East Frisian Teetied (Teatime)

The most identifiable tradition of my East Frisian ancestors is a tea ceremony.  In fact, East Friesland is the tea drinking capital of the world.  Since I am a tea drinker this delights me.  I don’t know if my great grandfather’s family brought this tradition with them to Illinois–it never made it into our family lore–but as I seek to reconnect with my East Frisian ancestors, the tea ceremony feels just right.

Tea first came to East Friesland from Asia in the 17th century, via the Dutch East India Company.  Many Frisians were sailors on those trading (and colonization) journeys.  Tea began to compete with beer as a beverage of choice.  By the 18th century, when most of the Dutch and Germans were choosing coffee, the East Frisians continued with tea. It was drunk a few times a day, morning, afternoon, and evening, and helped to warm you up in the cold rainy weathers of this land near the North Sea, as well as make a break in the working day.

There is a very specific way to make and serve East Frisian tea.  You start with the soft water of the area, and then a blend of particular dark tea leaves, mostly Assam, with several others blended in.  There are traditional porcelain pots and cups.  You heat the pot with hot water, then empty it, and put in one spoon of loose tea per cup, plus one for the pot. Then you pour water that has just boiled, but is not boiling, over the leaves, to let it steep for 3-5 minutes.  Then it is strained, and poured into cups into which a piece of kluntje, or rock sugar has already been placed.  Then, a small amount of heavy cream is gently poured into the sides of the cup, without stirring, and it forms a small cloud floating in the tea.

It is a communal event, a daily ceremony.  Someone pours the tea for everyone.  When drinking, the idea is to taste each layer separately–the creamy layer, the clear tea layer, and the sweetness of the final layer.  One site said that the creamy layer represents the (cloudy) sky, the clear tea represents the water, and the sugar represents the land.  It is customary to have (at least) three cups of tea, and you place your spoon into the cup to signify when you have had enough.

There is an East Frisian saying, “Opwachten un Tee drinken.” “Wait and see and drink some tea.”  I was able to find an East Frisian tea blend to buy online, and also some fairly similar kluntje–though not quite the same.  But when these arrive, I will have to try it myself, in honor of my great-grandfather and his family.  One last thought–I am curious that there is also a connection to tea on the other side of my ancestral tree–the tea doll of the Innu people.  Somewhere in the middle, I am sitting here right now with a mug of black tea.  I find myself wondering how all these peoples have come together in me, and whether I might learn from their wisdom and bring some healing to their brokenness.

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“Remain in the land and nourish it”

One of my hopes in exploring the stories of my ancestors is to see what cultural wisdom I might reclaim from everything that got lost in translation, especially regarding their relationship to land.  Today I was diving deep into internet stories about East Friesland, the ancestral land of my great grandfather Henry Johnson. His parents and grandparents had traveled from East Friesland to Illinois via New Orleans in the 1850s.

His father, Heye Broer Janssen traveled to the U.S. on the ship “Fannie” with 16 total family members including his parents Broer Janssen Martens and Geske Alber Schoen, arriving in New Orleans October 28, 1851. (The name Martens was dropped in the U.S. and they were called Janssen and then Johnson. Previously in East Friesland, people took the first name of their father as their last name.)  Henry’s mother, Helena Hinrich Janssen arrived in New Orleans on November 8, 1854 with her parents Heinrich Johann H. Janssen and Esse Classen Beckman. Her parents died a few years later, and she and her brothers and sisters were cared for by relatives and neighbors. Heye and Helena (Lena) married in 1862, and Henry was born in 1865, the second of ten children.

I must offer thanks again to my cousin Jim Pattyn for all his work in exploring the genealogy of our common ancestors.  In my search for their relationship to their land, I found myself recording all the towns in which they had lived in East Friesland, in fact for many generations prior: Firrel, Grossoldendorf, Kleinsander, Kleinoldendorf, Hesel, Moordorf, Schwerindorf, Strackholt, Remel.  These small towns are all within about 30 miles of each other in the center of East Friesland, somewhat near the larger town of Aurich.

625px-Ostfriesland_Verkehr-de.svg

East Friesland Map: Photo by NordNordWest – own work, using Ostfriesland de.svg by Enricopedia., CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5273792

In a letter dated April 16, 1846, from Alton, Illinois, one of my distant relatives (Heie Keiser) encouraged his family back in East Friesland to come join him. He praised the opportunities in his new home.  I was struck by one of his closing statements. He wrote:

And also think not as the old wives used to say, “Remain in the land and nourish it.” We agree much more with the poet, when he says, “Hail to you Columbus, glory be to you, be highly honored forever.’ You have shown us the way out of hard servitude.”

The East Frisians had a deep love of independence and freedom, and they resonated with the “American dream.”  I appreciate their love of freedom, but in my study of the process of colonization, I cringe at their praise of Columbus–one can see that they jumped at the chance to be part of the settling of this land that was new to them. They were able to work hard and acquire their own land to farm and to cherish.

