Native Americans - Origins

Many theories on origins of Indians:

· Cotton Mather – said Indians were Satan’s chosen people – the devil sent them to America so they wouldn’t be converted to Christianity; so they escaped from Europe to avoid conversion.

· Mormons – said that c. 600 A.D. a group migrated from the Middle East. (Lost tribe of Israel.) This group split into two factions: One, the Lammanites, abandoned God; who punished them by giving them dark skin, and an unintelligible language.

· Adolf Hitler – said that Indians were lost tribes of Northern Europeans. Even argued that the Sioux were Aryan by heritage. 

Four Major Theories on Origins of Indians 

A. Some strong argument that Indians were descendants of ancient Egyptians or Phoenicians. It is possible that they sailed too far; ended up in North America by accident.

There is strong support for this theory:

· 1970: Thor Hyerdahl: tested idea that Ancient Egyptians may have settled in Central America. He built a boat similar to that used by the Egyptians, using the same plans and materials; sailed boat into Atlantic, caught a current which carried him to Central America.

· Both cultures built Pyramids which were originally used as tombs for leaders.

· Both had advanced technology in math and sea travel.

· Religions were similar – worshiped similar Gods.

· Writing was similar: Hieroglyphical.

· Social structure was the same: matrilineal societies.

An ancient Indian settlement was recently discovered in upstate South Carolina dated over 15,000 years old – this actually predates the Egyptian civilization!

Other communities have been located up and down Atlantic coast aged 7,000 – 10,000 years.

Near Outer Banks of North Carolina, a Celtic community has been located which has been dated to be over 2,000 years old – the time that Christ was on the earth.

B. Trans-Pacific Theory: Argument is that Indians came from Southeast Asia (Vietnam; Thailand, etc.)

These were seagoing people who traveled from Island to Island. They could have found currents and traveled Island to Island all the way to N. America.

Settlements have been located in San Francisco that are 11,000 years old; in South America that are 12,000 years old.

C. Bering Strait Theory: East Asians followed migratory herds of animals across Bering strait land bridge – Beringea. Land bridge appeared at least twice, 25,000 and 35,000 years ago. The Land bridge was approx. 55 miles in width. There is speculation that people followed the animals; some followed the coast; others spread out over the two continents.

Most scholars support Bering Strait bridge theory. Archaeological evidence supports it; but is not exclusive.

D. Native Americans believe were always here. If human beings were extant when Pangeia broke apart, they were located on the part which became North and South America.

There is strong evidence that continents were once joined. Minerals found on N.C./S.C. coast not located anywhere else in Continent; but are found on West Coast of Africa.

Certain facts are known about Indians to be true:

· They adopted Agriculture more than 8,000 years ago. As a result, they had a sedentary life style, and built permanent settlements.  As early as 5000 B.C. Mexican Indian diet consisted of maize (corn) beans, squash, chili peppers, avocado and pumpkin. They also developed fiber nets for catching fish, baskets, mills for grinding nuts, and domesticated the dog and turkey.

Evidence of a sedentary lifestyle and developed civilization in America actually predates similar situations in Western Europe. Their civilizations were made sedentary by agriculture.

· There was an adequate supply of meat, vegetables, water, so Indians ceased a migratory lifestyle early on. As a result, their population grew. Populations do not grow quickly in migratory societies; Indian population did grow.

· A growing community must construct physical, economic structures: Indians had this; had division of labor; gender roles 8,000 years ago. By 3,000 years ago, they had a highly developed civilization.  The large cities constructed by Central American and South American Indians rivaled cities in Europe in terms of size and population.  Food was grown in gardens outside the city, and many had supplies of running water. South American Indian cities had temple complexes, gigantic pyramids, and courts for ceremonial games.

· By 1492 (Year Columbus landed), U.S. and Canada had a minimum of 4 million residents. Some historians estimate as many as 10 million Indians lived in the continental U.S. (Roughly 1/26th the present population density.) Most Indians preferred climates in warmer subtropical areas. Southern California, Central America, northern South America had over 40 million Indians.

There was a tremendous level of development.

· Cortez wrote in his dairy in 1519 that the Aztec city of Technocticlan (under present day Mexico City) had a complex irrigation system based on a series of canals and a grid system. He compared the city to the glory of Constantinople. Houses, etc. were strategically located along the grid. Even he recognized that this far exceeded the development and lifestyle of big cities in Europe.

· By 15th Century, the Incas of Peru were performing brain surgery; evidence indicates the practice dated back 1,000 years.

· Mayas had two calendars; one based on 185 days; another quite close to our modern calendar. It was in fact more accurate than the calendar used in Europe at the time. They also had the technology to drill tiny holes in stone; something American technicians learned only within the last 100 years.

· Anasazi of Four Corners region had community developed 12,000 years ago with civilization more advanced than anything that existed in Europe. One subdivision had over 800 apartments; plus a network of roads that were straight.

· Also evidence of large figures carved into surface of earth; can only see entire image from high altitude.

The earliest archeological settlement in North America is at Clovis, New Mexico.  Materials unearthed there have been radio-carbon dated to as early as 12,000 B.C.E.  More recently, an even earlier site has been unearthed at Monte Verde, Chili.  This earlier site, and its great distance from the Bering Strait, has caused considerable debate as to the true path taken by the earliest Americans and the era when their passage was commenced. A recent article suggests Indian settlements in South America as early as 25000 B.C.E. If the archaeological evidence can be confirmed, it is entirely likely that the first American settlements may have been Polynesian in origin. The more conservative approach would be to argue that the "Indians" of North and South America probably had different sources of origin (as indicated by differences in physical characteristics) and arrived at different times.

