Seeking Winnetou: German Women and the Appeal of American Indian Masculinity

Friday, January 4, 2013: 8:30 AM
Chamber Ballroom II (Roosevelt New Orleans)
H. Glenn Penny, University of Iowa
This paper begins with a quandary:  the striking number of German women who travel to American Indian Reservations in search of Native American men.  People in Indian Country are keenly aware of this phenomenon.  So too are scholars working in American Indian Studies in Germany, who are often approached by such women seeking contacts in Indian Country.  Many hope to “save a warrior;” but few have a sense for the actual people they profess to desire.  As a result, their liaisons are often fleeting, part of their sampling of the American West, a kind of modern sex tourism.  Yet as this paper demonstrates, the motivations behind those actions derive from long-term historical developments, in which German women helped to channel and shape an ideal of essential masculinity exemplified by American Indians. 

The German love affair with American Indians that took shape during the modern era was always androcentric.   Literary scholars have underscored the general absence of leading female characters in German narratives about American Indians, and they have paid great attention to the power of Karl May’s tales about the Apache hero Winnetou over German boys and men during the twentieth century.  Yet they have neglected German women and girls, and as this paper will show, German men were never alone in producing and embracing tropes of American Indian masculinity.  Leading German authors of texts about American Indians—Anna Jürgen, Eva Lips, and Liselotte Welskopf-Henrich—were women, even if their central characters remained men, and so too were many of the people who consumed their texts, and who avidly sought Winnetou across many generations.  This paper explores how that long tradition affects contemporary interactions, and it underscores the ways in which those actions throw many post-colonial assumptions into question.

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