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Old 01-19-2017, 03:11 PM   #1
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Question An Unusual Question

Hello out there. I'm new here.
I have what might be an unusual question but this seems to be the right place to ask.

My wife and I are traditional musicians and we have recorded a new album.
We are also artists and are making a book to illustrate each song on the record.

Many of these old, traditional tunes have interesting titles. Sometimes funny, sometimes serious and everywhere in between.

I am having trouble coming up with an illustration for one tune in particular.
The tune is called "Big Powwow." It is a fiddle piece we learned from an old fiddler born in Texas in 1899.

I am not native and so I am trying to figure out what this title means to me as well as what it means to others and how I can connect with an image that represents the title.

I know this is an odd question but I am hoping someone will take the time to give me their thoughts on what the title "Big Powwow" means to them.

I am also trying to make a connection to the title for myself so that I can illustrate it meaningfully.

Thank you for reading this.
respectfully,
H. Rains
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Old 01-19-2017, 04:39 PM   #2
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Bear in mind that, because the word "powwow" entered the general lexicon long ago, there are many ways to interpret the title of this piece.
Many ways that I could find meaningful to myself. I was just curious what, if any, thoughts I might find here.
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Old 01-19-2017, 11:50 PM   #3
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If ya'll want to hear the song:

Big Powwow performed by Spencer and Rains

In the context of fiddle music, it makes me think of the non-Indian usage meaning a meeting or get together. Like when my colleague walked into my office to tell me tech staff was gonna "have a powwow" about the new R&D projects. I wasn't expecting fry bread, grass dancing and the Crazy Horse Singers. Honestly, I as the name of a fiddle tune, I won't by default assume a Native context.
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Old 01-20-2017, 12:33 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OLChemist View Post
If ya'll want to hear the song:

Big Powwow performed by Spencer and Rains

In the context of fiddle music, it makes me think of the non-Indian usage meaning a meeting or get together. Like when my colleague walked into my office to tell me tech staff was gonna "have a powwow" about the new R&D projects. I wasn't expecting fry bread, grass dancing and the Crazy Horse Singers. Honestly, as the name of a fiddle tune, I won't by default assume a Native context.
Thanks @OLChemist for providing a link to the song.

Welcome howard.rains to pw.com online community. Thanks for thinking to ask folks here. I enjoyed your playing of the song.

In listening to it, it doesn't sound NDN to me. I was more struck by it having an inviting feeling to a non-NDN type of gathering. Kinda a prelude giving me a little taste of more fiddle music that's to come if I were to show up to the big shindig.
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Old 01-20-2017, 11:55 AM   #5
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Thanks for sharing the link. That was from a workshop we did in California.
I agree with you, I think of the title in a non-Native context.
But I also started thinking about it in a broader, human context.
An ideal for humanity.
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Old 01-20-2017, 01:25 PM   #6
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There are a great number of these old tunes either relate to or have the word "Indian" in the title.
Many were created in that era of pain when my ancestors made it their mission to annihilate native people.
However, the tunes themselves, to my ear, have respect in their melodies.
At least, they do when I play them.

There is another tune we recorded which may be more problematic and I hope that you who are reading this will have patience with me.

The tune comes from the famed Texas fiddler Bob Wills and it is a very old tune that he learned form his father.

The title is "Gone Indian." When I first heard the title, I tried to interpret the meaning. My initial thought was that it referred to the ancient way of life here. That it was gone.

Then I realized it was much simpler. It just meant that a white person had "gone over to the Indian." Seems obvious in hind site.

I struggled with how to connect with this title and how to represent it and then remembered an image with which I had an unusual connection.

That was the portrait of Olive Oatman (1837-1903). A woman who lived for a time with the Mohave and had her face tattooed.

Where is the connection? Well, when she returned to white society some years later, she lived in the small Texas town I come from.

I made a portrait of her for our book. Does it properly represent the title? I'm not sure. Is it a problematic representation? I'm not sure about that, either.

This book is not yet released and so I prefer not to share the painting but I will message it to anyone interested.

Sorry this is so long. I tend to go on.
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Old 01-20-2017, 03:02 PM   #7
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So, often the Anglo-American music termed "Indian" is a throughly Euro-American product, based on the era's fantasies about the Native other. The 18th century parlor song "Alknomook" springs to mind as one of the earliest examples. And the practice continues into the westerns of my father's childhood, with their ominous THUMP-thump-thump-thump drum beat, or those of mine with Kevin Costner's dance around the fire.

Olive Oatman, captivity narratives, and going Indian. Do you really want to explore/exploit this topic?

"Going Indian" is a multivariant term. The tattooed face of Olive Oatman carries a lot of that baggage.

For much of American history, the Indian was viewed as the polar opposite of "virtuous, industrious, God-fearing" white settler. Entropy embodied, as it were. Whites males who chose the role were at best ambivalent figures, taking on the noble elements of the "noble savage" while rejecting the norms the "superior" settler culture. In literature and pop-culture with every Hawkeye and Lt Dunbar, there is a host of "squaw men" and criminals.

