Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Naked Indian Teenager at the Pow Wow

Rock Island, September 1970

Every summer the Sauk and Fox Indians, who used to live on the site of Rock Island, returned for a Pow Wow at Black Hawk State Park.  On the Fourth of July weekend in 1970, just after fourth grade, Bill's big brother Mike and his girlfriend took us to see it.

We wandered the booths where Sauk/Fox  ladies sold beadwork, moccasins, feathered headdresses, little toy drums, fried bread, and ice cream sandwiches. For some reason, the phallic Weinermobile was there, selling hot dogs.

Mike bought me a small green-plastic statue of a Sauk with a round face, long flowing hair, and bulging muscles.

The lady at the booth said that he was Wisakeha, a beautiful youth who created all of the world's rivers.  He fell asleep on the day the White-Eyes first bridged the Mississippi, but someday he would awaken and banish war from the world forever.

Mike got quiet after that, maybe thinking of Vietnam.

The show came later: Fancy Dancers fluttering with fringed shirts and enormous feathered headdresses, Medicine Dancers in animal masks, Eagle Dancers with red and green streamers fringing from their pants. A "Wild Indian" blew cigarette smoke through his nose and scared the little kids with his tomahawk. Sauk women marched single-file across the dirt, chanting to the corn spirits.   Teenage boys wearing only buckskin pants marched across the dirt, pounding on drums and screaming. They invited the kids to scream as loud as we could to awaken Wisakeha.

When a white-haired old man in a red-beaded headdress began to screech in the old Sauk language, Bill and I decided to look for Indian arrowheads in the hickory-oak woods. We walked up a steep trail that led away from the Pow Wow until we could no longer hear the shrill song or the murmuring voices. Sometimes we caught a glimpse of the river through the foliage, glinting down past a white-brick dam.

Suddenly the woods became very quiet. We saw a figure standing a little down from the path, facing the river.  An Indian! One of the teenage performers, I thought, still in costume, except his buckskin pants were down around his ankles, leaving him naked. I saw the side of his thigh, the curve of his clenched buttocks, his thin striated belly, his massive chest painted green like the forest. He was peeing, I realized with a start -- and he had a garden hose between his legs!  It took two hands to direct the stream of urine into the undergrowth.

I had only seen a few penises before, or what the grownups called "shames": my brother's, my cousin Joe's, and my Uncle Paul's.   (I didn't count the Naked Man in the Peat Bog, because I thought he was a monster.)

He couldn’t be a real Indian boy! I thought. He was too muscular, too alien, too beautiful. His chest was green, but the rest of his body was dark gold, like a statue. He must be Wisakeha, the god that the Sauk and Fox worshipped, who would soon banish war from the world. We watched in utter silence, afraid to move or breathe.

Suddenly the boy noticed that we were watching. He turned, his muscles taut, his eyes pools of black. And he screamed. It wasn’t angry, like the screams of wild Indians on tv, or the preacher at church – he was screaming with joy.  He wanted to be seen.

But we were too terrified to stick around.  We ran back to the Pow Wow as fast as we could, and collapsed yelling into Mike’s arms.

Maybe we did awaken a sleeping god that day.

See also: My First Indian Sausage Sighting

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