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ca 1850 __ Observations on North American Indian Smoke Signals
Comment : The smoke signal was one of the earliest types of communication on the North American continent. A fire was smothered with green brush and the smoke was broken by a blanket into various sized clouds to convey the message. Possibly messages were sent in this way on the site of the New Telephone building; for here were once located the camps of the Arapahoe Indians.Smoke Signals - Arapaho Indian Communication. It's a very human characteristic to communicate through the use of gestures and signs. The plains tribes, including the Arapaho Indians who lived on the future building site, took this natural tendency to another level by developing a standardized system of signing. Arapaho chief Little Raven said, "I have met Comanches, Kiowas, Apaches, Caddos, Gros Ventres, Snakes, Crows, Pawnees, Osages, Arickarees, Nez Perces, Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Sacs and Foxes, Pottawattomies, and other tribes whose vocal languages, like those of the tribes named, we did not understand, but we communicated freely in sign language." Sign language allowed communication over a certain distance, but one still needed to be fairly close to make out what was being communicated. There was also the problem of privacy. Because everyone understood the signs, there was always danger of being "overheard." Long before whites "invented" the Pony Express, native peoples of the Plains communicated through a series of messengers, first by foot and then, after the Spaniards introduced horses to the American continent, on horseback. This was a relatively slow means of communication, and the dangers to the messenger were many. One's message might or might not reach its intended destination, and it would be a long time between responses. A safer and quicker way to communicate over distance was with smoke signals and beacon fires. These did not consist of a standardized code like sign language. (Although there were some standard smoke signals: One puff meant "Attention"; two meant "All is well"; and three puffs of smoke, or three fires in a row, signified "danger, trouble, or need help!") The intent was to transmit secret knowledge over distance, so most of the signals were devised privately and to suit a particular purpose. The signals were visible to all, so they had to be understood by the intended receiver, but not by an enemy. (Local History of Communications, Telecommunications Virtual Museum).Studies on early Navajo use of smoke signals.There are more than 200 pueblitos.usually high on rock outcroppings overlooking the San Juan Basin.that archaeologists believe were built by Navajos three centuries ago to protect against Spanish explorers and neighboring tribes. "If you hear an enemy approaching, you climb into these things and pull up the ladder, and you can seal yourself in for a while," said Ron Maldonado, program manager of the Navajo Nation Historic Preservation Department. The sites in the area where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah meet feature the remains of what were once formidable structures made of stacked sandstone. The theory is that Navajos bunkered down inside the pueblitos and possibly used smoke to send warnings across long distances, said Jim Copeland, an archaeologist with the Bureau of Land Management in Farmington. Copeland said experiments in the early 1990s showed the method of warning could work in general, but scores of new sites have been identified since then and scientists want to know more about how the signals could have been relayed. Improved computer modeling and analysis has refined the idea of an "early warning system." We're still trying to confirm long distance and questionable views," Copeland said. "A lot of them are kind of no-brainers. You can pretty much see from A to B, but A to C was sort of questionable and that's the kind of thing we want to test." Tree-ring dating shows most of the sites are from the early 1700s, said Patrick Hogan, associate director of the University of New Mexico's Office of Contract Archaeology. Overall, Hogan said, researchers are interested in better understanding the early social organization of the Navajos and the connections between their communities. "One way to think about linking these larger communities is which defensive sites have line of sight to each other," he said. "They aren't going to have line of sight to all of them. They're going to be in clusters, and those clusters might give us a basis for then defining larger cooperating groups.".A smoke signal is a form of visual communication used over a long distance, developed in the North American Indians. By covering a fire with a blanket and quickly removing it, a puff of smoke can be generated. With some training, the sizes, shapes, and timing of these puffs can be controlled. Puffs may be observed from a long distance, and are apparent to anyone in visual range. With this in mind, signaling stations were often created to maximize the viewable distance. Examples of signaling stations include stone bowls used by Native Americans and the towers of the Great Wall of China. There is no standardized code for smoke signals; the signals are often of a predetermined pattern discerned by sender and receiver. Because of this, smoke signals tend to convey only simple messages, and are a limited form of communication. Australian Aborigines would send up smoke to notify others of their presence, particularly when entering lands which were not their own. However, these were not complex signals; smoke