Keep the feasts, learn the dances, respect the taboos. Law No.4 (a story about Traditions of North American Indians)

This story is told in the modern idiom by an ancient  guide named ‘Calling Horse’ who came to me in meditation to explain in story the codes of conduct of his tribe. This is Law Number Four, about keeping the feasts, learning the dances and respecting the taboos of the tribe.

First some information from Calling Horse:

Feasts were of great importance to the Native American. That is what you call us these days is it not? We would celebrate with great enthusiasm those events mentioned in my story. Being social events they held the tribe together. People could meet and talk, with no distractions of work needing to be done. People could make up their quarrels in the camaraderie of the dance. Their hearts would be warmed by all the activity and hard attitudes would soften. Feasts were also a good time for young people to see and meet each other. They broke up what would otherwise have been a very hard life, filled with work, the work of staying alive.
The dances were an important part of our tradition. They conveyed the meaning of things which were very important to us in our lives and gave expression to them. Complicated rhythms would be developed, enabling people to feel the vibrations of the music in their bodies. This would sometimes prepare them for a task, or add to the celebration of a particular event. The story of the tribe was held in the dances. They were very sacred to us. The taboos enabled us to conduct ourselves in acceptable ways, where every one knew quite clearly what could or could not be done or said. Likewise the customs gave us a framework for our lives. Customs surrounding birth, death and initiation into manhood and so on all played an important part in the development of the tribe and its members.

My tribe, the Magi, was a small tribe which disappeared many years ago.
We all had our different customs and sometimes tribes would merge and take on the identity of a neighbouring tribe as well as their own.
The Magi Tribe joined forces with the Seeni Tribe and the two of them pooled their customs, threw out a few old practices and took on the best aspects of each other’s traditions.
As each child grew up it would be educated in the ways of the tribe. When the two tribes merged, it was obvious that there would be a little rivalry between the children of the two tribes, each vying with their opposites to show that their way was best.
There was a ceremony which took place at the end of the hunting season. This was to thank the Great Spirit for the bounty of the Earth. The animals had to be left in peace to breed for some months and we would only catch certain small animals at these times. However, just before this rather lean time there would be a great celebration. Meat would be roasted. Costumes would be prepared and all the traditional dances of the occasion would be practiced by the young ones, so that they knew what to do when the big event came.
At the time of the Great Joining of the two tribes, the children were trying to make sure that it was their dance which would be performed. It was decided that they should show each other what they could do. The ones which could last the longest without being tedious for the onlookers to watch, their dance would be deemed to be the best and would be adopted as the one for the new conjoined tribe. This led to great hilarity amongst the dancers because nobody wanted to be accused of being boring. They improvised all sorts of activities which were added to their traditional movements. Finally the elders said that they were all so good, it would be impossible to choose between them. So they would have to copy the elders…. The youngsters then watched a majestic performance depicting the chase and the slaughter of the deer, first by one tribe, then by the other. They were so similar that it was decided that either or both dances would be acceptable.
As to the question of taboos there were many of these in some tribes and very few in others. Some tribes used to forbid the taking of ‘fire water’, others tolerated it. Some tribes would not talk of their newly dead until a certain time had elapsed, believing that the dead soul needed every chance he could have to be judged fairly by the Great Spirit and if they gossiped and talked about the person, they might jeopardize a fair trial. There were taboos associated with birth. Usually the men were not allowed anywhere near the mother in labour and not until the child was seen to be healthy and ‘in good suck’ was the father allowed to see his offspring.
If two tribes conjoined, the chiefs would have to discuss their taboos in great detail to see if any changes needed to be made regarding what was acceptable and what was not. It rarely led to arguments but it could lead to unnecessary superstition.
Once I remember hearing about a certain group who believed that the new moon was a Goddess that had to be appeased and when she appeared the husbands were not allowed to sleep with their wives on that first night after her appearance. It they did, they lived in fear of her retribution. This led to all sorts of threats and cheating of course. Eventually it was abandoned by the tribe as the chief decided it caused more trouble than it was worth!
There were many feasts to be kept. The tribes enjoyed an excuse for a party. They loved to dress up in their feathers and their paint and dance the night away, as you say. There would be feasts to celebrate the initiation of the chief; this would be repeated every year until the old chief died and another replaced him. Then the timing of the event would be changed of course according to when the new chief was initiated. There would be feasts to celebrate the births of babies in families where there had been some difficulty in producing a child. There would be feasts in honour of the Sun and the Moon. Each tribe would have sacred animals which they considered to be God’s messengers and they would celebrate in the name of these animals.
They would celebrate if they had won a battle over another tribe, or if having moved camp they had found a really good new place to settle in. They would celebrate if they had a death of a great personage in the tribe knowing that he or she would now be with the Great Spirit, and they would make supplications to that person to put in a good word for the tribe and to ask for boons such as good hunting and good health.

Feasts and traditions

Feasts and traditions

dancing would go on all night long. People were allowed to retire if they became too tired and usually the young mothers and fathers would take their small offspring back home well before the celebrations had ended.
The next day was always a rest day. People were not expected to hunt or to fish after a feast. No clothes washing was done, nor any major preparing of food. The remains of the meat cooked on the fire the previous day would suffice. Every one felt pleasantly exhausted and would stumble around amiably. This was a vulnerable time for the tribes, as their enemies would know they could be overcome most easily at this time. Certain young warriors were supposed to have kept themselves on the alert, and would act as guards on the day after a feast, posting themselves well outside the camp, watching for any signs of warlike activity. Normally there would be no trouble, but in times of food shortage, hard winters or bad weather, tribes would chance their luck and try to raid another tribes’ food supply for example. So there were drawbacks as well as benefits to all those marvellous celebrations.


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