Note: The evidence is indisputable that the predecessors of modern Indians were living in Coastal South Carolina (our own back yard) no later than 10,000 B.C.E.  In the 1980's in Surfside Beach, S.C., a contractor pulling a dragline uncovered the bones of a juvenile mastodon. Intriguing as this find was, even more fascinating was that bi-faces (arrow or spear heads) were found embedded in the animal's rib cage.  It was in fact a prehistoric kill site, frequented by pre-historic hunters..

Many scholars speculate on where the Indians originated; but also on what was lost when their civilization was destroyed. By 1892 (400 years after Columbus landed), only 200,000 Indians left in North America. Only 4 million left in South America – utter destruction.

Where would society be today if this destruction had not occurred?

Not all Indian cultures were that advanced; not all equally advanced; some were more advanced than others; but many were far more advanced than has previously been believed. 

There was a myriad of Indian cultures; not a single Indian culture. They had different styles of homes; all the product of the local environment; All cultures different, but there were similarities in

· Spirituality

· Religion

Native American Values and Spirituality 

Values and spirituality were some of few things shared by all Indians. There were some minor variations.

Names often came from family names given at birth. Adult names were determined by individual characteristics. Names had a peculiar meaning. One’s adult name was given at about 14-15 years of age.

Example: Sitting Bull: had reputation for being stubborn, set in ways. Another Indian, Red Cloud: fierce in battle; was only Indian chief to win a WAR with the U.S. Government.

The roles of men were delineated by tradition; primarily hunting and warfare. Women did all other work. This led to conclusion by Europeans that Indian men were lazy, indolent, as they were not seen working often.

The tribe was community oriented. The good of the group was more important than the individual. All were products of nature; all were equal, so all should help one another. The Europeans were quite the opposite. Individual was more important than the group.

Woodlands Indians also practiced respect for aged. They were highly respected due to their knowledge and life experiences. Often deferred to wishes of elders. Even adults listened to elders. This was an important part of their culture. (Present day America is youth oriented.)

Indian Values: Common to all Indian Cultures. Values show a close connection to environment) Plants and animals were considered equal with humans. Man was but one more contributor to nature. When he died, his body became fertilizer for the earth. There was a "circle of life;" an interdependency of all living things.

Indians had no concern for time. One can’t change the past or create future, so they lived for the moment. They revered, respected ancestors, but didn’t worship them.

Possessions: Private property was of very little concern. Idea of sharing was essential to the welfare of all in the community. One used that which was available, only "owned" that which he made with his own hands and used. But he was still obligated to share with others.

Individuality was emphasized more than conformity; Americans claim individuality, but are really quite conformist. In 1950’s, there was glaring conformity. Anyone who did not conform was un-American.

Eastern Woodlands Indians

Lived in area between Mississippi River and Atlantic Ocean. There were actually two cultures, Northeast and Southeast; both somewhat different.

Wampanoags were Indians who met the Pilgrims in 1620.

Most populous were the Cherokee; occupied five southern States.

Note: Chicora Indians in this area claim attention, but have not been recognized by any official entity as an actual Indian tribe. Present members claim to be connected to the Sioux, and have adopted Sioux wardrobes (War bonnets, etc.)

In fact, no Indian in South Carolina ever wore a war bonnet (or even saw one), never lived in tepees, or wore breast plates. Sioux is actually a language family; this is the only possible connection.  So, if you pay to have your picture taken with an Indian wearing a war bonnet who says he is from a South Carolina tribe, you've been had---big time.

By 1492, there were over 2,000 Indian languages in the U.S.

Eastern Woodland Indians lived in a Longhouse Walls were made from woven mats, usually made of long grasses, etc. In New England, supporting poles of long houses were smaller; spaces were filled with mud, twigs, etc. All long houses were insulated with Animal hides; and were typically about 50 ft. long. They housed 10-20 people, usually in a family setting; parents, grandparents, extended family, etc. There was little or no privacy. Intimacy occurred in full view of all occupants. The length of the longhouse determined the number of vents for smoke to escape. There was a long bench down one wall, and a flap that could regulate heat coming into/out of the dwelling.

Many Indian villages were surrounded by a Palisade (see drawing). Americans got the idea of a fort from the Indians. Poles of the palisade were from six to 15-2- feet high. Gaps between poles allowed air circulation during winter months. Also, arrows could be fired between the poles. Entry into the palisade normally involved a series of sharp turns, which made it easier to defend.

Drawings show a community layout was present (communities were largely planned, not haphazard. There was typically a religious center, a housing area, etc. It was very planned and very tidily organized.

Mohawk drawing shows very elaborate structure. The CHICKEE was a simple structure for warm climates. The floor was elevated in case of rising water, and the roof was thatch. Creek village drawings show an area set aside for entertainment, games etc. with a "housing area: where family groups lived.

The Wigwam was for small family groups; those just starting out; couples who had lost parents, etc. In many respects was similar to the long house.

Upper Louisiana, Arkansas, etc., Indians lived in huts.

Indians typically were nude during warm months; which was commonly accepted. There was nothing kinky about men and women running around butt naked during warm weather.

