Hotah the Clown Warrior (story by R.C. Peris)

When the university anthropologists, John Carlson and Noah Deever, arrived at the Lakota reservation in North Dakota there was a heat wave. They drove their jeep, laden with journals, books, equipment, cameras, recording devices, food and other necessities, straight to the Tribal Office. The year was 1960 and they had permission from the Chairman of the tribe to conduct research. John and Noah came to study the Lakota language, which was put into written form by the missionaries in the 1800s. They were also interested in genotypes, ceremonies, education, and religion. John and Noah were fascinated by everything. When they drove onto to the reservation they looked around like five-year-old children at a carnival. They were very effusive with the Chairman and shook everyone’s hand enthusiastically.

“Or is that the custom? To shake hands?” John was unsure.

“It is fine,” said the Chairman unconcerned with the white anthropologists. “You are you.” He wanted academics to come to the reservation as he was trying to raise money to expand the teaching of the Lakota language. “Mary will show you where you will be staying and will be your guide.”

Mary was a big-boned woman with wavy white hair but a curiously unlined face. She was wearing clothes that any woman on the streets of Cambridge would wear. John and Noah were disappointed. Mary got into a truck and drove for several miles across flat, scrubby land. The anthropologists followed in their jeep. She parked in a dirt driveway in front of a squat, white house.

The anthropologists unloaded all their belongings and were sweating ferociously. Mary sat on the porch and watched them with a bored look until Hotah walked up the driveway. Hotah was very dark skinned with long braided hair. Despite the heat, he was bundled in a blanket, scarf, and mittens.

John stopped carrying a box. “Who are you?”

“That is Hotah,” said Mary.

“Hotah,” said Hotah. “I hear the thunder beings.”

John called for Noah. “There’s a clown warrior out here.”

Hotah took a hammer from a box and tried to smash a baseball. Then he grabbed a carton of eggs in the grocery box and hammered all the eggs flat. “I need to make round things into lines. The line is the truth until it is time to make the line a circle.”

John and Noah were excited and began scribbling. Hotah began walking backward. He began talking backward in English. Then he spoke backward in Lakota. He shivered in the heat and complained of frostbite.

“Terror shall follow happiness and happiness shall follow terror.” Hotah then walked away backward down the road.

John and Noah were ecstatic. “A clown warrior,” yelled John. He slapped Noah’s hand.

Mary spoke. “Hotah is schizophrenic. The last clown warrior died decades ago.”

“He’s crazy?” asked John. “Not interested.” John tossed his notes in a box and was anxious to begin studying the Lakota people in the morning. John and Noah ignored Mary and forgot about Hotah. They had real research to conduct.

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