Thursday, February 13, 2014

Burying the Hatchet

by Allison Pang

I'm writing this a day early because forecasters are predicting a major snowstorm for the East Coast - so it's entirely possible by the time you're reading this I'll be without power and buried under a whole heap of the white stuff. (For whatever reason, my house loses power on a fairly regular basis - when anything falls out of the sky for an extended period of time, all bets are off.)

At any rate, I want to focus on the phrase "bury the hatchet."  I think most people would recognize that it means to let bygones be bygones - usually in conjunction with another party. (Unless, you're a bit like me at times aka  "I'll bury the hatchet, all right. In your thick skull!")

But I was curious as to its origins - and as it turns out, burying the hatchet is a Native American phrase - specifically that of the Iroquois. Burying the hatchet was just that - a literal ceremony in which burying one's weapons in the ground symbolized peace.

Straight Dope has a good piece written up about it here - but here's a bit of the article directly:

Though the practice was familiar early on, the exact phrase "bury the hatchet" didn't crop up until 1753. On September 18th of that year, the Lord Commissioners of Trade and the Plantations in London wrote a letter to the Governor of Maryland that reads, "His Majesty having been pleased to order a Sum of Money to be Issued for Presents to the Six Nations of Indians [the Iroquois] and to direct his Governour of New York to hold an Interview with them for Delivering those presents [and] for Burying the Hatchet ..."

Non-Iroquois tribes were practicing the ceremony by the end of the French and Indian War. In 1761, after the French surrendered Canada, their traditional allies the Micmac (an Algonquian people) buried the hatchet with the British. In the decades after American independence, Congress buried the hatchet with several tribes, many of which (like the Chickasaw) were not Iroquoian.

The opposite of burying the hatchet is taking it up, which occurs in English as early as 1694. Variants include "dig up," "raise," etc. But these war-making phrases are now much more rare than "bury the hatchet."

I don't think I've ever heard of "raising the hatchet"  - doesn't quite have the same ring to it, I guess - though the connotation is interesting to me, because it sort of lends itself to the idea that peace doesn't have to be permanent. From a story perspective, it makes for some really great imagery.

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