Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Day In The Life of a Squaw by Ginger Simpson

First, I'd like to offer the definition of "squaw" as found on Wikipedia:  "Squaw" is an English language word, used as a noun or adjective  whose present meaning is an indigenous woman of North America.  It is derived from the eastern Algonquian morpheme meaning 'woman' that appears in numerous Algonquian languages variously spelled squa, skwa, esqua, sqeh, skwe, que, kwa, ikwe, exkwew, xkwe, etc. At present, the term is often held to be offensive.

I'd like to note that my use of the term in my title is in no way intended to be offensive, rather to pay tribute to the hard-working Indian women of the 1800s as shown by my research as relates to the plains Indians, more specifically, the Sioux.

Imagine the creature comforts we enjoy today...the chores we hate, like cleaning toilets, dusting, grocery shopping, and then imagine yourself a Lakota Woman living in a lodge for which you are solely responsible.  Yes, the men killed the buffalo, but once the animal carcasses littered the land,  the women were charged with butchering the meat and remains into every salvageable piece. 

The buffalo supplied almost all the necessities of the tribe.  As well as being a main source of food, other parts of the animal were utilized as well.  For example, the bladder served as water containers, the bones were fashioned into eating utensils.  The skins were used for a wide variety of purposes.  When a baby was born into the tribe, they were often swaddled in a soft calf skin, and in death, a hide served as a shroud.  

Women sewed hides together to make tepee covers, while others were scraped and softened and used as blankets and clothing.  Drums heads, shields, and rattles came from the thick pelt from the neck, and rawhide was made into ropes and sinew for bow strings.  Even the thread used to sew came from the buffalo. 

 A difference between summer kills and winter kills determined the usage as the animal's fur was longer and thicker during the colder period of time.  Butchering and salvaging the animal was no easy feat, but the constant wetting, drying, stretching, and smoking of the hides to soften them took days and wore many blisters onto a woman's hands.  Weaving the hair provided stuffing for cradleboards, moccasins, and other apparel.  Virtually, nothing was wasted.  This might explain why when the white men started slaughtering the animals for sport, the Indian way of life didn't last much longer.

The tepee belonged to the woman.  She created it, put it together, dissembled it for moving and re-erected it many times.  The amount of skins necessary to construct the lodge depended upon the size...often somewhere between six and twenty-eight pelts.  That's a lot of scraping and preparation.  My little bit of dusting is starting to look good.

Unless a "chore" was befitting a warrior, women were responsible for most of the work.  She wasn't just the person who created the clothing, she also adorned dresses and shirts with beads and quills.  She watched the children, made the meals, pounded the clothing clean on river rocks, and was subservient to her husband.  Divorce in those days came as easy as beating a drum and declaring a man was throwing away his wife, and it wasn't uncommon for polygamy... usually sisters married to the same man because it was believed they got along better than two women from separate families.  

I think the only break an Indian woman got was during the monthly time when the males believed a bleeding woman could zap their spiritual energies and strength.  For this reason, a wife was sent to what was commonly called the "women's hut" until her menses had passed.  Men didn't share a part in the of the birthing of a child either.  The responsibility usually fell to the medicine woman and female relatives of the mother-to-be.  Think giving birth today is difficult?  Imagine squatting over a trough dug into the ground while you labor to deliver your baby.  Of course, a stake was driven into the ground to help the woman maintain her balance and squeeze when the pain became intolerable.  Boy, that doesn't sound like fun, does it?  Give me drugs!

I'm sure I've omitted a lot of what the Indian women lived through, but I can hardly go a day without my curling brush and eye glasses.  I can only imagine the dimmed vision of the elderly who didn't have the modern improvements we enjoy.  Beauty had to be in the eye of the beholder, because skin creams, mascara, and blush were decades away.  Think we have it rough?  Think again.  The Indians were a hardy breed until the white man invaded their land and life and brought along diseases likes small pox and diphtheria. Harken back to all the lies the government told and the acreage they stole.  Next time you're pondering which ethnic race was truly treated unfairly....think about the American Indian.   

I've written a few books about the Indian life:
Destiny's Bride
White Heart, Lakota Spirit
Sarah's Heart/Sarah's Passion (past and present day story) and I'm currently working on Yellow Moon which will relay the story of a young Lakota woman.

I think I was a squaw in another life because of my fascination with the Lakota tribe. You can find my work on Amazon, most available both in print and for your Kindle. Little by little, my offerings are being found on various other sites as well, so if you prefer All Romance eBooks, I'm pretty sure you can find my work there, too.

1 comment:

Ellen O'Connell said...

Hi Ginger - Nice article. We need to recognize, however, that while a lot of whites killed buffalo for sport, encouraging the killing was also official policy of the Government for the specific purpose of starving the tribes into submission. The hide and tongue trade helped, of course.

I think today with all our kinder, gentler attitudes, we have trouble accepting the racist viciousness of statements from army officers charged with going after natives along the lines of "nits make lice."

When I researched for my NA romance with an Apache hero, I found statements by government officials along the lines of - send them to places with terrible climates and maybe they'll all die and solve the problem (concerning the imprisonment of the Chiricahua as POWs for 27 years, the first years in climates like Florida and Alabama). And they did die in terrible numbers.

Government documents refer to "concentrating" the tribes. You know, as in concentration camps.

What was done in this country was probably no worse than what was done in Africa, Australia, and other places, but it all showed a truly ugly side of human nature and is heart-breakingly shameful.