January 04, 2012

Art exhibit about "Tahquitz" monster

Native American soul-stealing beast 'Tahquitz' comes alive in Riverside art exhibition

By Steven CuevasDeep in the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains there is said to lurk a creature right out of the pages of gothic horror master H.P. Lovecraft. Native Americans call him "Tahquist" and they say he’s a primordial beast who steals the souls of humans. The creature comes alive in a new exhibit at Riverside’s Culver Center of the Arts.

Tahquitz is said to live in the cold womb of a giant boulder. Stray too close to his hunting ground and he may harvest your very soul.

Artist Lewis deSoto learned the Tahquitz legend from Alvino Silva, an elder of the Cahuilla Indian tribe based in the rocky foothills of Riverside County between Palm Springs and Banning. Silva died several years ago, but recordings of him recounting the Tahquitz myth are included in deSoto’s installation. There will also be an operatic interpretation of the tale and wax cylinder recordings of Cahuilla bird singers.

DeSoto says he was drawn to the Tahquitz story because of his interest in Buddhism.

“Buddhism talks about the nature of suffering in humanity, and when I heard the story of Tahquitz I saw it as an embodiment of that, of this creature that destroys your spirit," deSoto says. "You don’t lose your personality; you lose your life force. To me that’s sort of an allegory to this notion in Buddhism of desire creating suffering in human existence.”
Comment:  Some info on the nature of suffering in Buddhism:

Four Noble TruthsThe four truths are presented within the Buddha's first discourse, Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dharma (Dharmacakra Pravartana Sūtra). An English translation is as follows:

"This is the noble truth of dukkha: birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, illness is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are dukkha; union with what is displeasing is dukkha; separation from what is pleasing is dukkha; not to get what one wants is dukkha; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are dukkha."

"This is the noble truth of the origin of dukkha: it is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination."

"This is the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonreliance on it."

"This is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of dukkha: it is the Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration."
The short version of this, as I understand it, is that a desire for world goods and pleasures causes suffering, and denying these goods and pleasures is the path to happiness.

So I'm not seeing the connection between the suffering we impose on ourselves, by wanting more than we can have, and the suffering imposed by a lifeforce-sucking monster. One is something you can control; the other isn't. They have no apparent connection other than involving suffering.

Instead, the Tahquitz exhibit sounds stereotypical and exploitative to me. Look at the big bad Native monster, it seems to be saying. It's the artistic equivalent of the umpteenth Wendigo movie. Associating Indians with deadly demons isn't the kind of exposure they need or the education others need.

For more on Indians and the supernatural, see Video on Native Werewolves and Froot Loops "Witch Doctor" Commercial.

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