Winnetou Rides Again

By Drew Hayden Taylor

Picture 1
Drew at the Karl May Fes­ti­val in Bad Segeberg

After a dozen trips or more to Deutsch­land, I can offi­cial­ly say I con­sid­er Ger­many to be my home away from home. Each vis­it reunites me with old friends, and if I’m lucky, I get the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make new ones. I’ve grown fond of the land and the peo­ple. Upon reflec­tion, I think I have quite prob­a­bly seen more of Ger­many and its cities than most of its cit­i­zens. I lost track after the thir­ti­eth town. Or was it the for­ti­eth. … Hard to say. After this many trips, it’s all a blur of schnitzel and white asparagus.

This last trip was per­haps the most grat­i­fy­ing in a unique way. Over the past two decades, I have heard repeat­ed tales detail­ing the exploits of a cer­tain Native (in the­o­ry any­way) hero that sprang from the mind of a Ger­man writer named Karl May. In his many man­i­fes­ta­tions, Win­netou and his bud­dies fea­ture quite promi­nent­ly in the Ger­man psy­che. The nov­els, writ­ten in the late 1800s, lat­er became a series of movies and even­tu­al­ly a series of plays. Both the char­ac­ter and the author have been a spring­board for a cer­tain fas­ci­na­tion with Native North Amer­i­can culture.

Picture 2
The gift shop replete with Native-themed mer­chan­dise for Indianthusiasts

I had read one of the books, but as a prac­ti­tion­er of the the­atri­cal arts – of the play­wright vari­ety – and as a Native per­son – of the Ojib­way vari­ety – it was becom­ing increas­ing­ly frus­trat­ing that I nev­er had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to see a pro­duc­tion of the play.


Final­ly, in the north­ern town of Bad Sege­berg, my absti­nence end­ed, and I saw the Apache chief Win­netou him­self ride into the amphithe­atre on a huge horse with an eagle perched on his arm. I must remem­ber that entrance the next time I lec­ture in Ger­many. The­atri­cal­ly, the pro­duc­tion was mag­nif­i­cent. Polit­i­cal­ly, it was ques­tion­able. Cul­tur­al­ly, it was prob­lem­at­ic. Abo­rig­i­nal­ly, it was clichéd. Objec­tive­ly, it had great pro­duc­tion val­ues. So adding that all togeth­er, on a per­son­al lev­el I was some­what conflicted…

Picture 3
Win­netou – The Star of the Show

I saw the show with three good friends sur­round­ed by approx­i­mate­ly 4,000 enthu­si­as­tic the­atre goers who swooned with Winnetou’s every entrance and ges­ture. That’s more than most Native peo­ple or char­ac­ters get in North Amer­i­ca. So I end­ed up feel­ing a lit­tle envious.

Maybe there’s some­thing for North Amer­i­cans to learn here…

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DrewHTaylorDrew Hay­den Tay­lor is a pro­lif­ic author and play­wright with over 27 pub­lished books and numer­ous writ­ing awards to his cred­it. He was born and raised on the Curve Lake First Nation in Ontario Cana­da and still lives there.