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Chapter 3 Nostalgia for Paradise
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Chapter 3
Nostalgia for Paradise

The Sun Dance

All ritual, formal or fugitive, refers to mythological occurrence, recognized as myth or not. In doing so, it somewhat ameliorates the existential dread endemic to the human condition by virtue of the human capacity for reflection. We are able to see ourselves even as we act and, so, to envision the uncertainties of existence and the end to that existence. Entering into the realm of primordial occurrence, the timeless world of myth, is accomplished by reenacting the behaviors of the gods or ancestors who created the world as we know it. Ritual is a return to the eternal, and an escape from the uncertainties of mortal existence.

The primordial behaviors of the gods and ancestors are usually set, mythologically, in a kind of paradise that existed before the advent of death or time. Ironically, we are probably most familiar with the nostalgia for paradise expressed in modern society, the yearning for simpler times, which were somehow more "real" (as in the mythological West, where "men were men"). But this is nothing more than the imperfectly disguised nostalgia for paradise typically found in forms more recognizable to us in "primitive society."[1]

Ritual provides a model of paradise, of the ideal world, which is then employed in several ways. Access to the paradisiacal past is provided through the model, thereby pointing the way to a more "real" and satisfying existence. Ritual also demonstrates how the contingencies of history, the unpredictable and unfortunate events that are a part of human life, may be reconciled with this paradisiacal model. And, ritual provides


the way, when it is deftly altered, to redetermine the "correct" means of access to paradise and to redefine paradise itself. In doing this, ritual is able to both accommodate and precipitate cultural change.

Nostalgia for paradise imbues ritual with much of its power to maintain and shape human cultures. This nostalgia appears among all human groups.[2] Some have suggested it to be an expression of longing for the womb or the breast. Such an experiential "oneness" does resonate with the emotional state that accompanies ritual, the sharing of "sentiment," the sense that all involved are "really" parts of one thing.

The appeal of paradise, and some of the implications of that appeal as they regard cultural maintenance and change, is evident in the ethnohistory of one of the most renowned rituals, the Sun Dance of the Plains Indians. In Leslie Spier's classic study of this ceremony, he said that "the original nucleus of Sun Dance rites probably received its first specific character at the hands of the Arapaho and Cheyenne."[3] In any case it is closely identified by anthropologists with these groups, who were the principal trading partners of Bent & St. Vrain Company.

In the history of this ritual one can see the transformative power of ritual, that is, its ability to set groups and individuals on a new course. To explain this, the cultural anthropologist Victor Turner has drawn parallels with the modern-day theater. He has pointed out that one story can be interpreted in a number of ways and that the script may be rewritten to accommodate a new version. So it works also, said Turner, with ritual.

Recent and convincing scholarship by Karl Schlesier revealed that the Sun Dance (along with another important Algonquian ceremony, the Midewiwin) was developed in the seventeenth century.[4] While the Sun Dance incorporated elements from older rituals, even ancient ones dating to the time the ancestors of the Cheyenne inhabited Siberia, the Sun Dance was formulated, Schlesier hypothesized, because "existing religious structures appeared as inadequate for the survival of tribal societies."[5] Existing religious structures surely had been tested by events.

Schlesier noted North American epidemics in the 1580s and in 1617, 1622, and 1631. As an example of the effects of this, he cited evidence that the population of Huron settlements declined from 45,000 or 50,000 in 1634 to 12,000 in 1640, the latter figure including the Petuns. He quoted an eyewitness who said that "there remained only very few old men, very few persons of skill and management."[6] Such a loss may well have lessened the "stock" of traditional practices and would likely have decreased somewhat the confidence in some aspects of contemporary religious practice as Schlesier argued.


The central element of the Sun Dance—the center pole of the ritual or "medicine" lodge, which acted as the symbolic axis mundi of the universe—may indeed be ancient. Given the Siberian ancestry of the Cheyenne and the Arapaho and the manner in which the center pole was used, it is at least possible that it has been passed along from Siberian ceremonies. Dennis Stanford, perhaps the most noted of archaeologists now conducting research into the oldest sites in the western Plains, has argued for the extreme antiquity of this element of the Sun Dance ritual. After finding in eastern Colorado evidence of what he regarded as a medicine pole, Stanford suggested that it might indicate "ten thousand years of socio-religious continuity" on the part of groups that hunted herds of bison, as did the Cheyenne.[7] The pole Stanford discovered was associated with the remains of a 10,000-year-old buffalo pound. Offerings and the way they were distributed around the pole led Stanford to postulate that ceremonial practices similar to those of the Sun Dance had taken place at the site. It is perhaps this "deep" grounding that provided a firm base upon which later additions to the ceremony were made.

The Sun Dance, as reported by late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century ethnographers who sometimes worked from earlier, eyewitness accounts by informants, displays elements indicative of an increasingly individualistic orientation. Here we see the transformative agency of ritual at work. Joseph G. Jorgensen, who considered the more recent versions of the ceremony, termed it part of a "redemptive" movement, concerned with "the search for a new individual state."[8] This is in contrast to Schlesier's evidence that the Sun Dance began as a world renewal ceremony, one focused on the society as opposed to the individual.

The individualistic orientation noted by Jorgensen had developed after European entry into the New World. Individualism accelerated apace with the increasing intensity of trade relations between the whites and the Plains groups. It eventually flowered into a culture that was obsessed with amassing symbols of prestige and wealth. Thus, we see the preoccupation with counting coup and gaining possession of buffalo hides, horses, and women that was characteristic of the Plains cultures of the nineteenth century. The Sun Dance evolved to accommodate such new cultural traits.

Of equal interest is the way in which the Sun Dance, and the culture of aggression, competition, and rampant individualism that it represented, was adopted by modern American culture as a symbol of the "natural" condition of man. As such, it legitimates these characteristics in today's


society. The nineteenth-century world of Plains tribes like the Cheyenne and the Sioux is regarded today as a kind of golden age—not only for Native American peoples but for the United States as well.

