Xena Warrior Princess: A Native American Perspective
IAXS Project # 058
By Linda Knighton (simahoyo@rcia.com)
Content © 1996 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 1996 held by Whoosh!
2061 words


[1] Almost all the cultural comparisons made in this essay are from the Muskogean Culture. This is a Mississippian Group which occupied parts of South Carolina, most of Georgia, Alabama, and Northern Florida. The group was a confederacy of some 45 tribes which include the modern-day Creeks and Seminoles, as well as the less closely related Choctaw, Micasukee and Chickasaw Tribes. I used this cultural group because I am descended from the Creeks on my Mother's side and the Seminoles on my Father's side. I also have some passing familiarity with the language.


[2] The word, "warrior" is key in this analysis, since in Native culture honor is everything. The word "warrior" is only used for one who is honorable. To illustrate, William Tecumseh (how ironic) Sherman is not a warrior. His scorched earth policy during his March to the Sea would have been looked on with horror by most Native peoples. However, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a warrior because he lead his people to win their rights with honor and dignity. One does not necessarily kill to be a warrior.

[3] The word "warrior", as used by Native Americans who speak English, comes from several Muskogee titles. The first to spring to mind is "Micco." A "Micco" is a town leader, but the term also carries heavy spiritual baggage. Therefore, although Xena would certainly, at the time of Cortese's attack, have been a town leader in Amphipolis; she hardly would qualify as a spiritual leader.

[4] I must pause here to clarify the word "town." A town is not necessarily a geopolitical unit. During "Removal" (the Policy of removing all tribes East of the Mississippi by Andrew Jackson), when the Muskogee people were force-marched to Oklahoma, they brought their town with them. The town was the inhabitants, not the ground or buildings. "Removal" is also known as the" Trail of Tears, Parts One through Five." Just in the Creek Removal, some 45% of the tribe died on the trail.

[5] Another word that may have been a forerunner of "warrior" is "Tustungee." This word is often mistranslated as "lieutenant." The Tustungee was a speaker from a Red (war) town, which means that he or she spoke in war councils and led war parties. Red towns were in charge of war and anything to do with war. White towns were in charge of running a sanctuary and of the stick ball games. They were known as Peace towns. This is somewhat similar to having one's state capitol divided between a combination of an army base and the Boeing plant and the civil government, located in two towns.

[6] Xena more closely fits a "Tustungee" than a "Micco". However, when she overrode her protective role and became bent on conquest, she stepped completely outside the role of a Tustungee.


[7] Some honorific titles given to warriors have one meaning if serious and another if ironic. Examples are two very common honorific titles, "Harjo" and "Fixico." "Harjo" is translated, badly, into English as "crazy". The word actually refers to a kind of reckless bravery which was much admired, since great fighting skill was involved. Xena certainly is a "Harjo." "Fixico" meant, in another bad translation "heartless". Its true meaning was not to be too soft-hearted, especially when one's tribe, clan or family was in peril. Gabrielle is too kind to be "Fixico". This is resoundingly clear in RETURN OF CALLISTO (episode #29), when Gabrielle fails to kill Callisto and endangers herself and Xena. Nevertheless, Gabrielle often fights as a "Harjo." Xena, after her redemption, is "Fixico", but while operating outside decent behavioral bounds, she was neither.

[8] Muskogean Language nick-names often were given to enemies as ironic descriptions. Andrew Jackson was known as "Jacksa Chula Harjo" (Jackson Crazy Fox). This is the rough equivalent of calling Ivan Boetsky, "Honest Ivan." Some other ironic names translate as "The Dirt King" and "Always Hungry For More Land."

[9] The early Xena might have earned one of these nick-names, and since she seems embarrassed at being called "warrior princess", one wonders if she too had been given an ironic nick-name--that is if the Greeks did such a thing.



Xena obviously inherited the tall genes from dad

[10] After returning to her people, Xena seeks out her mother, who would have been, in the Native culture, her clan leader. As a Native American, I saw this as a pivotal moment. This is when Xena sought to right her wrongs, return to her people and become a true warrior. The village men try to drive her away, and therein lies the real difference between Greek and Native society, for the people did not have that right, at least in a White (peace) town. Anyone could seek to return to their people. When Xena fights to protect her village (town), she is offering herself as a protector of her people, a true warrior. She then becomes a "Tustungee and "Harjo", but can never be a "Micco." Since she has lost her place in her community, she becomes a wanderer. This is a vastly different punishment to both a Native American and an Ancient European, than it is to a Modern European.

[11] Modern Europeans place a high value on individuality. Neither of the other two cultures do, valuing instead the community. By being alone, Xena is cut off from her village, clan and family. She is therefore without identity. She is saved from a life of utter loneliness by Gabrielle.

[12] With the entrance of Gabrielle into her life, Xena becomes a teacher. She resists this because she is now in an uncomfortable position. She is in recovery and suddenly, she is expected to be a nearly perfect example of the true warrior. As a Native American one year shy of becoming an elder, I can sympathize. Xena's refusal of the teaching role is very understandable. She feels it is too soon, that she is not ready--all the standard excuses teachers use when the student finds them.


