Native American Beauties

(Last Updated On: January 18, 2016)

In the year 1500, Pedro Cabral became the first European in recorded history to visit Brazil. He seemed particularly impressed by the beauty of the Indian girls he encountered, and he wrote,

Aly amdavam antr’eles tres ou quatro moças bem moças e bem jentijs, com cabelos mujto pretos comprjdos pelas espadoas, e suas vergonhas tão altas e tam çaradinhas, e tam limpas das cabeleiras, que de as nos mujto bem olharmos nom tijnhamos nenhuūa vergonha.

The translation, according to Alessandro Zir is,

In that place, three or four young women walked among them, very young and very heathen, with very black hair, long to the shoulder blades, and their shames so high, so shut, and so cleaned from hair that, so well we look at them, we felt no kind of shame.  -Luso-Brazilian Encounters of the Sixteenth Century, a styles of Thinking Approach by Alessandro Zir, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2011

The word vergonhas, which he translates as shame, was a euphemism for genitals. Four hundred years later, the Indian girls of tropical South America became a favorite subject for photography. The first photo is of two girls of the Canela tribe in Brazil. The photograph, taken between 1908 and 1946, is from the Coleção Etnográfica Carlos Estevão de Oliveira of the Museu do Estado de. Pernambuco.

(Uncredited) - Canela Tribe Girls

(Uncredited) – Canela Tribe Girls

These Okaina girls were photographed by Thomas Whiffen in 1914 in either Peru or Colombia.

Thomas Whiffen - Okaina girls (1914)

Thomas Whiffen – Okaina girls (1914)

This photo is of a South American dance. It was published in The Secret Museum of Mankind in 1935.

(Uncredited) - Snake Dance of Amazonian Girls

(Uncredited) – Snake Dance of Amazonian Girls

Indian girls impressed early European visitors to North America as well. William Strachey, secretary for the Jamestown colony in Virginia wrote, in 1612, an account of Pocahontas coming to Jamestown naked and turning cartwheels with the boys of the colony:

Pocahontas a well-featured but wanton young girle . . . sometymes resorting to our Fort, of the age then of 11, or 12 yeares…would gett the boyes forth with her into the markett place and make them wheele, falling on their hands, turning their heeles upwardes, whom she would follow, and wheel so herself naked as she was all the Fort over . . . .

Although Pocahontas has been a subject of several artists, she is usually depicted as older and fully clothed.

A statue of a young Pocahontas stands in Gloucester County, Virginia. The sculpture by Adolf Sehring was completed in 1994. This photo is from a postcard by Michelle Harbour.

Adolf Sehringwas - Pocahontas (1994)

Adolf Sehring – Pocahontas (1994)

David McFall made a nude statue of Pocahontas Pocohontas La Belle Sauvage in 1955. However, Pocahontas appears to be about 20 years old in this statue.

In Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of North American Indians
by George Catlin, first published in London in 1844, Catlin writes of his visit to the Minataree Indian village on the Upper Missouri River. He wrote:

In this manner we were conveyed to the middle of the stream, where we were soon surrounded by a dozen or more beautiful girls, from twelve to fifteen and eighteen years of age, who were at that time bathing on the opposite shore.

They all swam in a bold and graceful manner, and as confidently as so many otters or beavers; and gathering around us, with their long black hair floating about on the water, whilst their faces were glowing with jokes and fun, which they were cracking about us, and which we could not, understand.

In the midst of this delightful little aquatic group, we three sat in our little skin-bound tub (like the “three wise men of Gotham, who went to sea in a bowl,” &c.), floating along down the current, losing sight, and all thoughts, of the shore, which was equi-distant from us on either side; whilst we were amusing ourselves with the playfulness of these dear little creatures who were floating about under the clear blue water, catching their hands on to the sides of our boat; occasionally raising one-half of their bodies out of the water, and sinking again, like so many mermaids.

Catlin was a pianter, but unfortunately did not paint a picture of this incident.

The anthropologist Frederick Starr photographed this girl in Silao, Mexico, while doing research among the Indians in 1896. The image is scanned from the book Partial Recall, edited by Lucy R. Lippard (1992).