Ethnographic Treatments of the Sun Dance

Leslie Spier's 1921 study of the Sun Dance has long been regarded as the benchmark work for the ceremony. He linked it most closely with the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Oglala Sioux but asserted that it was practiced in modified forms by eighteen Plains tribes. Schlesier termed the Sun Dance an "anthropological invention," arguing that these tribes actually performed different ceremonies that shared certain common attributes. He also considered the term Sun Dance to be a misnomer, preferring the Cheyenne word for the dance, Oxheheom, meaning "new life" or "world renewal" ceremony.[9]

In the general anthropological and popular literature, nonetheless, the Sun Dance is regarded as the central ceremony for the Plains tribes. It is perhaps because the most well-known aspects of the ceremony resonate so strongly with basic modern cultural assumptions about individualism and individualistic renewal (such as the need for a personal vision and the acceptance of suffering to achieve it) that it is likely that it has been studied and described as much as any "primitive" ritual. There is also a vast popular and academic interest in the tribes that practiced the ceremony, particularly the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Sioux. Numerous ethnographies have been written about the Cheyenne alone.[10] Some large libraries have almost 1,000 entries in their bibliographic files under the heading "Cheyenne."

And yet, there is no agreement about all aspects of even the Cheyenne Sun Dance. The use of tobacco, for example, is mentioned by some ethnographers and not by others. The precise timing of the Sun Dance is also unclear in these ethnographies. Most mention that it is usually held in July or near the summer solstice, but some place the time of the ceremony later. There are many reasons for these discrepancies and uncertainties. Observers often record only what they have decided beforehand to be important and may not mention aspects that are of small interest to them. Also, informants may be vague or purposely misleading. A woman involved in the preservation of Cheyenne traditions told me recently not to put too much credence in the work of ethnographers, including Grinnell (the most famous of Cheyenne ethnographers), because the Cheyenne sometimes


found it amusing to lead ethnographers astray.[11] Most important, rituals change even though they must purport to represent the unchanging. It is likely that no two Sun Dances were ever performed in exactly the same way. Enough ethnographic descriptions of the Sun Dance have been done with sufficient precision to record the fact that they do change.

Nonetheless, even a cursory description of the most basic elements of the Cheyenne Sun Dance is sufficient to illustrate several facets of the social mechanism of ritual. The ceremony was sometimes called by the Cheyenne "renewing the earth" or the "new-life-lodge" (terms that again hint at a sacred model for both topography and architecture). Many participated in the various roles demanded by the ceremony. The most important of these roles were held by the priests, the sponsor, and the few young men who desired a vision that would guide them through the balance of their lives. These young men, as I argue elsewhere in this book, were suffering from anomie; they were in distress because they could not find a suitable place for themselves in their society. They sought a personal rebirth by participating in the rebirth of the Cheyenne.

Simply attending was a kind of participation. The Cheyenne shared a language and many habits of behavior, but during most of the year were not together. They went about their nomadic rounds in bands made up from as few as one to several extended families. These bands were knit together by the affiliation of individuals in the bands, or sometimes of whole bands, and with clans and special "societies," especially warrior societies. Clans and societies convened for rituals, societies for ritual and ritualistic behaviors (warfare and raiding being among the most important of the latter). The Sun Dance, however, was for the Cheyenne as a whole, and acted powerfully to maintain the Cheyenne as a whole.

The construction of the Sun Dance lodge (the ceremony is also known as the medicine lodge ceremony) reenacted the creation of the world. Searching for the Sun Dance pole, counting coup on the tree that was to serve this purpose, and attaching the medicine bundles and offerings to the tree was the first great spectacle of the ceremony. As Donald Berthrong recorded it, one of the tribal chiefs would address the tree, saying words such as these: "The whole world has picked you out this day to represent the world. We have come in a body to cut you down, so that you will have pity on all men, women, and children who may take part in this ceremony. You are to be their body. You are to represent the sunshine of the world."[12]

The "new-life lodge" was then constructed. The altar in the lodge represented the whole of the earth. On the altar were the paramount things of the earth, including a buffalo skull, strips of sod to represent the four


cardinal directions and the sun, and the foliage of useful vegetation such as cottonwoods and plum bushes. The lodge itself referred to the heavens, and appropriate designs were applied there. Bundles of vegetation were tied to the center pole, and dried buffalo meat was secured to one of the bundles by a broken arrow. To this, a rawhide image of a human was also attached. At least one ethnographic account records that tobacco was attached to the center pole. Dancers were painted five times during the fifth and sixth days of the ceremony with colors (yellow, pink, white, black) and designs (the sun, moon, flowers, plants) that referred to the blessings of the earth.

It was also at this time that the young men underwent the self-torture that they had vowed to endure in an attempt to gain special favor or relief from the gods. Two skewers, variously reported as being bear or eagle claws or made of wood, were hooked through the flesh of a man's breast or, less frequently, through the flesh of his back. At times the man was hoisted by a rope suspended from the central pole, the sun pole, where he hung until the flesh tore away (fig. 6). Or, he might remain on the ground, pulling against skewers attached to the sun pole until his flesh tore. In some cases, when a man was suspended for a long time and the skewers held fast, he might attach the skewers by means of thongs to buffalo skulls, which he would drag over the plains until they caught on some obstacle and he broke free. This ordeal was preceded by fasting, meditation, and sleep deprivation, which generally produced a state of religious ecstasy and visions in which a totemic spirit advisor appeared, one that would thereafter be the man's spiritual guide. The totemic advisor, of course, would come from the tribe's cultural stock of mythological figures, and so the man's personal vision would be intertwined with that of his culture.

Attendance at the Sun Dance was compulsory for every adult male, but it is likely that everyone in the tribe attended. It was, after all, a spectacle that evoked a considerable affective response in its audience. This is an essential part of ritual, as Emile Durkheim established many years ago; ritual must evoke an emotional response, a shared "sentiment" in Durkheim's terms, that, by being shared, binds together participants and spectators.[13]

Considerable effort and commitment of resources went into organizing a Sun Dance, and this required a sponsor. In pre-reservation days, a man might pledge to sponsor a Sun Dance if he survived some imminent danger, most likely danger experienced during a raid to acquire horses or as a result of the tensions that arose following such a raid. Later, a sponsor might be a person expressing gratitude that a member of his or her


Figure 6.
"Sun Dance, Third Day." (Detail from a painting by Dick West;
courtesy Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma; reported in Donald J.
Berthrong, The Southern Cheyennes, copyright 1963 by the University of
Oklahoma Press.)

family had recuperated from an illness or escaped from a physical threat. The sponsor could be either a man or woman but had to have access to considerable resources. Prestige accompanied sponsorship. The sponsor was the principal participant of the Sun Dance, being regarded as more important than those who went through the self-torture. The sponsor became known as the "reanimator" of the tribe, the person through whom the tribe was reborn. In subsequent years, the sponsor joined an elite fraternity of Sun Dance sponsors, who were co-owners of the Sun Dance medicine bundle. Thus, the sponsor was assured an important role in future ceremonies. If the sponsor were a man, an added requirement of his sponsorship was that he pledge his wife to the ceremonial grandfather during the preliminary rites of the Sun Dance. If a man's wife was unable to carry out this role for some reason, or if a man had no wife, he had to find another woman to fulfill this role. Often this was a sister.