Subsistence: Eastern Woodland Indians were first and foremost farmers; and very skilled at their craft. Each family had its own garden plot, but shared produce with others if need arose. It was expected that the family would do so; the good of the community was far more important than the needs of the individual. The village also had a common agricultural plot outside the palisade. The crops here were tended, harvested, and shared equally by all.  Farming was almost exclusively a female role. Women tended the crops, harvested them, and stood on scaffolds to scare away birds and animals, literally human scarecrows. It was considered unmanly for a man to engage in farming.

This led Europeans to conclude that Indian men were lazy and indolent, because they did not farm. This was not true; in Indian culture, farming was women’s work. Also, when Europeans enslaved Indian men, they forced them to work as slaves performing agricultural work; which was quite demeaning to them.

All food grown in community plot was stored in a community warehouse, and shared by all in the community. If one shirked his responsibility, he could be fined. There were overseers who assigned work in the fields, decided which areas needed to be worked and by whom, etc., just as in old Southern plantations.

Variety of crops grown: Melons, potatoes, squash, beans, corn.

Other than a few varieties of melons, all of these were absent from the European diet before contact with the Indians.

Woodland Indians also grew tobacco, but were aware even then of its health risks. The Powhatans warmed the Europeans not to smoke too much, as it would make them short winded, and cause death. By the 1500’s, Central American Indians had warned the Spanish about too much tobacco use; that it could be unhealthy. They also grew cotton and created dyed material, woven with decoration. This was used to make a variety of clothing articles, normally only worn in cooler weather. Cotton as a clothing/textile material was heretofore not available to Europeans. Flax was also grown. It was used to make linen which was used for bedding material.

Hunting was primarily the man’s responsibility, (along with fighting, defense of the community.) The prominent animal hunted by the woodlands Indians was the deer.

The stereotypical Indian hunting deer, etc., with bow and arrow is not accurate. This was seldom done, if at all. The Indians typically found herds of deer, and by means of noise and beating, chased them into a palisaded area and kept them in the palisade until meat was needed; literally herded and farmed them like cattle.

Indians did not like killing the deer for spiritual reasons. They considered it a brother of the earth; like themselves, with equal right to live. They only killed deer when needed for food; hunting for sport was completely unheard of.

All parts of the deer were used. Aside from meat and hides for food and clothing, straps were made from strips of hide; hooves were filled with pebbles and hide tied over it to make a rattle, ribs were used for sleigh runners; bones were made into farming tools, needles, even buttons.

They were also good fishermen; often corralled fish into a device similar to a fish trap, then pulled fish out when needed. Two types of boats were available:

· Birch-bark Canoe: was lightweight; one man could carry; was used more for warfare than fishing, as could move quickly; quietly. It did NOT resemble the modern canoe.

· Dugout: made by burning away interior of logs, creating boat. Much more common than the canoe.

It is widely believed that by the 1400’s, the Indian typical diet was far superior to that of the Europeans.

Medicines were made from native barks and trees (see attachment). All were products of environment. Their knowledge of all this came back to haunt them later.

Essay Topic: Was it inevitable that the Indian Culture would be destroyed by Europeans?

American values were quite different from European values, so much so that they could not be reconciled – the Europeans saw to that; so it was pretty much inevitable that the Indian culture would be destroyed.

· Europeans often enslaved Indian men; forced them to work in fields, which, in Indian culture, was the work of women. This was quite demeaning. Also, they had no experience in farming; gardening, etc.

· Time was unimportant to the Indians. They had no concept of hours, dates, etc. This was also contrary to European values where time was important.

The differences in culture were irreconcilable; to that extent, destruction was inevitable.

Family Relations: Eastern Woodland Indians were different: Women dictated events in the tribal community. They were the final authority. The society was completely Matrilineal. When a man married, he moved in with his wife’s family.

Woman had incredible power within the tribe; even selected the Chiefs. Chiefs were chosen by women meeting in council, could countermand any decision that he made. They pretty much ruled the roost.

There was no one Chief, but Chiefs. There was a war chief, selected to lead battles, a peace chief, a Hunting chief, even a chief of women and children.

The E. Woodland Indians were by and large monogamous. They preferred this to polygamy as it kept the community stable and calm, avoided disharmony. Again, the welfare of the community as a whole was more important; discord hurt the community. Monogamous relationships also kept bloodlines pure; often married outside clan; even they understood the dangers of inbreeding. Prostitution was common, but there was no moral stigma and no STD’s; a prostitute was considered to be rendering a service.

Historical tidbit: There was no evidence of STD’s in either Indians or Europeans until the two groups met and did their thing. Then they showed up, but only in the Europeans. It is widely thought that the Indians carried the bug in their system but were immune to it.

Since Prostitution was a service to the community; a man’s wife did not normally get upset if he employed her services. Typically, she did not have a man in her life; so this was a means of livelihood. She was paid with furs, hides, protection; things a husband would normally provide. Among the Creek Indians, Prostitutes wore paint on their faces, arms, etc. which designated their role in the community. Hence the phrase which Europeans used to describe them: "Painted ladies."

Children were highly valued and desired. They kept the tribe in existence, and were thus considered necessary. Warfare was often brutal, took many lives; also many Indians died from disease; so it was important to keep children coming. Also, children could care for one when one became elderly.

Some birth control was practiced; depending on how well one could provide for a family. During a bad year, a drought, etc., one would not want to bring in more mouths to feed. Most common method was the Nancy Reagan method: "Just say no." There was a liquid contraceptive made from native plants that would abort the fetus; sort of a "morning after" drink. After childbirth, one abstained from sex for six months. For many tribes, particularly the Hurons, this was enforced.

