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Field Division of Education
The Blackfoot
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SOCIAL CUSTOMS AND RELIGION


LIFE CYCLE

Birth and Childhood.

Birth customs are of no great interest. The mother is attended by medicine women and must not be approached by men for fear of bad luck.

Children are taught the conventions of Blackfoot behavior girls have domestic virtues drilled into them, boys were taught braveness, self-control, helpfulness. There were no puberty ceremonies of importance. (Wissler, 1911:20-30).

Marriage.

The conspicuous feature of a Blackfoot marriage is the exchange of presents between the families of the prospective spouses. As the amount given by the boy's family generally exceeds that received, the marriage is something of a bride purchase. Other features of marriage point to the same thing.

Marriage was usually, though not necessarily, outside the band, but there were no clans or gentes regulating it.

Before and after marriage the girl is required to be strictly chaste, and the penalties for adultery are said to have been very severe in olden times. The boy, however, could and was expected to have as many affairs as possible both before and after marriage. Polygamy was a usual means of displaying wealth and acquiring social importance though few men were able to support as many as five wives. Always, however, a head wife reigned above the others and had privileges denied them. Often, though not necessarily, extra wives were sisters of the first. Even before marrying his wife's sisters, a man could take unusual liberties in making obscene jokes with them. With the mother-in-law, however, he observed a strict avoidance in accordance with the wide-spread mother-in-law taboo.

Divorce was uncommon except for extreme laziness, cruelty or adultry, in which ease it was accomplished simply by the woman returning to her family which returned the bride-price or gifts to the husband. (Wissler, 1911:8-14.)

Names.

A child is named soon after birth, a man of some importance being called upon to give him the name of a famous person, long since dead. Occasionally, he takes his name for an exploit of his father if the latter is a distinguished man. Other names may be added later, as when a man goes on his first war party, or at a Sun Dance. (Wissler, 1911:16-18.)

Property.

Each person owned his personal belongings. The tipi, travois, the horse she rode, and domestic implements were owned by the woman. At death, a man's property was divided among his relatives, his oldest son taking most. When women returned to their families they took only what they brought into the marriage. (Wissler, 1911:26-27).

Division of Labor.

Work falling to women included preparing skins, their own clothes and most of the men's, tipis, travois, riding gear; cooking; gathering vegetables; most of the transportation in moving; carrying wood and water and putting up the tipi. Women painted parfleche and bag designs.

Men's work included hunting and butchering; making their own ornaments, sometimes leggings and coats: painting tipi and robe designs. (Wissler, 1911:27-28).

Death and mourning.

Formerly, the tipi in which a person died was abandoned or used as a burial tipi. The deceased, dressed in his best, was usually placed in the tipi on a hilltop or on a sccaffold in trees, accompanied, perhaps, by his favorite horse which was killed. (See Jenness, p.164, for an excellent photo of a Blackfoot scaffold burial.) Persons incurably ill sometimes deliberately killed as many other persons as possible, then took their own lives.

In mourning, relatives cut their hair short, and affected carelessness and indifference of person and dress, until the mourning was terminated with a sweat bath. (Wissler, 1911:30-32).



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