February 28, 2009

Hopi Medicine Man toy

Apropos of our discussion about Hopi medicine men, here's a toy found by correspondent DMarks:

Marx Toys Lone Ranger Hopi Medicine Man Set Boxed 1970sMarx Toys--Lone Ranger The Hopi Medicine Man Set 7431, boxed 1970's. Glorious accessory pack for 12" action figures released from the TV series 'The Lone Ranger Rides Again'. Complete, this includes headwear, totem pole, drum, mask, necklace, rattle, feather cape, breast plate and a full colour brochure which show the range of toys in full plus has a cartoon adventure included too. Decorative and detailed this is a lovely piece. Items are in mint, unopened condition, the original fully illustrated packaging has minor scuffs, small tears to the opening at right side and minor creasing but nothing major. Will the Lone Ranger and Tonto save the day? 41cm x 34cm (16" x 13.25")Comment:  Let's go through the package and see what we've got:

  • The white "bird" mask is a stylized version of a kachina's face. The wings are a stylized version of a kachina's wings. I'd have to check my references, but the "medicine man" on the box looks similar to an actual Hopi kachina (perhaps an Eagle Dancer).

  • So give the toy one point for a semi-authentic depiction of a Hopi figure. Then subtract points for the following:

    1) A kachina isn't a "medicine man"--not even close. The two are different aspects of Native spirituality from different Native cultures. Conflating them would be about like saying a brain surgeon is the same as a saint because they both heal people.

    2) The Hopi object to portrayals of their kachinas in pop culture. These are sacred beings, not playthings for a child's game.

    3) We can't read the included "adventure," but I'm guessing the "medicine man" is supposed to be an evildoer or malevolent figure of some sort. Judging by the way the Lone Ranger is reaching for his gun on the package, he doesn't consider the Hopi a revered spiritual guide.

    Exactly what kind of adventure is the Lone Ranger supposed to have with a kachina-like figure? Pray to him for rain and a good crop in the coming year?

    What does the Lone Ranger do in the supposed "adventure": quietly watch the figure dance for an hour or two, then quietly go home? Because that's about the only interaction an outsider should have with a kachina-like dancer.

  • The same applies to the blue mask with the geometric shape on top (a "tableta").

  • I gather the brown figure at top is supposed to be the "totem pole." Again, it looks vaguely like an actual Hopi kachina. Give the toy a point for that, but subtract points for the following:

    1) The Hopi don't have totem poles.

    2) The Hopi don't have wooden icons of that size. The figure looks to be about half the size of the Hopi "medicine man," or waist-high. The Hopi do have kachina dolls similar to this figure, but they're usually only 4-8 inches tall.

    3) See above about the wrongness of depicting Hopi kachinas or kachina dolls in the popular culture.

  • I don't know if the Hopi ever beat a drum during their religious ceremonies. If they do, I'm guessing it's more of a powwow-style drum and not a stereotypical "tom-tom."

  • The chestplate is typically worn by Plains Indians, not Pueblo Indians.

  • This is an example of how non-Natives get a Native culture wrong. And how myths and misconceptions get propagated. A white boy plays with his Lone Ranger Hopi Medicine Man in the 1970s. He grows up and writes an article about a Hopi "medicine man" in 2009. Other people see the term in Google and repeat the misinformation. And, voilá...everyone "knows" about Hopi "medicine men."

    For more on the subject, see Shamans, Medicine Men, or Priests?

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