All the bands of the Cheyenne tribe were present for the Sun Dance. The camp for this occasion was laid out in a carefully prescribed way. It was always located on the south bank of a stream, with the clan camps ordered in a traditional sequence and forming a circle that was often a mile in diameter. An opening in the circle always pointed east. The six


Cheyenne military societies camped at prearranged locations in the camp circle,[14] and to assume a position different from a traditional one was considered highly meaningful and threatening to the order of the tribe.

The Medium Is the Message:
A Phenomenological Analysis

Ritual undoubtedly refers to mythology, but the mythology is stated and reformulated, to a degree, by the ritual; that is, it is ritual—an expression that depends only in part upon words—that conveys the mythology to the participants and observers (and ultimately to the succeeding generations who will bear the culture into the future).

The modern world is dominated not only by print but also by words. We frequently make the mistake of assuming that if something cannot be well articulated, it does not exist, it is not valid, or it is at least unimportant. There is some logic to this in the modern world because modern society can only function properly if ideas are given an explicit form that is understandable to a very wide audience. This may include people with whom one does not frequently associate and who, then, are not accustomed to one's idiosyncratic way of speaking, or even people one may never meet. The sociolinguist Basil Bernstein made this point with his research when he noted that children who are brought up in families where an elaborated linguistic code (or way of speaking) is employed, as a rule, do much better in school and, later, in modern society, than do those from more traditional families. Traditional families, often associated with lower socioeconomic class in the Western world, communicate in many nonverbal ways, which often spring from traditional roles. Such families impart a restricted, less-explicit manner of speaking to their children.[15]

While such evidence explains the social advantage enjoyed by those with command of explicit verbal communication in the modern world, our bias in favor of words has now partially blinded us to the real impact of nonverbal communication. This is a point about which painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians, and even architects and mathematicians comment. It is lived experience, experience not limited to words, that conveys meaning, and shared experience that generates Durkheim's "sentiment." And this is how ritual makes its effect.

Fieldwork done by the "new ethnographers," a group that includes James Clifford and James Spradley, employs the tenets of "cognitive an-


thropology." In this approach, fieldwork is designed to reveal the "cognitive chart" employed by members of a given culture in making sense of, communicating about, and altering the world.[16] The focus here is on performance—the actual behavior involved—be it speech, ritual, or the creation of material culture. As Victor Turner explained in The Anthropology of Performance, Noam Chomsky, a linguist, was the first to identify the dichotomy between competence, the mastery of a system of rules and regularities underlying communication, and performance, or what actually occurs and is experienced.[17] We can only speculate about competence. Performance, on the other hand, is doubly informative, in that it indicates the underlying set of rules and regulations and, also, how these are employed—often to bring about change—in the real world. In emphasizing lived experience, performance theory may be seen to lie comfortably within the philosophical traditions of phenomenology, which concerns itself with such experience, and hermeneutics, which explores how meaning is made from experience.

All of this is in way of saying that ritual conveys mythology more surely than might be done by purely verbal means (if means could be purely verbal, which they cannot be). It is the performance of ritual in its entirety—words, behavior, timing, and so on—that conveys mythology in such a way as to reorder society along the lines suggested by that mythology. It does this by evoking Durkheim's "sentiment." Sentiment embeds a value and belief system in the group participating and observing a ritual—it wins the "hearts and minds" of this group as a reasoned, explicit statement of values and beliefs, a theology or philosophy, might never alone do.

Looking at the Sun Dance phenomenologically, we can clearly see several important components of Cheyenne mythology. The Sun Dance reenacts the creation of the world. It is a statement of Cheyenne ontology, a statement made in part by the construction of a "model" of the Cheyenne universe, a model that replicates the larger world. The center pole (or sun pole) is what Eliade termed the axis mundi, the symbolic center of the earth, and also the point at which heaven and earth meet. Whether a landform or a temple or pyramid, the axis mundi is the most sacred of locations because it provides access to the realm of the unchanging, the "real."

The Cheyenne rituals that involve the Sun Dance pole are similar to Siberian shamanistic rituals that make use of a central pole. The ancestors of the Cheyenne, the Algonquin, came to North America from Siberia, and many similarities between the religious beliefs and practices of the Cheyenne and Siberian groups have been recorded by historians and ethnographers over the past century or so. (Siberian shamanistic practices


are generally regarded by religious scholars to have developed before the Neolithic period.) These observations have been noted by Karl Schlesier and other scholars, yet no one, so far as I know, has mentioned the similarities in the ritual use of a central pole, or axis mundi, noted below.[18] The similarities provide clues to the ways in which behaviors associated with an important ritual migrate and are made freshly meaningful as a society evolves. These behaviors often seem only practical to modern observers—their meaning eludes the observers, and the rituals become fugitive.

In a Siberian ceremony, a master shaman (or "father shaman") initiated apprentices in a ritual that resembles the Sun Dance in some important ways. A strong birch stripped of its bark was set up in each apprentice's yurt on the day of their initiations, where it projected through the central smoke hole. The apprentice climbed to the top of the birch and shouted for the assistance of the gods. The birch thenceforth was left in the yurt to mark the apprentice as a shaman.

Then, as a party, the master shaman and his apprentices went in a procession to a place where many large birches had been prepared by stripping them and setting them into the ground. After sacrificing a goat to one of the birch poles, the master shaman climbed it and made nine notches in the top of its trunk. The initiate then climbed the birch and "disappeared," reappearing some time later with visions he had obtained from his visit to heaven. Nine birches in all were climbed which, like the nine cuts, symbolized the nine heavens.[19]

An obvious similarity, is that the Siberian and Cheyenne initiates (initiates to the status of shaman in the first case and to a more satisfying status in Cheyenne society in the second) sought ecstatically induced visions under the direction of an experienced holy man. Cheyenne initiates experienced visions that were personal but which linked them to the larger cultural agenda of their society.

Other similarities seem relevant to the Plains Indian practice of counting coup. As with any set of ethnographic similarities, the exact relationship is problematic given the lack of written accounts of the behaviors in question prior to European contact. While a common origin cannot be proven, the similarities suggest at the least a convergence of behaviors formulated from a related stock of meaningful ritual actions.

