A story given to me by Calling Horse on the Eighth Law of the Red Man
8. YOU SHALL NOT STEAL
The Amethyst Necklace
We all had certain belongings which were owned solely by us as individuals. Then there were things which belonged to the family and finally, tribal possessions such as the totem pole, the medicines and herbs, the magic stones or crystals and the ancestral belongings. These would be stored in the chief’s teepee and consisted of talismans, head gear, necklaces and sometimes even bones and teeth of ancestors. These things were venerated and could not be given away. They belonged to the whole tribe. They were very precious as they were believed to hold great power. They were not allowed to be used for trading purposes, but occasionally, wandering people who had usually been expelled from their tribe would try to barter with such objects. They had little else to offer. They could not carry very much in their travelling mode and so these small objects were precious to them. They had probably obtained these objects by stealing them, but strangely, people had no reverence for talismans from other tribes with regard to the sanctity of property. They still believed that the objects held power, but they did not think it wrong to possess them. If they had been objects from their own chief’s collection, they would have been very frightened of owning them, thinking that evil would soon be upon them in retribution for violating the tribal law.
I remember a time when a traveller came and offered us some beautiful gem stones which he said he had mined by digging in the river bed some way away. My mother thought they were very lovely. They were spears of amethyst. She exchanged some skins and food for the jewels and wound them into a necklace for herself. She was very proud of this new aquisition.
A few months later we were visited by a group from an adjacent tribe. They celebrated with us at our feast. Mother wore her regalia.
The visiting chief’s son’s eyes lighted on mother’s necklace
“Where did you get those from?”
Mother clutched at her amethysts and told them about the travelling man.
”Was he so high, with two teeth missing at the top front, and had no little finger on his right hand?”
“That was him.” said my mother, turning pale.
“Those jewels came from our ancestral collection.” said the chief’s son.
“Oh, dear, you had better have them back then!” said Mother, horror struck.
“No, no, they are yours now, you have exchanged them in good faith for skins and food. You were not to know they were stolen. Where is the rogue now, do you know?”
“He departed fairly soon after he arrived,” replied my mother, “and strangely, now you mention it, our chief has been complaining about some stones going missing too. He had some lovely turquoise stones which he used to place on the throats of people suffering from problems in that area. He could not find them to treat my son recently.”
“It is very hard to survive outside of the protection of a tribe. One can see how travellers feel obliged to steal or rob. They are therefore not to be trusted. While they must be respected and treated humanely, people who are unattached and who roam freely have to be carefully watched in case they remove one’s possessions in the night. It is not a crime to travel alone but those who do are still under the watchful eye of the Great Spirit. They should learn the skills of the hunter or the miner or craftsman, so that they have something legitimate to sell. Then indeed is the travelling life blessed.”
So said the chief’s son as he departed from our celebrations.