In this article, Deloria quotes that “Americans had been continually haunted by the fatal dilemma of ‘wanting to have their cake and eat it too,’ of wanting to savor both civilized order and savage freedom at the same time” (Deloria, 3). For me, this is the reason why Playing Indian is the persistent tradition in American culture. There are conflicting features in the nation identity: “instinctual ‘blood consciousnesses’ and self-aware ‘mind consciousnesses” (Deloria, 3). As catalyst, the Boston Tea Party incident caused the thinking of the conflicting features. “Indian represented instinct and freedom” (Deloria, 3), and this is what Americans wanted but had to destroy because “the one is the death of the other” (Deloria, 5).
“Dressing as an Indian allowed theses pretend Mohawks to translate texts, images, and ideologies into physical reality”(Deloria,6), “at the same, however, wearing a mask also makes one self-conscious of a real ‘me’ underneath”. As a Chinese, after reading this passage I first thought about Peking Opera and its facial masks which is similar to this kind of “disguise”. There are several versions about the origin of stage facial masks, one of them is that stemmed from the Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577 A.D.) and thrived in Tang Dynasty, when it was called “Damian” or “Daimian”. It is solo dance in order to sing the praises of the battle achievement and goodness of king of Lanlin. In the story, king of Lanlin, whose name is Gao Changgong, was brave and resourceful in battle but looked like a woman. Every time he went out to battle, he wore a fierce mask and won the battle. In the performance of “Damian”, performers also wore masks. Using masks on the stage can help performers to understand the roles they play and help better reflect the character, facial features and status of the roles. Stage facial masks are the harmonic unity of ideas and impressions.
Almost all the human groups had totemism in the primitive times. Primitive people depicted the thing or concept that they believed in and then worshiped it in cult. In the cult, wizards who in the charge of the cult must wear masks. According to historical relics found in Sanxingdui, masks made by bronze were used in cults in ancient Shu during three kingdoms period. Another example is “nuoli”; this kind of religious dance with masks on had big impact on fold dance.
There are three main features of facial masks:
First, it is the contradiction and uniformity of beauty and ugliness;
Second, it is closely related to the characteristic of the roles;
Third, the pattern is stylized.
In my opinion, painting on the face is the dissemblance of oneself and the interpretation of the role one plays, which is the same as Playing Indian. They both try to cover themselves’ identity or features and to play someone else’s identity or features, by painting on the face or Playing Indian, they can experience what does not belong to them but they want or try to express. In facial masks, it shows the contradiction and uniformity of beauty and ugliness, in Playing Indian, it shows the contradiction and uniformity of civilization and savagery.
1. How do you interpret the tradition of Playing Indian, what’s the reason for that?
2. Facial masks not only exists in Chinese culture, what other kinds of facial masks do you know and what’s the similarity and differences between them and the disguise I mentioned in reading response?