To New Experiences, Face Paint and Becoming More of Yourself

Where's My Tipi?

How do you relate to Native Americans?  If your upbringing was anything like mine, we grew up thinking of them as almost mythical characters that ran around hollering in feathered headdresses!  Whereas of course they’re actually the original Americans, before the English came over and made themselves at home … and they’re very much alive and well and living in their own areas of the US.

The more I learn about traditional Native American philosophy, the more I warm to it. Check this link  for some Native American thinking … like this for example:

American Indian Commandments
Sacred Instructions Given By The Creator To Native People At The Time Of Creation

Treat the Earth and all that dwell thereon with respect.
Remain close to the Great Spirit.
Show great respect for your fellow beings.
Work together for the benefit of all Mankind.
Give assistance and kindness wherever needed.
Do what you know to be right.
Look after the well being of mind and body.
Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater good.
Be truthful and honest at all times.
Take full responsibility for your actions.

If all of humanity were to follow such a line of thought, the world would be a very different place, don’t you think?   I also really recommend the book   “The Wind is My Mother” by Bear Heart and Molly Larkin.

Guess what I was doing when I should have been writing your blog last week…  I was partying!  To be more precise two of my kids and I were attending various fancy dress parties in honour of the Jewish festival of Purim dressed as … Native Americans 🙂  – you see I was coming to a point!

One of the themes of Purim is to get your head around the idea that the world isn’t always as you see it.  That there is a reality hidden under what you might think is reality.  Hence the fancy dress part, which I embrace wholeheartedly, much to the bemusement of the more staid fellow adults around me … to whom I say: Chickens!

In the pre-party scramble for costumes I ended up picking the Native American theme almost by chance, but as we were driving down, I realised that I actually felt very at home in my costume – (despite the blazing red feather tucked into my headband … and suspect wig – I’m guessing not that authentic!)

Any other grownups out there who love fancy dress? I love it because it gives you a chance to see life and be life in a different way.  You get to ask yourself the question “Who would l I be if I was a witch, scarecrow, elephant, fish, rock star etc ” and then you get to answer the question.  I once dressed up as a very dishevelled tramp for the day of Purim, and it was an interesting experience.  People didn’t want to go near me (ok, I was sitting at a bus stop, my bags scattered around me, eating out of a can at the time, but still), even people who knew I was in costume answered the door in an edgy manner, and one woman stopped her car and tried to take me into a shelter!  So fancy dress can teach you something … and it’s not just a knowledge download, it’s experiential.

As well as just learning what it feels like to be another being for the day, I think you can choose to absorb something too.  Just like you are what you eat, I think you also are (or you become) how you continuously present yourself.  Want to feel like a professional? Dress like a professional.  Want to be true to who you are?  Dress and behave like yourself – even if it doesn’t always align with the whims of society.  Want to be confident? Act confident and the feeling will come.  What’s on the outside can come to be what’s on the inside.  Though beware of being inauthentic – because what’s on the inside also inevitably leaks to the outside too.

In my case over the course of the day I really started to feel that Native American vibe!  When evening came and I had to go back to being me, it was with reluctance.  In getting my kids to bed various bits of the costume had to come off out of necessity.  Finally when everyone was asleep I just had on my headband with feather, plaited wig and my ceremonial paint.  I looked in the mirror.  “You know” I thought to myself “I still look like a Native American”.  I looked into my eyes.  There was a love of nature there, a certain steely resolve, respect for the world, confidence, and pride. “Good” I thought, “it’s still there”.  Slowly I took off my headband and feather.  Checked my face and eyes again.  Yep, it was still there.  I took off the wig and finally I wiped off the face paint.  Again I looked deeply into my own face in the mirror.  And then I smiled … I still looked and felt a little bit Native American.

Have you ever dressed up like someone or something else for the day?  How did you feel?  And what did you learn?  Any full time Native Americans want to comment?



Posted on March 15, 2012, in Inspiration and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Hi Rivki! I love to dress in costume and it takes very little to get me to do so. This is probably why Purim and Halloween are my favorite holidays. I agree very much that one does take on the persona of the costume — which is why I worry so much about young girls being encouraged to vamp it up. There are witches. And then there are witches, if you know what I mean! Everything seems to be created to be so sexy, and that does concern me.

    I haven’t dressed like a Native American since I was in grade school. Just as Chasidic Jews would not appreciate their tallis and yarmulke being viewed as a costume, many Native Americans take offense to stereotypical portrayal of their attire which (as you said) may not be an accurate representation of what their tribal wear really is/was.

    Still, you look dang cute in your braids. 😉

    • Crumbs, hope I didn’t cause any offense! I thought about it before I wrote though, and I thought – you know when you see a Jewish person portrayed in the movies as just another citizen or as some kind of player in the movie, well provided it’s not a negative racial stereotype, I actually enjoy it. I like it when my faith gets a ‘mention’ – makes me feel like a world citizen. I sit there and say things like “he doesn’t really look Jewish”, or conversely “I bet she really is Jewish, she pronounced that word perfectly”. I don’t take offense, I enjoy the humor.

      We’re all different, I think we need to get over that, and celebrate our differences, not pretend to be the same. Wouldn’t the world be a grayer place if we really all were the same?

      I tell you what though, I’d love to get a real Native American experience. What I imagine the authentic experience to be – there are still people living true to their heritage – well if pages like this (which just came up on my facebook this am) are anything to go by: I think that our world has hugely lost touch with nature. The other day I was driving and I saw a couple of birds nests in the naked winter trees. They looked so out of place in contrast to the cold concrete buildings that were beneath them. Maybe it was the buildings that were out of place. At least the birds still know how to build a nest according to the original design! You’d almost expect them to be building in glass and brick, installing internet cabling and hot and cold running water by now. Of course I don’t mean to diss progress. I just think it’s important to keep a balance. We need to do both – progress and still keep our roots. Not easy, so it’s nice when you see people get it right!

      You know where else I felt right at home, when I was once lucky enough to briefly visit? Amongst a tribe living out in nature in Panama. I could seriously have lived there for months. I’d love to live in a thatched hut out in the middle of a forest somewhere, dine on natures bounty, farm the earth myself …. and still get to go on facebook in the evening … would that be too much to ask??!!

      And a blessing on your fingers – you wouldn’t be the first person to call me Rivki!!!


      • I don’t think YOU were disrespectful. But you can see how someone dressing up like a religious Jew might start muttering pretend Hebrew and THAT would be disrespectful. Same would be true for Native Americans. Their religious and cultural traditions are complicated and spiritual. Give a kid a tomahawk and that kid is hacking away. It can easily slide rom a place of respect to a place of disrespect. I think as long as one explains this, dressing up is wonderful. But there were thousands of different tribes who had different clothes, feathers, pelts. It depended on the region which animal totem with which you were identified. Sadly, so few Native Americans are in touch with their roots. And those who are, are very protective and often isolated.

        I do hope you had a happy Purim. 😉

    • …. having reread your comment just thought I’d add: I’m with you on the issue of over sexualisation of everything!!!

  2. Rivka! Dang my fat fingers! 😉

  3. Purim was the best! Hope yours was cool too – pictures?

    I guess exploring other cultures, whilst possessing (very) limited knowledge and without causing offense can be a fine line to walk… I guess better the risk taken than having a life unlived 🙂


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