June 03, 2010

Stevenson's "Little Indian" poem

Charles Trimble:  Just because you wannabee / A Lakota just like meRecently a good friend sent me another such discovery in the writing of Robert Louis Stevenson. This was from Stevenson's poem; "Foreign Children" in his book A Child's Garden of Verses. It sounds innocent enough, and undoubtedly has delighted thousands of children down through the years. But it is still troubling in that it tends to instill in the Caucasian child an attitude of racial superiority. Here it is:

Little Indian, Sioux or Crow,
Little frosty Eskimo,
Little Turk or Japanese.
O! Don’t you wish that you were me?

This stirred up my creative juices, and I immediately penned the following little poem in response, not out of racism, meanness or anger, but in keeping with the lineage of us great authors and poets for traces of bigotry lurking in our sanctimonious hearts:

Little White guy, WASP or Kraut,
There’s no need to mope and pout,
Just because you wannabee
A Lakota just like me.
Stevenson knew indigenous people in the Pacific islands, of course. Perhaps he didn't learn from from his encounters, or he thought Pacific islanders were different.

Robert Louis StevensonIn June 1888, Stevenson chartered the yacht Casco and set sail with his family from San Francisco. The vessel "plowed her path of snow across the empty deep, far from all track of commerce, far from any hand of help." The salt sea air and thrill of adventure for a time restored his health; and for nearly three years he wandered the eastern and central Pacific, visiting important island groups, stopping for extended stays at the Hawaiian Islands where he became a good friend of King Kalākaua, with whom Stevenson spent much time. Furthermore, Stevenson befriended the king's niece, Princess Victoria Kaiulani, who was of Scottish heritage. He also spent time at the Gilbert Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand and the Samoan Islands.Comment:  For more on Stevenson's literary peers, see Mark Twain, Indian Hater and Teddy Roosevelt and The Winning of the West.


Anonymous said...

I think it's hilarious because Americans and Germans are the big wannabe Indian crowd. At least Europeans care about cultural accuracy more than Americans do.

kokumlee said...

Hello??? "Cultural accuracy"? Do you mean "Historical Accuracy"? Or do you think that culture is static, can't evolve? That leads to extinction thinking & stereotypes.
I have both a flush toilet & a microwave. Does that make me less native? If I cooked over a fire in my back yard, would that be more "culturally accurate"? JEESH!!!

Linde Knighton said...

Actually, I wonder if he was indulging in some Celtic wit. The Brits ALL thought they were superior and thought everyone wanted to be them. Just like some of us sometimes.

If Nonsigner, show your number or we'll run you over with our Hummer.

If your hair doth kink and coil,
your claims to be us we will foil.