For white women there were profound sexual overtones to the captivity/"going Indian" experience. Generations of the use of sexual violence in European warfare, conditioned the settlers to expect the same or worse, from people they often regarded as lacking in morality. It was not viewed as a voluntary experience for woman. Leaving several generations of Puritian writers struggling to reframe the experiences and choices of the captives, especially female, who choose to remain with their new people.

Today, there are entire sub-populations within the dominant culture that would love to "go Indian." Working from an entirely different palette of fantasy Indians, they try to become us.


Now as a mixed-blood woman, that image makes me profoundly sad. Think of the losses she suffered. First, most of her biological family were killed. She lost her home and her culture. She eventually built a new life. Then she lost another family, home and culture when she was "repatriated". She lived to see her new people profoundly damaged by the onslaught of the dominant culture. Then she had to bear that pain while living among the perpetrators, who were ultimately part of herself. No wonder the poor woman struggled with ill health and depression.

Last edited by OLChemist; 01-21-2017 at 11:47 AM.. Reason: Clarifying some really poorly worded sentences.
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Old 01-20-2017, 03:33 PM   #8
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Wow, @OLChemist , this is really an incredible response.
I appreciate the thought you put into it.
Do I want to explore this topic, yes. Do i want to exploit it? No.
I want to understand it.

Let me tell you the way things happened.
I learned an old tune. I thought about it and it reminded me of the woman from my little town. I painted her. As a portrait, I think I did something I am proud of.

Now I am left trying to understand the context of the piece I have created before I put it out into the world.
IF i put it out in to the world. If I can't live with, understand, and explain the context, then I might have to find a new solution to illustrating this title.

I am not looking for an excuse or a pass. I am really trying to understand how to represent complex issues that are very old in our collective culture.
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Old 01-20-2017, 07:21 PM   #9
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Mr Rains, I have no doubt your intentions are good. I am 52. I've been explaining elements of our differing worldviews to people since I was 14. I've been doing it on this board for 12 years. Too often it ends in anger. So I'm going to try a different approach this time.

Please go listen to Wah Jhi Le Yihm by Ulali and BC Smith. Let the music thunder through you. Listen to our voices with your instruments and musical forms.

And when you weep for the Native artists, musicians, philosophers and children lost to disease, war, alcohol, suicide, and the other ravages of colonization. When you mourn the hardened hearts of good people who did evil things in the name of Manifest Destiny. When you are crushed by the weight of sadness for the warriors and mothers who gave their lives and souls to save what little we Native people have kept.

Observe a moment of silence for the hundred of languages which will never have voice again. Then take another for all the unique worldviews stilled by that loss. Drop to your knees in mute awe as bloodied, broken Native cultures still manage to live and thrive. Be outranged at the profound violation of Judeo-Christian values that had to happen to allow our shared history.

When you cry for all the lost potential for what our peoples could have created, dreamed and loved together but never will be, then you will be able to judge whether or not imposing another narrative on the image of Olive Oatman is exploitive or not.
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Old 01-20-2017, 08:22 PM   #10
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Thank you again for your thoughtful response. I will listen to the music you suggested.

When I play a piece of music or make a piece of art, it is important for me to have a connection with it.
That is one reason I am here today having this discussion.

My connection to the image in question has to do with the woman in the image spending a good part of her life in the town I am from. Perhaps a tenuous connection but a connection none the less.

As well, what I do is a kind of history.

Stories of the past. How they relate to music and culture.

One of the questions I ask myself is, can I tell her story, among the many other stories I will record in this book?

Can I tell it without exploitation?
I find this to be very complex and I appreciate your thoughts. I have no anger and appreciate anyone's willingness to speak frankly.
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Old 01-21-2017, 10:20 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by howard.rains View Post
Wow, @OLChemist , this is really an incredible response.
I appreciate the thought you put into it.
Do I want to explore this topic, yes. Do i want to exploit it? No.
I want to understand it.

Let me tell you the way things happened.
I learned an old tune. I thought about it and it reminded me of the woman from my little town. I painted her. As a portrait, I think I did something I am proud of.

Now I am left trying to understand the context of the piece I have created before I put it out into the world.
IF i put it out in to the world. If I can't live with, understand, and explain the context, then I might have to find a new solution to illustrating this title.

I am not looking for an excuse or a pass. I am really trying to understand how to represent complex issues that are very old in our collective culture.

Welcome. We pride ourselves with having Ms. OL Chemist explain our thoughts in words we don't even understand.

I think you answered your own dilemma with your words, "If I can't live with, understand and explain the context...".

Now, Miss Olive ate the same food, breathed the same air and probably performed the same daily activities as the rest of the people. Do you think she tried to 'find'"the answers, or did she live in the moment? Gone Indian.

I also wonder if she asked to be tattooed, or was she honored by being tatooed.

