays an important role in the colonial process and is dealt with by
Simms in The Yemassee. Sanutee, for example, well understands the motives of
the English. Trade in attractive yet impractical items is a form of bribery to the
chief. Simms presents Richard Chorley, the pirate-colonizer who sells slaves, and
to whom Sanutee is ironically introduced as the "best friend of the English" (28).
There are also materialistic men like Chorley among the Yemassee, such as
Ishiagaska, who speaks the "language of conciliation" (58). But Ishiagaska's
entrance into the English world of commerce puts him at a disadvantage as an
Indian. The business in which he naively deals is ultimately more lucrative to the
colonizer who obtains the land upon which Ishiagaska has lived. For Sanutee, the
English do not exist as honorable people. He labels them as dogs, slaves to an evil
god. His antipathy is reciprocated by Chorley's hatred when the two fight at the
beginning of the novel. Vengeance and murder are revealed as natural on the
frontier. States Chorley, "It's as natural to me to cut a red-skin's throat as it is him
to scalp a white" (25-26).
Sanutee accepts even the assistence of the Spanish to fight off the English.
Adhering strictly and uncompromisingly to the traditional ways of his people,
Sanutee will not accept the company of the English. Because his son falls victim
to their alcohol, Sanutee coldly rejects his son Occonestoga also. He says to his

Occonestoga is a dog, Matiwan; he hunts the slaves of the English
in the swamps for strong drink. He is a slave himself -- he has ears
for their lies – he believes in their forked tongues, and he has two
voices for his own people. Let him not look into the lodge of
Sanutee. (10)

This confrontation between father and son is symbolic because it represents the
extent and severity of dissension existing among the Indians. The father wishes
his son to be exiled from the tribe, which would be the greatest shame imaginable
among the Yemassee. But Occonestoga's mother saves the young man from this
spiritual degradation, ironically, by killing him. In this way, Occonestoga dies
honorably. But death, implying extinction in this context, becomes the only path
to freedom from the conflicts brought on by the English for the Native American.
Occonestoga's death has made the downfall of the Yemassee more evident. Like
the fading noble savage, Occonestoga's destiny is preordained. While he cannot
consciously serve two masters, Occonestoga has been placed in a position which
insists upon a decision, one spiritually fateful, the other physically fatal.
The question of evil and its causes is integral to understanding how one
philosophy is acting upon another in The Yemassee. The savagery of the Indian
has at times been the basis for rationalizing the removal of the Indian as an evil