Thursday, December 15, 2011

You Want Me to What?

American Indian women in the 1800s had it far tougher than you can imagine.  When the men went on a buffalo hunt and slew hundreds of the huge, shaggy beasts, who do you think did the skinning, the cutting of the meat, the drying, the hide tanning, the recovery of all parts useable?  The women.  Could you fathom your husband telling you to delve up to your elbows into the bloody insides of an animal that big?  I can't.

The plains tribes revered all animals, and only killed for survival.  The buffalo provided the mainstay for the tribes, so when white hunters started killing the animals for sport, taking only the skins and leaving the rest to rot, we can sort of understand why that angered the Indians.  From the buffalo came their food, blankets, lodge coverings, sinew for bows and sewing, bones for needles, utensils and plates, and myriad of other things I've most likely forgotten.  Instead of pulling a needle from a package you bought at Walmart, could you fashion one from a small buffalo bone, or cut tendons and muscles so thin as to create thread with which to sew?  I can't even resew a loose button, so I'm pretty soon I'd suck at life as an Indian woman.

Women were charged with repopulating the tribe so as I mentioned in yesterday's blog, it was uncommon for a brave to take more than one wife.  Girls married at young age, and aspired to become mothers, most giving birth in what was known as the 'women's hut, specifically a home to all things women, including monthly periods.  During birth, a woman squatted next to a stick driven into the ground, and holding tight, she delivered her baby into a special trough in the dirt that held a clean piece of hide with which to swaddle the newborn.  OMG!  I thought having to go through labor without pain meds was the height of torture.  Squatting next to a stick and pushing the kid out into a little ditch? Give me a break.  Natural childbirth was popular long before we ever imagined.

The very place that some young women were born, also served as a place they spent their menstruating time.  Women having their monthly time were considered to possess spirits dangerous to the virility and strength of the braves in the tribe.  For that reason, during those days of the month, menstruating women were isolated from the rest of the tribe.  Yeah, right.  Like God didn't make us suffer enough with cramps and bleeding, now we have to go spend seven days in a little hut, away from everyone else.  I don't think so.  Men should fear us.  I guess maybe PMS was around, just not named back then.

The end of the first period for a Sioux maiden was a time for celebration.  Her friends were treated to a feast, given gifts, and listened to chants recited by the tribal Shaman as he paid homage to the Buffalo Woman deity.  The American Indians were big on rituals and celebrations.  Tomorrow, I'll talk about some of them, like visions questions and honoring the four directions.  BTW, I celebrated the end of my LAST period.  No more buying pads, no more cranky moods, no more monthly agony.  No feasts or parties, but a cause for celebration nonetheless.  See ya later!

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