Illegitimate children were not desired; often were destroyed; particularly among the Creek Indians. Only the father of the child could kill it; It was a stigma for a wife to have a child by another man; plus there were economic reasons; the father may not be able to provide for the child.

Fathers were responsible for providing for the child; if it were a boy, he must each him moral values, hunting, fighting skills, etc. If the child were illegitimate and allowed to live for six months, it could not be killed legally.

Infidelity was uncommon, but did occur on occasion. The victim had the right to divorce the offending spouse.

Death was a serious matter. If a Husband died, the children were required to take care of their mother as long as she lived. Some tribes did not require children to support the father; but the Hurons did. A period of grief and mourning was required if there were a death; normally a few months to a year. A woman could not remarry during her time of mourning.  The exception to this rule were the Iroquois. If a dead man had a brother, the brother could marry his sister-in-law right away. A woman could be released from her mourning period if she had sex with her brother in law. She could then do as she pleased, and marry whomever she pleased, but she had to have sex with him first. Men were not so limited. A man needed a good woman, so he could marry quickly.

Body Design: The Choctaw Indians flattened the heads of infants, as a flat head was considered a sign of beauty. Another group in Montana did this, were known as the "Flathead Indians." The Natchez Indians blackened their teeth with tobacco and ash; also considered a beauty mark. They also liked body tattoos, carvings, etc. Often would put sand in holes made by tattoo instrument; created a bead effect. Among some Indians, a man with a shaved head was considered handsome.

The WAMPUM BELT was a belt tracing family history. It reflected all the great events in the family’s history or the tribe’s existence. It was mostly shells on a leather strap, had significance as it told something of the individual. It really wasn’t a "belt," just recorded history which was quite important to the individual. It was used as a trade item with Europeans, thus the idea that it was "money."

Group orientation was very important; the Europeans marveled at this. There were no paupers as long as anyone in the community had the means to feed them; Village as a whole would do without before an individual would do without. They were extremely communal; group first; even child discipline was a common concern. They worked together, shared everything; the welfare of the group came first.

Strangers were normally welcomed; fed, cared for as long as they were in the community; something of a "golden rule," "brother’s keeper" approach.

Tribal Organization:

Organization was quite rigid. A tribe consisted of between 500 – 2500 people. Each tribe was divided into a Clan which was a large family unit; parents, grandparents, nieces, nephews, anyone remotely related was a member of the same clan. Within the clan was the Ohwachira; a subunit of immediate family, parents, uncles, aunts, maybe grandparents. The last subdivision was the Fireside, which was the family at its lowest level, parents, children, maybe grandchildren or grandparents.

First allegiance was to the tribe, then to the clan. If the clan was not affected, then to the ohwachira. The Fireside was the smallest and least important unit of concern.

Government: The supreme law of the tribe was decisions made by the tribal councils. This was primarily women.

Dreams and Myths: Legends and myths served several purposes; they not only entertained children but also was an attempt to explain natural phenomena and teach a lesson at the same time. Indians were not scientifically inclined, so myths and legends were used to explain things they did not understand.

Two legends: How the bear lost his tail, and the legend of Natabozo, which explains why geese fly in a V, shaped pattern. (See legends in handouts). This is very similar to our legend of Santa Claus, etc. These legends also served to impart knowledge and value to children. The legend of the bear teaches that the fox is cunning and sneaky; and warns them not to be naïve, like the bear. The story of Natabozo would teach them how to make a rope out of birch bark.

Dreams to the Eastern Woodlands Indians were expressions of one’s inner desires, although one may outwardly mask his feelings or intentions. To the Iroquois, unconscious desires had physical manifestations; would appear at some point. One would normally find a third party, hopefully an objective party, to interpret one’s dream; and one might be encouraged to perform "free association." Iroquois believed dreams were the product of sexual desires or suppressed desires about relationships. (Sounds like Freud to me.) They believed that dreams and visions dictated future courses of action; and further that problems could be solved in a dream.

Eastern Woodlands Indians normally were completely naked in warm weather months; wore buckskin in cold weather. Because of this and other habits, etc. that did not square with European ideas; Europeans immediately thought of Indians as primitives, savages, etc; when truthfully beneath the surface they were a highly complex civilization. 

Plains Indians

Plains Indians lived in middle America. Originally, the tribes were quite diverse, and lived secluded from each other. They lived on the edge of the plains, and seldom ventured onto them, until introduced to the horse by the Spanish in 1500’s. Prior to the horse, they were not nomadic; but led a sedentary lifestyle; they lived near water, near woods, farmed, fished, and hunted near the edges of the plains.

The Eastern Indians did not ever have horses; didn’t need them; and the Plains Indians did not have them until the Spanish introduced them.

The horse made it possible for the Plains Indians to pursue buffalo onto the plains, and readily adapted this scheme. Buffalo was very useful to them, similar to the Deer for the Plains Indians. (see diagram). It was the lure of the buffalo, and its many uses that made the Indians attracted to the horse. Prior to the horse, access to buffalo was sporadic; as they had to be hunted and killed on foot. They often used the "buffalo jump," stampeding them over cliffs. The Horse gave them mobility; and they could pursue the buffalo. As a result, they became nomadic, had no need to stay in one place. This also caused contact with other Indian groups, and led to animosity; conflict. Crow and Sioux Indians became bitter enemies; but Cheyenne and Arapaho became allies.

