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Indian Hobby In the Czech Republic

Pre- 1880

First reports on inhabitants of the Americas were brought shortly following its discovery by Columbus by means of latin-written missionary reports and travel books. After the lost 30-years war (1620-1650) the former Czech Kingdom was incorporated into Austrian Empire and population was subjected to strong recatholization after a period of thriving reformation activities. One of the non-catholic churches forced to leave were Moravian Brothers (Moravia is a part of Czech Kingdom) who established themselves as missionaries among the natives in the New World and remain to be one of the strongest First Nations churches in present Canada. In their homeland, the Native Americans, as other non-European nations, were mostly viewed as barbaric heathens who occupied land destined for bringing in culture and civilization. Natives themselves were to be freed from their pagan believes and deities and taught how to rightfully enter the Gardens of Eden and the arms of a single true God. Several czech missionaries and a handful of travellers visited the Americas in the 18th and 19th centuries. From the half of the 19th century an increasing current of emmigrants flowed to America, where, besides czech colonies in the East, new settlements were established, especially in Nebraska, Kansas and the Dakotas, where people were in direct contact with local native tribes.

From cca 1840 on loads of glass beads have been produced for the foreign market and were extensively used in Native American beadwork- the „Czech“, “Czechoslovakian“ or „Bohemian“ beads.

Turn of the 20th century - 1918 (independent Czechoslovakia was formed following the 1st world war) – 1939

Romantic period changed the image of a barbaric and wild picture of American Indian into the „noble savage“, especially under influence of Longfellows poetry, Cooper´s works and, in Europe enormously popular, novels of german writer Karl May who inspired local writers, musicians and poets, e.g. J.V.Sladek, Antonin Dvorak and others.

Several noblemen travellers collected Native American objects for their curio cabinets: e.g. prince Ferdinand d´Este at the Konopiste castle (collection mostly lost after communist overturn in the 50´s) and Josef II Colloredo-Mansfeld at the Opocno Castle.

Other source of inspiration was the Boy Scouts movement led by British sir Baden-Powell and American E.T Seton. The latter left to his opinion a kind of too militaristic Boy Scouts after a while to establish the Woodcraft movement. Both organizations found multiple followers in the then Czech provinces of Austrian Empire. Primarily the Woodcraft League led by M. Seifert put forward noble North American Indian as an example of a free, physically and mentally strong man living in accord with nature. M. Seifert and his boys were the first ones who built a tipi in the Czech lands in 1913 according to the pattern published in Seton´s book Two Little Savages (not counting tipis built by Buffalo Bill´s Wild West Show that visited Czech capital Prague several years previously). The Woodcraft League survives till these days and belongs to the strongest Woodcraft cells in the world.

Many indpendent groups of young men and women travelled on weekends to the woods where they sometimes established log cabins, many of them felt the Indian influence and made indian-style beaded objects. The sight of a single tipi or small tipi camps became gradually quite common in czech valleys and forest meadows.

1939 - 1945

During WW II Czecholsovakia was occupied by Hitler´s Germany. High schools and universities as hubs of new activities were closed, nearly all youth organizations, incl. Boy Scouts, Woodcraft League, Sokol, Orel and other tourist and camping groups were forbidden, many of the activists fled abroad or died in concentration camps and Gestapo prisons.

1945 - 1955

Phase of renewal of pre- WW II activity was again broken after communist overturn in 1948. In many ways, under different rule, the war situation repeated. Remnants of involved people survived the 50´s hidden by inactivity.

1955 - today

During early 60´s was formed a group of young academic people concentrated around the Naprstek Anthropology Museum in Prague (Solc, Stingl, Eckstein, Mikolasek, Vrastil, Kandert, …) who studied the Native American (and other indigenous) cultures and made a great work in writing or contributing to popular books on true history of indian wars and Native American ethnohistory. In the meantime dispersed groups of people and individuals usually with historic ties to pre-WW II organizations camped here and there in tipis and gradually during the 60´s even a new generation of „the backwoodsmen“ reappeared to become a massive movement during the late 60´s and 70´s.

60s to 80s was also the period of renewal of the Boy Scouts, Woodcraft League and other organizations inspired by various traits of American Indian tradition working primarily with children in a more or less secretive way under the risk of constant communist persecution of the activists. The Midewiwin Circle must be named here- Prague loose community of several groups „tribes“ based on Iroquis federation and Iroquis culture.

