Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Counting Coup?

I'm sure many of you have heard the term 'coup' (pronounced coo or ku) used in western movies.  Coup points were awarded to distinguish the bravery and daring of an Lakota Sioux warrior.  Originally, coup was awarded when one touched an enemy with hand or coup stick, but later, other acts were deemed worth of coup.  At the same time, symbols played an important part in recognition of said deeds.  The first warrior to make contact earned the right to wear a golden eagle feather in an upright position at the rear of his head.  The second brave to touch the same enemy garnered entitlement to wear an eagle feather, but tilted to the left.  The third could wear the feather horizonitally, while the fourth and last wore a buzzard feather which hung vertically.

It's important to note that coup was earned for touching, rather than killing the enemy, and men, women and children counted in that category.  Also, the coup must have been witnessed and sworn to by another member of the tribe, and any warrior who had coup counted upon himself bore great dishonor.

Not all coup was achieved by touch.  A warrior who killed a combatant hand-to-hand, earned the right to display a painted red hand upon his clothing or horse.  Anyone rescuing a friend from battle earned a painted cross on his clothing, and to have ridden the friend upon one's mount may have earned dual crosses to display.  Stripes on leggings also indicated coup status, such as red vertical signified someone who had been wounded.  Notched feathers had significance as did the number of horse hooves painted on someone's clothing.  Stolen mounts were not only a way to garner status, but horses were considered valuable assets in bartering as well as determining one's status in the tribe.

The number four plays an important role in the rituals and beliefs of the Lakota people: Four classes of Gods (superior, associate subordinate, spirits), four elements (sun, moon, sky, stars,) four direction, West, North, East and South,) four times (day, night, month and year,) four parts to all plants (root, stem, leaves,  fruit,) four classes of animals (crawling, flying, four-legged, two-legged,) and four phases of life (infancy, childhood, maturity, and old age.)

As important as the four, also the "round" symbolized the earth, the sun, the moon, and the sky.  Likewise, the winds circled the earth,  the round bodies of animals and plant stems.  The tepee was built in a circular pattern, and the contents arranged likewise.  As with warrior status, the walls inside and out bore the achievements of the lodge dweller.  The historical legacy of a family was often displayed in drawings for all to witness.

From the quilled, beaded, and painted garments they wore, to their decorated horses, lodges and bodies, our brothers and sisters of the Lakota Sioux are a very spiritual group.  They have been for documented centuries and much of the history I've shared today has been garnered from a wonderful book called "The Sioux," by Royal B. Hassrick.  I look forward to sharing more about these fascinating folks in the weeks to come.  I invite you to join me with legends, rituals, and tales of your favorite tribes.  Have a book to promote?  A story to tell?  Email me, and let's share.

1 comment:

Caroline Clemmons said...

Ginger, is there something wrong with the subscribe by email link? I signed up but haven't received your blog in an email.