Monday, September 20, 2010

Traditional Values

Sunday morning I was listening to a locally produced Native Americans program on the community radio station, and they played this song by the Apache flute player Andrew Vasquez. (It was a shortened version for a Putomayo compilation CD.) It's not really a song, though, it's a recitation over plaintive flute music and the sound of surf. Vasquez' words jumped out at me:
I long for the days when the world had four corners --
when you would ride to the horizon line with the wind in your hair
and would never hit a fence

Recall the age when the young maiden
and the distinguished warrior defined
the perfect union.
And so on. I found it somewhat comforting to be reminded again that Native American spirituality is as full as shit as anyone else's. Before the white man came, when the world was flat, there were no horses to ride on, and after the world became round it was only a matter of time before you hit a fence. That bit about the "young maiden and the distinguished warrior" (I picture them played by Q'orianka Kilcher and Jack Nicholson [in redface makeup and braided black wig] respectively) is hilarious but creepy.

Stuff like this sends me back to Sherman Alexie's poem "How to Write the Great American Indian Novel", which sends up the mindset very effectively:
All of the Indians must have tragic features: tragic noses, eyes, and arms.
Their hands and fingers must be tragic when they reach for tragic food.

The hero must be a half-breed, half white and half Indian, preferably
from a horse culture. He should often weep alone. That is mandatory.

If the hero is an Indian woman, she is beautiful. ...

.... She should be compared to nature:
brown hills, mountains, fertile valleys, dewy grass, wind, and clear water. ...
Everybody, it seems, wants to be an Indian, including Indians.