PAINTINGS: “WHO AM I … “ SERIES
We’Wha (WAY-wah) 1849 - 1896
In 1886 America our government felt that the last Indians had been defeated. It was time of “Manifest Destiny” and a time for westward expansion. There were two early anthropologists, Matilda Coxe Stevenson (first woman professional) and Frank Hamilton Cushing. Matilda had met an amazing Zuni with the name of We’Wha. This Zuni was a fine potter and weaver and extremely intelligent. Matilda took her to Washington DC. There We’Wha met politicians, social groups and even gave speeches. But, We’Wha was a Two Spirit person and was later discovered to be not only over 6’ tall and having strong features ….. she was living in a man’s body.
In the competition between Matilda and Frank Cushing he helped establish the white Christian new America where the presence of these individuals was not acceptable to the incoming white immigrants. The process of denying the presence of these Two Spirit people was accelerated by taking Native American children from their homes and placing them into Christian Academies where they were regulated into a physical body shape category. Long hair was cut on a “boy” and he was given a uniform to wear as he learned a new language. “Girls” were given clothes befitting a girl and put in girl’s classes were they had to learn English and skills needed to become a successful female. The knowledge that there were Two Spirit people was quickly erased from public display or awareness. There are records that when Christopher Columbus identified a Two Spirit person he threw them into a dog pit to be torn limb from limb.
In this MCC painting a single child is depicted on one of We’Wha’s hands as dressed in girls clothes. She even has a small pistol. On the other hand is the same child dressed in an Academy uniform. The trauma and personal pain of insecurities that this child endured because of this western culture change is mirrored in We’Wha’s face. The groupings in the lower section of this painting are representative of antique Native American photos of Two Spirit people. One couple in the lower left shows a person dressed in a woman’s apparel holding a gun. The children in the center lower area show both boys and girls dress. The couple in the lower right share the caring for each other.
The guns in the old photos represented of the anger these people held. It was an Iroquois custom to put Two Spirits on the front lines to scare the enemy. A warrior woman and man in women’s clothes were as frightening to Euro-Americans then as they are now. Colonel Barnwell’s troops in 1712 were surprised to find that the fiercest of the Tuscarora warriors were women who do not surrender “until most of them are put to the sword”.
The white/green-yellow panel behind We’Wha gave MCC a tableau on which to write the names of the many Native American groups who have been documented to have had Two Spirits in their communities. Much oral history of these respected Two Spirit people was lost by the purging of “abominations”. The loss of the Two Spirit people destroyed a meaningful place in the sacred hoop. In many tribes Two Spirits were balance keepers. Thought to be the “dusk” between the male morning, and the female evening.
The painting’s rainbow colors represent a recognition of our current LBGT community. Native American Two Spirit people have regained a place of recognition. The umbrella term “Two Spirit” was coined about 25 years ago in an effort to unify the tribes and raise awareness. It is estimated that of the 567 tribes recognized by the federal government (which are, at least in theory, sovereign nations within the United States) at least 150 of those tribes acknowledged something like what we now call Two Spirits. Each would have had their own word for these individuals or, in some cases, no word at all because they were so seamlessly part of the community.
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"We'Wha, Two Spirit"
24"H x 20" W
Mixed Medium: Charcoal, Pastels, Inks, Acrylic Paints on Bristol Board
Photo by SkyLark Images
Professional Prints are now available. Please contact M.C.CAROLYN for prices and sizes.