There was no alphabet in the Ponca culture
as far as an writing was concerned, but the Native American history was
more accurate than ours. To understand this one has to know how the oral
historians teach. A person is selected who shows an interest, much like my
grandmother selected me from all her children and grandchildren. The youth
does not have to be especially gifted or even of any higher intelligence.
They simply must be willing to be patient enough to learn from the
teacher. This involves a story being told, starting at the beginning every
time with a small amount added at each visit. The more the young person
returns to the feet of the historian, of course, is how much they learn.
These methods are used by many different cultures throughout the world,
and have been shown to be actually as accurate as written history and
maybe even a bit more. Today, this is almost impossible to do because
children are so tied down with many activities, sports, club meetings,
private lessons, etc. etc. And now you have the reason I am working at
Actually, this is the only way I have of
leaving the information for my grandchildren. So one could say the
motivation for this area of direction is love.
This is a most interesting facet of the
Ponca culture. Personally, it is my opinion, some place in the passage of
time the math principles the people knew, to a great extent were lost. One
has only to look at the intricate geometric shapes of some of the
decorations on regalia and other places to know somewhere there had to be
a very deep understanding of math. Over periods of time the use of it was
lost, just as many parts of the culture today, is being lost. What the
holding of these shapes has allowed is the ability to teach the brain to
go to the right, or creative side, much as the labyrinth in cathedrals,
has been told that it does. Some still create the most stunning geometric
designs in beadwork by using the present world's drafting graft paper.
Books have been written about the math of
the Natives and can be researched. The studies tell about the numbers and
placement of tee pee poles, the system of an oligarchy, the counting of
the moons and so on. If you are a left brain person, you will enjoy this
research. Here again the teachers sandwiched the information into the
circle of living so that it wasn't heavy or uncomfortable, but was walked
Observation is something to have been
constantly brought to the Native American child. This is the foundation
for art, science, and really all parts of life. It is taught. The way it
is taught is with constant reminders to the child to practice the skill of
observation. Close association with nature allowed them to have an
understanding of the weather, natural science, animals' habits and all the
things involved with natural science. The development of the original
seventeen varieties of corn has never been furthered. Many foods are
direct contributions to the diet of western man from the experimentation
and development by the Native American. All this was just as gradually
absorbed by the child.
The adhering to the clans structure worked
for a strong race. One reason was because there was not to be a marrying
back into one's own clan. Not only did a person not marry a cousin but
they did not even marry someone of their own clan. This prevented any
double inherited traits causing weaknesses. The clan was its own small
government within a government with its elder and appointed positions to
care for the family. Only after intermarriage into other races did the
federal government have the most insurrection among the Natives. The
"half-breeds" were strong leaders going off into their own direction,
rebelling against the authority of the elders as well as the white
government. Children were taught early on what their duties were as to the
Paint was mixed from the roots and berries
for color much like European artists mixed yellow ochre, umber, from the
clays of the land. Every part of the dance regalia could be considered an
art form. The roach for the man, beaded choker, arm bands, finger woven
garters and belts, beaded moccasins, beaded medallions, beaded britchcloth,
beaded leggins. For the woman, ribbon work shawl, ribbon work skirt,
blouse decorated, beaded moccasins and beaded medallions.
Children were a part of all the ceremonies
I knew about except the '49. This was a late night, after hours dance,
after the lights of the arena were out. Something like a lover's dance.
All the other dances were attended by the children in full regalia early,
really as soon as they could walk and before in their mother's arms as she
danced. As they matured they slowly and naturally began to take on
responsibility for their own regalia, learning to craft their own personal
articles of dress.
On the Board
Children had their own cradles sometimes
called a "board." In reality this was what it was like. A flat surface
onto which they were at first swaddled. As they grew, the child knew this
was his bed and sometimes the folks would laugh when he was too big for
it, but would still seek it out to lay across it. Some pictures show a
baby hanging from a tree or something else while in the cradle. I never
saw this, but I did see the board propped against the wall at a slant
while the baby was sleeping. For some reason the swaddling of the baby
gives it a security and usually these children were more placid and happy.
