Posted by: George | July 5, 2010

Souvenirs

 
 
 

Near Mesa Verde

July 5, 2010 (morning)

I don’t buy souvenirs, especially authentic Native American souvenirs, some of which is made in China. We have too much stuff in our culture. We are constantly buying stuff we don’t need, and then we have to become the caretaker of more and more stuff.

About two years ago, I heard a story on NPR that stated Americans now live in houses that are twice as big as fifty years ago and half as many people live in each house. Despite all this extra space, one of the fastest growing businesses in the country is renting storage units. So, we have more space, but it’s not enough space for all out stuff.

This fall, when I am at home between trips, one of my goals is to get most of the stuff out of my house. In part, I am tired of cleaning it. And I’m just not sentimental about many objects. I am emotionally attached to my bike, my guitars (I have an electric, to pretend I can actually play, and an acoustic, because sometimes the electricity is out), my hiking boots, and a few significant items of family history (like the buffalo horns my grandmother sent to my brother and me shortly after our father, her son, left the family).

I went into a Native American souvenir shop on the way to Mesa Verde. Despite the hokey tepees and supersized arrows out front, the merchandise seemed to be authentic, made by Navajo and Zuni artists from the four corners area (where Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado meet). One odd thing about the outside of this souvenir shop is that it looks like almost every other Native American souvenir shop I have passed on my journey. They all have the same huge arrows planted in the group and the same huge tepees. There must be a factory someplace in the country that manufactures oversized arrows and tepees. (One additional point here, the Native Americans in this area didn’t live in Tepees. They lived in cliff houses or pit houses.)

I was tempted to buy a Navajo flute. They were beautifully carved and lacquered in mahogany. This would be something I would actually use. But I am trying to watch my expenses. As soon as my money runs out, my travels are over. I’m not going to run up credit card debt, another issue we Americans have must face.

I also wondered how authentic the flute actually is. Did the traditional Navajo have access to mahogany? Lacquer? Sandpaper? Power carving tools? At the same time, should we say a tradition should stay static? The traditional peoples were engaged in trade. Some of the jewelry found at archeological sites, like Cliff Palace, was made with sea shells that came to the area through trade among the tribes. The traditional cultures were constantly adapting. The tribes around Mesa Verde evoled from being hunters to being farmers because they depleted the large game in the area.

I hope this does not offend anyone, but I find myself being disturbed by the way we market Native American culture. It’s like we are fetishizing a culture we almost erased from history.

I can definitely see the value of supporting Native American artists, but I don’t want to support them in a souvenir shop. If I see a Navajo carving flutes on the side of the road, I would definitely want to stop and talk to the artist. I might even buy one. Or, maybe I will order one directly from the artist, that is, from his website.

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Responses

  1. George–

    My Native American friend has spent her life fighting against just such fetishes. Its a big problem for true na artists. Beware the art labeled Native American inspired; it’s not authentic.

    Like


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