restricted access 5. Transcultural Beginnings
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5 Transcultural Beginnings We dance with pride and think about how we have survived and are still here, especially when we see the children dancing. Harriett Skye (Lakota/Sioux) As they circle around the arena in the Grand Entry, participants produce a light up-and-down movement that draws us in. Moving with the drum, some dancers advance with two steps on the left foot, two on the right while others take one small short step to the right and then another to the left. Some emphasize a side-to-side motion, while others stress a more forward-going movement. Many of those taking part in the Grand Entry simply walk casually along in the crowd. In an oceanic, wavelike motion, moving bodies perform numerous dance styles—grass, traditional, jingle dress, fancy, and so forth. Often a performer will dance his or her style throughout. Many individuals who represent tribal nations and various communities in the United States and Canada execute full-bodied movement as their regalia accentuates the complexity of their dance. Indigenous peoples from throughout the Americas participate at powwows, and sometimes we see them in the Grand Entry. Vendors come from countries such as Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, and Bolivia, but the performers in the arena from Latin America are primarily Mexican Aztec dancers and Puerto Rican Taíno at urban powwows in New York City. Aztec dancers, who sometimes join the Grand Entry and dance specialty numbers, wear theatrical outfits and perform a series of pieces presented as Mexican dances and rituals (see figure 7). They also contribute to the entertainment part of the arena program. The intertribal powwows examined in this book are diverse and inclusive. For example, at Schemitzun in 1995 and 1997, the tribal elders impressed me. In northern Maine at Caribou, the Mawiomi in 2006 resembled an extended fam- Transcultural Beginnings 87 ily picnic. At the 6th Annual Honor the Earth Powwow in Northampton, Massachusetts , many non-Indians attended a celebration that was characterized by an overall tone of sobriety and spiritualism. The myriad dances performed at powwows, the transformative quality of these events, and the many relationships among participants lead to the notion of transcultural performance, a concept that emerges from a process basic to powwow: transculturation. Anthropologist Fernando Ortiz introduced the idea of transculturation in the mid-twentieth century in his detailed analysis of the history of Cuba seen through sugar and tobacco production (Ortiz [1947] 1995). Ortiz demonstrated how the complexity of two very different elements contributed to a fluid, multi-layered, and complex Cuban culture that affected immigration, music and dance, and political movements, among other things. Bronislaw Malinowski explains Ortiz’s notion of transculturation as “a process in which both parts of the equation are modified, a process from which a new reality emerges, transformed and complex, a reality that is not a mechanical agglomeration of traits, nor even a mosaic, but a new phenomenon, original and independent” (Malinowski [1947] 1995, xi). The transformation that Malinowski describes is at the core of powwow in numerous ways. As a transcultural performance genre, powwow embodies motion, sensory experience, and interactions between performers and spectators that produce multiple perspectives and mediation . Bodies in motion are key to understanding powwow as a transcultural performance. At powwow, motion is present in the dance but also in the ways that travel is a key element in powwowing. Shared sensory experience at powwows is full and inviting. In addition, people who attend powwows represent a broad array of categories that make up society in terms of race, ethnicity, age, gender, and class. Hundreds of tribal groups are represented, as are, in lesser numbers, non-Indians from North America, Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world. Powwow is a profoundly intergenerational and family affair that includes the very young and the very old. Males and females of all ages form part of the powwow circle and persons of different socioeconomic classes join in. It is important to conceive of cultural exchange at powwows as a process of mediation between individuals in all these categories. We tend to focus on race and ethnicity when thinking cross-culturally. Although race and ethnicity are important, powwow offers us a broader and more comprehensive way of thinking about transculturation. Powwow attendees participate in and bring many different viewpoints to powwow. Even the casual visitor or tourist engages in exchanges with other Indians and Wannabes 88 powwow participants. And all powwowers act, interact, and give and take while together...


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Subject Headings

  • Indians of North America -- Ethnic identity.
  • Indian dance -- North America.
  • Powwows -- North America.
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