There were lullabies, and the one I
remember was Hah-Hah-Cha-Nah-Bah-gee, Bah-gee. It had a rhythm to it and
was something like rocking a baby. It was a lullaby. Mother would say
things like, "Nah-Chee-Nah," which sort of meant, "Poor Baby, feel sorry
for him." One of my brothers almost never lived down the comment he made
when he was tired, "Somebody please, "Nah-Chee-Nah" me.
"Wasp-Pah!" Spoken with a clipped short
sound meant, "Behave yourself."
The Ponca people were most conservative and
did not waste anything, not even language. One could get used to being
with them for a whole day and not exchanging that much conversation. It
wasn't that the language was lacking because it is not. It is a most
descriptive language. The practice of "peace with Me" includes a
discipline to the principle of not chattering so much so as to disturb
someone. Children learned this early. It wasn't with language the mother
controlled the child, but rather with catching and holding their attention
with her eyes. It works!
Hand game was a favorite game played by
adults and young adults. It was something like "button, button, who has
the button?" But certainly more involved as to the in and outs of the
game. Skills were developed as to slipping the hidden object from hand to
hand without being observed. The concentration at this game was a factor
in mind exercise.
A rough and tumble game played by young and
old. The youngest children excluded because it was played with sticks and
a ball something like hockey. This gave a challenge to the young men to
keep up and avoid the sticks of the older women at times.
What the white world considers socializing
on occasion with meals together was an everyday thing with the Native
families. Families living in close proximity to each other made this
possibly. Simple foods, limited eating utensils provided good healthy
foods but, with little conversation and dawdling about the table. Still
the good food was always a pleasant experience as I remember Mother's
aunts table. The love the folks had for the children always was a good
feeling. Not having to be hassled with decorum and "proper behavior" gave
a relief from the circumstances which reigned at my white grandmother's
table. We ate, we left the table because chances were there were others
waiting in rank to eat also.
Horse back riding
Although this was a means of
transportation, it was also a pleasure. Almost the minute a Native
American youth is given the opportunity to ride there does become a bond
and a love for it. There could have never been any greater welding of
one's natural instincts to an animal than that of horse back riding. There
is a gift of understanding to be just simply there with no explanation of
where it came. Something about the sensitivity of the person with the
horse's actual action and reaction is what it is. The joy of learning
about the quirks a very large animal can have and being able to cope with
them also gives a great satisfaction, I believe. The ability of the Native
American with horses, saddled or bare back, is legendary.
There is no greater thrill than watching
the dance of the Native American. The dances are varied and different with
each tribe. One of the dances made well known is the Fancy War Dance. This
was performed and essentially created by Gus McDonald of a former
generation. It is still performed today and watched with great pleasure. I
don't think anyone has ever equaled Gus's acrobatic renditions of the
Fancy War Dance. Performed with full
regalia, feathered bonnet and feathered bustle.
Buffalo Dance. A dance to change directions
as the buffalo are imitated in their wandering and grazing about.
Two Step. A social dance for which the
woman selects a man to dance with her. There are two steps taken forward
on the same foot and one step backward on the same foot. Both dancers,
female and male, are side by side. When I was young, the dance was slow,
deliberate and with rhythm. Today it looks to me to be a sort of a running
contest trying to keep up with the couple in front. It isn't as attractive
to watch, I don't think, as when I was a girl.
Round dance. A side step to the left around
the drum, close together, one following the one to their left until the
dance is all around the drum. The direction can be changed to the right
going counter clock wise around the drum. This is sort of the basic dance
Shawl Dance. This is a lovely dance
performed by the young women using the shawl, with arms outstretched to
make the shawl look a little like wings as they pull it up and down
creating a swirl of soft flowing fringe. The steps look almost like the
steps of the war dance. This was a northern dance but has become very
popular here in our area.
Men's straight dance. This is the dance
performed by the elders men. There is a great dignity to it with little
frivolous or extra unnecessary movement.
Contests. Today, there are numbers of
contests with large amounts of money given to the winners. A contest for
women dancing in buckskin dresses, jingle dresses (dresses with metal
"jingles" attached to them) shawl dance, fancy war dance, straight dance.
These contests are performed by adults, but the children are being groomed
for them at a very early age.
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