The counting coup behavior has puzzled many historians and archaeologists, as it puzzled contemporary observers. It appeared to them to be a sort of individualism gone amuck, to the overall detriment of the tribe. Counting coup usually involved touching an enemy (alive or dead) in battle. Doing this conferred great prestige on a warrior, even more prestige than


would be realized by killing an enemy or contributing to a military victory. Stories abound of young warriors who could not be restrained from their attempt to count coup and so ruined the battle strategy of their war party.

Counting coup also occurred in quite a different context, one suggesting the real meaning of the behavior. Coup was counted by the Cheyenne on the tree selected to be the Sun Dance pole—it was struck ritually. Far from symbolizing an enemy, however, the central pole was the most venerated of symbols associated with the Sun Dance.[20] It represented the axis mundi, as did the stripped birch trees in Siberia that were ritually struck nine times. Given that the ancestors of the Cheyenne came from Siberia and the well-documented similarities in the religions of the two groups, it is possible that the counting of coup by the Cheyenne on the Sun Dance pole is a survival of the striking of the birch poles in Siberia. In the Asian ritual, the nine notches made in the birches symbolized the nine heavens. The blows given to the Plains Indian medicine pole may also have symbolized this or something similar. Ethnographic observers, however, assumed that the behavior they saw at the medicine pole replicated the activity of ritually striking the enemy, the behavior called counting coup. It is highly unlikely that behavior associated with a more profane activity (by virtue of its occurring farther away from the most sacred locale, the axis mundi ) would be replicated at the most sacred of all sites, the axis mundi itself. Such a conclusion does not follow the logic of ritual as observed worldwide, which indicates that behavior reenacted at the most sacred locales becomes the model for all less-sacred activity (as the celestial provides the archetype for the organization of all earthly affairs).

The Sun Dance behavior of striking the axis mundi, then, may have provided the model for counting coup, not the other way around. Counting coup may be fugitive ritual. This explanation accommodates one of the more puzzling aspects of counting coup. In battle, the person who killed the enemy gained coup, but not as much as did the second person to strike a blow on the now dead body. While the blows inflicted by the first warrior may have achieved the practical result, the blow by the second sanctified that result; it was a purely ritual act. The ritual striking of the enemy restored balance and harmony to the universe, a balance that had been upset by the killing. It also restored the balance of a traditional society, a balance that had been upset by one of its members acting in a highly individualistic manner. The ritual was thus made to accommodate the individualism that had been transmitted to Plains Indian culture through its interaction with Anglo culture.

The symbolic material that was arranged around the pole in the medicine


lodge—vegetation, dried buffalo meat, the rawhide figure of a man—re-created, in miniature, the essential features of the Cheyenne world. It was a succinct expression of the relationship of the sacred to everyday life. Sacred power, which flows to the living things of the world, was especially concentrated in the buffalo (the importance of which to Plains society prior to the arrival of the Anglos cannot be overestimated—virtually all of the flesh of the animal was eaten, and from various parts of the animal came almost all of the clothing, tools, weapons, cooking utensils, and containers used by the Cheyenne), and this power was accessed by man through hunting and consuming the animal. Some ethnographic accounts also reported that tobacco was attached to the center pole (in more recent times, this has in some cases been cigarettes). Tobacco, as we shall see, played a major role in trade rituals with the Cheyenne, as well as with all other Plains tribes. It also refers to the shamanistic tradition, in that tobacco has been used for thousands of years among Native Americans, in both North and South America, to create a nicotine-induced ecstasy that provided visions.

At a certain point in the consecration of the medicine lodge, tobacco smoke from a sacred pipe was offered to the medicine pole. The bowl of the pipe was made of a soft red stone, called catlinite by Euro-Americans, and was often carved into figures that referred to mythological entities. True catlinite could be procured only in the Timber Mountains of southwestern Minnesota, the ancestral home of the Cheyenne and other Plains tribes. By the nineteenth century, the homeland had undoubtedly assumed mythological status. Long trips were taken to acquire the distinctive red stone. Fig. 7 shows the offering of the smoke to the medicine pole in a photograph that was possibly taken by Cheyenne ethnographer James Mooney in about 1903. The gesture shown is similar to that made toward participants in fictive kinship rituals, including the trading rituals that establish fictive kinship relationships (described in chapter 5).

The altar, by reason of proximity, was only a slightly less sacred locale than the pole itself. Here, other symbols of the Cheyenne world were arrayed in a particular way. The strips of earth that represent the four cardinal directions and the sun spoke to the importance that all cultures place in being properly oriented in the world. Clifford Geertz, among other ethnographers, commented about this, giving as an example that the word for "not knowing which way north is" among the Balinese connotes profound confusion of the sort which the Balinese fear almost pathologically. Such is the urgency. of being physically oriented in a traditional society, where virtually all landforms are embedded within the mythological basis for the culture's belief and value system.


Figure 7.
Offering smoke to the medicine pole at a Cheyenne Sun Dance,
circa 1903. (Photograph possibly by James Mooney; courtesy
National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.)

The importance of orientation is especially visible in the Chinese practice of geomancy. Geomancy survives even in modem Hong Kong, where huge sums are paid to geomancers to align new buildings according to lines of force that exist only within mythology. The belief that disaster will befall any building not correctly aligned is quite real, however. Similarly, the


aborigines of Australia are able to find their way with precision from one side of their continent to the other by following "songlines" while on walkabout. The aborigines sing their creation myths, which tell the origin of the landforms they encounter, linking each with a mythological creature. The aboriginal perspective, however, is that they are "singing" the landforms into being once more, re-creating the world as they go. Therefore, their walkabouts are essential to the continuation of the world.

The intimate knowledge of the environment that such a belief system promotes does possess functional value. The Pintupi Aborigines of Gibson Desert in Australia, for example, range over a wide area yet can find their way to small resource points that appear only at certain times of the year. These include specific locations where the mungilpa seed plant grows in great proliferation after rains, or where wild yams ripen.[21] There are also social implications to intimate knowledge of the environment. To the Pintupi, travel to resource points through and by means of topological reference points called ngurra, "named places" created by the ancestors, makes of traveling companions "one countrymen," even if they are from different homelands.[22] But the urgency associated with "getting one's bearings," individually and culturally, cannot be fully understood in terms of function alone. It is simply a prerequisite to making sense of the world in all ways, of making life even in its day-to-day aspects meaningful.

The altar, again, represented the earth, and so the strips of sod placed the earth in its proper relation to the heavens (the lodge itself) and the means of access to the heavens, the axis mundi. The produce of the earth, the buffalo represented by the skull and the useful plant life such as cottonwood and plum bushes, were sacralized through their contact with the earth, which was made sacred through the axis mundi. Dancers moved in and out of the sacred space, expressing physically man's sojourn on earth and the temporality of his association with it.

