Wednesday, December 07, 2005

demonic, but kind of beautiful

Today I was distracted in the library by a book about Sioux religion called Lakota Belief and Ritual. It seems to be a redaction of some of the material from the early part of the 20th century collected by anthroplogists who recognized that white people had pretty succefully destroyed Indian culture.

Don't get me wrong: the Indians in many ways lived a depraved existence, given over to massacring each other, to stealing each others food, women and children, and to devil worship. But there is something melancholic and beautiful about the words of one old heathen chief to some anthropologist who had come to learn what he could about a dying culture from one of the last people to understand and practice it. Augustine in De Doctrina Christiana comes to mind: "...the Gentiles were turned from the corruption of a multitude of false gods, which Scripture frequently and justly speaks of as fornication, to the worship of the One God: not that they might now fall into bondage to sings of a useful kind, but rather that they might exercise their minds in the spiritual understanding of such."

Anyway, here is what the old Indian said:

It was this ceremony that was performed when an Oglala chose a Hunka or an Ate. They used to perform this ceremony, but now the people have forgotten it. Only the old men remember it. I know the ceremony and I can perform it. I am a Hunka and an Ate many times. I can wear so many red stripes that they would hide my face. I do not wear them any more, because the young people have forgotten what they mean, and they do not show proper respect for them.


Since that time when a person is made a Hunka it is done with this ceremony. The secrets of the ceremony are mysterious (wakan). They are not good now. No one cares for them now. They will be lost when the Hunkayapi are all dead. I will tell them to you. You may write them, for the spirits of the ancient times no longer visit the people. They will do me no harm. If they do, I am an old man and ready to die.


These are the secrets of the Hunkayapi. You must not talk of them with anyone except a Hunka or Ate. My friend I have told you the secrets of the Hunkayapi. I fear that I have done wrong. But the spirits of old times do not come to me any more. Another spirit has come. The Great Spirit of the white man. I do not know him. I do not know how to call him to help me. I have done him no harm, and he should do me no harm. The old life is gone, and I cannot be a young man again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amazing. It reminds me of the story, I don't remember the source, of a person telling someone of Jesus who was from a culture who'd never heard of Him. The person replied, "Oh. That's his name, I've known about him, but I never knew his name." MMBX