Saturday, March 28, 2009

Indian Mothers and Wives

If you're like me, you suffer from days when you feel overwhelmed. My life, compared to when my children were young, is so much easier, yet age has slowed me down considerably. It's only when I research those who lived in the 'old west' that I'm reminded how really simple my life has been.

This picture was borrowed from the collection at First People and shows a Comanche woman and her child. Let's consider what her day was like...along with all the other Native American women of her time.

Although I was never a seamstress, I imagine there are still some women today who take great pride in making their own dresses. My best friend, Pat, now deceased, always loved browsing fabric stores for material, patterns, buttons and threads with which to work. Often, I slugged along behind her, totally uninterested in the whole idea. Give me a rack of store-ready garments any day, Imagine living in a time when fabrics weren't readily available, and if you didn't sew, you went naked.

Native American women didn't have the luxury of shopping for their wares. The daunting task of outfitting and caring for their entire family fell to them. No pampers, no huggies, not even a cloth diaper. No playpens, no cribs, not even a receiving blanket...unless someone made it from an animal hide. No coffee cup for your morning brew, no bowl to hold your cereal. No place to put your child while you worked, unless you carried him/her on your back.

The husband's job was to hunt and keep his family fed, and that often included the whole tribe. Survival wasn't easy and tribal affiliations were sacred. When one brave died or was killed, others stepped in to care for those he left behind. Living was a group effort, and what food not used up was dried and stored for leaner times. During the era when buffalo were plentiful, Native American's relied upon them for survival. Unlike white hunters who took only the hides, nothing was wasted by the Indians.

After the braves felled the mighty beasts, the women converged upon the carcasses and stripped them bare. Bones, tendons, tongues...nothing was left behind because everything had a purpose. The same for most other animals killed for food. The women were responsible for transporting the treasures back to the village, then carving, wrapping and drying the meat before she could consider what to do with the fur.

From animals came the material for clothing and the sinew to create the thread to hold them together...even the bones provided the 'needle' with which fashions were created. BUT...before any sewing took place, the hides were scrubbed, dried, scraped, dried again, and sometimes placed on stretching racks. Once the hide was softened, it was ready for use.

I've often read of Native American women chewing deer hide to soften it for moccasins. But, the women did what was required of them, relying on teachings handed down through the ages. When time came to move the village from one site to another, it was the women who disassembled and reassembled the lodges.

While white women held quilting bees, Indian women faced the arduous tasks of not just creating the robes that kept out the cold, but the skins to cover their tepees, and every piece of clothing worn, right down to the moccasins on their family's feet. True, the life of a pioneer woman was no picnic and presented many trials and tribulations, but imagine life where everything you use was made by hand or designed from animal remains. Sort of puts things into a different perspective, doesn't it?


Skhye said...

Great post. But living still isn't easy and survival is still a group effort. :) It's all in the perception. I for one like running hot water. ;)

Morgan Mandel said...

And I don't even like to sew buttons!

Morgan Mandel

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