I also think how traumatic her experience would be returning to the white man'a way of life
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Old 01-21-2017, 01:07 PM   #12
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Indeed JD. That is a very important point.


One of my father's family's treasured possessions is a diary belonging to my great grandmother Macconnechy nee' Hay. She was born in Glasgow, Scotland and died on homestead between Ainsworth and Brewster, NE.

As one reads, you get a sense of the underlying loneliness experienced by women in Euro-American life, especially on the frontier. The sphere of a 19th century rural woman was small. If she had no daughters she might labor in the home and garden all day alone. Great grandma spoke often of a longing for another woman to speak to while she worked. The arrival of the traveling peddler was great treat and the rare tent revival a matter of comment for weeks afterwards

Further, she was first property of her father, then of her husband. The work of women was devalued in the larger society. They were the weaker sex.

While I'm sure there are exceptions, Native women lived within extended families, with mothers, sisters, cousins, daughters, nieces. Like their rural Anglo counterparts, their labor was near-constant and hard, and their lives dangerous in a way we who live with 911 and social safety nets find hard to understand. But they generally worked with other woman. Their labor acknowledged as critical.

In my experience Native peoples respect the autonomy of individuals in a way not generally seen, or sanctioned in the dominant culture. She may well have had far greater freedom of choice in Native society than in her birth culture.

If Olive was indeed adopted (her accounts in literature and on the lecture circuits she travel to support herself before marriage, are inconsistent and contain obvious fabrications) she had undergone a transformative experience. She was kin and beloved and supported like a biological child. She would have had a place and security she lost when her biological family was killed.

It must have been very difficult to return to her old role. Especially as an object of morbid curiosity. Reading accounts of her life, the sheer number of times she was compelled to give assurances she had not had sexual contact with Indians is striking. Imagine what she would have had to hide if she had loved and lost a Native man and children. Imagine facing people who have that question in their minds every time they see the marks on your face. Imagine that those lines that linked you to the ancestors in the afterlife of your new people, now marked you as an alien among your old people.

Last edited by OLChemist; 01-21-2017 at 01:13 PM..
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Old 01-22-2017, 12:16 PM   #13
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I hope that it is apparent how much I appreciate everyone's input.
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Old 01-22-2017, 02:29 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OLChemist View Post
Mr Rains, I have no doubt your intentions are good. I am 52. I've been explaining elements of our differing worldviews to people since I was 14. I've been doing it on this board for 12 years. Too often it ends in anger. So I'm going to try a different approach this time.

Please go listen to Wah Jhi Le Yihm by Ulali and BC Smith. Let the music thunder through you. Listen to our voices with your instruments and musical forms.

And when you weep for the Native artists, musicians, philosophers and children lost to disease, war, alcohol, suicide, and the other ravages of colonization. When you mourn the hardened hearts of good people who did evil things in the name of Manifest Destiny. When you are crushed by the weight of sadness for the warriors and mothers who gave their lives and souls to save what little we Native people have kept.

Observe a moment of silence for the hundred of languages which will never have voice again. Then take another for all the unique worldviews stilled by that loss. Drop to your knees in mute awe as bloodied, broken Native cultures still manage to live and thrive. Be outranged at the profound violation of Judeo-Christian values that had to happen to allow our shared history.

When you cry for all the lost potential for what our peoples could have created, dreamed and loved together but never will be, then you will be able to judge whether or not imposing another narrative on the image of Olive Oatman is exploitive or not.
@OLChemist, thank you for sharing & giving NDN people a voice through your words.
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Old 01-29-2017, 02:57 AM   #15
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@OLChemist, thank you for sharing & giving NDN people a voice through your words.
Definitely!! You put into words what a lot of us struggle with saying.
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Old 01-29-2017, 01:47 PM   #16
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Old 01-30-2017, 02:15 PM   #17
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*Blush* Gee guys :)
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Old 01-30-2017, 06:55 PM   #18
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*Blush* Gee guys :)
Oh, c'mon. You can use bigger words than that!
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Why must I feel like that..why must I chase the cat?


"When I was young man I did some dumb things and the elders would talk to me. Sometimes I listened. Time went by and as I looked around...I was the elder".

Mr. Rossie Freeman
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Old 01-30-2017, 07:23 PM   #19
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LOL. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious... Or something like that.
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Old 02-07-2017, 03:25 PM   #20
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Wow, OLC. That was awesome.

I cannot even try to follow that, but I hope howard.rains checks out some other Native fiddle tunes...played by real Natives.

It seems that when the fiddle was introduced back in the day, (along with everything else) Natives took it and ran - creating their own style.

Of course, the fabled Cherokee fiddle From the Tennessee River to Tahlequah: A Brief History of Cherokee Fiddling | J. Justin Castro - Academia.edu

I've heard the Gwich'in Athabaskan fiddling, which is amazing.

Maybe there are some bars in the two tunes you mention that are similar to the old time native fiddling, hence the names.

Good luck in your quest!
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