Frederick Starr - La Pinta, Silao, Mexico (1896)

Frederick Starr – La Pinta, Silao, Mexico (1896)

Frederick Monsen was born in Norway in 1865. He immigrated to America, and became a photographer. He accompanied the Army on the expedition that captured Geronimo in 1886. He is best known for his early 20th century photographs of Indian life in the southwestern United States. The first two images were photographed in about 1907.

Frederick I. Monsen - Nude pueblo Indian girl holding small child at swimming pool (c1907)

Frederick I. Monsen – Nude pueblo Indian girl holding small child at swimming pool (c1907)

Frederick I. Monsen - A Study in Bronze (c1907)

Frederick I. Monsen – A Study in Bronze (c1907)

The third image by Monsen was taken in 1921, and was published in National Geographic.

Frederick I Monsen - Three naked, Hopi girls sit together on a rock ledge (1921)

Frederick I Monsen – Three naked, Hopi girls sit together on a rock ledge (1921)

The photo of this Hopi girl is by Edward Curtis.  Curtis (1868–1952) is one of the most famous photographers to specialize in American Indians.  He began photographing Indians in 1895.  In 1906, J.P. Morgan financed a project to photograph and document as much of the remaining traditional Indian culture as possible.

Edward Curtis - Hopi Angel (c1905)

Edward Curtis – Hopi Angel (c1905)

The next two photos are of Kiowa girls, both from the early 20th century or late 19th century.

(Photographer Unknown) - Kiowa Girl (c1900)

(Photographer Unknown) – Kiowa Girl (c1900)

(Photographer Unknown) - O-o-be-aka Oyebi Kiowa girl (c1894)

(Photographer Unknown) – Oyebi Kiowa girl (c1894)

A photo of an Apache girl.

(Photographer Unknown) - Apache girl (c1880)

(Photographer Unknown) – Apache girl (c1880)

The next photo is from the cover of a book about Cynthia Ann Parker, a white woman captured by the Comanche Indians.  I could not identify the photo or the photographer, but it is not a photo of Cynthia Ann Parker herself.  It is possible that it is her half-Indian, half-White daughter, but that would only be speculation.

(Photographer Unknown) - Comanche Girl (c1870)

(Photographer Unknown) – Comanche Girl (c1870)

Although documenting the photographers and dates of these photos on the internet is difficult, it is our hope that a reader who is expert on South and/or North American Indians might come forward with more definitive information.  -Ron

 

11 thoughts on “Native American Beauties

  1. I, a United States born and bred male, was on a flight from Miami, Florida to San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1979. Across the aisle sat a Latin man with a baby in his arms. The baby was crying and fussing. Soon after take-off, the man laid the child in the seat beside him, removed the diaper, and I noticed then it was a girl baby. He then began gently rubbing her clitoris, yes I could see it clearly, keep in mind the cramped seating in economy class. The baby almost immediately stopped crying and began making cooing sounds. And after a very few minutes closed her eyes and fell asleep. I don’t recall if anyone other than myself witnessed this at the time. But it does seem a female flight attendant walked by them and looked. No one said a thing. Years later, in a University Anthropology class I learned a phrase, “cultural relativity”. It was then I knew what to call what I had witnessed on that flight. I can only imagine what would happen today if this same thing happened on a flight in the United States. Harm. not only to the man, who must be assumed to be the father, but to the child who would be “rescued”.. Yet, who was harmed during the incident I saw?

    • I had never heard of this custom before reading these comments. It seems strange to me, but apparently it is acceptable in other cultures. I have had some experience with some Native American Indian groups in South America (Yanomami, Makiritare/Yekwana, and Piaroa). I never saw anything like this among those groups, but then I really did not pay much attention to how they cared for infants.

    • I think we really learned a lot here. But I wonder if there is a proper forum online where these kinds of anecdotes/revelations are discussed. And of course it makes me wonder what other things in the domain of anthropology has been lost or suppressed by Western culture.

      • OK, here’s one that concerns women rather than children.
        Some years ago, I remember hearing about a black female American author whose photo in the “About the Author” blurb on the book jacket depicted her topless.
        Unfortunately, I absolutely cannot remember the name of the author or the book.
        The photo was mentioned as “getting a lot of circulation on the Internet”.
        She explained that the idea that a woman’s breasts must be covered is a concept of Western culture which had been imposed on the women of Africa, and that the intent of that photo was a protest against THAT.

