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Compass Magazine, April 2003

10,000 years of Native American history at the National Museum of Natural Science
By Cheryl Robbins

       With Taiwan in the midst of a new-found fascination for local Aborigine culture, Taichung's National Museum of Natural Science has looked further away, to America, for its latest exhibition on native peoples. The "Peoples from Heavenly Blue and Earthly Red" Native Cultures of the American Southwest Special Exhibit recently opened in a special exhibit gallery near the museum's ShiTun Road entrance and will continue to June 13.

      This exhibition, organized in cooperation with the Museum of Texas Tech University, includes 347 objects from the American Indians of the Southwest, dating from the Ice Age to present times--a span of about 10,000 years. Exhibits start with units on the geography and dry desert topography of Arizona and New Mexico and the history of the Native Americans of these Southwest states. Another unit explores the traditions of the Navajo, including a model of a Hogan--a traditional Navajo dwelling. A typical Hogan is round or hexagonal and is built using logs and mud, with a hole in the ceiling that acts as an air vent. Near the Hogan is a model of a Navajo woman weaving a rug using a traditional upright loom.

     The units on the traditions of the American Indians of the Southwest include traditional pottery, woven baskets and costumes. There are also dioramas depicting a traditional Apache "coming of age" ceremony (for females) and a Hopi wedding.

      Thirteen striking Hopi katsinas are also on display. Katsinas are surpernatural beings with animal-like natures and appearances that are dressed in elaborate and colorful costumes. Wooden figures of these beings are made to help the Hopi children learn about the approximately 250 katsinas. Although some katsinas have disciplinary functions, meant to keep children or adults in line, most are benevolent beings that live in the mountains, springs and lakes, and are believed to bring blessings, particularly rain, crops and happiness. According to legend, the katsinas used to come to the people when they were sad and lonely and dance for them. They also brought gifts and taught the people various arts and skills, such as how to hunt. When rain was needed the katsinas would perform a rain dance in the fields.

     Other units discuss the influences of the "white man's" migration into the Southwest which included the construction of the railroad and opening of trading posts. A life-size model of a 1950s-era trading post and a smaller diorama of an early 20th century railroad platform stall selling Indian wares are on display.

      Part of this exhibit describes the evolution of native arts and crafts, comparing traditional pieces with more modern versions. There are also examples of Indian arts and crafts marketplaces, including gift shops and roadside stands. This exhibition finishes with a discussion of the future prospects for the preservation of traditional Native American culture.

      It is uncommon to find such a detailed exhibition on American Indians anywhere in Taiwan, particularly one that focuses on past and present issues faced by these peoples. Be sure to take the opportunity to explore this exhibit before it returns to the U.S.

 

National Museum of Natural Science
1, GuanChian (KuanChien) Rd.
Tel: (04) 2322-6940 (ask for the information desk)
www.nmns.edu.tw

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