Kokapeli is the common name given by commodifiers to the humpbacked flute player of Hopi mythology.  Sold as Kachina, but actually a very important fertility being he is very, very sacred to many pueblo people, but especially the Hopi, (Water's Book of the Hopi).  He is a good example of the artistic theft of motif from native mystery that permeates southwest art.  Sold as jewelry, doll, garden decoration, and so forth Kokapeli has generated impressive financial streams that flow directly into corporate pockets.  A few Native artists have made money with Kokapeli, but the desecration of sacred motif is generally white.  The Book of the Hopi was written by Frank Waters in 1963 in conjunction with Oswald (White Bear) Fredericks.  It was an extremely popular ethnography, best seller, and still in print today.  Kokapilau, the hump back flute player who later became Kokapeli, the stolen art motif, was one of many Hopi deities revealed in Water's book.  The sixties generation revered the Book of the Hopi, and I myself took names for my five children from its glossary of Hopi language.  The secretive ceremonial life of this ancient people became common knowledge.  Was this right or wrong?  The original work was given to the world amidst a firestorm of controversy.  It was said that revealing the religion of the Hopi would lead to exactly the kind of theft that Kokapilau experienced.  Others said that it would open up white society to respect the ways of "other" people.  Indeed, it did both.
    Coombes says that the theft of culture is incredibly selective(244). "To claim Native spiritual practices, and traditions of motif and design, as part of contemporary Culture--or in the name of one's personal history -- while bypassing the history of racism, institutional abuse, poverty, and alienation that enabled its incorporation" (into Culture) "is simply to repeat the process by which the painful realities of contemporary Native life are continually ignored by those who feel more comfortable claiming the artifacts they have left 'behind'.  Once again the Romantic author claims the expressive power to represent cultural others in the name of a heritage universalized as Culture."  I would argue that the big C Culture that absorbs the little c culture is unstopppable, always has been and always will be.  Hybridity studies the slippage between the two and results in expansion, inclusion, and domination.  In the past the Hopi lived out their lives in anonymity, their religion secure for thousands of years inside their Kivas. But eventually the impact of euro-colonialism opened the sipapu and their mysteries poured up and out like so much smoke, while the cameras and recorders poured down upon them like rain.  
    Today the Hopi are entangled in legal battles, very much interactive with the big C culture around them, and still very protective of the remaining secrets of their ancient religion.  For example, an elder is assigned to each child in school to help instruct the children in the ethics and morality traditionally taught to the youth of the tribe.  While learning their ABC's and arithmetic, a Hopi child also learns respect for their elders, for their language and customs, etc.  Nevertheless, they will see Kokapeli exploited all around them. 
    What can we do to protect what is left of indigenous culture?  What about hybrid indigenous metaculture?  Are we part of the colonial institution whether we like it or not? Can any white individual male priviledge (WIMP) person authentically address indigenous issues? 
1/21/2013 08:14:32 am

However, only thinking of Native culture as something that needs to be "protected" is also colonial and normalizes a paternalistic view. We may want to extend the discussion via Coombe's theories of appropriation for a richer discussion.


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