The first Indian I ever saw was a plastic action figure of … Winnetou.
This resulted in a vicious fight with my slightly younger sister who had been given the Old Shatterhand figurine which I fancied much more. He had much nicer fake leather clothes, and I generally disliked Winnetou’s feminine hair at the time, especially as his plastic snakeskin headband constantly fell off while we were playing. Also his famous rifle ‘Silberbüchse’ looked too fancy for my taste. But his horse was great.
So I asserted my brotherly rights by force and ended up playing with the blonde German cowboy riding on the noble charcoal black Apache steed … until our parents brokered a deal to calm my enraged sibling, and we became blood brother and sister. Soon after we ditched the puppets for real ponies which we were lucky to have as the village where we lived had almost no people but plenty of animals and free country – and for many years to come we rode together.
But the Red Man would not stay down. In 1981 I attended boarding school at the Sacre Coeur where they had a tradition of inviting interesting individuals to inspire the students.
We listened to artists, scientists, of course clergymen … and: Mr. Yellow Hair (representative of the Lakota Sioux on lecture circuit around Europe).
To be honest, I can hardly remember anything he said to us. As it was a culturally mixed high school, some of us spoke English, and all had English lessons, but a teacher needed to translate as especially the younger children (I was 11 at the time) did not understand much.
Most of the young people lost interest pretty quickly, and the room was vibrating with suppressed nervous energy. It was clear from the barely veiled whispers that there was some disappointment about this Indian not fitting into the Karl May mould. There was no aristocratic savage romanticism. Yellow Hair did not notice, or did not care whether he satisfied any image. He continued to say what he had to say, attempted a joke here and there, and shrugged with a little smile as it fell on deaf ears. When the school bell that ended the session rang, the crowd rushed out, passed the man who stood stoically.
I was ashamed about my classmates’ behaviour, and my inability to understand all that had been said about great nations, freely roaming the land, manifest destiny, annihilated cultures, deprived living situations, the white buffalo, the “white mind” and the “red mind”… I was the last child to leave and, as I was slowly walking past the big man, I turned and attempted a greeting, an apology, a meaningful expression of respect, but it all came out in a garbled sentence in a nonsensical language of an embarrassed child.
He listened, his hair falling forward and framing a dark brown, full moon round face with almost black, slightly slanted eyes that filled with tears a little. His head nodded slowly, and the wide mouth broke into a gentle grin. “I will see you when the eagles fly again,” he said, touching his heart.
As there lived no young people of my age in our neighborhood, and the company of fresh baby brothers, sheep, birds and trees eventually lost some of its fascination, my sister and I enrolled at the riding school in the village across the hill. So, on six days a week, we walked several miles through the woods and across fields to reach the horses.
This is but the first part of a series of articles, with a further 15 parts to follow. I would value your company on my journey from childhood to manhood.
|Cover-amazing-eagle||gokulmyphoto||CC BY-SA 2.0|