The basic orientation established by the medicine lodge extended to the camp as a whole. The camp was arranged in a circle, reflecting the Cheyenne belief that everything living is circular (the human body, the sun, the tepee, the camp circle), while everything dead or that brings about death is angular (weapons especially, such as the tomahawk and spear). When a clan or warrior society was in disgrace, the tepees of the members were not allowed within the camp circle. To be outside of the circle, after all, was to be outside the realm of the living, and to be deprived of the essential source of life. Usually, however, the outcasts camped nearby, and if proper reparations were made and proper conduct was followed, they were allowed after a time back within the circle.


Change: The "Pure Products of America Go Crazy"

We, as inhabitants of the modern world and especially as Anglo-Americans, cannot understand the Sun Dance unless we understand the role we ourselves have played creating it. I alluded to this phenomenon earlier, noting that Karl Schlesier has termed the Sun Dance an "anthropological invention."[23] In this sense, we—anthropologists being representatives of the modern world—were looking for and finding phenomena we assumed to be widespread. There is a strong tendency among moderns to look to traditional peoples for a primal and unchanging past: the paradise that existed before time and history. This "golden age" in the mythology of our culture (and perhaps all others) is associated with purity because it existed "before the Fall."

James Clifford, perhaps the foremost of the new ethnographers, has attempted to debunk the notion of cultural purity, But the idea of a pristine age is stubborn, and to even challenge the reality of it can be profoundly disorienting to some. Hence the line from a poem by William Carlos Williams, which Clifford quoted: "The pure products of America go crazy."[24] To illustrate this, Clifford took note of a vignette that seems so improbable to the modern American mind that it strikes one as surreal: that the English Pilgrims arriving at Plymouth Rock found waiting for them Squanto, a Patuxet Indian, just back from his visit to Europe. In fact, this incident occurred.

The crucial idea here is that we have segregated the idea of modern, European cultures from our conception of traditional cultures (sometimes called "primitive cultures" if they are without writing and cities) including native American ones. Such a clear-cut division does not exist, although it has pleased Western egos to cast the world in such a mold. Doing so has allowed modern societies to look at "primitive" ones as curiosities, fundamentally different in kind from their own and fit subjects for museums. The transfer of cultural "traits," and more important, of ways of looking at the world, has worked in all directions. Moreover, social mechanisms by which the world is constructed, such as ritual, are common to all societies but are less recognized in modern ones with their bias toward explicit, verbal statement. The real means by which culture operates cannot be understood until these facts are a part of an ethnographic tool kit.

As we have seen in the opening discussion of this chapter, the Sun


Dance itself is not a "pure product" of the New World as it existed before European arrival. It was formulated in reaction to dislocations precipitated by the advent of Europeans. The most persistent element of the ceremony, the medicine pole, was not strictly speaking a New World product either, having come from the tradition of Siberian shamanism. We look in vain here for the purity of an American Eden. What we might discern if we examine the Sun Dance ritual with care is an expression of our "modern" anxieties, which are really associated with manufacturing an identity within a high-grid, low-group, ego-centered society: how to reconcile the need to advance individually and to adapt to a rapidly changing environment while maintaining a necessary degree of group solidarity.

The Sun Dance embodied such concerns. The sixth warrior society, for example, danced with guns, thus legitimating the use of those weapons and the link established with the white man by the use of the guns. Sponsorship of the dance is another case in point. In prereservation days, such sponsorship was generally by a warrior who had survived a situation of great danger likely associated with a raid to acquire horses. Warriors gained prestige by counting coup, but also by owning horses. Horses were highly charged religious symbols and so possessed great medicine. Horses also served as a form of wealth for Cheyenne after they became traders, and remained their primary form of wealth until they became heavily involved with the fur trade, when other more portable forms of "currency"—buffalo robes in particular—gained popularity.[25]

Of course, when it became possible to amass wealth, individualism and an early form of capitalism took hold. By the early nineteenth century, the Cheyenne were undoubtedly preadapted to their role in the fur trade with the whites. This was so, in part, because of their experience in the ritual trade of the Plains, in which they were establishing a position as middlemen by virtue of their mobility and military prowess. But, also, they had developed the habit of thinking in somewhat quantitative terms: The more horses a man had, the greater not only his power (medicine) but his wealth.

This development was accelerated by the presence of Bent's Old Fort. Grinnell recounted one of the Cheyenne stories that includes elements pertinent to this idea in By Cheyenne Campfires .[26] Here he described a horse-stealing expedition mounted against the Kiowa in about 1839. The Cheyenne party stopped by Bent's Old Fort to get provisions, which William Bent provided on credit. The leaders of the expedition vouched for the younger members and told Bent the families to which these individuals belonged, so that if the young members were killed, their fami-


lies could be held responsible for the debt. Thus Bent revealed his role as a crucial participant in the economy of raiding and looting, an economy already developed. In acting as a sort of banker, he facilitated this development. This economy collapsed with the movement of the Cheyenne to reservations. By then, however, other forms of wealth had developed. Such forms were available not only to warriors; both men and women could amass these new forms of wealth and, so, could sponsor the Sun Dance. Of overriding interest here is not that the basis for the economy had changed, but that the nature of the culture had been altered by this experience in the direction of capitalism, modernity, and individualism. The Sun Dance ritual could accommodate and, so, validate and perpetuate this change in ideology.

The most striking feature of the Sun Dance, ritual self-torture, is also the one that displays most clearly the orientation toward individualism. As noted previously, the personal vision quest was artfully woven into the fabric of cultural beliefs. Nonetheless, there is no mistaking the fact that the questors assumed center stage in the drama of the ritual and derived great personal prestige from their role. The Sun Dance balanced the urgent desire on the part of young warriors for personal recognition with the needs of the society in a way that can also be seen in the Cheyenne social institution of the contraries. The contraries, or Crazy Dogs, acted in overtly antisocial ways. These included riding their horses backward, dressing backward, washing with dirt, drying with water, and flaunting social mores and conventions. In battle, they acted with complete disregard for their personal safety. They would charge alone into the enemy camp or tie themselves to a stake when the enemy charged. Many died in doing so, but those who survived were rewarded with the highest prestige in Cheyenne society. Self-destructive behavior that could have been destructive to Cheyenne society was channeled into behavior that enhanced the common good. The Sun Dance ritual showed the way this could be done. It transformed aggression and nihilism into behavior meaningful to the individual and valuable to the society.

