Ceremonies of Possession by Patricia Seed

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Alysha Kurani

In Patricia Seed’s Ceremonies of Possession in the Europe’s Conquest of the New World: 1492-1640, several different “possession methods” were displayed from the different groups that conquered the new world. Ranging from artwork, to astrological maps, to a reading of submission, each group devised their own technique when claiming a new land.

Physical demarkation was the main practice the English used to symbolize the ownership of new land. The methods they used to mark such territory were the building of houses, gardens, and constructing fences. Houses created a legal right to the land. As declared by Seed, “ building the first house was critical to the initial stages of English settlement in the first place because of their cultural significance as registers of stability , historically carrying a significance of pertinence missing even elsewhere in continental Europe.”. In chapter one Seed maintains that “to build a house in the New World was for an Englishman a clear and unmistakable sign of intent to remain.” Another known English symbol of possession was to erect fences. This was the second most common boundary marker . Fences specifically symbolized private ownership of land. This process was called the “enclosure movement”. It stated that “collective owners were to exchange their shared rights in a large piece of land for private rights in a smaller piece.” This movement gained momentum in establishing individual ownership of land. Fences ultimately signified constrictive ownership of land and property. Land could also be rightfully possessed by planting a garden or using land for other agriculture. Seed believed, “ownership of land could be secured by simply using it, engaging in agricultural or pastoral activities.” The planting of gardens quickly became an “art form” for the English. The reasoning behind possession of gardening was signified as “a critical difference between savage (uncontrolled) and civilized.” Since many natives did not fence their plots, Englishman perceived the land to be free and un-owned. The action of “constructing a dwelling place” was the main right of possession.

The French controlled possession by procession, cross planting, and theatrical performances. They required “elaborately staged theatrical ritual in which indigenous people participated as well.” These performances usually were to introduce French culture and customs to the natives. They presented their king to be the ruler over the land. They tried to make the right of possession as friendly as possible to create a platonic relationship to them, later which would lead to an alliance. The ceremonies were usually done at the city entrance and contained “the central elements of theatrical rituals were united: color, music, stages, costumes, props, and processional order.” The French also seized this opportunity to engage the natives in their religious customs. As said in Chapter 2, “Priests marched in the entrance procession wearing vestments customary on those occasions. Many of these objects displayed were religious-incense, censers, candlesticks, as well as the cross. Exhibiting religious paraphernalia visually dramatized ecclesiastical or even divine sanctioning of the political process.” The French came in peace to the natives by respecting their land and even giving gifts to express their honor towards the land. The emblem of French colonization was the cross. The cross was placed to signify the compliance of Catholic rule and regulation. It served as a witness to natives that they would agree and ultimately have the desire to become and take on Christian customs. By planting a cross, engaging in a theatrical play, and a leading ceremony all were part of the process in peacefully conquering the New World.

The English and French conquered their new territories on the basis of making peace with the inhabitants and simply converting them to their customs, the Spanish used a different approach. The...
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