Friday, March 30, 2007

"How!" is not the way American Indians say 'hello'

In old westerns, Indians are shown saying 'hello' to white people by saying "how" and raising the right hand (as if to take an oath). While most kids don't watch those old westerns, they do watch cartoons that represent this. It can be seen in an episode of the Muppet Babies, the Transcontinental Whoo-Whoo.



And, it is also seen in Disney's Peter Pan.

Teachers, parents, librarians, big brothers and sisters... If you buy Peter Pan and watch it with a child, please point out the stereotypes of American Indians shown throughout the film. Better yet, don't buy it.

Note: In an arrangement with a teacher, children wrote to me, posing questions about American Indians. I misunderstood a question that was asked by several kids. They asked what 'ho' means. I thought they were misspelling "how" but I was wrong. The students were, indeed, asking what "ho" means. Apparently, Joseph Bruchac uses that utterance to get student's attention when he does school visits. I don't think there is any Native significance to his utterance. It's just something he does, much like teachers who turn lights on and off to refocus a classroom of children. I asked librarians if they knew of books with "how" in them as a Native word for hello, and heard back from many who said they do not have books like this, but several see kids using the word on the playground. One woman told me she saw a teacher teach this word to children in her class.

12 comments:

Sue said...

Debbie, I have seen Joseph Bruchac do this with a class, and while the word itself may not mean anything (he does it as a call-and-response), my understanding or at least what I have come away with, is the idea that you can refocus children's attention during a story, for instance, and then just keep going, and there is no blame attached; a particular child has not been identified as the problem, etc. It has been my understanding that this is one of the ways he exemplifies the Native American way of teaching without blame or shame. It was quite striking to me when I watched him.
By the way, I read your earlier email, and spent the day trying to think of books in which the "how" phenomenon appears, without success. Perhaps it is just from the movies?

Waller Hastings said...

Debbie, I've always thought that the ubiquitous "how" was a corruption of the traditional Lakota greeting, "hao kola," which means roughly "hello friend." It is used as a greeting in this sense by writers out of the Lakota traditions, such as Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve. Using it as a generic "Indian" greeting is certainly inaccurate, but can it really be said to have no legitimate Indian meanings?

k roger said...

How (no pun tended) did they say hello? Yes I said did as in past tense

Debbie Reese said...

L roger: There are over 500 federally recognized Native Nations. Like other Americans, we'd say "hi" or "hello" if speaking English or using English to greet someone. If using our own language, we'd use greetings in our own languages.

I don't know of any books with several different Native words for hello in it, but can point you to BOOZHOO, COME PLAY WITH US. Boozhoo is the Ojibwe word for hello.
https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2007/04/deanna-himangos-boozhoo-come-play-with.html

Roland said...

If you want to point out the stereotypes to kids, the biggest one to correct is that they are Native Americans, Indians live in India.

Roland said...

If you want to point out stereotypes to kids, perhaps the beiggest one, (or at least the biggest misconception) is that they aren't Indians, They're Native Americans. Indians live in India. An American Indian would be someone from India living in America, you can argue that would be called Indian American, but point is this site is strengthening the fact that people continue to call Native Americans Indians, which again they're not.

Wintu said...

What state are you? In our Northern California Wintu tribe Ho means Yes. Several Tribes around us all over California say Ho at the end of a speech or a song or after someone says something good, in fact many use it like it means "good." It is the most common Native American word used around California so that is why I ask where are you located?

Debbie Reese said...

Wintu, I'm not sure who you are asking. I'm from Nambe Pueblo, in New Mexico.

I don't recall where the children who wrote to me about "ho" were located. This post was written a long time ago, and I don't have that email exchange anymore. Bruchac does work with kids all over the country.

Anonymous said...

i was born in 1983 and i remember being taught this in elementary school.. I have no idea if this is still being taught in schools, but for whatever reason, at 32yrs old i wondered if native american language differed between tribes so i searched for the only word i remembered being taught, "how" means hello.. i guess it goes to show how powerful misinformation can be. i'm 32 and learned this in, i donno, pre 4th grade, and remembered it.. even though it wont help me at all in life lol, i'm glad i found this article. otherwise i would have gone my entire life thinking i knew how to say hello in "indian".. this also goes to show how close minded people can be, being taught how to speak "indian" in grade school. not only did they teach me something that wasn't true, they referred to natives as indians and acted as though they all spoke the same language between the different types,, that's crazy

Jean Mendoza said...

Thanks, Anonymous (7/31/16) for your testimony to the power of misinformation! And to the corrective power of looking things up for oneself. Glad you did your own search and found Debbie's post. And you never know; some day this knowledge may help you in life after all. Jean Mendoza

Anonymous said...

Howah/howay is the Wah-zha-zhe (Osage) word for hello. That can be shortened to how/ho for a more informal hello such as hi. Keep in mind I am no fan of the dumb cartoon caricature representations either. Just noting the similarity of the word the cartoons picked up on. Really wondering where they picked that word up from now. :/ Love seeing my culture turned into the butt of the joke on cartoons. NOT.

Anonymous said...

Thank you (wahweeneh/wayweena in Osage) for this wonderful resource page by the way! Just email subscribed. What a gem!