April 15, 2008

The hobby of being Indian

“Indianer”...a Strange, Strange Hobby IndeedThey call themselves “hobbyists,” an odd term, even derisive if you think about it, but keenly apropos considering what it is they do.

“Hobbyists” have an interesting approach to enjoying a culture not their own. They capture and cage it—feasting on the traditions of the “other” with ravenous delight. Not unlike like collecting spoons or stamps, these western European aficionados collect Indigenous North American customs like, well, it’s a “hobby.”

You can therefore imagine how curious it must be to be a Canadian Cree living in Germany, witnessing ersatz Natives donning braids, building tipis, and joining drum circles acting the very image of the mystical, stoic Indian. Filmmaker Howie Summers, however disquieted, has produced a short documentary, Indianer, giving an up-front view of who the hobbyists are, and more importantly, what feeds their fascination.
Is this hobby only a benign pastime, or something worse?In a more academic analysis, Native Studies Professor Hartmut Lutz attaches a deeper pathology to the hobbyist’s zeal who he says propagate a false and cavalier image. Evidence? Whereas none of the Natives onscreen talks, walks or dresses in the savage stereotype, every one of the hobbyists is festooned in full regalia down to the last bead.

By seeing and listening to the bare-chested, feathered and oh-so-Aryan Germans playing Indians, the viewer is left dumbfounded at their naiveté and disgusted by their hubris. Some of these folks really do believe they make superior Indians.
Comment:  I'd say it's a tradeoff. Clearly the Indianers are helping to preserve and publicize aspects of traditional Indian cultures. But they could do that by writing books, setting up exhibits, or inviting Indians to speak. By dressing up and pretending to be Indians, they're helping to preserve traditional Indian cultures while denying the existence of modern Indian cultures.

For a good debate on the subject, see Orthodox Wannabe League Considers Themselves Indian. For more on the subject, see Indian Wannabes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

yes there hobbie indians in germany we know them