Contact with other tribes required development of sign language. Also developed pictograms. There had been no sign language before this time, as there was no need.

Plains Indians had a population was 200,000 by 1800. Among them, the most warlike were the Blackfoot; they were incredibly warlike. No one messed with them.

Living arrangements were dictated by the horse and by their nomadic lifestyle. They lived in a Tepee, typically 15 – 17 feet tall. It was egg-shaped, not round; could be easily dismantled and transported. It was made of Buffalo hides stitched together. The backside of the Tepee was straight, almost perpendicular, with the front sloped towards it. This created a draft so that smoke would be drawn out the top. It could be dismantled in about 15 minutes, and put up in about 30 minutes. It was pulled on a device known as a travois. (see diagram)

Certain etiquette prevailed. One would announce himself before entering another’s tepee. If invited, he would go in; but only if invited in. Upon entering, one always moved from right to left inside, never the other way.

Plains Indians carried nothing they did not absolutely need. Dogs had to work as guards or to pull the travois, they were NOT kept merely as pets. When the dog couldn’t pull his weight any more, he was killed and eaten. Dogs were a regular part of the plains Indian diet.

The same was true of horses, although horses also constituted wealth. Once they became too old to work or be of value, they were eaten.

If the tribe settled near a tree line, a fence was build around the teepee as a wind-break. Tepees always had an opening facing the East. That way the backside normally was hit by wind first, and could absorb the force of the wind. Also, there was a spiritual reason. Indians were NOT sun worshipers, but thought that the sun was the most powerful representation of the Great Spirit. This was similar to a cross in a church. So, in morning, the first thing they saw was the sun, which reminded them of the Great Spirit.

The Buffalo was extremely vital to plains Indians. It was their ultimate source of life (see diagram). Skin from the neck was used to make war shields. Lewis and Clark counted over 200 uses the Indians made of the Buffalo.

Tribal Management: Tribes were very small; members were closely related biologically. Outside members were normally related by marriage. There were normally approximately 150 members, with a maximum of 300. Because they were nomadic, they needed to keep their numbers small. Larger groups were harder to defend; were also noisier and smellier; easier for the buffalo to detect, which made hunting difficult. Buffalo could easily be spooked.

Tribal Government was very simplistic There was a tribal council, but family groups were not divided as in the Woodlands Indians. There were multiple chiefs (6 – 8) in charge of War, Peace, Spiritual matters, hunting, even women and children.

Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians was chief of Women and Children; but a fierce fighter.

Decisions of the tribal council were not enforced; individuals were not obligated to follow them; but one could not do anything that would hurt the tribe as a whole. If one wanted peace and the tribe wanted war, one was not obligated to fight; so there was some individuality; but the welfare of the tribe came first.

The Chiefdoms were granted on the basis of wisdom and intelligence. It was not won in battle, nor was it inherited. One did not become chief simply because his father had been.

Marriage was expected and practiced, but multiple marriages were also practiced and approved. There were normally many more single women than men, because of wars, and women needed a man, so more than one wife was quite common. If another woman hit on a woman’s husband, she was not offended; in fact it was normally considered a complement: she had a good catch.

Marriage ceremony was quite simple. One didn’t "buy" his wife; but he did have to earn the respect of his future father in law; normally by bringing gifts to him, indicating one’s bravery and competence. Usually horses were a good indication that one was a competent warrior. Horses were a symbol of wealth, the only symbol of wealth practiced by the plains Indians; so if one brought, say, four horses to his prospective father in law, it meant that he was a good warrior, as he had to capture the horses from an enemy. The gift proved one’s mettle. The marriage ceremony was short and sweet. In it the girl raised her arms to the North, East, West, and South.

A woman had some say so in whom she married. Could turn down a prospective husband in some particular situations. If she were a virgin, among the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Crow, she could refuse to marry a man……but the father in law got to keep the goodies! If she was not a virgin, if she "had a hole in her moccasin" (Indian phrase), by reason of a relationship with someone other than the prospective husband, she had no choice if the father agreed to the marriage. If she were not a virgin, and married another man, the first man could come back and claim her, and she had no choice but to go with him. Husband had no recourse. One did not fight, as this was considered dishonorable; and any emotional response was considered demeaning.

There were two weird groups in these tribes:

Berdache: This was a man who lived his life as a woman. Not necessarily gay, but may well have been. There were gay Indians. He behaved like a woman, dressed like a woman, and performed womanly chores. He did not fight, and was a woman in almost every aspect of life. There was no negative connotation to this; there was no attitude of scorn, or slanderous remarks. The Indians believed that Nature (or the Great Spirit) had made this person that way, so he was accepted as such……it was considered to be not of the persons choice. ("Born, not made.")

Contrary: This was one who brought shame on himself. He may have stolen, avoided the hunt, shown cowardice in battle, not do something he should have done in battle, etc. He was required to do everything backwards. He walked backwards, rode his horse backwards, hello meant goodbye and vice versa, he washed in the sand and dried in the river; if a "charge" order was given in battle, he retreated, and if a retreat order given, he charged. EVERYTHING HE DID WAS COMPLETELY BACKWARDS. One was required to keep up this backward conduct until such time as his honor was restored, by whatever means.

Among Plains Indians, children were highly valued.  The greatest gift of nature was the birth of a child.  The father made a public vow to protect and instruct the child, and one did NOT DARE retract a vow; it was kept until death.  Friends and family gave gifts to the child…not to the parents, but to the child.

