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Elizabeth White (1892-1990) Polingaysi Qöyawayma


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Elizabeth White (1892-1990) Polingaysi Qöyawayma - signature

Polingaysi Qöyawayma's life has been published in the book "No Turning Back" as told by her.  It is the life of a Hopi girl's struggle to bridge the gap between the world of her people and the world of the White man.  From a preschool age, she was intrigued by the government school being attended by her Hopi friends (not by choice) but she felt left out and wanted also to attend.  Whereas her friends were being forced by government agencies to attend school, she chose to volunteer, much to her mother's consternation.

 

From these early years at the government school, Polingaysi, who had been given the name Bessie by a Mennonite missionary, was eager to learn the English language and White man's ways.  Hopi elders accused her of wanting to be a "White Man."  When given the chance, she lived temporarily with the Mennonite missionary's family, earning her keep by doing household chores.  It was during this time that she learned the Christian religion which she continued practicing throughout her life.  Another Mennonite missionary and family boarded her for a time and changed her name to Elizabeth, a name retained throughout her life.

 

Polingaysi became a school teacher and taught at Hopi and Navajo schools for almost 40 years.  On retirement from teaching, she became an artist, a poet, and a philosopher.  Her career as a potter was begun late in life, after her retirement, so there is very little of her work available.

 

Polingaysi passed on her preference for simple pottery vessels to her nephew Al Qöyawayma who has become very famous for his creations.  Iris Nampeyo also adopted the style for her work.  Not only does Polingaysi live in the memories of her students of 40 years, she will always be remembered for her limited beautiful pottery.

 

ReferenceNo Turning Back by Polingaysi Qöyawayma (Elizabeth Q. White) as told to Vada F. Carlson, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque 1964.

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