Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Symbolism Inherent in Transformation Spurred by Westward Expansion

As Neihart writes in Black Elk Speaks, "During the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, cutting the hair, together with the change to Euro-American style clothing, was symbolic of Lakota men's acceptance of the white men's way of life. When boys attended school their braids were shorn away, their hair was cut short, and they could no longer wear breechcloths and blankets. By the 1930s, only a few men refused to cut their hair. They were called "long hairs," a term that designated not merely their hairstyle but their orientation to traditional Lakota culture" (xxi). This footnote provides interesting insight into the life of the Lakotas, and in the extinction of much of their culture in the face of westward expansion of the European settlers. Their hair was an integral part of their identity and so losing their hair, after already being forced to conceed their land, was the last heartbreak for many of these Indians. Furthermore I think it's important to note how this practice occurred primarily in schools--something that would generally be seen as surprising today, given the uproar in many countries like America and the United States about freedom of expression to wear headscarves and other religious or culturally-designated items or practices. Nonetheless, though many Lakotas felt that they lost the last shred of their identity with the cutting of their hair a few resisted the Western influence, and those "long hairs" are still remembered to this day. Regardless though this is yet another aspect of native american lifestyle that was forced to go to the wayside when confronted by Western expansion.

1 comment:

  1. Kate,

    Another thing I'm sorry we lost because we did not go back to Black Elk: the reminder that an educational system can be a force for something other than democratic freedom and responsibility.