             Childbirth was spaced; and birth control practiced.  Normally a second child was not born until the first could walk.  This gave the mother a chance to regain her health; gave the tribe some population control, and gave the first child 2 – 3 years of undivided attention. A child assumed the parents name, but got a new name upon its first accomplishment in life. The mother, relatives, and entire tribe participated in rearing the child.  Discipline was not a big issue; one was taught that his wishes, desires, etc. were subservient to the welfare of the tribe.  They did not normally receive physical punishment; rather one reasoned with them, showed them the error of their ways.

           Children were taught not to cry; particularly boys:  It was considered a sign of weakness.  They were taught proper instruction by means of instruction; particularly legends and myths. Children wore no clothes until about age four.  At that age, Boys got instruction in their life’s work; were given a bow and arrow, and instructed in their use; by age 5-6, they were given a knife, which they always carried.  It was to be used as a tool, not as a weapon.  if the child failed to learn adult responsibilities, the father was publicly shamed, he had failed, and he was responsible.  Girls were taught domestic chores as early as age four; they collected buffalo chips, learned the “finger test,” etc.

             One would stick a finger in a buffalo chip, like in cake batter to see if it was done.  If stuff stuck to one’s finger, it was still to wet, if the finger came out dry, it was good to use as fuel for the fire.

             Unlike Woodlands Indians, Plains Indian women had very little authority.  They were taught early on that they were subservient to the men A young female early on sought a mate as child bearing and rearing were critical.  The wife was to provide for her man; if she could not or had no man to care for, she was forced out of the tribe, as she had no function.  This was a certain death sentence.

             The wife made clothing, manufactured tools, cooked meals, etc.  If she did not perform these duties, she was not contributing to the welfare of the tribe, and could be forced out.  An elderly widow with no sons to care for her would also be banished.  Her tepee would be raided and cut up, and she would be turned out.  If she had sons of her own, they were obligated to care for her.

             If she had no sons, her only way to stay alive was to offer other services, which normally meant becoming a prostitute.  If so, she was paid in food, hides, etc.  An older woman with a married daughter could stay with the daughter only if the son in law could take her in.  He was not obligated to do so, but if he did, which happened when he called her “mother,” he was obligated, and could not back down.  Among the Sioux and Crow, if the son in law used any part of his mother in laws name, he had adopted her, and was obligated to care for her the rest of her days.

             Death was a part of life.  The typical male’s life expectancy was 35 years.  Exposure, disease, often killed people, due to extremes of temperatures in the Great Plains.  Also, there were many war casualties.  Grief was incredibly serious.  Grief was displayed immediately, and did not stop until one also died.  Women would offer prayer to the Great Spirit, and also would chop off a finger of their hand at the first joint if she lost a husband or son. Grief was externalized.  Lopping off the finger was a reminder of the lost loved one who was never forgotten.  Since daily labor required the use of one’s fingers, one was constantly reminded of the dear departed. Men performed a less dramatic form of self-mutilation.  They normally would slice their arms the length of the forearm, or even their chest, which would create a scar as a permanent reminder of the death of a wife or child. Women did not mutilate themselves if a daughter died.  She might cut her hair, as hair had spiritual significance to them also; and cutting the hair indicated some sense of grief.

 Vision Quest:  This was something the Plains Indians were big into.  It was sometimes called the Sun Dance.  Prior to the Horse, only a few tribes performed, but with the interrelationship of tribes after the horse was introduced, it became commonplace. Among almost all tribes.

 The ceremony was conducted for several reasons:  

bulletIt was a quest for vision; a try to tap into the Great Spirit, and see what did the Great Spirit foresee for the tribe.  One could see his own destiny or the tribe’s.  He might see where the buffalo would be plentiful, etc.
bulletIt proved courage.  The ceremony was life threatening.
bulletIt could be used to stimulate revenge.
bulletIt proved one’s worth to the tribe, showed that one was worthy, and of some use to the tribe.

 This ceremony is shown in the Movie:  A Man Called Horse with Richard Harris.

 The Blackfoot required one to undergo this ceremony before one could become a warrior.

 The Vision Quest Ceremony

    Important Note!!!!  Notice is hereby given that a passing grade of "B" or better is hereby guaranteed to any student who will complete the Vision Quest ceremony before Thanksgiving break!!!  (Proper verification required).


   In June, a Sun Dance lodge was constructed.  It normally was near the forest, so that wood would be available.  If a large tribe was involved, it might be build open-air; without walls, so that more people could watch A search was begun for a Sundance Pole.  Cottonwood was the preferred choice, as the cottonwood tree had spiritual significance.  It might take several days to locate a proper tree from which to construct the pole.


 A preparatory ceremony was begun.  Feasts, dancing, singing, spiritual leader of the tribe often led in prayer to the Great Spirit.  The man pledged to participate received spiritual instruction from holy leaders; like preparatory classes before one joins a church. The man who was to participate fasted 3 – 5 days; no food, minimal water.


 Sunrise on the day before the ceremony, the participant went to a spot outside the village and stood for 24 hours; every fifteen minutes, he would raise his arms and offer prayer to be made worthy.  (This after five days of fasting!) He normally had an advisor with him at this time.

 One did not cheat: Indians valued honesty as much as life itself; one that lied or cheated would be banished from the tribe.


