Special Advance Screening of Disney’s ‘The Lone Ranger’ To Be Held For The Comanche Nation In Oklahoma
By Nancy Mace
Coffey explained the significance of the crow on Depp’s head in the movie as reflecting a traditional Comanche dance called the Tuhu Wii, which is translated to the Black Knife. This was an exclusive warrior society, identified by black shawls around the waist, painted faces, and the dance mimicked the crow, which is a symbol of warfare to the Comanche.
“Each warrior painted their face individually as a reflection of their spirituality and visions, and no one warrior painted their face the same,” says Coffey, who has participated in the Tuhu Wii dance by being a Point-Man.
Johnny Depp and the Yamparika Comanche Crow Dancers
By David Yeagley
Coffey cites a historical raven dance from a not-so-well-known warrior society called tuhu wii (too wee), or “black knife,” or “black raven.” Actually, no such term appeared in the earliest Comanche lexicons. There is only the word for night, “toh-kahn,” but no word for black. The only record known of this Tuhu Wii warrior society is from anthropological references which came to light in 1933. A “Tuhwi-Crow-Raven” dance is mentioned–as belonging exclusively to the Yamparkia Comanche. There is no known description of the dance or of any special attire associated with it. There are no visuals. And there is no word as to date of origins of the dance, either. Comanche society is highly individualistic, full of clans, clubs, groups, societies, as typifies any people of profound autonomy. That Yamparika had at some late point (probably post-reservation), a Crow Dance for veterans, is not indicative of a universal Comanche tradition at all.
What little there is about this matter is contained in William C. Meadows’ Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche Military Societies (University of Texas, 1999), pp.274-294, esp. p.284. There is a bit more detail given also on the matter of Comanche attitude about the crow. However, again, there is no visual description of any special costume worn by the Crow dancers.
The Yamparika Comanche (originally named for the yap root, a potato-like root) were the northern-most group of Comanche, living nearest the old Shoshone borders, and it is said that they maintained the closest ties to the Shoshone. Comanche people were (and still are) quite faddish in various aspects of our culture, trending with the wind, more or less. The crow bit simply had no significance among the rest of the Comanche, however important it may have been, temporarily, among the Yamparika. It is impossible to know much more at this point in history. Sometimes, history is simply lost, forever.
But why bring all this matter up, to justify Johnny Depp’s costume, when he states explicitly that he got his costume–not from the Comanche, but from a fantasy painting by white man artist, Kirby Sattler? His costume has only the most coincidental, and remote relation to anything Comanche. The Raven has all sorts of cultural significance for all kinds of people, all over the world, in all periods of history. Trying to make it Comanche, for the sake of a movie costume chosen to imitate a white man’s fantasy painting seems “far-fetched,” indeed.
Why do Comanche leaders (in this case, Comanche Chairman Wallace Coffey, and non-Comanche funded bird man Bill Voelker) feel they have to make Johnny Depp’s costume a Comanche costume? The Lone Ranger is a fantasy film, and Johnny Depp’s “Comanche” character is a fantasy character, with a fantasy costume. Why is there a need to try an add authenticity to it?
In my opinion, this is not only unnecessary, but possibly denigrating. I can easily see a new trend starting in Comanche land: dancers are going to show up at pow-wows with raven head pieces on top of their heads. Johnny Depp will have started a new trend, all because some Comanches tried to justify his fantasy costume. They tried to say it was authentic, or Comanche-related. Thus, Hollywood will have affected Comanche tradition. The white man will have made a new mark, a new scar, on Indian country–on the most powerful tribe of the southern plains, the Comanche.
It's curious that Yeagley says "Coffee has contributed new information." Because Yeagley acts like he already knew about the Black Knife or Crow Dance. If so, why didn't Yeagley speak up in the last year or so, when Comanches and other Indians were discussing Depp to death?
But let's assume Yeagley knows what he's talking about, for once, and address a few points.
Note how Coffey justifies Tonto's broken English. Actually, if you speak a newly learned second language, you generally make a lot of mistakes--especially with the more complex parts. You don't speak it perfectly except for an occasional dropped word, like Tonto's pidgin English.
Consider a typical "Tonto phrase": White man speak with forked tongue.
It's been almost 40 years since my last Spanish class, but I can translate that to: El hombre blanco habla con [forked tongue]. Or, El hombre blanco habla como una culebra. [The white man speaks like a snake.]
Obviously I don't remember advanced vocabulary words such as "forked" and "tongue." But simple verb tenses (habla, he speaks) and articles (el, the) are literally the first things you learn on the first day of your first Spanish class. And the last things you forget.
So the problem isn't just that Tonto speaks English badly. It's that he speaks it badly in a way that makes him look ignorant compared to a typical ESL student.
To prove the point, read novels or watch movies about the 19th century. Can you imagine an Irishman saying, "Me like'um drink on St. Paddy's Day"? No. No foreigner or immigrant ever speaks English the way Tonto does.
And so what if you did find an Indian who spoke that way? What's the justification for making Tonto look more ignorant than average? If Depp's Tonto is supposed to be an improvement, then improve him. If you continue to stereotype Indians as uneducated savages, you're guilty as charged.
The "Crow Dance"
You can read more about the Black Knife Society and Dance here:
Comanche waist shawl
Let me reiterate Yeagley's arguments, since I've made them before myself, and add a few:
The key points: 1) The "braves" wear black breechcloths, not crow headdresses, to symbolize a crow. 2) The dance was performed for only the fourth time since 1918.
So the dance isn't part of and doesn't represent mainstream Comanche culture. It's an obscure practice that may almost be extinct.
More important, a crow dance isn't the same as a freakin' crow on the head. Neither Coffey nor Voelker has addressed the no. 1 objection to Tonto's costume.
Repeat: Depp invented a phony costume because he couldn't be bothered to research or consult with Indians in advance. In other words, he doesn't respect real Native cultures. Period. No amount of matching the costume to Comanche culture after the fact will change that.
For more on Johnny Depp, see Hammer Compares Depp to Scissorhands and Depp Derangement Syndrome.
Below: "Johnny Depp is flanked by Comanche Nation Chairman, Wallace Coffey, right, and the First Lady, Debbie."