The Ila-Speaking Peoples of Northern Rhodesia


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Individuals [of the Hidatsa] whose fathers belonged to the same clan were "joking-relatives" (makutsati). The basic notion of this relationship in its more serious aspects seems to be that of licensed and unrestricted criticism for an infraction of tribal custom. When a man had committed some reprehensible or improper deed, e.g., married a clan mate, or shown jealousy, it was not the function of his fellow clansmen but of his makutsati to reprove him or make fun of him. They would spread the news of the wrongdoing and throw it in the offender’s teeth and he was obliged to take all this in good part as the prerogative of makutsati.

These practices began even in childhood. A girl would reproach another for not knowing how to build an earth lodge, while one boy would say to another, "I have some honor marks, you have nothing." Sometimes makutsati played against each other in games.

Joking-relatives addressed one another as brothers and sisters. According to Buffalo-bird-woman, they gave one another presents; for example, Sitting-owl, whom she called younger brother, gave her horses. If a man is wounded in battle, his makutsati is expected to dismount and save him, otherwise he will get the reputation of a coward.

If a woman had been honorably bought in marriage while her maku-tsati had merely eloped with her sweetheart, the former would twit the latter with this difference, saying "You are a bad woman, no one knows where you sleep with this man, no one knows who your first husband was," or, "You are bad, I am a good woman for I have been bought." If a woman is expert at porcupine quillwork and her makutsati is not, the former will scoff at the other for her ignorance, saying di watskiwits, "I sew you up," which is the word applied to the sewing up at the end of a piece of quillwork. Similarly, if one woman has done a great deal of tanning, she will make fun of another of inferior skill by saying, "I scrape your back."

Among male fellow jokers certain peculiar usages were in vogue. A man who has scalped a slain enemy has the right of cutting a maku-tsati’s hair, provided the latter has no like feat to his credit or has performed it less frequently. In such a case the haircutter pays a horse to his joking-relative. Sometimes the one whose hair is threatened will say: "Give me your wife," then the joker desists, for otherwise he would have to surrender his wife. One who has struck an enemy may whip his makutsati, always granting that the latter has not done likewise. Hairy-coat said that since he had performed this greatest of war deeds he was exempt from having his hair cut and might knock down with his pipe anyone attempting to cut it.

Wolf-chief said that one who has struck an enemy, if angry at his joking-relative, may strike him, prefacing the act with the statement, "Over there I struck an enemy." One who had taken a scalp and cut off his makutsati’s hair would say . . . "A man of this size his hair I got." Then he summoned his father’s clansfolk, saying, "My fathers (or aunts), come and bury this enemy I have killed, and receive one of my horses." Some clan father or aunt would then come and give a blanket to the man whose hair had been cut. Before the haircutting, the man who is to suffer the indignity designates a horse belonging to his fellow joker and says, "That’s the one you will pay me, and you will give up your wife too."

The other replies, "I’ll give you a horse." The one whose hair was to have been cut then takes a stick, strikes his makutsati and says, "I am using your honor mark because you love your horse and your wife." Then he pays a horse to the man struck. All the other makutsati deride the one who was afraid to lose his wife and his horse. They say, "Everyone urinates on him, he is no good, he loves his wife. If anyone took her away, I am sure he would try to recover her." This alludes to the very fundamental notion that a man of standing must not be jealous. If his makutsati asked him for his wife, he was supposed to give her up, or they would jeer him all his life. If he should give her up and take her back again after a few years, he likewise became a laughingstock.

The relations between male and female fellow jokers are illustrated by some of Wolf-chief’s experiences. When he was a young man, Cornstalk and Many-women made fun of him. Both of them had made tipi decorations, which accomplishment corresponds to a man’s honor marks, while my informant had not yet struck the enemy as first-coup man. Corn-stalk sent him a message, saying "I have finished my tent now and want to pitch it. Wolf-chief is a heavy man, so I shall let him be on the edge of the tent lest the wind blow it away." She made this remark because on account of his war record she considered Wolf-chief inferior to other makutsati. He sent back word to this effect: "They are right. I’ll be glad to weight down their tent. They will give me a horse for that, then I’ll take my honor marks on them." Once he went on a war party, which killed two women. He took off their dresses and put their bodies together. "I am going to do this to Corn-stalk and Manywomen," he declared, "then I’ll give them whatever presents they may name." Wolf-chief did this to the women of the hostile camp. The two fellow jokers sent back this message: "Brother, we don’t want you to do that, we’ll never bother you any more." According to old Indian custom, Wolf-chief would have been permitted to carry out his threat.1

1Lowien/an/an/an/an/an/a, "Notes on the . . . Mandan, Hidatsa, and Crow Indians," 42–44.


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Chicago: "The Ila-Speaking Peoples of Northern Rhodesia," The Ila-Speaking Peoples of Northern Rhodesia in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed December 10, 2023,

MLA: . "The Ila-Speaking Peoples of Northern Rhodesia." The Ila-Speaking Peoples of Northern Rhodesia, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 10 Dec. 2023.

Harvard: , 'The Ila-Speaking Peoples of Northern Rhodesia' in The Ila-Speaking Peoples of Northern Rhodesia. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 10 December 2023, from