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The Wanahme Images
I am going to tell you a story so sit back, get comfortable and relax. Imagine the year 1950 and think about swamps, gators, riverboats, gambling, mardi gras.
My family heritage is deeply rooted in Louisiana. Both my mother and father were born and raised in Louisiana. Most of my relatives lived in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport and Mansfield. When I was a very little girl I was in awe of all the different people living there. Some were Caribbean, French, Africa and Native American. They each had their own favorite colors of clothing and ways of wearing them. Some of their "jeweleries" were just yummy! What I kept thinking about most was wanting to have my own dolls and totems like they did. Most all the children I knew had dolls that were dressed in their own traditional clothing and ornaments. I wondered "Why-not-me? Why don't I have dolls that are special too?" Eventually I went to my Mom and told her about those wonderful dolls. "Why, Mother, whyyyyy-not-me? Why don't I have dolls with our family colors and styles?" My Mother, diplomat that she was, said "We don't have any family colors or styles; what are you talking about?" I went on about "why-not-me" until she finally grocked what I was talking about. "Lydia, our family is so mixed by now that no one remembers all that stuff. Now quit carrying on so and get out of here. I got work to do." Great, we were just mutts and not special. Meanwhile I listened to the variety of music and dancing of the other children who were special and knew what they were about. This went on for sometime and I was really feeling the blues.
Then one day my Auntie Roo (Aunt Ruth) came to visit from way up in Virginia. Auntie Roo was a school teacher and she knew right away I had a problem. I went through the whole rig-a-ma-roll again. "Auntie Roo, why-not-me, why don't we have any history; why don't I have any family dolls; why-not-me?" First off Auntie Roo told me about our family; we were a combination of a little French, some English, a whole bunch of Irish and a maybe a little dab of something else just for good measure. Our family names included Sayes, McGraw, Fouquier, Hanes, McCann, Higdon, O'Connell, Davis, Hughen and Fuqua. Long ago one of our relatives had actually owned a big manor in England called Hughendon which is now a famous landmark. Of course she did not go into details such as the manor eventually was confiscated from our relatives because the taxes could not be met, but it was a grand story! I began to feel much better but I still wanted to have special dolls so again I asked why-not-me, why don't I have dolls and totems like the other kids? Auntie Roo told me first she would have to go to the Thinking Tree and figure it all out. There was this big old knurled tree down the street that was huge and had knotholes all over it. It looked like it had a mysterious smiling face to me. Auntie Roo sat down under the Thinking Tree all day and that evening she came back with a big smile on her face. She said "The Thinking Tree helped me out and now we will start you out with a new legend and dolls of your own. We will call them Wanahmes." I thought about that name for a minute and then asked "Auntie Roo, what does Wanahme mean?" She smiled at me, ruffled my hair, gently pushing me down the street and said "The meaning will become clear to you another day. Now come on let's go to Mama Maudie's house and make them."
Mama Maudie was my Mom and Auntie Roo's mama. We kids all called her 'Big Mama'. She lived in a houseboat on the water and was just down one street and over from our house. I ran into Big Mama's house overjoyed that I would now have a real heritage of my own. I would be special. Auntie Roo pulled out fabric, yarns, buttons and beads, got some thread and needles and sat me down on the floor. Big Mama came in from fishing and joined in. Big Mama was only about four foot four tall and just about as wide around and she had giant floppy pillow-boobies; hence the name Big Mama. Big Mama had an old cedar chest full of fancy clothes, jewelry and doodads that she pulled out for us to use in making Wanahmes. There were even dance hall clothes! Big Mama had just finished making some chocolate chip cookies that we all enjoyed as we began to make me some myths. I was transported into another world of dollmaking and magic. We made several Wanahmes that day including Wanahme Mermaid, Angel, Jester and Mascara'. I was so excited and couldn't wait to show the other children. Auntie Roo demonstrated how to make my own stories about each doll and totem. I immediately ran out and flaunted my Wanahmes to all the other children. They were overwhelmed beyond words!
Now that I think back about it; they may have just been overwhelmed by all the gaudy stuff on the dolls, but at the time I was sure it was my specialness they saw. When my Mom saw all the "beadacious" dolls we had made she put her hands on her hips, screwed her face into that prune-look that endeared her so and said "You are just being uppidy and trying to put on aires with all that mess!" I wasn't sure what that meant, but sure, if what I was doing was putting on aires and being uppidy then so be it. So I sweetly said "yes" and ran back to spend more time with my Auntie Roo. For some reason my Mom never had much fun so I made sure to have double the fun all my life for her. My Auntie Roo told me I could hand down these stories and Wanahmes to my own future family and help others make their own legends. Yes, I was on a mission!
I was 20 years old before it dawned on me that the name "Wanahme" was the sound I made as a child when I wined "why-not-me" in my Louisiana accent. Dolls, totems and fetishes are intriguing, lovable and mysterious. They are a part of human history since abstract thinking evolved. I continue to make Wanahmes of all shapes and sizes along with their own stories and introduce others to the Wanahme World.
And that is the story of the Wanahme Images by Lydia Fiber Borin, The Beadwrangler