 He was taken to a sweat lodge for purification – this was something of a sauna with hot rocks.  This was to purge all evil from his spirit; then his spiritual advisor led him to the Sundance Lodge. He was then literally skewered upon a set of hooks (see diagram), and lifted up into the air.  He must not react at all.  He was given an eagle feather whistle to blow to vent his pain, but he must not cry out. 


  Buffalo rawhide strips were attached to the hooks, and by these he was hoisted into the air, and dangled by the hooks in his chest.


  Presumably, one’s mind was blank, and one would experience a vision.


 After one regained consciousness, he was cut down, and then recounted vision to spectators.  It was considered the absolute truth, although it might need to be interpreted.

Hoisting was only one method; one could be skewed several ways, in the chest or back.  (See diagram).  Some idiots did it two or three times.  

Some were skewered and remained that way for days; others purposely leaned to apply pressure to increase pain.  One had to be unconscious to get the vision.  Sometimes, weights were attached and straps pulled until one passed out.  Often one would die from the ceremony.  

            All the Plains Indians performed this ceremony by 1800.  Sitting Bull went through it several times; the third time was just before the Battle of Little Bighorn Creek.  In his vision, he saw “bluecoats” falling to earth upside down.  He couldn’t understand, but other holy men interpreted it that the bluecoats would be killed.  And, in fact, 200 men, including Custer, were killed.  

Good book:  Blackelk Spears.

 Northwest Indians

             Northwest Indians ranged from Southern Alaska to Northern California.  They included the Tlingit, Chinook, Hupa, Tillamook, Nootra and Haida.   

            Eskimos are really Indians!  

            NW Indians lived and died by the sea.  They lived in a damp, cool environment, so they lived in sturdy, permanent homes.  They did not move unless there was some very significant occurrence. Housing was made of planks, as there were plenty of hardwood forests with many trees.  Houses had wooden steps, floors, roofs, etc.       They used dugout canoes, which could hold up to 20 men for Ocean Fishing.  Fished for Halibut, Cod, and Shellfish; in freshwater, they fished for Salmon.  Fish and seafood was a primary element of their diet.  Some little amount of farming and hunting, but this was supplemental to their diet. Also hunted humpback whales, seals, sea otters, walrus, etc. 

            Communities were densely populated; normally 3,000 – 5,000 people.  There were three groupings within a single community


One division near coast which fished, and hunted whale and otter.


One group on interior rivers which fished for salmon.


One group near Forest line of forest, harvested timber, also engaged in hunting, gathering

ll fish and game was stored in a central warehouse, along with all crops; Tools, clothing, etc. were equally distributed.  All shared equally regardless of in which group one lived within the entire community.

 These communities were chiefdoms, not tribes.  There was normally one chief, responsible for the division of food and other essentials.  He was chosen by the community, normally on the basis of his ethics and integrity.  He had no political authority, but was solely responsible for division of property.  He was more of a chief economist or quartermaster than a chief.  He was more of a figurehead than anything else.  He lived in the largest house which was more ornate than others; he also had a larger share of food, clothing, and personal property.

 The chief enjoyed intense loyalty from the members of his community.  He did not have to perform any physical labor, although he had no political authority; sort of like the Queen of England.  He had no way to “command” his people; his ability to lead was based on the respect the community afforded him.

Lyndon Johnson had pretty much the same ability.  He often used the “Johnson treatment” to get his way, getting right in people’s faces to “reason” with them.

 Wealth was important to the Northwest Indians.  It determined one’s social status; the major purpose in life was to acquire wealth.  Typically, the chief’s family was the wealthiest family.  It determined ones social status; “pecking order.” Wealth was determined by how many boats, garments one owned; how big was one’s house, etc.  Quite a “yuppie” way of measuring.  Wealth was used to gain respect.  In a ceremony known as the Potlatch, one invited others to visit in the home; family, neighbors, etc. and gave away one’s possessions.  It demonstrated ones compassion, generous nature, sharing.  In tern, the community respected one.

 During one notable potlatch ceremony, one family gave away 8 canoes, 7,000 brass bracelets, 31,000 blankets, 8 slaves, and 54 Elk hides.  Over 50 seals were eaten as part of the ceremony.  Quite a big ‘to do.”  The entire object of wealth was to give it away, and gain respect.  

NW Indians did capture and enslave Indians from other tribes.

 The Potlatch was used to gain a higher social standing.  Quite often, it was for the benefit of one’s children, who acquired a higher standing when they became adults because of one’s generosity.

 Monogamous relationships were expected, and normally enforced.  If one’s wife had an affair with another man of the same social rank, the family of the offending man punished him, not the husband.  Same for the offending female. If an extramarital affair crossed social ranks, if it were a man with a woman of higher rank, his family had to kill two male members of the family; but not the offender.  One member of the woman’s family must also die.  The lower rank always killed two members; the upper rank only one.  After all this, the husband of the offending woman received gifts from the community to console him.

 Maintenance of social order was important, similar to the old racial lines of division that existed for many years in the U.S.

 The NW Indians were the only ones to raise a Totem Pole.  Normally the home also had pictures, drawings, etc. on the outside representing members of the family.  The Pole was something of a family crest; representing members of the family, and also indicating achievements; events in the family’s life, etc.

 The NW Indians did not develop the Totem Pole; it was brought there from the Philippines.  Magellan’s sailors noted totem poles in Philippines.  By 1790’s, Philippine and Hawaiian sailors were docking in NW; brought totem poles with them, which were adopted by the Indians.