It is likely that Clifford Geertz would see in the behavior of the contraries, as well as that associated with the Sun Dance, Jeremy Bentham's idea of "deep play,"[27] play for which stakes are so high that it makes no sense from a utilitarian standpoint. Bentham used as an example gambling for very high stakes. If a man has enough to survive, his argument went, winning a great deal of money produces less pleasure than losing a great deal of money would produce in suffering. Geertz said that such behavior cannot be understood at all if it is linked closely to rational processes.


Using the Balinese as an example, he argued that humans engage in deep play because it is so meaningful. In fact, the "deeper" it is, the more meaning it has:

It is in large part because the marginal disutility of the loss is so great at the higher levels of betting that to engage in such betting is to lay one's public self, allusively and metaphorically, through the medium of one's cock, on the line. And though to a Benthamite this might seem merely to increase the irrationality of the enterprise that much further, to the Balinese what it mainly increases is the meaningfulness of it all, and as (to follow Weber rather than Bentham) the imposition of meaning on life is the major end and primary condition of human existence, that access of significance more than compensates for the economic costs involved. (my emphasis)[28]

The arguments in this book support Geertz's major contention, that "the imposition of meaning on life is the major end and primary condition of human existence." The remarkable fact is that survival itself may be forfeited in the urgent quest for meaning. The young Cheyenne warrior, faced with the urgent necessity to establish a viable social identity, often felt that he had no recourse but to put his very life on the line in order to obtain it. I suggest that desperate moves became more prevalent as opportunities for social recognition for junior members of this society dwindled. The development of more unambiguous and more portable forms of wealth made it possible for older, more established warriors to amass wealth. Using this wealth, they then monopolized the means by which further wealth and prestige might be obtained.

Eventually, it took wealth to sponsor a Sun Dance. This alteration in the way the Sun Dance was organized marked a turning point in Cheyenne culture; it set the pattern for other, key social transactions. Perhaps most importantly, in order to mount a raiding expedition, as numerous ethnographers have reported, it was necessary, to have the prestige to attract able warriors to the raiding party. In later years this required wealth with which to equip them and to purchase the sacred objects and ceremonies that would ensure the venture's success.[29]

The Sun Dance displays, according to the terminology utilized by Victor Turner, at least two liminal facets. Rituals occur, said Turner, at limens, or "thresholds.[30] These are points of change, crisis, or danger in the lives of individuals or cultures. All rituals are, in one way or another, "rites of passage," which involve three phases: separation, marginality or liminality , and finally, return . Note that all three must be by definition collective events, because they refer to the separation of ritual participants from the balance


of the group (which represents the whole of human society), the symbolic placing of these participants in an ahistorical state. This is the primordial state that exists before the beginning or after the end of time, the sacred state away from the normal concerns of work, food, and sleep, and one that is thus marginal or liminal to the rest of the group. The culmination is the return of the participants to a place in society, but one that has been altered by the ritual. The two facets of liminality in the Sun Dance are that the chief participants of the Sun Dance are separated by their presence in the medicine lodge from the rest of the tribe and that the vision questors are further separated by their ordeal, from the medicine lodge participants as well as the rest of the tribe. The questors become those most imbued with the sacred by virtue of the ritual.

The societal threshold to be crossed by the efforts of the participants in the medicine lodge is the one brought about by the summer solstice, when the day stops lengthening and begins to become shorter. The Cheyenne could determine the time of the summer solstice with the "medicine wheel." Rituals at the summer solstice are ubiquitous throughout the world and include those practiced by Neolithic peoples in Europe (circa 4700-2000 B.C. ) with the aid of their henges (larger in mass, but functioning in much the same way as the Cheyenne medicine wheel), ceremonies at ancient Mesoamerican, near Eastern, and Asian temples, the burning of witches on midsummer night's eve in medieval Europe, and the lighting of bonfires and burning of witch dolls today in northern Europe on midsummer night's eve, usually accompanied by night-long celebrations. The fireworks that are so much a part of Fourth of July celebrations in the United States are, most likely, survivals of solstice rituals. Fireworks are utilized in many places in the world at liminal occasions to frighten away the demons that always threaten at such times of uncertainty (one well known example is the Chinese New Year).

Such transitional moments are also sometimes linked to personal transitions brought about by change in status, usually by virtue of age, or by personal crisis. The Mescalero Apache, to cite just one Plains group, perform the rituals used to initiate girls into tribal membership and womanhood on the nights near the summer solstice. As the ethnographer Claire Farrer noted:

The girls enter into their ceremony as unformed as was the universe before Creator initiated order. While each girl becomes a physiological woman upon initial menstruation, she becomes a fully social woman and one who understands she is truly "the mother of a people" as she participates in, or even watches, the full cycle of the ceremonial[31]


Likewise, the Sun Dance, also held near the summer solstice, is an initiation of sorts. The occasion for liminality here is not physiological change, it is a growing psychological disturbance among the questors prior to their decision to undergo the ordeal. It may be described as a sense of meaninglessness, or anomie, and may well be associated with the difficulties which grew ever more daunting to the young man attempting to establish a viable social identity. The questor, if successful, returns to the realm of primordial chaos in order to receive his vision and emerges "reborn" as a man with a purpose. This reveals the more individualistic cast of rites of initiation, which are ubiquitous among traditional people.

In the Sun Dance, the initiation is combined with a healing ritual, such as that practiced, to cite just one example out of very many, during a Navajo sing. Here, primordial chaos is also evoked, and then harmony and balance is reinstituted through proper behavior (ritual singing, the assembly of kin), and the ailing person is thereby restored to "wholeness." The Sun Dance ritual as it evolved may be seen in this light as an attempt to restore wholeness to an individual split off from a traditional culture, which heretofore had been sufficient to provide a viable identity to the person. As we shall see, there are similarities between "traditional" Cheyenne and "modern" American conditions of alienation and the use of ritualistic behavior to attempt to correct that alienation.

