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This essay examines the work of the Dutch-Indonesian author Beb Vuyk in producing one of the first foreign-language translations of John G. Neihardt’s Black Elk Speaks: the 1964 Dutch edition Zwarte Eland spreekt. Published in the Netherlands, Vuyk’s translation connects the 1932 as-told-to autobiography of the Oglala Lakota heyoka Black Elk to the career of one of the most important Dutch-Indonesian authors after World War II, who had a prominent voice in debates on Indonesian decolonization. Linking the literary history of two different colonial contexts, Vuyk’s edition also connects Black Elk Speaks to a Cold War-era history of transnational literary exchange, which both mobilized and contained global anticolonial intellectual work. Her translation of Black Elk Speaks exemplifies that its global mobility did not necessarily engender a liberatory, decolonizing discourse, even as it produced new frameworks for Indigenous representation within a transnational intellectual history. As the Dutch-language edition offers a remarkably distinct representation of Black Elk’s narrative—and Neihardt’s textualization of it—Vuyk’s previously unremarked work as a translator demonstrates how acts of translation shape to transnational uptake of American Indian writing. Vuyk’s edition of Black Elk Speaks lends the book a previously unremarked place within transnational networks of decolonizing writers and intellectuals during the Cold War. At the same time, her linguistic and compositional choices demonstrate how the mediation and (mis)translation of literary texts contributes to the overwriting of Indigenous literature, in an expansive literary field marked by linguistic, cultural, and colonial hierarchies.


© 2023 by the author(s), CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Original Publication Information

Kelderman, F. (2023). Black Elk Faces East: Beb Vuyk, Cultural Translation, and John G. Neihardt's Black Elk Speaks. Journal of Transnational American Studies, 14(2).