But as a feminist scholar, I also like to notice wisdom that is hidden by being contradicted.  I wonder, who were the “old wives” who had offered this different sort of wisdom that was being rejected:  “Remain in the land and nourish it.”  That is a heritage I want to claim today, the heritage of the old wives, the ones who stayed.  (I think it also filtered into the ones who came to the U.S., because from what I can gather, the East Frisians were careful farmers who took care of their land so that it might continue productive for long years.)

I also heard about another custom of German immigrants (not sure from which parts of Germany) who carried in their pockets across the ocean some of the soil from their homes, so that at least they might be buried with some of the soil of their own land.  In this exploration of the ancestors and their relationship to land, there is something to grieve and also something to be thankful for.  I think that what Margy and I are trying to do with our land here in Portland might fit into that old wives’ wisdom–remain in the land and nourish it.

 

Ancestors and Whiteness

Can learning about our own ancestors help white people in undoing white supremacy and colonization? Or could it possibly be a distraction from the real work? When did our ancestors become “white” instead of German or Ukrainian or French or Irish? How did it happen? If our ancestors owned land, when and how did that happen, especially in relationship to the stealing of land from Indigenous peoples?

We were talking about these questions in my Maine-Wabanaki REACH group last night. It has been helpful to join in a small group with other white folks committed to the process of ending racism and colonization. We ponder the difficult questions together, in the context of the wider work of Maine-Wabanaki REACH which is in conversation and solidarity with Wabanaki people.

It seemed to us that understanding our families’ histories in the context of colonization, can help us to better understand colonization, and to make it visceral and real for us.  It is not just recounting the stories we may have heard in our families, or read about in research, but juxtaposing those stories with the history of colonization, land theft, and slavery, in the particular locations in which they lived.

I have already done a lot of exploring of the matrilineal side of my family.  Last night, after the meeting, I wondered how this might have played out on the other side of my family–my patrilineal ancestry.  My dad’s ancestors came to this country from Germany.  But more specifically, his great-grandfather and great-grandmother arrived in Illinois as children in 1851 and 1854 from East Friesland. East Friesland was actually a somewhat isolated culture on the North Sea with its own community and language, in some ways more closely related to Holland and old English than German.

Thousands of East Frisians came to the midwest during the middle of the 19th century, drawn by the promise of cheap fertile land and a long-standing love of freedom. Most of them worked for a few years, then were able to buy land, and become successful farmers, from what I can gather.  In America, they formed closely knit communities centered around their church, their family and their language.  But over the course of three generations, the young people had assimilated into the surrounding communities, and no longer spoke their parents’ language.

By the time the East Frisians arrived in Illinois, it had already been colonized for several generations.  But the name gives a clue.  On the Illinois State Museum website, I read about the Illinois peoples losing their lands.

In 1803, the Kaskaskia tribe signed a treaty giving up its land claims in the present State of Illinois in exchange for two small reservations on the Kaskaskia and Big Muddy rivers. The Peoria, in turn, ceded their Illinois claims in a separate treaty signed in 1818. Finally, in 1832, two years after President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, the Kaskaskia and Peoria tribes agreed to merge and moved west to a reservation in Kansas.

So I wonder if the German immigrants even knew about the history of the land they were so excited about farming?  More research surely to do about all that.

In the course of this research, I may have coincidentally solved a mystery that had recently emerged in my DNA reports.  According to my DNA analysis, 15.3% of my ancestors came from the British Isles.  But from my genealogy research, I thought that number should be just 3% (my Scottish ancestry).  I didn’t think I had any other British or Irish ancestry.  So what was that other 12%? Was there some family secret I hadn’t heard about?  Well, I learned online that East Frisian DNA is indistinguishable from that of the British Isles.  So rather than a secret in the family tree, I think this 12% might be my great-grandfather Henry Johnson (also known as Heinrich Jansen), who was 100% East Frisian.

And when did they become white?  Well, I’ve got to stop for today, but I’ll come back to it. In the meantime, a 1920 census with Henry Johnson listed–see between the blurred out parts.  And the “W” next to his name.

Henry Johnson 1920 census section

Summer Lessons to Remember

Screen TentMaybe this land on which we newly live can become a sacred center of learning earth spirituality, with a fire circle, a water pond, bird songs in the air.

Your journey on this small piece of land is valuable, not for some other purpose, but for this purpose–to restore your broken off heart to the land.

You have all the time you need.

This spiritual work is your work–writing about it, yes, teaching it, yes, but doing it, most important of all. Even if you do nothing else in your life, do this work.

Each step of the journey is holy. Remember the deer who appeared in the yard. Come outside. Dawn is the best time. “Vacation” really means “spiritual restoration” time.

Your calling now is to do the spiritual journey into Earth Community. That partially corresponds to your ministry at your congregation, and partially lies outside of that. (All congregations must go through transitions in this time.)  

Teach a class this year on the Spiritual Journey Into Earth Community, based on the latest version of the book (Finding Our Way Home: A Spiritual Journey Into Earth Community).

Begin to explore self-publishing the book.

For health–rest, dance, walk, water, herbs, be outside.

Come outside, come outside, come outside.

There is no rush at all, just love, follow your deep passions.

The spirits are with you. Brokenness hurts–turn to the cardinals, the sun, weeping, diving into water.

