Turn­ing the Power

The life and katsi­nam of Wilson Tawaquaptewa

Native American Art - - COLUMNS/FEATURES - By Barry Walsh

The life and katsi­nam of Wilson Tawaquaptewa.

The story of the life of Wilson Tawaquaptewa is fa­mil­iar to many ar­dent katsina col­lec­tors but for­eign to many oth­ers. This ver­sion will em­pha­size a dif­fer­ent theme in his life, that of “turn­ing the power,” ac­cord­ing to Matthew Saki­estewa Gil­bert in his Ed­u­ca­tion be­yond the Mesas: Hopi Stu­dents at Sher­man In­sti­tute, 1902-1929.

Tawaquaptewa was born in 1873 in the an­cient vil­lage of Orayvi on the Hopi reser­va­tion in North Cen­tral Ari­zona. At the time of Tawaquaptewa’s birth, Orayvi was the largest and most im­por­tant Hopi vil­lage. Tawaquaptewa was born into his mother’s Bear Clan, the most re­li­giously sig­nif­i­cant group. Af­ter a youth im­mersed in tra­di­tional Hopi cul­ture and re­li­gion, in 1904, Tawaquaptewa as­sumed the most prom­i­nent reli­gious and po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion in the vil­lage, that of Kik­mongwi, or Vil­lage Chief. He re­mained in this po­si­tion un­til his death in 1960, with a few in­ter­rup­tions re­lated to po­lit­i­cal im­pris­on­ment or health chal­lenges.

In as­sum­ing the po­si­tion of Kik­mongwi, Tawaquaptewa en­tered cen­ter stage in a ma­jor con­tro­versy. The con­flict in­volved a split be­tween two Hopi groups, re­cently re­ferred to by Hopi scholar Gil­bert as “Re­sisters” ver­sus “Ac­com­moda­tors.” Tawaquaptewa was the leader of the Ac­co­moda­tor fac­tion, and, as the name im­plies, he and his fol­low­ers sup­ported lim­ited co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the Hopi peo­ple and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the United States govern­ment (pri­mar­ily the Bu­reau of In­dian Af­fairs, BIA). In con­trast, the Re­sisters were adamantly op­posed to any as­sim­i­la­tion or com­pro­mise with “the White man’s way of life.” As one ex­am­ple of the con­flict, the Ac­com­moda­tors sup­ported the at­ten­dance of Hopi chil­dren at schools run by the

The Re­sisters were adamantly op­posed to such school at­ten­dance in part be­cause Hopi stu­dents were re­quired to adopt An­glo names and dress and to speak only English while in school.

Tawaquaptewa’s po­si­tion as an Ac­com­moda­tor was that the in­flu­ence of An­glo cul­ture was in­evitable and, in some cases, ad­van­ta­geous (e.g. lit­er­acy, West­ern medicine and agri­cul­tural tools), and that the wis­est course was for the Hopi to pur­sue a strate­gic co­op­er­a­tion. In con­trast, the Re­sister group ac­cused Tawaquaptewa and his fol­low­ers of aban­don­ing tra­di­tional Hopi ways and sell­ing out Hopi chil­dren and cul­ture for the ma­te­rial ad­van­tages of­fered by the An­g­los. As with most bit­ter con­flicts, there may have been rea­son­able and ir­ra­tional el­e­ments to the po­si­tions as­sumed by both sides.

Fu­eled by the es­ca­lat­ing in­tru­sive­ness of the U.S. govern­ment, the con­flict be­tween the Ac­com­moda­tors and the Re­sisters reached an ex­plo­sive crescendo in 1906. In Septem­ber of that year, the two fac­tions en­gaged in a rit­u­al­ized push­ing match near Orayvi, which re­sulted in the ex­pul­sion of the Re­sisters from the vil­lage. Over the next sev­eral years, the Re­sisters es­tab­lished new vil­lages at Hotvela and Paaqavi, which sur­vive to this day.

Os­ten­si­bly the “win­ner” of the long-stand­ing con­flict, Tawaquaptewa must have been shocked and out­raged when two months later, in Novem­ber 1906, the U.S. govern­ment in­sisted on ship­ping 71 Hopi, in­clud­ing Tawaquaptewa and his fam­ily, to the Sher­man In­sti­tute in River­side, Cal­i­for­nia. The Sher­man In­sti­tute was one of many BIA schools de­signed to erad­i­cate In­dian cul­ture and trans­form Na­tives into ho­mog­e­nized U.S. cit­i­zens. This de­ci­sion was in­tended to pun­ish Tawaquaptewa for be­hav­ing in an “un-american way” by forc­ing the Re­sisters to leave Orayvi.

