Amaranta

Ibrahim Waheed “Ogaru”

The twinkling lights, the tinny music and the lure of the jackpot at the casino in the middle of otherwise-nowhere were soon behind me. If things had been more mundane, I should have left the tarmac and taken the dusty dirt road that curved away from the road a mile behind me. It would have led me to the pueblo where the remnants of a larger population that once owned everything in sight lived. Of course, they are now called Native Americans and lived a more reserved life. Since my mission was not of the mundane type, I turned in the opposite direction and went up a better road in the direction of a small village where I was to meet someone that I had wanted to meet for a very long time indeed. She was, albeit of more northerly origins, also Native American. She went by the name of Amaranta Woods.

“A Native American craftswoman by the name of Amaranta Woods?” I asked myself. I knew that the name Amaranta was of Spanish origin. And Woods sounded too Anglophone-American to be anything else. From what I have heard, she was held in very high regard in some parts of the world for her ceramics dolls. If an original Amaranta sold for a good five-figure sum in United States dollars, no eyebrows would go up in the civilized art world. “So why doesn’t she have a more Native American name like Dancing Crocus?”

Naiveté and prejudices sometimes go hand in hand. My questions on how an Amaranta ceramic doll was made were dutifully asked and the answers recorded. Amaranta answered well. As an artist and as a professional, she impressed me like not many before her had. Interviewing her was an education in itself. And then, at the end of it all, I could not resist but ask the question which had fired my curiosity.

“Forgive my rudeness ma’am.” I said, “This is not part of the interview. But may I ask why you have such a European name for someone who is so….so……”

“Red Indian?” She finished for me with a laugh. “No, no! Don’t feel bad. I will explain.”

“In my culture, we served as faithful spouses. As parents, my older mothers made sure that our children ate, slept and lived happily. They made sure that new generations had the strength to face the world. They taught and made men out of frightened little children. And at the end of it all, when old age looked them in the face and grimaced, when their spouses went to the greater hunting grounds, they had to give up what little they had. They had to surrender even their tents and blankets. And that was what our culture dictated. Our wonderful culture, our tradition, our beliefs, our way of life.” Amaranta carried on in the way of explanation.

“For generations, for centuries, our older mothers lived that life. They accepted that and starved or froze to death, hungry and cold, uncared for, after years of service to their own children. That was before we knew there were other ways. Then came the white man. In the beginning, our older mothers were told that the palefaces were ghosts, devils, the army of a greater evil being. And they believed their elders and feared even to gaze upon the paleface tenements – the very lairs of evil. Lairs, heh heh!” Amaranta laughed.

“And then some of our elder mothers, the younger and more daring among them, they dared to look. And what they found amazed them. The white man’s spouse lived a freer, better, more looked-after life. If her husband died, she inherited. Her children looked after her. The community rallied around her. It was not evil at all.” Amaranta looked very serious.

“In the culture of our elder mothers, that did not happen. Widowhood was like a death sentence. And that was the reason why I consider myself a very lucky person. My so-many-greats-and-grandmother saw that she had an option. She stole away from the tribe, joined the faith of the white man, and severed all links with the tribe. So did some of her friends. And that was one of the reasons why our language, culture, traditions and way of life died! It had to! And I am happy that it did.” Amaranta looked composed and happy.

“Today, David, my husband, is no more. This little cottage was ours. Today it is mine. Our children live in the city. They come to see me whenever they miss me, which is often. And I, Amaranta Woods, am very happy with what I am and where I am. I am glad that I am one of the daughters of that daring woman who made that leap of logic.”

“You see, my friend, the amaranth may be a showy flower in some places. It may be a vegetable leaf in others. But the name, if you bother to find out, originates from a Greek word meaning unfading, unwilting. And therefore, immortal. And that is what I chose to be! Not the servant of a tribe or a culture that has no need for me when my so-called useful days are over. I have no need for such a culture that would abandon me by the side of the road after wringing my youth out of me. No! I choose to be a happier, more fulfilled me. I chose not to be Wilted Lily, squaw of Sitting Buffalo. I am very proudly Amaranta Woods.” She told me with a smile.

As I got in my car and drove back towards the casino, I began to feel as if I had been somehow enlightened in ways I could not put in words yet. Meeting Amaranta Woods had somehow given me a lot more than a television interview.

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