 No totem poles were noted before 1790.  Sailors, explorers, etc. make no mention of them in their records.  First mention is in 1794.

 Southwest Indians

The Anasazi (name means “ancient ones”) lived in the Four Corners area of the SW U.S. 

 Cliff dwellers used apartment construction or cave dwellings.  In this atmosphere, the temperature was cooler, they were protected from animals and war parties.  They farmed in the valleys, and accessed their homes by means of ladders. One family lived in each apartment.  There were 10-12 major communities, numerous smaller communities. They were primarily farmers, agricultural communities, but were very complex.  Major irrigation systems were constructed 12, 000 years ago—this predates the European system of irrigation of crops in Europe.   They produced surplus goods for trade, and had roads which extended from four corners area as far as Los Angeles; possibly as far as Denver and Mexico City.

 About 1300 A.D., they vacated.  Not sure why; may have been invaded by Apache, Ute, or Navajo.  It is possible that environmental reasons caused them to move; such as a climactic  change.  At any rate they disappeared; and apparently intermingled, intermarried with other Indian groups.


 Pueblo Indians :These were mostly the Zuni or Hopi Indians who lived in apartments, subdivided by class.  There were 13 clans among the Zuni; with large family groups.  They lived in Adobe structures. They were matrilineal; women controlled the home, one normally married outside of clan, to keep bloodlines pure. Monogamy was expected, but not enforced.  Offences were rather common.  Wife could divorce a husband if he cheated; but man could not divorce the wife.  One divorced her husband by putting his belongings outside the door.

Each man was assigned an agricultural task, such as growing corn or beans.  He would belong to a society which grew that crop, such as a corn society; a tobacco society, etc.  Men worked in the fields and women did domestic chores; but women controlled the work, and dictated affairs. Each village was autonomous from all others.  Only connection was a confederation arrangement which was solely for defense. 

Government was mainly theocratic.  Communities were divided into religious societies.  Religious leaders often affected political decisions.   One joined a religious society be invitation; he was not born into it.  Each society had it’s own holy man, its own ceremony, its own kieva, (its place of meeting, like a church); and normally met underground. Each group was represented by a holy spirit, called a Cachina.   There were more than 200 cachinas.   They believed this spirit visited once each year; men wore masks representing the spirit, and in so doing, the men literally became the spirit.  Only done once a year.  Children were reared with a cachina doll.  The doll was not sacred, but was a way to rear the child in the faith.  (Eddie has Cachina doll.) 

Riparian Indians: Included the Papagos and the Pima Indians.  They were desert dwellers, preferably near water; near border of US./Mexico.  They farmed with limited irrigation; principal food was corn.  They were very peaceful, and avoided war like the plague; only fought when they were physically attacked.  

One of the heroes who raised the flat at Iwo Jima in World War II was a Pima Indian.  He is quite an anomaly. 

 Intruders:  These included the Apache and Navajo, who preyed off other Indian communities.  They engaged in some small farming, but most food and tools was acquired by raiding other villages.  They did some hunting and farming, and lived in a house called a Wickiup, with a mud base and a thatched roof. An extremely small number of Apaches lived in Tepees; No Navajos did.  Navajo’s lived in a Hogan, with eight sides.

Among the Navajo, a man could have multiple wives, but the society was matrilineal.  He could only have multiple wives if he could provide for all the families.  Each wife had her own home, the husband was something of a “visiting father.”  While in that house, she ruled the roost. 

After contact with the Spanish, the Navajo began herding sheep; sheep then became a symbol of wealth

General Information  

    Indian culture and civilization was not static, particularly in the more advanced South American Indian culture.  There was considerable disunity, disorder, and rebellion, particularly among the Aztecs, Maya, and Inca.  This division left them easy prey to conquest.  North American Indians were considerably less organized than their Central and South American counterparts, but did manage to survive much longer against the onslaught of Europeans. Even so, although their culture had existed in North America for thousands of years, Native Americans were ill-prepared to deal with the invasion of Europeans, or to compete successfully with European culture:


Indians had no use of the wheel, other than small toys. 


Iron and metal tools were virtually unknown.  Tools and weapons were made primarily of bone, wood, or stone.  Tomahawks, bows and arrows, etc. were no match for European firearms.


Only dogs were used as beasts of burden.  The last North American horses had disappeared long before.


Although South American Indians had a system of hieroglyphical writing, no such system of writing existed for North American Indians.  Northeast Indians conveyed messages by bead patterns, (Wampum belts) and the Incas of Peru used cords containing knots. 


Disunity was common among the Indian tribes.  This disunity prevented them from presenting a united front against invading Europeans.  Although the Indians of Central and South America were organized into highly developed civilizations with large cities, the death of a leader often resulted in confusion and disarray. 


Some South American Indians, notably the Aztecs, frequently practiced human sacrifice.  The Aztecs believed that their chief god, Quetzalcoatl, thrived on human blood.  Often times, tribes conquered by the Aztecs were forced to provide victims for sacrifice. 

    Despite their obvious inability to resist, the American Indians did manage to survive and adapt to changing circumstances.  They quickly adopted European technology and weaponry, primarily metal tools (fish-hooks, etc) and weapons, primarily guns.  In many instances, they actually converted Europeans to their way of life.  Many of the "lost" colonies of early North America were actually absorbed by the Indians.  Others either voluntarily joined Indian society or voluntarily remained there after having been captured.


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