simply told others where you were located. Some Native American tribes did use smoke signals, particularly on the plains or in the southwest, where the sky was usually clear and the view unobstructed. But the message was pretty basic. An army captain in the 1860s writes: "Apache smoke signals are of various kinds, each one significant of a particular object. A sudden puff, rising from the mountain heights ... indicates the presence of a strange party upon the plain below. If these puffs are rapidly repeated they are a warning that the strangers are well armed and numerous. If a steady smoke is maintained for some time, the object is to collect the scattered bands of savages at some designated point, with hostile intention, should it be practicable." Other means of signaling included fires (at night), gesticulating with blankets, or reflecting the sun off mirrors. (Cecil Adams, 1994)“Calculations such as bits per message (entropy) or bits per second (channel capacity), for example, can be carried out for sign language, smoke signals, bead and feather patterns, sand paintings, and other Native communication media (cf. Mallery 1972, Witherspoon and Peterson 1995 for Native American coding examples; Pierce 1980 for an introduction to information theory). As a quick example, lets compare smoke signals with fire arrows. Mallery notes a wide variety of smoke signal patterns, including reports of some resembling “the telegraphic alphabet.” Most appear to be based on the number of columns of smoke (that is, simultaneous fires) and the length of the column of smoke. Fire arrows, a similar signal system used only during the night, can also be in simultaneous groups, and are distinguished by vertical v.s. diagonal orientations. Which can convey more code symbols: a smoke system with a maximum of two columns of smoke (disregarding order) and one of three possible column lengths for each fire, or a fire arrow system with a maximum of three arrows and two possible orientations? This is a problem in combinatorics.”. (Ron Eglash)
French comment : “Comme signaux pour correspondre de loin il peut y avoir des signaux visuels comme la fumée, ou auditifs tel le bruit de tam- tam, il ya enfin encore le courrier.”. (Robert Marquis de Wavrin)Du sommet des montagnes les plus hautes et dans différentes directions, des colonnes de fumée commençaient à s'élever. C'étaient sans doute des signaux faits par les coureurs du chef corneille, pour rappeler les traînards de sa bande, afin de poursuivre les Blancs avec plus de force. Des signaux de cette sorte, allumés dans un point central, embrassent un vaste circuit de montagnes dans un espace de temps singulièrement court, et ramènent promptement sous l'étendard de leur chef les guerriers et les chasseurs errants. (p. 187 [...] M. Hunt et ses compagnons n'étaient pas depuis longtemps au village des Aricaras, lorqu'une rumeur commença à se répandre que les Sioux les avaient suivis, et qu'un parti de quatre ou cinq cents de leurs guerriers était embusqué dans le)Ce roman est une fiction. Mais ce n'est pas un roman de science-fiction. Toutes les technologies, les innovations scientifiques, les phénomènes géophysiques, les lieux, les faits et les personnages historiques évoqués dans ce livre sons authentiques.Je m'appelle Mura Seïka ! Mon père était amérindien-mohican. Le dernier, précisaiil ! Ma mère est sino-américaine. [...] Mardi 28 Octobre 2092, 28ième jour, 22h20 - Mura / Seal - [...] Mon grand-père communiquait par signaux de fumée, une technique ancestrale qu'il avait apprise de son propre grand-père, un indien Mohican qui adorait les fumées de toutes sortes... Il avait créé un nouveau média : la pub par les signaux de fumée, son agence s'appelait "Publishit" ! Évidemment l'audience était un peu faible et les annoceurs limités : Il a fumé son capital social en dix mois. Il est mort, après avoir organisé un dernier festival de signaux de fumée à base de cannabis... (Jean-Marc Cornille, "127.J", The Book Edition, 2010, p. 55)Les “Signaux de fumée” est l’un des plus célèbres tableaux de Frederic Remington, un exemple parfait de l’épanouissement de son art dans ses dernières années. Il représente également l’une des techniques militaires indiennes qui avaient le plus frappé l’imagination des envahisseurs, mêlant au plus haut degré l’ingéniosité, l’efficacité et la poésie. L’armée américaine eut beaucoup de peine à déchiffrer ce langage, mais un jeune lieutenant s’en était inspiré dès 1854 pour créer un système de signalisation par drapeaux. Les Indiens parvenaient à observer les signaux à une distance considérable, qui eût nécessité pour les Blancs l’usage d’une longue-vue. La technique fut décrite en détail par le colonel Richard Irving Dodge dans un récit publié en 1882. Par exemple, une seule fumée montant librement indique que des étrangers sont entrés sur le territoire. L’iconographie du tableau comporte des détails qui rappellent les réflexes de l’illustrateur : les plumes attachées à la queue des chevaux indiquent qu’il s’agit d’une mission de guerre et la main rouge sur la croupe du cheval blanc est le signe du guerrier qui est passé sur un ennemi pendant la bataille. Remington avait réuni une abondante documentation et collectionnait les éléments de costume, les armes, etc., ce qui n’empêchait pas les dérapages, comme la présence ici d’une selle réservée aux femmes, avec son pommeau relevé, ou encore le couteau que porte le personnage de gauche et qui correspond davantage à un outil de dépeçage, utilisé également par les femmes, qu’au couteau à double tranchant du guerrier. (Ciné-club de Caen)" Ils allumaient un feu vif et