Wednesday, February 19, 2014

To Kiss or Not to Kiss, That is The Question - By Ginger Simpson

In 2013, when I first started Cowboy Kisses, I posted a blog that dealt with whether or not American Indians during the 1800s really kissed, and was their courting something we commonly read about in Romance novels.  I indicated that I was seeking the answer, and after exhausting all my own avenues, I sought an answer from "Ask the Experts." I'm sharing the answer I received here, but first...the following is the blog I posted in early 2013.

There has long been controversy over whether or not Indian lovers kissed.  Of course, no one can forget Kevin Costner (Lt. Dunbar) and his beautiful Indian woman, Stands With a Fist, and their toe-tingling liplocks in Dances with Wolves.  Did the writer take creative license and expand the romance for the sake of making the movie more appealing?  I know, as a romance author, I've had some pretty passionate scenes in my books, but I can't find much written about the "custom."  I recently sent off an email to an American Indian forum and I'm waiting for a response, but what I discovered in by book, The Sioux by Royal B. Hassrick casts a little black cloud over my passionate nature.  :)  NOTE:  I never received a response from the forum.

I quote, "Lovers were never to be seen holding hands, and man and wife never showed any affection in public.  There is no intimation here that the Sioux failed to know all that is necessary to know about the intimacies of marital affection, but this knowledge could not be bandied about.  Any overt expression of affection would be uncouth."

The author further states that in events where women and men were both in attendance, they sat separately, with the women keeping their eyes downcast and whispering only to their neighbor.  Likewise, the men did not exchange glances with the females as modesty and reserve "were the essence of fortitude." -
It sounds to me that what went on behind the closed tepee flaps shall forever remain secret, but the fact that it wasn't uncommon for young married couples to spend years with their elders might have provided less chance for intercourse or romance of any type.

It's great to be a fiction author.  Although I can guarantee most of my facts are historically accurate, I cannot with any certainty say that kissing was indeed a custom practiced in private by the Lakota.  I hope to get an answer from someone who might know.  :)  Feel free to share any resources here in the comments.  I think we'd all like to know. I'll share with you the questions I asked, and the answers I received.  May I say, I have no idea why I referred to an OAK tree when I correctly researched the type and have it in the opening chapter of Yellow Moon, my current WIP.

Subject: Intimacy & Kissing among early American Indians
I'm an author, and as someone who writes historical fiction, I try to keep my historical facts straight.  I've been able to research most of what I need in order to be credible, but very little is available about the intimacy among Native American couples, specifically whether or not they actually kissed.  I've written mainly about the Lakota and do realize that public displays of affection were frowned upon, and courting usually took place beneath a blanket away from prying eyes.  Of course, as most authors, I've taken creative license to create romance scenes as shown in movies such as Dances with Wolves, but the two main characters were both of white heritage.  I really would like an answer or an idea where I might find written resources that I can share with my peers via my blog.  Thank you in advance for your help.

Ginger Simpson

ANSWER: Dear Ms. Simpson;
Your question is a bit difficult, as it does vaguely date the people in question to the historic past, as if they remain an anthropological study in several folders in a storage bin somewhere. The answer is as individual as your characters will be when your work is completed. I can only answer from my own experience, as you have already stated how reserved and apparently devoid of public expressions of affection the Lakota traditional culture is.

In my relationships with many different people and families of the Hopi, Zuni, Pueblo and Navajo cultures, bear this out. A light touch on the hand or shoulder and a quick hug were all that were ever displayed in our presence. Even after many years of friendship. We attended a wedding of a Zia Pueblo couple in Zia Pueblo in the ancient adobe church there. A quick peck on the lips, and the marriage was sealed. While I've never seen an Indian couple "making out" in public, we don't think there is any social compulsion to behave differently than any other race when in private.

One tip off was experiencing the lustiness of their humor. The Hopi were the fastest to rise to "testing" us with "off-color" humor which we enjoyed immensely and when we had known Navajo families a bit longer, they too, would pull our legs and poke fun in a decidedly sexual nature from time to time. So it's pretty clear they enjoy it. They just don't show it off. The people we knew made a point of providing space and time to courting couples, so they could be alone and out of sight as necessary.