Xena's past literally haunts her

[13] It is in DREAMWORKER (episode #03) that Xena finally faces the fact that she is a teacher. She has a tremendous healing experience where she fights the dishonorable within, faces her victims, "learns their names" because then they become real, and teaches Gabrielle, all at once. This is a major turning point for Xena.

[14] Xena also follows some time-honored methods of teaching. She first sets strict controls on her student so that Gabrielle will not fight before she is ready. She encourages Gabrielle's natural strengths: talking and persuasion. She also uses trickery in her teaching, as Flora explains in THE BLACK WOLF (episode #11); and in WARRIOR...PRINCESS (episode #15), Gabrielle complains of it being a test day, when she thinks Diana as Xena is trying to trick her.

[15] One other very important thing is that Xena shows how much she has learned by allowing the Amazon's to teach Gabrielle staff work. Xena has overcome the desire to be the Big Warrior who knows it all, and from that point, actively tries to wean Gabrielle from her ideal picture of Xena as a perfect hero. Incidently, "Big Warrior" is a very insulting term if used in some contexts. It means someone who cannot be taught, has no humility--even by Creek standards, and is generally a pain to be around.

[16] Another point familiar to Native people is how often Native teachers are, like Xena, in recovery from things like alcohol abuse. Their students often help them stay on the wagon. In TIES THAT BIND (episode #20), we see Xena fall off the Reformed Warlord wagon and Gabrielle get her back by any means necessary. Many a student has confiscated alcohol, or driven their teacher to "Talking Circle" (read Alcoholics Anonymous) in order to keep them on the Good Red Road.


[17] There is an obvious, except to the very determined, sexual attraction between Xena and Gabrielle. This is strong beginning in ALTARED STATES (episode #19). A cardinal rule of the Teacher/Student relationship is do not have sex with a student. Yes, there are those who break the rule, but it still stands.

[18] If this rule held in Xena's Ancient Greece, Xena would run FROM every opportunity for sex with Gabrielle. She does this by staying physically distant, with rare exceptions such as the campfire scene in CALLISTO (episode #22), and by closing down emotionally when Gabrielle gets too close, as she did in ORPHAN OF WAR (episode #25). Xena's problem, then, is to subvert her feelings and try to hurry Gabrielle's education along as quickly as possible.

[19] These feelings were not well controlled in IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? (episode #24), but Xena did not reveal them directly to Gabrielle. There should be, if I am right, an intensifying of Gabrielle's teaching, which would be a strong guard against Xena's feelings until she was satisfied that Gabrielle was ready to stand on her own. Only then could the teacher/student relationship be dropped, and any other ones be explored.

[20] On the other hand, Xena is not made of iron, and has come close to losing control, such as in the ending of WARRIOR...PRINCESS, where Xena practically begs Gabrielle to declare her feelings. Gabrielle wisely sidesteps the suggestion, for she too, is aware that the relationship is not ready to be changed.



When you've got a horse and a best friend, what else do you need?

[21] Another situation very familiar to Native American viewers is that Xena--a woman, is teaching skills to Gabrielle--another woman. Our women are well trained to lead, to conduct meetings, to use resources in the community, and to persuade. Our failure, as a community, is in teaching these skills to men. This is very problematic since men are the only leaders historically approved of by the European governments we were forced to deal with. So, we created parallel leaders, the men to deal with outsiders and the women to run things internally.

[22] In Xena's world, the villages appear to be run by a Council of Elders, which would be familiar in some form to most Native Americans. The areas were run by kings, warlords and other strongmen. This would be an anathema for most Southeastern Native People. Xena, having been the equal, if not superior to the warlords and kings, treats them all as equals. This is very appealing to Native viewers, who like everyone being equals. One popular illustration is Marilyn in the television show, NORTHERN EXPOSURE. She drove Dr. Fleishman crazy treating him as an equal. Many Native people like to tell stories of their adventures in the workplace upsetting the status quo by treating their boss as an equal.

[23] Xena also knows another major Native concept--respect. She treats Elders and children as important people. In DEATH MASK (episode #23) Xena meets with the Council of Elders, asks their advise, and takes it. In ORPHAN OF WAR, Xena shows that she places no value on owning Solon, her son. Despite her emotional needs, she did what was best for the boy. In other words, she showed that she loves all children, not just her own--and that she refused to treat Solon as property.


[24] I feel that XWP speaks not only to a European audience, but to a Native American one as well. I know several Native fans of the show. It relates well to many of our values and struggles, and as long as it continues to do so, it will grow in popularity in the Native Community.

Anya Dot Tethl (respect for kindred)


[25] Anya Dot Tethl grew out of a campaign to get Southeastern people to learn and speak their own languages in community ceremonies. People were using the Lakota for "All My Relations". The Cherokees were the first to translate the phrase, then the Seminoles, then the Creeks--but Creek is so hard to spell and pronounce, I use Seminole instead. Otherwise you'd be seeing: "Arak kuec'kv pona humkvlke". All Creek words are in the English alphabet. You'll thank me for it.

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