Contradiction and Uniformity

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.

Discussion question:

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?

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3 Responses to Contradiction and Uniformity

  1. wscarlett says:

    Over the past few months I have learned a great deal of history about Native Americans. Last quarter I took an intro to Native American Studies class. In this class I learned about the issues that Native Americans have faced in the past and the issues they are dealing with now. But while I was taking this class we were required to buy one of Deloria’s books, so I have read many of his articles before this class. He is a very inspiring Native American author.
    In the first question you asked about how I interpret the tradition of Playing Indian. I feel that Deloria discusses about how Americans have adopted some of their traditions but still refer to the Native Americans as savages and were once the ones who had lived on these lands that now belong to the Americans. I agree that we have in the past taken their land but the Government has made deals with many tribes about giving them new lands to live on.
    For the second question I am not aware of what cultures use or have used masks in their culture. One group that I do know that have been known to wear masks are wrestlers. Many of these wrestles wear these masks to protect their identity while also using images on the mask to scare their opponent. These masks have a very similar purpose to the ones you wrote about in your response.

  2. Liz says:

    As a foreigner, I am just interested in a main culture of the U. S., and have no idea about Indian culture. So, reading article written by Deloria, her interpretation is very impressive for me. I have never thought about American identity in that way.
    To add my interpretation on hers, playing Indian costume on Boston Tea Party can be interpreted as one of acculturation, which is assimilation in a viewpoint of sociology. Assimilation is the term that explains the thing that a person or group shares other group’s emotion, experiences or tradition, and after all, they assimilate themselves to other group. To be specific, at that time, I think people lived in America continent did not regarded themselves as European anymore. They started to have different national identity, and its form was ambiguous, though. American wanted to escape from the home continent, which is Europe, and have their own nationality at the same time. At that time, they turned into Indian who Americans wanted to extirpate. Strictly speaking, Indian culture was the main culture before Europeans conquered the America continent. Of course, at that time of Tea Party happening, the main culture was the American. But they did not identify themselves. I think this is why they partly assimilate Indian culture. Americans projected an image of Indians, that they disobeyed to America, to themselves and the situation that they disobeyed to home country, England. And finally that’s why America has contradictory emotion to Indians. This is because they were partly from Europe, conventional, and partly, they wanted to escape from there and become like Indians.

  3. sho5ko17 says:

    I liked how you connected “Playing Indian” and your home country’s traditional “facial mask.” It was very interesting when you mentioned that both of them are trying to cover their identity and play someone’s feature to be like them. At first, I felt irony when I heard western people are dressing like Native Americans and playing a role of them. However, through the lectures and readings, I have noticed that some western people recognized that Native Americans have pride and noble. I think that is why some western people have muscular image when they dressed up as Native Americans. Theodore Roosevelt had used this image to build up an image of “super masculine leader,” which felt a little irony to me. I was also surprised to know how the boy scout was made. The parents concerned their son being famine because of the urbanization and industrialization. That is why they made boy scout that make them more connected to the land like the Native Americans by dressing like them. Therefore, to answer your first question, I interpret the tradition of Playing Indian as both an irony and a noble. The western, that harmed the Native Americans living, had dressed up like one of them and saying that, “We need to have connection to the land like the Native Americans.” I feel that is very weird.

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