Writers I love: Liselotte Welskopf-Henrich

I love reading. Spent my childhood going to the library, getting 3 to 5 books out every couple of weeks. Dumas and Jules Verne and Lem and Merle and Asimov and loads more.

And, again and again, a series of books which will be completely unknown to anyone who doesn’t read German (edit after comments: or Russian, Bulgarian or Usbek) – two series of novels by Liselotte Welskopf-Henrich. Every time I talk about them I keep wondering why they were never translated. The very first book of the first series was – but in English it sounds just like sentimental ‘noble savage‘ fiction. Germans have always loved that sort of thing, I guess, considering Karl May is one of the best loved German writers who claimed to write about Winnetou, the great Apache chief, after having visited the Wild West. Now we know he made it all up, but we still have a Karl May museum at his birth house near Dresden.

LWH with Dennis Banks and Vernon Bellecourt

LWH with Dennis Banks and Vernon Bellecourt

In Liselotte Welskopf-Henrich (I’ll abbreviate that to LWH) however we had a writer who was also a respected historian and anthropologist, who had spent time with a Sioux tribe on Pine Ridge reservation as well as on a Hopi/Navajo-Reservation in Arizona/New Mexiko, who hosted Sioux activists in Berlin when they came to talk at the university there. She first wrote a series of six books for children and young readers, The Sons of the Mother Bear, which was set around the time of the Battle of the Little Bighorn – the tribes were still free, their way of life still intact.

The pentalogy she wrote about 20 years later, ‘The Blood of the Eagle’, is also a fictional epic, but it’s much more gritty, written for adults, showing decline in the lives of the people, but also hope. It has a character cross over from the earlier books, but is set about 100 years later, and by now, the Native Americans live on reservations. The reality on the reservations, specifically Pine Ridge in South Dakota, becomes a backdrop for the plot which revolves around some of the most vibrant characters in any work of fiction I have ever

Gojko Mitic as Tokei-Ihto

read. The earlier series were made into movies in East Germany (actually on location in Montenegro with a very wonderful Serbian actor in the title role) and are hugely famous. These, more grown-up books? Not so much.

LWH passed away when I was 8. So I never wrote a letter to her, or got her autograph. We did have children’s book fairs in our town most years, most of my old books are signed. But I was born a bit too late there.

But I think reading these books was one factors in getting me emotionally involved in to what’s happening to native people around the world. We go somewhere, and a few decades later all the people who lived there before are dead or put into camps, taken away from their parents and made Christians, moved from their mountains because we want the minerals underneath… And that’s ok because we’re Europeans?

I’ve often wondered why it seems that none of the Germans who grew up reading about Native Americans are actively involved in finding out about their current situation. I’m not even talking about activism, but just talking about it? Maybe they are and I don’t know about it. I don’t think so, because on the reservations, nobody seems to know about Germans taking a particular interest in them (however do a quick search for Inya-he-Yukan and see how many times it’s used as username.) Maybe we dismiss it as sentimental. Maybe we forget that there are real people still fighting to survive.

“Maybe Queenie would have yielded. But this painting was not made by Queenie, who wanted to tell the white men and women anew of the old Indian art. This second painting was made by Tashina, who was hidden in Queenie and of whom the teachers knew nothing.” (from Nacht über der Prärie, quoted by Julio Punch in his very good article about LWH)

I’d like there to be English translations of especially the second series of books by LWH, and for them to become required reading for every young person growing up on the reservations. Yes it is fiction, but it’s also a wonderful portrayal of characters creating an atmosphere of hope in the darkest possible circumstances.

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10 Responses

  1. Gregory Morrow says:

    Great and informative post, many thanks!

  2. Daniel Schlaegel says:

    in February I met on grandson of so called Long Soldier in Buena Vista, Colorado USA. I participated at a sweat lodge ritual hosted by him… He is a 72 yr old native Oglala from the Pine Ridge reservation and his grandfather fought alongside Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull at little big horn agains general Custer. He advised me to read the book “The strange men of the Oglala’s ” by Marie Sandoz maybe worth a look into

  3. Jörg says:

    Hej, I am from Germany east, born 1955 in the GDR.
    LWH 🙂 first film when I was young :”Die Söhne der großen Bärin” and all the next .Here was my last hope to find informations about book’s of LWH in english language, now i know – no exist :-/
    Thank you Anke for your work.

  4. Jörg says:

    Hej, I am from Germany east, born 1955 in the GDR.
    LWH 🙂 first film when I was young :”Die Söhne der großen Bärin” and all the next .Here was my last hope to find informations about book’s of LWH in english language, now i know – no exist :-/

  5. Jörg says:

    Hej, I am from Germany east, born 1955 in the GDR.
    LWH 🙂 first film when I was young :”Die Söhne der großen Bärin” and all the next .Here was my last hope to find informations about book’s of LWH in english language, now i know – no exist :-/

  6. Lyubo says:

    I am also from Bulgaria. I was born in 1965 and – like many other (then) boys and some girls my age – I grew up with the three volumes of “The Sons of the Great Bear”, translated in Bulgarian. They had a huge impact on me, becoming something like my “Indian Bibles”. Many years later I started to study the real history and authentic traditions of several North American Native tribes (incl. Lakota people; I even had the best of luck to live among Oglala in South Dakota, USA). That’s how I saw that there were many inaccuracies in the mentioned books… However, I am still grateful to their author and highly estimate the very spirit I got from them: I know they came into my life in time and did their work.

  7. Donatas says:

    “The Sons of the Great Bear” books were translated to lithuanian language as well. One of my favourite childhood books.

  8. Nafisa says:

    This may be the only information about the respected and great writer, written in English.

    I am from Uzbekistan and Tokey Ihto was translated into my native language and I read the other two books of the trilogy in Russian.

    The book was my all-time favourite and I’ve read it about 14 times. It had huge impact on me as well.

    Shame that it was not translated into English, but the former socialist world know about ‘noble savage’ literature and Goyko Mitich films. In fact whole generations were huge fans.

  9. Joro says:

    I am originally from Bulgaria and the book “The Sons of the Great Bear” was translated and published in Bulgarian. I read the book when I was a child and really loved it. I wanted to recommend it to my son, but he only reads English and I could not find an English version.
    I was actually looking for the book online and that is how I stumbled into your article which I found interesting.

    • Kiril says:

      we have it in bulgarian darling so you dont need to look in engllish, its a great book i love it and i got all 3 of them xx

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