Re­mark­ably, Tawaquaptewa ad­justed very well to his “school­ing.” He was said to have learned English in less than five months and was fre­quently cited as a pos­i­tive role model for Hopi chil­dren and other Na­tive stu­dents. He en­cour­aged the young Hopi stu­dents to take ad­van­tage of the pos­i­tive as­pects of their ed­u­ca­tion, but he also con­sis­tently fos­tered their learn­ing about Hopi re­li­gion and cul­ture in a re­mote place. For ex­am­ple, he or­ga­nized per­for­mances of a tra­di­tional Ea­gle Dance, which helped sus­tain Hopi cul­ture in the An­glo school set­ting. More­over, in 1907, he and his stu­dents pro­vided the dance at an an­nual meet­ing of the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion in Los An­ge­les. As Gil­bert noted, Tawaquaptewa “helped pre­serve the Hopi way through an in­sti­tu­tion de­signed to de­stroy it. Tawaquaptewa ex­erted great agency and suc­ceeded.” Tawaquaptewa was said to have “turned the power.” And it was not to be the last time.

Af­ter three years of “school­ing,” Tawaquaptewa was al­lowed to re­turn to Orayvi. The Tawaquaptewa of 1909 was ap­par­ently a changed man. As noted by BIA In­dian Agent Leo Crane, “As his In­dian agent, I tried for eight long years to make a sen­si­ble hu­man be­ing of him, but failed, for lack of ma­te­rial. Af­ter hav­ing tried him as an In­dian judge, and then as an In­dian po­lice­man, in the hope of pre­serv­ing his dig­nity and au­thor­ity as hered­i­tary (sic) chief, he was found to be the most neg­a­tively con­tentious sav­age and un­re­con­structed rebel re­main­ing in the Oravyi com­mu­nity.”

In this racist rant, it is in­deed strik­ing that Crane failed to re­fer to Tawaquaptewa’s three-year

in­car­cer­a­tion as im­pact­ing his sub­se­quent con­duct and lack of co­op­er­a­tion with the govern­ment. Be that as it may, it is clear by 1910 that Tawaquaptewa could no longer be con­sid­ered an Ac­com­moda­tor in re­la­tion to the U.S. govern­ment. This was by no means sur­pris­ing given the treat­ment ac­corded him by the au­thor­i­ties in re­sponse to his co­op­er­a­tion and spirit of com­pro­mise. By con­sis­tently re­sist­ing, he had again turned the power.

On his re­turn, Tawaquaptewa found him­self pre­sid­ing over an ever-shrink­ing num­ber of sub­jects. With the de­par­ture of the Re­sisters, Orayvi lost its sta­tus as the most pop­u­lous and re­li­giously im­por­tant of the Hopi vil­lages. In­stead, Orayvi in­creas­ingly be­came an un­der-pop­u­lated town of de­te­ri­o­rat­ing sand­stone struc­tures. In Tawaquaptewa’s later years, some An­g­los viewed him as an em­bit­tered loner, a tragic fig­ure who had at­tempted to lead his peo­ple into the 20th cen­tury only to be aban­doned by his own peo­ple and the govern­ment he had at­tempted to ap­pease. But as in­di­cated in the fol­low­ing, there is much more to the story.

Some­time af­ter his re­turn to Orayvi, per­haps in the 1920s, Tawaquaptewa be­gan to carve and sell Katsina dolls. This ini­tia­tive be­came an­other ex­am­ple of Tawaquaptewa “turn­ing the power.” He be­came a fa­mil­iar fig­ure to the ever-in­creas­ing num­bers of An­glo tourists. He of­fered tours of the vil­lage which cul­mi­nated at his doorstep in Orayvi, where he sold his carv­ings for 50 cents or a dol­lar or two. In the past, many other Hopi had sold katsina dolls to An­g­los, but Tawaquaptewa’s were unique.

What made Tawaquaptewa’s carv­ings ut­terly dif­fer­ent was that he made sure each of his carv­ings was not an ac­cu­rate por­trayal of a katsina. He again “turned the power,” by sell­ing what the cus­tomers be­lieved to be “au­then­tic Hopi katsina dolls,” which, in fact, were any­thing but. In­stead, his carv­ings were strange com­bi­na­tions of char­ac­ter­is­tics from dif­fer­ent katsi­nam in ad­di­tion to fea­tures from his own fer­tile imag­i­na­tion. His dolls are im­me­di­ately rec­og­niz­able in that they are dec­o­rated with weird, of­ten bizarre, amal­gams of over­sized ears, crossed eyes, jagged jail­house stripes, stinger-like snouts and fre­netic pat­terns of polka dots. If one looks care­fully at the pho­tos of his carv­ings in this ar­ti­cle, it would be hard to con­clude that Tawaquaptewa be­came an em­bit­tered ni­hilist. His carv­ings are fre­quently comic, even hi­lar­i­ous, in their ex­e­cu­tion.

Why did Tawaquaptewa carve in this fash­ion? As I was pre­par­ing an ear­lier ar­ti­cle on his work in 1997, I met with Tawaquaptewa’s adopted son, Stan­ley Bah­n­imptewa, in Orayvi (Bah­n­imptewa was then in his 70s and is now de­ceased). Dur­ing our long con­ver­sa­tion, Bah­n­imptewa ex­plained he used to sit with his father on his doorstep as he was carv­ing his

dolls. Asked if Tawaquaptewa had any fa­vorite katsi­nam that he carved, Bah­n­imptewa replied, “Well, he didn’t do them the right way, the way the katsi­nas re­ally looked. He didn’t think they should be made like the ones given to the girls by the katsi­nas at the dances.”

