Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Old Man of the Blackfeet

     The religion of the American Indians was/is a mosaic of gods, nature spirits, and visions, but in the background is the figure, sometimes remote, sometimes overarching, of the High God, the Creator. Contrary to what you may have read, the Great Spirit was not a creation of Christian missionaries, although their teachings may have had an influence on modern Indian spirituality. Among the Blackfeet, as among the Crees, Arapahos, and Gros Ventres, he was Napi, the Old Man.
     But unlike the distant Great Spirit of the eastern tribes, and the complex, multi-faceted Great Mystery of the Sioux, the Old Man was a familiar, grandfatherly figure, even given to practical jokes, who departed after his work was completed.
     After creating the earth and the animals, the Old Man constructed his wife, the Old Woman out of mud, and together they designed the human race. Of course, said the Old Man, he intended to have the first say in everything. That was all right, agreed his wife, provided she have second say.
     Old Man said, "Let the people have eyes and mouths in their faces, and let them be straight up and down." But the Old Woman added. "Yes, let them have eyes and mouths; but they shall be set crosswise in their faces."
     Old Man said, "Let the people have ten fingers on each hand." "No," declared Old Woman, "ten fingers will be in the way. Let them have four fingers and a thumb on each." So the people were made.
     I like this story, for it reminds us that the relationship between men and women is much the same all over the world. I might also add that, as the man of the house, I always have the last word in everything. And usually that last word is, "Yes, dear."

Reference: John C. Ewers (1958), The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains, University of Oklahoma Press, pp 3-4, quoting Alexander Henry and David Thompson (1897), New Light of the Early History of the Greater Northwest, II, 528.

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