The Golden Age

Ritual behavior always involves a symbolic return to the primordial conditions of existence, before the advent of time and the uncertainties and finalities associated with time. These primordial conditions are everywhere represented as a kind of paradise without death, suffering, or work; when man lived in harmony with the world, even with the other animals; when he had easy access from his world to the "real" world, heaven; and when he thereby could communicate directly with God. Between this timeless world and the present intervened a catastrophe, sundering ready access to heaven and God and marking the beginning of our present unfortunate condition, one characterized by temporality, death, and suffering.[32]

From a Freudian (one might as well here say "modern") point of view, this "paradise" might be the prenatal or preweaning period, which ends with a catastrophic "infantile trauma." An individual's personality, ac-


cording to this theory, is fixed by his attitude toward the circumstances of this primordial state. Stephen Jay Gould has developed this idea further, expanding upon the idea of prolonged infant dependency to explain what he sees as the ubiquitous human characteristic of neoteny. Some implications of this are that humans retain infantile characteristics throughout their lives. Manifestations include the life-long human capacity for learning and play.[33] Another implication, though, is that we retain the longing for a parental caretaker and "savior," casting our gods into this role and casting our parents (and more remote ancestors) as gods.[34] The importance of this human characteristic only increases as ritual becomes less formal (or "degraded") and "privatized" in the modern world, and each individual must assume more responsibility for constructing a meaningful universe for herself or himself from a cosmology, more and more idiosyncratic.

In such a cosmology, parents become increasingly important, and the ability to "differentiate" or "individuate" becomes crucial to successful socialization.[35] Successful socialization includes the ability to conceptualize and express oneself in an "elaborated" (rational and explicit) manner, as opposed to a "restricted" (context-bound and abbreviated) one.[36] Such a task is difficult. It is actually impossible to accomplish completely, as Bowen observed, and all too frequently differentiation is so incomplete as to render the individual dysfunctional in the modern world, in all but relatively structured environments. Reasons for inadequate socialization appear to be both idiosyncratic and cultural. Psychologists tend to focus on the idiosyncratic aspects of socialization. As we have seen, these assume much greater importance in the modern world.

Adequate socialization of the young in a modern industrial world is of interest from a cultural viewpoint. The modern world has been aptly characterized by Mary Douglas as ego-centered; that is, it is a world in which the "competence and luck" of each individual is believed to be responsible for his or her "success" or "failure." These latter terms really refer to whether a person has been able to construct a viable identity. Unsuccessful participants in such a world system are doomed to "social oblivion." Douglas summarizes the inherent problems of such a system as follows:

My own hypothesis is that a society so strongly centered on a structure of ego-focused grid is liable to recurrent breakdown from its inherent moral weakness. It cannot continually sustain the commitment of all its members to an egalitarian principle that favors a minority. It has no way of symbolizing or activating the collective conscious. One would anticipate an ego-focused grid


system to swing between the glorification of successful leaders and the celebration of the rights of the masses to enjoy success.[37]

What may come as more of a surprise than this statement by Douglas is her contention that other strongly gridded, ego-centered cultures include such "primitive" ones as those of New Guinea (who display what has been called the "Big Man" system) and that of the American Plains Indians. The ego-centered aspect of the Plains Indian culture, I suggest, derives from the influence of American (modern, capitalistic, and individualistic) culture. Ego-centered individualism was propagated largely by the social mechanism of ritual trade, which produced profound changes in cultures already traumatized by disease, defeat, and despair. Such an explanation is required to clear up confusion such as that expressed by the early ethnographer Robert Lowie at the "rank individualism" inherent in the religious structures of Plains Indians groups like the Crow.[38] Douglas observed:

Lowie pointed to this as an example of a religion that Durkheim's approach could not accommodate. This is the very type of society which Durkheim thought could not exist in primitive economic conditions: low level of economic interdependence combined with highly competitive individualism, and a religion of private guardian spirits for each man.[39]

In this system, whether among the American Indians or in New Guinea or here amongst ourselves, each person is committed to it by the lure of outstanding success (or even just moderate success) for himself.

All cultures, according to Eliade, display a yearning for the lost primordial world, which they regard as paradise. It may seem strange to modern observers that the yearning for paradise is most apparent among some of the most archaic of societies:

The most representative mystical experience of the archaic societies, that of Shamanism, betrays the Nostalgia for Paradise, the desire to recover the state of freedom and beatitude before "the Fall" the will to restore communication between Earth and Heaven; in a word, to abolish all the changes made in the very structure of the Cosmos and in the human mode of being by that primordial disruption. The shaman's ecstacy restores a great deal of paradisiac condition: it renews the friendship with the animals; by his flight or ascension, the shaman reconnects Earth with Heaven; up there, in Heaven, he once more meets the God of Heaven face to face and speaks directly to him, as man sometimes did in illo tempore .[40]

Nostalgia extends not only to the realm of the purely primordial but also to the dim reaches of what each group perceives to be its profane his-


tory. Thus, in the past, it was invariably easier to commune with the absolute: The gods were closer at hand, and shamans were more adept at their business of bringing the sacred to the profane.

Such nostalgia is not, of course, limited to archaic societies. More "modem" religions offer abundant examples: praying toward the east in the Muslim religion, baptism as reentry into paradise, the hope of paradise after death in the Christian religion, and so on. Christopher Columbus believed he had discovered paradise on his third voyage. Ponce de León searched for the fountain of youth, and as William Brandon has documented very well, early in their explorations of the New World the Spanish were guided by their belief in Quivira.[41]

Nostalgia exists in less obviously sacred realms, too. It is important to bear in mind that ritual exists as a social mechanism, and myth and symbol as social phenomena quite apart from the validity of their claim to a higher form of knowledge. Although belief in that higher form is essential, the more meaningful realm may exist apart from contemporary religious institutions. Ritual and myth are primary ways of organizing the world; they are, in fact, essential to "world construction" and so extend into areas where ritual has become degraded and the underlying mythology much more difficult to see or to attach to the obviously "sacred."

Such is the case in regard to the strange nostalgia for Native American culture—strange in the sense that the dominant Anglo culture did everything in its power to obliterate the Native American culture for a time and still behaves in a patronizing manner toward Native Americans. Nonetheless, it is obvious that "mainstream" America considers the Native American heritage to be part of its own. The American stake in Native American identity is particularly strong in regard to the Plains Indians, and, I think, even more especially the Cheyenne. Americans have a certain awe of the nineteenth-century Plains Indian way of life, and it is sometimes held up as a model for a more "wholesome" and "natural" way of life. A recent expression of this can be seen in the popularity of the motion picture Dances With Wolves. More revealing, there was little resistance to the idea, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Columbus's "discovery" of America, that European colonization had despoiled a Garden of Eden. While American popular attitudes toward Native Americans are ambivalent, it should be apparent that Native American culture, at least the romanticized conception of it, is a part of the mythological American paradise. Recognizing nostalgia for what it is acknowledges that such romanticism may be a part of a social dynamic that relegates Native Americans to a subordinate social position. It is as if we need our "primitives."