sans fumée sur une hauteur. Sur l'ordre de Celui-qui-détient-le-secret-des-signes, un Indien jetait dans le feu des poignées d'herbe grasse ; la densité et la fumée variaient selon les herbes employées. Toujours sur les ordres de Celui-qui-détient-le-secret-des-signes, deux autres Indiens maintenaient pendant quelques instants une couverture au-dessus du feu et l'enlevaient vivement afin que les nuages de fumée prennent des formes significatives selon des alternances et des fréquences très étudiées. La fumée blanche signifiait : bonheur, victoire, paix, bonne médecine... La fumée noire voulait dire : malheur, guerre, défaite, mauvaise médecine...". (Extrait de “VIVRE EN INDIENS” , coll. Kinkajou, éd. Gallimard, 1975, pages 92-93)Toutes les tribus indiennes ne parlaient pas la même langue. On pense qu’il existait plus de 300 dialectes différents. Si deux villages étaient distants de 50 kilomètres, leurs habitants ne se comprenaient souvent pas du tout! Par contre, toutes les tribus connaissaient les bases de certains autres langages, plus anciens. Le premier est le langage des signes. C’est un peu le même langage que les sourds-muets, mais en moins compliqué. Pour dire qu’il venait de manger, un indien faisait le geste de mettre deux doigts dans sa bouche et puis il faisait un rond avec sa main sur son ventre. Si l’indien faisait un geste signifiant que son ventre était ballonné, alors le sens changeait, cela voulait dire « J’ai beaucoup mangé ». Pour dire "J’ai vu", l’indien montrait ses propres yeux avec son index et son majeur en V. Pour parler d’un indien, il levait son index gauche. Mais pour dire un étranger, l’indien levait son index droit. Si l’étranger était un blanc, l’indien continuait son geste en traçant une barre sur son front. En effet, à cette époque, tous les blancs avaient des chapeaux sur la tête. Les doigts en V par-dessus la main à la verticale voulaient dire « A cheval » Les indiens communiquaient par d’autres signes. Un des plus connus sont les signaux de fumées. Pour envoyer son message au village d’à côté, un indien choisissait un endroit dégagé et se faisait aider. L’un allumait un feu de branchage. Celui qui connaissait les signaux donnait l’ordre à deux aides de recouvrir le feu un instant, puis de dégager d’un coup. Cela formait un gros nuage. Blanc si on faisait brûler de l’herbe grasse. Si c'était avec d’autres herbes, cela créait un mince filet de fumée très noire si l’indien voulait annoncer qu’un malheur était arrivé. C’était un peu comme quand on fait des ronds de fumée avec une cigarette ! Un premier nuage disait : début du message. La grosseur des nuages, leur couleur, le rapprochement des nuages signifiait des choses bonnes : une victoire, une bonne chasse, ou encore des mauvaises choses, comme un deuil. (In "Ainsi vivaient mes ancêtres les indiens" de Ka-Be-Mub-Be /William Camus aux Editions Fleurus)
Original excerpt : « Smokes are of various kinds, each one significant of a particular object. A sudden puff, rising into a graceful column from the mountain heights, and almost as suddenly losing its identity by dissolving into the rarified atmosphere of those heights, simply indicates the presence of a strange party upon the plains below; but if those columns are rapidly multiplied and repeated, they serve as a warning to show that the travelers are well armed and numerous. If a steady smoke is maintained for some time, the object is to collect the scattered bands of savages at some designated point, with hostile intention, should it be practicable. These signals are made at night, in the same order, by the use of fires, which being kindled, are either alternately exposed and shrouded from view, or suffered to burn steadily, as occasion may require. All travelers in Arizona and New Mexico are acquainted with the fact taht if the grass be pressed down in a certain direction during the dry season, it will retain the impress and grow daily more and more yellow until the rainy season imparts new life and restores it to pristine vigor and greenness. The Apaches are so well versed in this style of signalizing that they can tell you, by the appearance of the grass, how many days have elapsed since it was trodden upon, whether the party consisted of Indians or whites, about how many there were, and, if Indians, to what particular tribe they belonged. [...] » (John Carey Cremony)
Source : Eglash, Ron (2002), “Computation, Complexity and Coding in Native American Knowledge Systems”, in Judith Hankes and Gerald Fast (ed) “Changing the Faces of Mathematics: Perspectives on Indigenous People of North America”, Reston, VA: NCTM 2002.
Source : Cremony, John Carey (1868), “Life among the Apaches”, New York : A. Roman & Co, pp. 183-184.
Source : Wavrin, Robert (Marquis de) (1937?), ”Moeurs et coutumes des Indiens sauvages de l'Amérique du Sud”, Coll. Bibliothèque Scientifique, Paris : Payot.
Source : Irving, Washington, (1836), "Astoria - Voyages au delà des Montagnes Rocheuses", transl. par P.M. Grolier, Tome Premier, Deuxième édition, Paris : A. Allouard, 1843
Urls : http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a5_158.html (last visited ) http://www.rpi.edu/~eglash/eglash.dir/nacyb.dir/nacomplx.htm (last visited ) http://www.nps.gov/nepe/Education/Indian_Sign_Language.pdf (last visited ) http://www.nm.blm.gov/features/dinetah/dinetah_exhibit.html (last visited ) http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/more/CRM/Research/ongoing_research_full.html (last visited ) http://www.cineclubdecaen.com/peinture/peintres/remington/remington.htm (last visited )

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