Peter Pan “What Made the Red Man red?” (1953)

Before I get started with talking about this song, let’s get the elephant out of the room shall we? Yes, “What Made the Red Man red?” is a highly racist, non-politically correct song that employs multiple Native American stereotypes. That being said, remember that this was 1953 and the world was a very different place from what it is now.

(also, I’m going to refer to the tribe as ‘Indians’ because that’s how they’re described in the film, I know Native American is the correct word to use)

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Peter Pan “What Made the Red Man Red?” (1953)

At the start of this song, Wendy, John and Michael are celebrating the safe return of Tiger Lily with Peter Pan, the Lost Boys and the Indian tribe. In gratitude, the Chief dubs Peter “Chief Flying Eagle” and everyone celebrates. As the party gets going, the Lost Boys have three questions:

“What made the red man red?” (it should be noted that in this film the Indians, except for Tiger Lily, are almost literally red-skinned, based on the derogatory slang once used to describe them).

“When did he first say ‘ugh’?” (another stereotype, this one contends that Indians say ‘ugh’ in response to a lot of things)

“Why does he ask you ‘how’?” (another stereotype and something of a generalization: there ARE some tribes that use this as a greeting, but the stereotype makes it appear that ALL Indians use this as a greeting, which isn’t true).

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The Chief and his chorus of braves set out to answer these questions, accompanied by the drums:

Why does he ask you, “How?”
Why does he ask you, “How?”
Once the Injun didn’t know
All the things that he know now
But the Injun, he sure learn a lot
And it’s all from asking, “How?”
Hana Mana Ganda
Hana Mana Ganda
We translate for you
Hana means what mana means
And ganda means that, too

This scene is also notable because it shows several characters smoking on a peace pipe. While Wendy abstains (and prevents Michael from using it too), John takes a pretty good puff and turns green as a result (in kind of the same way that Pinocchio did over a decade prior).

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In between the verses, everyone starts dancing, including Wendy, though she doesn’t get to enjoy herself for long. Wendy runs headlong into an Indian matriarch who proclaims “Squaw (Wendy) no dance, squaw get firewood!” Wendy is miffed that she can’t have fun like the other boys (and Tiger Lily, more on that in a moment) but she goes off to get the firewood.

When did he first say, “Ugh!”
When did he first say, “Ugh!”
In the Injun book it say
When first brave married squaw
He gave out with heap big ugh
When he saw his Mother-in-Law

Meanwhile, Wendy is returning with a load of firewood (still trying to have a good time) when she gets a look at Tiger Lily and Peter Pan:

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What made the red man red?
What made the red man red?

Let’s go back a million years
To the very first Injun prince
He kissed a maid and start to blush
And we’ve all been blushin’ since

You’ve got it right from the headman
The real true story of the red man
No matter what’s been written or said
Now you know why the red man’s red!

The scene implies that Tiger Lily gave Peter a great big kiss which makes Peter blush with happiness. Wendy is furious that someone else is kissing ‘her’ Peter, and when the matriarch demands she get more firewood, Wendy retorts “Squaw NO getting firewood, squaw go home!” And she marches off to the Lost Boys home, very upset. I always felt bad for Wendy, everyone else got to have fun but her.

Political incorrectness aside, this song marks the turning point in the story for Wendy. Up until this point, she’d been having fun with Peter in Neverland (although the visit to the mermaids didn’t exactly go as planned), but now she’s beginning to realize that she doesn’t belong here, it’s time to go home (as in back to London). Also, no one yet knows that Captain Hook has taken Tinkerbell captive, as he is determined to find the Lost Boys hideout and eliminate his nemesis once and for all!

What do you think of this song? Have you seen this song before? Let me know what you think of it in the comments below, and have a great day!

See also:

Disney Films & Soundtracks A-Z

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2 thoughts on “Peter Pan “What Made the Red Man red?” (1953)

  1. Brandon Gregory

    Oh man, it’s been a loooong time since I’ve seen this. I’m biracial (white/Native American), so I have very mixed feelings about this part of the film. By today’s standards, yes, this is pretty bad. Back then, I’m sure it felt more like harmless fun (and was intended as such), but it contributed to feelings that are still around today that Native American culture is more of a joke than a real thing. That said, this isn’t as bad as the crows from Dumbo, which seemed to be more intentionally harmful. Anyway, good write-up! I think you covered this well.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply

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