We'wha and Klah the American Indian Berdache as Artist and Priest

Will Roscoe
1988 American Indian Quarterly  
A COMPARISON OF THE CAREERS of the Zuni We'wha (c. and the Navajo Hastiin Klah (1867-1937)-well known figures in their day-casts both men in new light. As religious leaders and accomplished artists, both became envoys to the white world and both met American presidents. Both were anthropological informants, and both helped adapt traditional crafts for commercial markets, contributing to the economic development of their tribes. Finally, both We'wha and Klah were berdaches-the term used by
more » ... term used by anthropologists for those American Indians, in tribes across the continent, whose lifestyles bridged men's and women's social roles. At Zuni they were called Ihamana, among the Navajo, nadle. Berdaches often, but not always, cross-dressed or wore a mixture of men's and women's clothing. They combined social, economic, and religious activities of both sexes along with responsibilities unique to berdache status. Many of the accomplishments of We'wha and Klah were only possible because, as berdaches, they bridged genders. While gay or homosexual people in the white world today are defined primarily in terms of sexuality, the Indian berdache was viewed in terms of gender-mixing. This does not exclude sexuality-berdaches typically formed relationships with non-berdache members of their own sex-but gives it a different priority. A comparison of We'wha and Klah offers a new perspective on the berdache role. Spanning a critical period in American Indian history, their lives illustrate the changes berdache status underwent in the transition from traditional to contemporary Indian life.1 The contributions of We'wha and Klah have lasted because of the insight each gained into the value of Western technologies of memory. According to Reichard, Klah "valued our technical devices for preservation-writing, painting in water color, phonograph recordingand not only cooperated with recorders but even urged that the teaching be made permanent."2 Indeed, Donald Sandner claims that "Hosteen Klah himself did more than anyone else to make Navaho religion available to outsiders."3 Ahead of their peers and years before Native American studies and tribally-sponsored cultural programs, We'wha and Klah sought to preserve and promulgate traditional ways. AMERICAN INDIAN QUARTERLY, SPRING 1988 While We'wha and Klah were traditionalists, they were also innovators, willing to take risks to pursue their projects. Among the Zunis, tribal members who became anthropological informants were suspected of "selling secrets" and sometimes accused of being witches. Among the Navajo, it was feared that recording images or words from ceremonies would bring sickness and ill-fortune to the recorder and the tribe. But innovating and taking risks were endeavors Klah and We'wha pursued all their lives, beginning with the choice to enter the special status of the berdache.
doi:10.2307/1184319 fatcat:bwmo4bamzzg6zkttmnpxawzdwy