because it sounds like some vague literary term, or a pernicious disease

The Man, Always Keeping You Down, Even in 1853.

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Do you remember reading Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell in Grade Seven? Please tell me you do, I do, and I still read it today.

It’s about a young girl named Wonapalei, her secret name is Karana, because all the people in the village she lives in have secret names, which is like code names or spy names, but much more meaningful and magical. It’s important that you not tell too many people your secret name because it will lose its magic. Wonapalei lives on the Island of the Blue Dolphins, in the village of Galas-at. One day a Russian Captain and his team of Aleuts come to hunt on the otter on the island, striking a deal with the Chief of Wonapalei’s people to pay them well for the time they are there. The deal goes wrong when it is discovered that the hunters have lied and try to leave without fulfilling their end of the bargain. A fight breaks out and the village is nearly obliterated, only women, old men and boys are left, which is devastating to the tribe.

A decision is made that one of the remaining men will travel across the sea to another island in search of help, which eventually comes by way of another ship sent to bring the rest of her people to the mainland. Wonapalei, discovering that her little brother has not made it aboard the ship in time, launches herself into the sea to swim ashore so that he not left behind alone. Wild dogs on the island kill her brother and in an act of hardcore survival she makes that island her bitch. Teaching herself to fish, defending her home from the pack of wild dogs that roam the island, taming various animal sidekicks and living by herself for eighteen years while she waits for the ship to return.

Her story ends here with her rescuers making her wear a dress. I like to think of it as a metaphor for the man trying to keep her down.

The most interesting part of the whole story is that she is real. Like, really real. The story is based on the life of Juana Maria, known as The Lone Woman of San Nicolas. She was the last surviving member of her tribe the Nicoleño. She lived alone from 1835 until her discovery in 1853, it her age was estimated to be around 50, and she was described as a pleasant woman who was constantly smiling and who enjoyed singing and dancing for her visitors.

Juana Maria, regrettably her real name was not recorded, died seven weeks after she was brought to the mainland, dysentery is the assumed cause of her death. She was buried in an unmarked grave in the Santa Barbara Mission Cemetery. The items that she brought with her from the island were lost in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and her skirt made of cormorant feathers was sent to the Vatican, where it too, was lost.

In 1928 a plaque was placed on the site of her burial.

The marker placed in 1928 by the Daughters of the American Revolution

Juana Maria was a bad-ass. There is not nearly enough information about her, which is sad, because she was remarkable. She witnessed the devastation her people, lived in utter isolation and died, sick and in a dress without her real name. Juana Maria had a secret name, one that had magic in it, one that belonged only to her and that she has to this day, because it couldn’t be lost in the archives of the Vatican.


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