    • At first I found it surprising (but “just as well”) that the flight attendant apparently did not think that something “wrong” was going on. But then it occurred to me that she probably was working most of the time on those flights to and from Puerto Rico, and had seen the same thing happening many times before.
      Coming to think of it, most likely the same idea would apply to the other passengers aboard that flight.

  2. This phenomenon in other cultures is sometimes also made evident in movies.
    (That is, movies that are absolutely non-pornographic.)
    In the Arab movie “Halfaouine, Boy of the Terraces”, and the Japanese movie “Raku-Yo-Ju”, there are scenes in which a mother handles her little boy’s penis as she shows her motherly love for him.
    In the Japanese movie, she even kisses it.
    These scenes have nothing to do with sexual abuse, but in a Western culture that is probably how most people would unfortunately interpret them.

  3. It is well known that traditionally in many cultures, stroking the genitals was a completely acceptable way to calm down a crying baby.
    Sexual pleasure was being intentionally produced in order to counteract whatever misery the baby was feeling at the moment. But we can assume that for the person DOING it, it was not a source of sexual enjoyment, just a matter of routine child care.
    I also remember reading that in the Arab world, a teenage girl who is caring for her baby brother will “think nothing of mouthing his penis to quiet his crying”.

    • Yes, the idea here is that sexual pleasure is an extremely effective placating device. Also, it should be noted that the people doing this would be older girls and women (aunts, mothers, sisters and other close relatives). I was also about to suggest that this may not have been an uncommon practice among so-called primitive cultures (Polynesian, Bushmen, Aboriginal and certain nomadic groups of Asia). The only reason this may not be more prevalent in civilization is because of the inherited prudery associated with sex that came from history of Judeo-Christian philosophizing. The proof may lie in whether this was done in Japan until recently since they were only exposed to European culture in the past few centuries. “Mouthing” seems an odd twist, but there is always a wide range of variation between cultures.

  4. it’s worth noting here something i learned in an anthropology course. if the Hopi child was crying, upset, etc. the parent would masturbate the child to soothe/quiet them. this was done matter of factly, openly, with no more thought than if we were perhaps wiping a runny nose or kissing a “boo boo”. customs, mores’, morals, rules, etc. are all subjective. any time a student made a comment such as “ewww”, “weird”, “gross”, etc., our wonderful female professor would gently admonish, “be careful … your culture is showing” the way we might teasingly alert a little girl to the fact her panties were showing or something like that. anyway, if you really think about it, doesn’t soothing a child in this way make perfect sense?? in other words, if you were upset and someone “soothed” you in this way, don’t you think it would work? of course, kids aren’t stupid : )

    • Interesting if true. Although given how unusual this seems to a Westerner, I would prefer some independent verification on this. It would also be an incredible way to desexualize children since even this act would not imply sexuality, much less nudity. Also, it is sensible to assume that in the manner this was done, it should not properly be called masturbation at all, but just genital soothing. After all, the intent is not to produce arousal, but calm the child.

      • I have no information on the Hopi specifically, but I confirm that this way of soothing babies was practiced by many preindustrial societies. It survived until the 20th century, I have anecdotal testimony about Turkey in the mid-fifties. It seems to have happened even in the USA, as I once read the following quote from Sex the Measure of All Things by Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, a biography of Alfred C. Kinsey:
        He had heard in 1949…of a little township in deep Kansas where all the women were reputed to have orgasms easily, routinely and always in ordinary intercourse. This was not usual. Kinsey drove down and found that they had developed a way of soothing their little girls, a rubbing and petting technique of the genital area which did soothe them but also brought them to orgasm, a learnt reaction they thereafter retained.
        Many native societies had completely different customs concerning education, sex education, childhood sexuality and relations between generations. A classical source is Patterns of Sexual Behavior by Clellan S. Ford and Frank A. Beach (1951). Concerning children, see the Internet collection Growing Up Sexually (http://www.sexarchive.info/GESUND/ARCHIV/GUS/GUS_MAIN_INDEX.HTM). Western modern society is in fact exceptional in its attitude towards children.

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