Die Masai


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"When Bad-old-man, an informant, was young it was customary for all wealthy single men to be well dressed. They were waited on a great deal. They usually wore the most expensive clothing, blankets, weasel-tail suits, war bonnets, and horn bonnets. They were also the owners of shields, the medicine lance, the black-covered pipe, and other similar medicine objects. These were usually purchased as a means to show their wealth. The horses they rode were decorated with bells; their saddle blankets were of panther skin; and their bridles much ornamented. On their bridles was tied a stick with pendant feathers and the horse bonnets were used. These things were not used all the time but whenever a dance was given or the camps moved. Therefore a wealthy young single man was always distinguishable from others.

"In the tipi their beds were always placed on the guest side near the rear. When camp was to be broken, these men usually went a short distance away and sat on a butte or hill while the parents took down the tipi, performed other duties, saddled the young man’s horse, and led it up to where he sat. They ride a short distance to one side of the rest of the people. When they reach camp, they wait until all is ready, when they are asked to come down to their tipis. They usually carry whips with two lashes, a bone or horn handle, and a beaded wristlet, while some carry an ornamented war club.

"These young men used to paint their lips with white paint after meals to make people believe that they were not great eaters. They of course, do not always turn out the greatest war chiefs, for it has often happened that poor young men have gone on the warpath, captured horses, bought fine clothes and medicine bundles, and become leaders among the people."

This is of some interest since in the older literature of the Missouri area we find occasional mention of these dandies but nowhere any such clear account as the above.1

The so-called sun dance, noted for its torture feature, was in fact a gathering point for the mass expression of prominent traits in Plains culture. It was in general a renewal-of-life-ceremony following the terribly severe winters of the northwestern plains and was called by the Dakota a "looking-at-the sun" dance, but few of the other Plains tribes gazed at the sun and at least four of them had no torture feature.2 The original ceremony seems to have been the erection of a pole and dancing about it. These gatherings were, however, made the occasion of the fulfillment of vows previously made and of renewal of spiritual contacts, and the torture feature seems to have been first emphasized and most developed by the Dakota. Among the Oglala division of this group of tribes the torture was graduated into four levels of severity so that even a child could undergo the first degree, the only condition being that "the wound to cause the blood to flow must not be smaller than that made by cutting away a bit of skin as large as a louse."3 Furthermore, while all these tribes had certain patterns of suffering when seeking a "vision," that is, a spiritual manifestation and promise, it was characteristic of the Dakota that the suppliant attached himself to a post by means of a rope and skewers inserted beneath the muscles of the back and whirled himself about the post until the flesh broke away, and there is reason to believe that this feature of vision seeking was incorporated in the Dakota sun dance and became its most gruesome aspect.4 There is evidence also that the torture pattern spread from this point by imitation among neighboring tribes and was still spreading when the dance was suppressed by the United States and Canadian governments. From the fact also that the pattern was not standardized and not everywhere assimilated to other tribal patterns we may infer that the dance itself was of comparatively recent origin, antedating perhaps not more than a century its description by Mackenzie in 1805. It is plain also that while the ceremonies had a religious and magical content they afforded an opportunity for the comparative exhibition of fortitude comparable with the exhibition of skill and nerve in our athletic games and contests and were a means of seeking preeminent distinction and status. The same individual sometimes presented himself several times in successive years for the sake of added distinction.

1Wissler, C.n/an/an/an/an/a, "Ceremonial Bundles of the Blackfoot Indians," Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist., Anth. Pap., 7: 288–289.

2 Wissler, C., "The Sun Dance of the Plains Indians," Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist., Anth. Pap., 16: v–vii.

3 Walker, J. R., "The Sun Dance and Other Ceremonies of the Oglala Division of the Teton Dakota," Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist., Anth. Pap., 16: 61.

4 Spier, L., "The Sun Dance of the Plains Indians: Its Development and Diffusion." Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist., Anth. Pap., 16: 474–475.


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Chicago: "Die Masai," Die Masai in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed May 23, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=WIDBNRJ9KZYJBGD.

MLA: . "Die Masai." Die Masai, Vol. 7, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 23 May. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=WIDBNRJ9KZYJBGD.

Harvard: , 'Die Masai' in Die Masai. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 May 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=WIDBNRJ9KZYJBGD.