In the 70´s began to work first groups of young people interested specifically in the North American Indians and their way of life who tried practically find out how the things were made and used and so became the first „hobbyists“ in a way. Necessity of meeting for the purpose of making contacts and sharing hard- to find information (Iron Curtain nearly blocked access to information sources) resulted in the first „Meeting In the North“ in 1980. In the same year the group White Wampum led by D.Hoffman was founded that set the pace and standards in Czech Indian hobby till its dissolution in 1995. Many old techniques, customs, habits and philosophic principles were adopted by the members of this group, usual were frequent and long tipi camps, including winter camps, and rich community life. This style fired similarly oriented bands, Meeting In the North bacame tradition with camps in a style of Plains camp of cca 1860-90 keeping as much old traits as possible in the present world- from apparel and tipi furnishing to dances, hunting expeditions and celebrations. The relatively small group of Indian hobbyists grouped together during the Meetings In the North published the magazine Winaminge.

At that time, the traditional Native American moral standarts, way of life and their fight for liberty was a strong motivation and inspiration for many such paraofficial communities and individuals in resistance against the communist establishment and quest for their own freedom who were honestly trying to live their lives in generosity, beauty, strong family and friendly bonds not only on „dress-up“ weekends but all the year through. Rather important was, and is, the stress on voluntary modesty in contrast to the waste-society economy. The role of Indian, mostly Lakota, religion has to be mentioned, treasured books by Black Elk or Lean Elk have been smuggled over the nearly impenetrable border, translated and manually rewritten copies then passed many a hand. In dumbing silence of information influx tapped by the communist establishment every newly discovered information was a community treasure. Generation of mostly young people has been gradually complemented by their children that were taken along to campings and other activities with the vision to keep the circle of life going.

In 1989 the communist regime fell and liberty opened vast possibilities, incl. freedom to enter any organization. In cooperation with the Pony Express riders and western riders who formed the Pony Express Corral of the Westerners International organization, the Indian Corral was formed. Part of hobbyists dissatisfied with this inclusion process did not follow the mainstreaum and kept their independence with occasional campings and pow-wows like „Meeting In the West“ and others.

Major event organized by Indian Corral is annual summer camp taking place every year at a different place. The largest camp with 44 tipis took place in 1992 with the climax presented by visiting of a Canadian TV team and Cree medicineman White Bear in frameworks of making a documentary on Czechoslovak hobyists. Next organized event is a General Council twice a year that evolved with time into a 3 day stormy meeting with elections, presentations on various anthropological and historical topics, beadwork-quillwork-rawhide contests, exhibits, dances, informal gatherings etc.

High quality and realtively low prices of the native- american- style fashion and utensils led to establishing of commerce among some craftworkers who produce beadwork, quillwork and other crafts predominantly for the german indian hobby market. However, the best of them can be seen in museums elsewhere in the world. As a protest aginst these businness tendences („Indian life was not made by just beading 12 hours a day“) several groups left Indian Corral in 1993. For example Hayca Tiospaye, whose members have intensive contacts with the Lakota people, several speak Lakota fluently and were adopted by prominent Lakota families.

Until 1996, the main program has been constituted by education and activities partaing to the „old time“, i.e. situation on the Plains before 1890. In camp, replicas of original 19th century Plains Indian style clothing and utensils are used, atmosphere is constituted by constant buzz of working, cooking, making firewood, crier announcements of gatherings, games and sports, sweatlodge preparations, feasts and celebrations, by drumming and singing or simple gossiping an the last camp news. Usually there are several horses. Usually there are more campings through all the year.

In 1996 the IC organized the first modern style pow-wow with guests from Germany, Slovakia and Native American friends. Some czech hobbyists have close ties to their colleagues in Germany and the U.S. and take part in their Councils, lately some of them took part in Buffalo Days camps in the U.S. There are quite many czech hobbyists who accomplished their dream and went to the United States, met the real Native Americans and confronted thus their imaged picture with reality, sometimes having to heavily adapt their rather naive image of what the Native American means to be.

Indian Corral of Westerners International has published following magazines: Winaminge, Indian Hobby Courier, Euroindian Magazine and Poselství světa v kruhu that continues till now.

Outside Indian Corral there were other activities. In Prague was in the 80 ´s established a semi-official circle of children organizations called Midewiwin inspired by the Iroquis federation, program constituted by a great deal by Seton´s woodcraft. This organization is still active although not in the extent it had in the end of 80´s. Their magazine is „Wampum of Neskenon“.

In 1990 the Woodcraft League has been reestablished with many of the groups called „tribes“ dealing with indian hobby in various extent. WL is rather active, it publishes the magazine „Buffalo Wind“, books on woodcraft, history, E.T.Seton and his life, successful was a handbook „Camping in tipi“ now prepared for reedition.

Various smaller groups and individuals exist in other organizations (Pionyr, YMCA, Turisticke oddily mladeze (TOM), Tabornicka Unie, …) or indpendently.

Prepared by Jan Kristek and Bohuslav Svara „Akicita Sapa“, 2002
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