March 10, 2012

Ya'Wara in AQUAMAN

First Look at Aquaman’s Other Team: Ya’Wara

By Michael "Skitch" MaillaroFrom DC Blog:

“There isn’t much we want to say yet about Ya’wara. She is a member of the Tapirape, an indigenous tribe of Brazil living in deep in the Amazon rainforest, she has a jaguar, she has a unique power and she has a connection with Aquaman that isn’t going to make Mera very happy.”

Skitch Commentary: I imagine the arguement “she’s from the jungle” is not going to tame the backlash on this one. I can’t help but think that certain parties in DC either don’t care about controversy or they are actively pursuing it.
Comment:  Ya’Wara is half-naked in a sexy lingerie outfit. Her hair and features look Caucasian, not Native. She has mystical powers. In short, she's a typical fictional Amazon Indian. Completely stereotypical. Completely divorced from reality.

The real Tapirapé

Curiously, the Tapirapé are a real tribe:

Tapirapé people

A few facts about the tribe as it was when Europeans first contacted it:The Tapirapé lived from slash and burn horticulture, hunting and fishing. Patches of forest were cleared and then burned to produce fertile soil that was planted only once or twice before clearing another patch. Each Tapirapé loghouse, hosting four or five families related through maternal links, owned its own garden; however both agricultural and hunting products could be shared among people from other houses.

The Tapirapé didn't use any clothing whatsoever in their daily life; but men were ashamed of their penis glans, which they covered with a small cone attached to the prepuce. Women squatted and sat with their legs together. Both women and men painted their bodies with diverse designs according to age and gender. On special ceremonies and dances they would also use skirts, anklets and wrist bands.

Their religion was based on shamanism. There were all sorts of spirits, some good and some unfriendly, that the shamans could communicate with. Spirits came to live in the Takana on a cyclic basis; each “belonged” to a particular Bird Society. When one of the spirits was present, two members of the corresponding Bird Society impersonated and attached himself to the spirit by wearing a special mask and other pieces of clothing until their whole body was covered; they then went dancing around the village and received good kawi (a manioc drink) from every loghouse.
Will any of these details appear in the Aquaman comics? Probably not.

What about the fact that they went naked? Doesn't that justify Ya'Wara's sexy outfit?

Well, no. The culture changed as it increased contact with the outside world:By 1965, the Tapirapé were concentrated in New Village, created by the Brazilian Government in order to protect them and just a few miles from the nearest trading post; this however increased contact with whites and furthered cultural influence. Loghouses had shrunk in size and some of them had become single-family houses built with mortar. The takana and the Bird Societies still existed, although the takana activities now included manufacturing Indian artifacts for trade. Some women had started to use skirts and blouses and men had begun to wear shorts at least when receiving visitors or trading goods. Brazilian music in addition to Tapirapé music was beginning to be heard at parties, and alcoholic drinks were starting to be drunk despite strong protests from the Little Sisters and the Indian Protection officers. Although the gift system persisted, some men possessed Brazilian bank notes and had started to understand the value of these pieces of paper.In short, the Tapirapé are like most Amazon Indians now. They live in Western-style houses, wear Western-style clothing, etc. They aren't "lost" in the jungle doing spooky dances untouched by "civilization."

Fiction vs. reality

Compare with a real Tapirapé woman:

She's not tall and flowing. She doesn't have voluptuous curves or a wild mane of hair. Her tattoos cover her face and body in unattractive ways by Western standards.

So a typical Native woman is transformed into an otherworldly huntress/priestess type. And the stereotyping of Natives continues. This is why people think Indians don't exist anymore--because an Indian like Ya'Wara never existed except in mists of legend.

For more on stereotypical Amazon Indian women in DC comics, see Hidalgo in FIRST WAVE #4 and Rima the "Native" White Girl.

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