Bar­ton Wright, au­thor of 13 books on Hopi and Zuni cul­ture, con­firmed Bah­n­imptewa’s opin­ion, in say­ing, “As Kik­mongwi, Tawaquaptewa had a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship to all the Katsi­nas. He had a knowl­edge of and re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Katsi­nas that no one else had…with that priv­i­lege went a duty and a re­spon­si­bil­ity, and a tra­di­tional pro­scrip­tion, that the Kik­mongwi do noth­ing in re­la­tion to the Katsi­nas that would be im­proper or dis­re­spect­ful. There­fore, to use katsi­nas, or the carved rep­re­sen­ta­tions of them, in any way that was com­mer­cially ex­ploitive or op­por­tunis­tic would be un­think­able.”

There­fore, the con­clu­sion is that Tawaquaptewa de­lib­er­ately dis­torted all his carv­ings in or­der to be con­sis­tent with his reli­gious con­vic­tions and role as Kik­mongwi. He gave the An­g­los what they wanted, but also turned the power, made a few dol­lars to sup­port his fam­ily and main­tained his reli­gious in­tegrity.

One can clas­sify his carv­ings as fall­ing into two cat­e­gories: 1) dolls that re­sem­ble ac­tual katsi­nam, but which have been de­lib­er­ately dis­torted or mod­i­fied, and 2) dolls which bear lit­tle or no re­sem­blance to any ac­tual katsina, and are the prod­uct of Tawaquaptewa’s idio­syn­cratic imag­i­na­tion. I re­fer to th­ese two types as “mixed up” ver­sus “made up.”

In turn­ing to the carv­ings in this ar­ti­cle, it is easy to find prom­i­nent ex­am­ples of both types. More specif­i­cally, con­sider the katsi­nam in Fig­ure 1. Th­ese three are ex­cel­lent rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Tawaquaptewa’s dis­torted or mixed up type. On the left is an ap­prox­i­ma­tion of a ci­cada, in the mid­dle is a carv­ing that re­sem­bles a chip­munk and, on the right, a Hooli. With all three ex­am­ples, Tawaquaptewa has been care­ful to make mod­i­fi­ca­tions that ren­der the fig­ure “not a real katsina.” More specif­i­cally, he has added polka dots on all three carv­ings that do not oc­cur on ac­cu­rate ver­sions of the katsi­nam. In ad­di­tion, on all three, the body paint de­signs do not ex­ist on any real Hopi katsina. And as an­other ex­am­ple, it is quite non­sen­si­cal for a “chip­munk” to have bear claws on his face! This is Tawaquaptewa be­ing play­ful.

Ex­am­ples of the en­tirely “made up” katsi­nam are well rep­re­sented in Fig­ure 2. On the left is a fig­ure with mul­ti­col­ored ears of corn on his head, along with amoeba-like fig­ures on his face. No such katsina ex­ists. The same can be said for the carv­ing in the mid­dle, a hi­lar­i­ous fig­ure with scal­loped ears and stunted koshare-like horns. He also bears an amus­ing un­du­lat­ing ser­pent on his chest. And on the right is a katsina with slen­der an­ten­nae and spools for ears. None of th­ese fig­ures ex­ist in the Hopi pan­theon. An­other ex­am­ple of a made-up as­sem­blage is shown in Fig­ure 3. This carv­ing has Hopi rab­bit sticks for ears, un­usual hash marks on his cheeks and a long, striped snout.

The “katsina” carv­ings de­picted in this ar­ti­cle are en­tirely rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Tawaquaptewa the artist, the man and the his­tor­i­cal fig­ure. Tawaquaptewa was an in­di­vid­ual of com­plex con­tra­dic­tions and in­trigu­ing in­com­pat­i­bil­i­ties. He was a tra­di­tional Hopi chief of the pres­ti­gious Bear Clan, yet he was also an as­sim­i­la­tion­ist, an “ac­com­moda­tor.” In the past, he has been viewed by some as a sell­out to the U.S. govern­ment and by oth­ers as a self­less, strate­gic pro­tec­tor of the Hopi way. A more cur­rent view is to rec­og­nize his strate­gic acu­men in “turn­ing the power.” He en­coun­tered mas­sive chal­lenges to Hopi cul­ture, de­flected their im­pact, and fa­cil­i­tated sur­vival. He did this dur­ing his time at the Sher­man In­sti­tute, af­ter his re­turn to the reser­va­tion, and via his unique katsina carv­ings. Tawaquaptewa’s katsi­nam are now val­ued by col­lec­tors, art deal­ers and mu­se­ums for their dis­tinc­tive­ness, their aes­thetic hu­mor and charisma, and their sym­bolic mean­ing and sig­nif­i­cance.

1. Three “mixed up type” katsi­nam

2. Three “made up type” katsi­nam

3. A “made up type” katsina

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