Obedience to custom and law was not
something to be preached and harped upon by an elder or a chief. It was
more like a part of the way of living. Much like the planets are
obedient to their orbit, there was just an accepted path to be followed.
The world around the people was their teacher. The natural instincts of
the animals were seen and used successfully. Observation and
experimentation practiced with discretion were a part of living,
especially by the very young. There are just too many circumstances to
address individually, but here are a few.
1. Respect of elders taught with love,
"See after Grandmother."
2. Elders accepting the responsibility of
the very young because the elderly were not burdened with the chores for
survival and often saw the child's need. The conquering of the very
young boy by the women in this, a matriarchal society. Men were not
allowed to discipline the young with physical force. "He must not
use his manly strength in such a way." "A woman will not be
dangerous in their discipline so as to hurt a child."
3. Chain of command passed from the
eldest to the youngest in the case of women. Remember, my father was
white so I don't know about the male role to a great degree. My Father
was raised with the Osage so he had a respect and understanding for the
culture, but here again, Osage and Ponca are different.
4. Elder men's roles were respected as to
decision making. However, they were not harsh with authority. It was
considered a weakness of mind for them to impose their strength on a
woman or child. They were shamed or looked down upon if they did not
behave in a way with self-control or behaved inappropriately. For the
one's now gone many stories can be told as to the patience mates
exercised toward each other.
Here again the natural order of things in
those days prevailed. Today the changes are incredible. Because of the
fight for monies for education many women have become well educated and
take their position in the modern world; therefore, on that level, of
course, these old ways no longer apply.
1. Women were the backbone of the family
as far as to being able to work to provide for their families. The
Ponca's were farmers with the women doing their fair share of the work
on this end. Caring for the garden and then preserving the food with
drying with a fierce dedication making them responsible for a large part
of their diet. Sometimes, women entered the hunt with the men, but as a
rule, they did not. They were strong and well co-ordinated and this gave
them the ability to physically keep up and carry on their part.
In my mother's case, more than her share.
Although Father was working always, she too had many projects going to
supplement his income. She sewed, worked long hours in public work, did
community work, worked with her tribe. She was ever thinking about
"how to make an extra dollar." Her physical strength inherited
gave her the ability to work double shifts, back to back, as was the
2. Matriarchal society is what the Ponca
women are called by historians. Simply said this means the woman is head
of the house. It also can mean that the children follow her clan. This
is not the case with the Ponca. The child follows the father's clan.
This can be awkward if the children's father is of another tribe or
nationality which is, by the way, so much the way it is. I would say the
woman is head of the house up to a point. It is sort of like having a
benevolent ruler as one's spouse. The authority appears to be with the
women, but in actuality the men hold power, in a gentle, unspoken, quiet
3. Women as well as men could be medicine
people or healers. My grandmother's sister, Annie was a medicine woman.
She was well acquainted with herbs and knew many healing practices which
had been passed down to her. When she died she choose not to pass her
practice down but rather wanted her secrets to die with her and to have
her medicine bag buried with her. After her death, men came to the
position as "doctors" for their people.
4. Women were never chiefs as far as I
know in the Ponca tribe. Recently in these last few years women are
being elected to counsel and governing positions. At the moment one of
my first cousin is "on the counsel." This is not the same as
to have been a "Chief" or maybe more correctly spoken of as
one who is the elder of his clan. Some, my age, living yet, resent the
term "Chief." They know and remember it was the elder who
acted as leader of the clan.
Grandmother Lucille Big Goose
Age is like the bubbles in champagne. Swift
they rise in a straight stream only to briefly share their life in a
microsecond. Because of the awareness of that aged one's need to be brief
often their wisdom is to the point with no beating about the bush. So it
was with the way of those in the loving culture of the Ponca of another
time. Each year, each month, each day that culture is becoming smoothed
away with the sands of times, and here is where they were at this time
with Grandmother Lucille Big Goose.
The dilemma to have the need to talk with
her came about quite as a surprise with a note through the mail. The
gentleman spoke of how he had come into possession many years ago of one
of the peace pipes he felt was of the Ponca people. Because he knew of her
family line he felt it would be proper to leave it to her. Of course, her
white blood was ready to accept the gift of something that was probably of
great value as far as an antique goes. However, something in her mind gave
reason to think more of it.
"Mother. I have received an offer to take a
peace pipe thought to be of the Ponca's." "Seems that I remember there
being something about that I do not know."
There was a moment of silence and she was
sure her mother was thinking about her answer. "They say we are not to
have those, you know." Her mother was not sure about it she could tell.
"Maybe you should call Grandma Lucille." "I think she can advise you."
Even the telephone was an insult to the old
ways. There was a time when the only proper way to receive instructions
was to visit the elder's home while going there with gifts. Now she
carefully stepped about these old ways in the plea for understanding as to
conditions and lifestyle but she was most careful and tried not to offend.
Still, one could never be sure. Carefully she read the letter to the
"NO!" "Don't let him send it." "Don't let
him send it down here." "It will bring all kinds of trouble to us." NO!
NO! Grandma Lucille was so strong in her objections it was a little of a
shock to her. The elderly woman had always been so loving and so careful
of her. She had always treated her like a special grandchild even though
the blood relationship was not as the white culture.
"You can't accept such a thing." "Please
don't do it." "It should be buried." The decision was made as far as the
woman was concerned. There was no other recourse but to follow the advice
of the woman. The materialistic feelings and the desire to own the prized
possession before its elderly owner passed on had to be denied. Quietly
she began to ask questions and to read about the role of the peace pipe.
As she did so she began to have a newer understanding, to some extent.
The law of the pipes was actually something
totally lost. The only understanding had to come simply by reasoning as to
the respect granted to the object. Evidently at some time and place the
decision had been made by the chiefs of each clan to close out the old
ways. This was obvious in their accepting their going by burying the pipe.
All at once it became clear to her the sadness of the thing. With a new
respect and heaviness of heart she was once again at one with her
ancestors and their ways. How could they have had the wisdom to see into
the future? How did they know about what would come about for their people
and in knowing how grieved they would have been to know their
grandchildren must be forever barred from the knowledge they had. With
this weight on her she sent a short note to the gentleman offering the
"gift" declining it with an explanation as to why she could not accept it.
For a long period of time she heard nothing
and quite some time later a letter came through the mail. He told her he
understood and in fact, shortly after his offer he had himself become very
ill almost unto death. He said he would make other arrangements for the
pipe and to see that it would be treated with respect so as not to end up
in some pawn shop or private collection.
For whatever monetary loss there was a
reward of higher value given. This was the understanding of the strong
adherence to the tribe's laws as to clan, and obedience to the laws of
that clan or band symbolized by the pipe smoked only at the time of the
gathering of the council. The tobacco used only at that time and on rare
occasion by just the chief must have been truly sacred to them and
respected as a drug of medicinal effect it had on their temperament in an
attempt to work toward peace, thus, the name "peacepipe." Without this
diplomacy there would have been no native population left because they
were known to be fierce determined warriors highly protective of their
own, and this is a whole different story.
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