In terms of the Lakota, there are some well-documented examples of the difficulty, especially for women, within their culture, for free expression. I would recommend a book, Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog for it's personal view of Lakota culture and how it has confronted the modern society and consumer culture. As long as you're not doing Fifty Shades of Red, or some such equivalent, I think portraying your characters with a certain degree of shyness between the sexes would do the trick. Best wishes for your ongoing research. I hope this is helpful;

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you...this was indeed helpful, and I have ordered "Lakota Woman" by Mary Crow Dog as you suggested and I'm really hoping to find standards as they applied during the 1800s when the Sioux Indian were still plentiful on lands promised them by the US...specifically the Lakota in the Black Hills  My work-in-progress, Yellow Moon, is the story of a young Sioux maiden who is selected to be among those virtuous women searching for the proportionate COTTONWOOD oak  to use for the sun dance.  Since most of my reading has been of other "romance" type books about the Indians, and restricted to research based solely on the rituals and cultural life of the tribe at that time, I'm totally in the dark as to how courting would have occurred.  Would a young man have approached her at the river while she filled buffalo bladders with water? Would he have hinted that he wanted to know more about her and that the feasting during the first four nights of the sun-dance might be the appropriate time to ask her more?  I wasn't very clear in my original question, and for that I apologize, but I'm hoping between your expertise and the book, I can learn what is appropriate to history.

Thank you so much.

Ginger Simpson
The proper forked tree for the Sundance would have doubtlessly been a Cottonwood, which are know to draw lightning strikes and live. Courting, is still very similar, in that the initial approach is through an elder female of the intended's family. Even her name, would only be revealed under proper conditions. For example, a young man might approach one of her friends to ask who he might ask about her. The referrals would progress up the chain to an elder -- probably her mother's oldest sister, who might suggest the introduction to her mother. It is complicated. Young men in that day, would not have the right to approach directly, nor would the two be seen in public unless accompanied by an elder woman. However, at night, the ritual of the Courting Flute arose, to provide an audible clue as to where the young man might wait under cover of darkness, for his intended to meet him. She would hear the melody faintly, from inside her parents' lodge and would give some excuse to rise -- bathroom call, etc. -- go outside and follow the sound of the flute to him where they might share a few moments before she returned to her parents lodge. At some point in their courtship, Once his interest in her had been accepted by the elders of her family and her parents, he would send her a gift, which, if she accepted him, would be accepted publicly in front of her parents, at which time, his identity and familial connections could be shared: clan, honors, etc. At this time, she would have accepted his betrothal. I'm not sure if anything beyond the slightest, least important contact could be arranged during Sundance, when the dancers as well as the entire community are on their best behavior, focused upon the needs of the greater community to assure the success of the intercession of the spirits upon seeing the purity of the sacrifice. Stray thoughts even, personal matters such as this, would be considered as working against the ritual, so they would be kept to chance meetings, and little else. For more detail, I suggest you contact a Lakota Community such as Rosebud, SD. The tribal government may have a public information officer who can pout you in touch with appropriate elders. Glad to be of some help.
Richard Sutton
Kiva Trading Company

Needless to say, I have some serious re-writing to do.  So much for my opening where Yellow Moon meets him at the river because he's followed her there.  Shucks!  I guess "Watch for you wish for," could also be translated to "Don't ask unless you really want to know!"  *smile*  I guess Thunder Eyes is going to follow the chain of Elders to find out more about the woman of interest to him.  Boy...this story is taking a serious turn and I hope my character knows where she's going, cause I certainly don't.  I'm hoping Mary Crow Dog can be of help. I'll keep you posted.


Caroline Clemmons said...

Isn't it interesting that the rules are similar to those of the Spanish with a dueƱa and to the English Regency period? Nice to know you wouldn't be seeing kids making out in shopping malls.

Lyn Horner said...

What a fascinating topic, Ginger. Thank you for sharing your correspondence with us. I've wondered about whether Native Americans kissed or not, too. My dad's first wife was Eskimo (Inuit is probably the proper name.) When I was little he used to rub noses with me, saying that's what Eskimos did. It made me giggle!

Ginger Jones Simpson said...

Thanks to you two for stopping by and sharing comments. I so appreciate the support.