European Views of the Heart of the World
IT IS WELL KNOWN that D. H. Lawrence visited Taos town and pueblo, less so that Simone de Beauvoir made a brief stop in 1946. Both intellectual travelers have left us images of indigenous people as unreasonable and, perhaps, obsessive in denying Caucasians access to sacred places. In fact, the question of the sacred and religious privacy is at the heart of Lawrence's and Beauvoir's experiences at Tua-Tah, the Tiwa name for Taos pueblo. It is easy to find fault with travelers of eras less enlightened than we believe ours to be, but a close look at the self-serving and irresponsible aspects of Lawrence and Beauvoir as travelers is not a misapplication of our present critical consciousness. When we examine tourist behavior, we honor the indigenous people we visit. As travelers, writers, and cultural thinkers we can attempt to make the future better for native people, especially now that we are in the thick of mass travel.
In his essay "New Mexico," Lawrence is quite eloquent about the "greatness of beauty" of the landscape and the deep religiosity of the people (142-43), and there's little doubt that he genuinely took part in fighting the Bursum Bill1 then in Congress, which would have granted title to squatters on pueblo land; nonetheless, there is evidence that Lawrence expressed his touristic experiences at the expense of native people. Lawrence expressed apprehension in racial terms, writing to Mabel Dodge Luhan from Sri Lanka: "I still of course mistrust Taos very much, chiefly on account of the artists. I feel I never want to see an artist again while I live. The Indians, yes: if one is sure that they are not jeering at one. I find all dark people have a fixed desire to jeer at us: these people here--they jeer behind your back" (qtd. in Luhan19). Mabel Dodge Luhan continually wrote encouraging him to visit Taos; finally, he responded from Sydney, Australia: "I do hope I shall get from your Indians something that this wearily external white world can't give, and which the east is just betraying all the time" (qtd. in Luhan23). But the thought that indigenous people may be jeering at him occupies his mind long after arrival at Taos town.