Enjoy the beauty of each day. It is not all about goals and purpose and accomplishments–even green ones. See the beauty now. Feel the connections now. Be still.

Listen to your body.

You can find your joy and beauty when you sit outside in the morning and write–you know how to move into Presence. Write this down.

There is still more transformation that is possible. Your heart is in the universe and the universe is in your heart. I put my hand on your heart.

Think of how you get up each day in a world that is broken and anguished and live in a society that is divided and hurting. Think of how you feel the new sun and the songs of the birds.  You are learning to feel the land slowly, so the grief doesn’t overwhelm you, so you can find the source of strength, the many ancestors.

Keep dancing.

Today is a day, not a preparation for something else–a beautiful, painful, blessing-laden day. Let your heart’s pain be awash in this day.  

You are not an orphan. You are in the land where ancestor relatives were buried, the dawn places. Don’t panic. Don’t try to take the pain to someone else. Everyone is broken. Remember gratitude. Remember to honor the pain. Remember to see with new eyes.

Remember the magic. Breathe. Remember that a day may bring a beautiful surprise. Follow the Spirits’ lead. Flow with the River of Life.

The Ancients

Knowth spiral MD DSC09032

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Thursday, Margy and I went to the ancient sites of Knowth and Newgrange.  Built by neolithic stone age peoples about 5200 years ago, they were burial mounds and ritual centers, aligned with the sun at certain points of the year.  We had heard about Newgrange, where the light from the sun at dawn enters the burial chamber on the Winter Solstice.  But we were even more impressed by Knowth, where tourists are not able to go into the burial chambers–too dangerous–but can walk up to the top of the mound.  There are huge boulders that surround and support the mound, called curb stones, and most of them are covered in geometric images–spirals, triangles, undulating serpent like forms.  We could photograph and touch this art created before the pyramids were built in Egypt.  It is a UNESCO world heritage site because of this high concentration of neolithic art. What an astonishing feeling to trace a spiral that was carved so many generations ago by the ancients!  Our guide said that similar stone carved art with the same kinds of geometric patterns can be found all around the world–America and Australia, for example.  Until fifty years ago or so, all these stones at Knowth were buried under soil–the mounds looked like an extension of the hills.  Then, archaeologists began to excavate and discovered the careful construction and design of the burial passages and chambers, were able to carbon date the remains, and restored the mounds to their neolithic era appearance.  All of the stones are original, and the guides reminded us of the sacred and beloved nature of the site. After this visit I got to thinking about ancient mounds in the United States.  I barely knew anything about them, except that they were built by early indigenous peoples of this land, and that many have been destroyed or are even now being threatened with destruction.  Most recently, I heard about a new football stadium being planned in St. Louis that would destroy the remains, now underground, of a burial site and city.  Since no federal money is involved, there are no laws demanding that they even do archeological investigation. I wonder why our country doesn’t take care of these precious artifacts from the ancients on this land?  In a time when there is international outcry over destruction of ancient sites in Syria, where is the outcry over destruction of ancient sites in America?  I suppose it is directly related to our society’s general insistence on forgetting that these lands once belonged to another people.  As to the mounds that do still exist, I have read that there was much early resistance to thinking that Native peoples would have the expertise to build such structures.  Racism then, must surely underly this disregard, and perhaps the overarching allegiance to the gods of money and profit.  And the brokenness of our times, the forgetting that the land is full of sacredness in her essence and in her history.

Creatures of Time

Photo by Udo Kügel Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Udo Kügel Wikimedia Commons

The stars also form a pattern to our eyes in the night sky. They circle around the north star, so that when people take a time-lapse photo, you see the lines in circles around the north star. Of course, it is really the earth that is moving, spinning on its axis pointing toward our north star. Every spinning planet will have its own north star. The ancients used to tell time by the stars. If you were to track the big dipper, you could watch it move around the sky during the night, and if you watched it over many weeks, you’d see it was in a different place in the circle, each month of the year.

We are creatures of time. Our ancestors were watching all these patterns, learning them and tracking them so they might tell their children, marking them so we would know how to plant and harvest and hunt, and dance our own dance of time. They were much wiser than most of us at reading the natural signs of time, though our scientists have followed in their footsteps. And so we mark with our machines the minutes and the hours and the days and the seasons and the years. We look back and we look ahead.

Our relationship with past and future brings us the awareness of our own mortality—that for us, and for all living beings, someday, time will cease. Often, we feel pain about that. We feel broken-hearted when those we love are no longer with us, or when something threatens their lives. We can see that some animals grieve when their companions die, but they don’t seem to anticipate death like we do. Our ancestors also wondered about death, and passed on to us their questions about what happens when we die, and their speculations and beliefs about it.

Some ancestors believed that there was another dimension that opened up after time ended—they called it eternity. There were many theories about what eternity might be like, some of which included endless misery or endless joy, depending upon our actions during our time. Others spoke of a cyclical process of rebirth, that we end one lifetime and begin another, until we experience all that we need to experience. In our own era, all these beliefs survive, as well as more skeptical viewpoints that propose that as creatures of time, death is the end, that there is nothing of the individual consciousness that survives beyond time.