The fall 1990 issue of The American West Traveller, a "take-home copy" which I picked up in my hotel room in Denver, illustrates well some of the nuances of American romanticism about and nostalgia for the Native American way of life. There is a full-page ad for a bronze statue from the Franklin Mint which depicts an Indian, astride a horse, holding up a buffalo skull. The sculpture, titled "Prayer to the Healing Spirit," is remarkably similar to MacNiel's "The Sun Vow," although the advertised sculpture seems to have added one of Remington's horses and one of Bierstadt's buffalo skulls to the vignette. Christmas cards are offered on other pages, most with Western motifs, many depicting Native Americans. The message on one of the latter is, "May the warm winds of Heaven blow softly on your house, and the Great Spirit bless all who enter there. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year." I am urged to send for the 1990 Indian Market Magazine, which will guide me through the Santa Fe Indian Market. The guide not only will direct me to the "Hopi painter who delights in symbolism, and a Comanche couple who create miniature beadwork" but also will explain "why Indian art is hot around the world today."

As I page through the magazine, my attention is caught by a photograph of four men wearing Army fatigues, feathered headdresses, and (three of the four) Ray-Ban-type sunglasses. The photograph is an illustration for an article titled "Something to Crow About." The caption says, "The Crow color guard. The man on the right wears a genuine eagle feather war bonnet. Note the two men in the center wearing the blue and silver Combat Infantry Badge. To this day, the Crows elevate warriors to positions of respect in the tribe," as do Americans as a whole, I think.

The trans-Mississippi West occupies a position in American nationalistic mythology. somewhere between what Camelot and Sherwood Forest represent to the English. It is by means of the mythology associated with the West that we have, to a considerable extent, defined our country and ourselves. The importance of the West to our national identity is why so much of Western history begins with Frederick Jackson Turner's "The Significance of the Frontier in American History" and ends with discussions and arguments about this single work. Perhaps Turner would be less misunderstood if he had more clearly identified the West as the Eden of our national origin myth.

The role of Native Americans in the national mythology has unavoidably colored American and European perceptions of Native American groups. A recurring myth, and one that has gained increasing ascendancy, in the last twenty-five years or so, is one that employs the dichotomy noted by Claude Lévi-Strauss in The Raw and the Cooked .[42] Bi-


nary opposition is attributed here to that which is "raw and natural" on the one hand and "cooked and socialized" on the other, between what is "natural" and what is "artifice." That which is natural (cotton, rural life, "natural" foods, no make-up) is regarded as being superior to that which is artificial (plastic, city life, fast- or microwaved food, cosmetic surgery), the latter being not as (or at least less) "real" and valid. The merits or flaws of this position are well beyond the scope of this book; however, uncritically regarding Native Americans as the Noble Savage must impede to some degree the rational apprehension of the past. In reality, the Native American past was not quiescent, not a Garden of Eden nor a Peaceful Kingdom as is sometimes suggested by binary partitioning of the modem from the primitive and traditional. It was, instead, characterized by individual and collective attempts to secure meaning, security, and pleasure, and these efforts unavoidably generated conflict.

Archaeological evidence has clearly shown that these conflicts were often worked out in violent ways, ways which included scalping and other forms of mutilation.[43] Such evidence refutes recurring claims in the popular culture that scalping was a European invention.[44] In other words, the Native American past was a typically human adaptation, with conflicts and alliances arising at least in part from idiosyncrasies of personality and the accidental juxtaposition of individuals and events, rather than being an instinctive and harmonious collaboration with nature.

The images of southwestern Plains Native American groups that have realized popular currency not only in the United States but throughout the world are derived for the most part from observations made in the nineteenth century. These images, and the characteristics associated with them, have been incorporated into the national identity of the United States. Nineteenth-century images of Native Americans or Native American paraphernalia appear on coins (the "Indian Head" nickel), on stamps (the commemorative edition of Native American headdresses), in association with college and professional sport organizations (including the professional football team from the nation's capital, the Washington Redskins), as insignia on the uniforms of youth organizations (such as the Boy Scouts of America "Arrowhead" merit badges), on weapons and weapon systems (Tomahawk, Apache), on all-terrain vehicles (the Jeep Cherokee), and in any number of other places where they are generally intended to associate the bearer of the image with the qualities of independence, physical and especially military prowess, pride, endurance, and masculinity. In turn, there is a general implication that such characteristics are peculiarly American. A. Irving Hallowell has noted that


Carl Jung, who has probably analyzed more persons of various nationalities than anyone else, thought he could discern an Indian component in the character structure of his American patients, and D. H. Lawrence asked whether a dead Indian is nought. "Not that the Red Indian will ever possess the broad-lands of America," he said and then added, "but his ghost will."[45]

Not only are these images and characteristics taken from the nineteenth century, they are associated with the period of most intense interaction between Anglo and Native American groups—and that of the most extensive armed confrontation between the two.

Such a "snapshot" view of these groups—most notably the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Sioux, Comanche, Kiowa, Apache, and Navajo—disregards their histories before and after the nineteenth century. These images are ahistorical—timeless. They belong to a mythological "golden age," one that sprang forth fully blown, like Athena from the forehead of Zeus. In the popular conception, these cultures existed in their natural and unchanging form from the dim recesses of the past until they were sullied by their collision with the white man's world. If they exist today, it must be only in some degraded manner.

The influence of nostalgia upon the modern perception of these particular Native American groups obscures popular, and to some extent academic, understanding of Native American groups in general. Not only does it focus on a few years out of many but also it ignores the fact that nineteenth-century southwestern Plains Native American groups developed in anything but a cultural vacuum. Their particular cultural configuration they owe in great part to interaction with the very Anglo-Americans who are often cast as their antithesis. In truth, we are much more alike than different, as Mary Douglas has pointed out. She categorized the Crow, and by extension the other Plains Indians, and the industrialized western cultures, high- and low-group societies that operate according to impersonal rules.[46] We should be alike; we are a part of the same cultural dynamic that has produced the modernity, capitalism, and individualism with which we all have since had to contend. Weston La Barre compared coup-counting and the behavior of the "Crazy Dogs" contraries with that of contemporary Americans, observing the similarities between a successful Crazy Dog and a broker who "makes a big killing on a stock market coup by the age of thirty-five—and then dies young of a coronary attack at age thirty-six."[47] Certainly, many American males would not be unflattered by the compar-


ison of their behavior in business with that of a Plains warrior in battle. And I suspect that were they faced with the same choice that confronted young Cheyenne males, that of risking all for "success" or leading what would probably be a longer life as a "failure," many would choose, as did the braves, the former over the latter. Such is the American way.


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