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This essay is provided online courtesy of the editor since the publication is out of print. The terms folk or folklife were traditionally not associated with Indian culture. The antiquarian view was that "'primitive" tribal groups around the world were the natural precursors of the peasants in Europe who, along with rural whites and blacks and urban ethnic groups in America, were considered "'the folk. More modern concepts of folk culture use "folk" as a generic term that can be applied to traditional beliefs, practices, and creations of all social groups.
Although folklorists and anthropologists are usually reluctant to apply the notions of folklore and folklife to middle class and Houma indian women populations--though these groups certainly do have traditions--there has been much less resistance to viewing Native American culture as within the preview of folk traditions. The reasons for this are many, but in a very pragmatic sense it is essential to understand Indian traditions in order to comprehend their influence on rural whites and blacks in Louisiana and elsewhere in terms of folk medicine, foodways, and tales, to mention but a few areas.
In an opposite and ironic sense, Indians, due to geographic isolation and social exclusion, have often been the greatest conservators of European and Afro-American folk traditions since the contact period. In Louisiana, for example, one today finds members of the Houma tribe in Terrebonne Parish speaking French more broadly across the generations than most Cajun families. Perhaps even more disorienting to the cultural "Purists" is the fact that Choctaw-Apaches in northwest Louisiana often live in log houses--the classic Anglo pioneer folk house--while the whites have moved into the more prestigious mobile homes and tract subdivisions!
Their connection to other folk groups aside, Louisiana's Indian peoples are important to all of us because they represent the original human adaptation to the diversity of Louisiana environments. Widely respected as an archaeologist, cultural anthropologist and teacher, he has worked with Indians in Louisiana for over twenty years and is the author of numerous articles on their cultural activities and material creations. The Indians of Louisiana, in the geographic area longer than anyone else, have maintained their identity.
Their presence represents three hundred years of resistance to assimilation for some of them--at least two hundred for all of Houma indian women. They have managed to survive. Missionaries, government removals, tribal reorganization, schools, and the coming of industrialization have all had their effects.
Yet, somehow, the Indian peoples have clung to their own separate cultural heritages. In fact, they have seen their traditions borrowed by non-Indians, even as their own cultures were denied value. There are slightly more than 12, Indians in Louisiana, giving the state the third largest Indian population in the East United States Census. There are also a of nontribal communities of at least part Indian descent. Generally identified as "Redbones" or "Sabines," pejoratives for tri-racial groups Parenton and Pellegrin,these groups are apparently more Indian than anyone including some of them will admit.
Only a few tribes like the Natchez and their sub-tribes Swanton, and the Caddo Webb and Gregory, seem to have disappeared from Louisiana. Urban Indians are still in the minority; most Louisiana Indians' communities are far from the "pave.
Most are part of the traditional Indian communities in the state. However, outside groups such as the Cherokee, Oklahoma, Choctaw. In all cases these Indians have sought out others and have tried, even in urban settings, to maintain their cultural heritage. Louisiana Indians have lived between the whites and blacks, and both those groups have borrowed freely from Indian culture. All the southeastern Indians have stories which they share with blacks. There are many others that are different in content, and most vary in style and presentation. Stith Thompson in his North American Indian Folk Tales l xxiinoted "African influence" on Southern Indian tales, but he seemed to gloss over the fact that such cultural interchanges were seldom unidirectional.
Linguistically the Coushatta have struggled the hardest and remained the most successful at language maintenance. The whole tribe speaks Coushatta or Koasati as their first language. A few of them speak Mobilian and Choctaw as well. They are extremely proud of their cultural traditions Johnson, ; Rothe, Recently, with the aid of Eugene Burnham of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, the tribe has produced a series of children's readers in the language Coushatta Tribe The Choctaw at Jena, Louisiana, also have, at least among older people, preserved their dialect of Choctaw.
Today one hears the same phrases and words which set them apart from their linguistic kinsmen in Oklahoma and Mississippi that Albert Gatschet heard near Troup Creek in Unpublished Gatschet Notes, Anthropological Archives, The Smithsonian, Recently, the tribal government at Jena instituted a series of classes, funded by the Center for Applied Linguistics. This same group has begun working on a written system for Coushatta, and now, for the first time, children are learning to read their own native language.
In few other states is the Indian language contribution to the culture so obvious. The widespread use of the Choctaw-based Mobilian jargon, a pan-tribal trade language used by Indians, whites and blacks, was important into the late l9th century. Indian place names such as Natchitoches, Opelousas, Attakapas, Calcasieu, Catahoula, and Tensas are ubiquitous and still lend an exotic air to the geography Reed The Indian languages have also loaned many words, especially from their Mobilian trade language, to the local dialects of French, English, and Black English as well Crawford ; Hass, Mary Haas has described how the Tunica borrowed French words into their native language and William Reed has discussed the more common reverse of that situation.
Not only place names but whole rafts of words in Louisiana French are of Indian derivation. Linguistic borrowing was clearly a two-way street. However, the forms are different, and the Coushatta use raffia or a soft inner Houma indian women for stitching.
Apparently the technology--i. The Coushatta have long produced round and oval baskets, many decorated with flowers or pine cones. Open-work "bread trays" have also been made since the s. In the s tribal women elaborated on the basketry and produced a wide array of animals: bear, crabs, crayfish, frogs, etc.
One lady even made camels. These baskets have been the center of controversy for a time now. Some experts say the Coushatta learned to make them from home demonstration agents in the s other rural Louisianians didbut older Indians say they merely substituted raffia and Longleaf pine needles for wire grass and the inner bark of the dogwood de Caro and Jordan Wire grass baskets do occur on occasion even now. All these baskets remain the production of the women, and, while a few men broke tradition and tried their hand at the older? Straw baskets have become part of the tribe's income, but more important, they are also a ificant identity factor and a source of pride to the community.
In fact, pinestraw has almost completely replaced cane basketry on the reservation in Elton. Several women and at least one man still make the cane baskets, but somehow the craft has lost popularity among the Coushatta. Further south, in St. Mary Parish, a handful Houma indian women women have maintained the beautiful split-cane basketry of the Chitimacha tribe. Double-woven baskets, dyed black, red, and yellow, carry intricate, named des that are thousands of years old Gregory and Webb Innovation is frowned upon, and many women carefully curate "pattern baskets" nearly a century old.
New baskets are carefully compared to those. However, a few innovations have appeared. For example, miniature "needle" cases were made; and in the s aluminum foil was placed between the double walls of cigar cases.
These later were mailed overseas to service men. Sometimes an initial appeared on them. Other than these innovations, few Houma indian women have occurred. Today commercial dyestuff is often substituted for older plant-derived dyes, and one man has been known to try making baskets. Yet in a community that lost the language in the s, that became basically Christian, and that is composed of families mixed with the French and Anglo neighbors, the maintenance of this complex basket art has become a hallmark of tribal identity.
Recently Ada Thomas, one of the best weavers, has taught younger Chitimacha the basic basket skills at a local day school. Such efforts have been ongoing since the s when the late Pauline Paul ran similar classes for Chitimacha girls Dorman Collection photographs.
Similarly, Claude Medford, a part-Choctaw craftsman, has preserved as much of the traditional cane basketry technique as possible. Medford also works in other traditional media: gourds, shell, feathers, beadwork, and ceramics. Certainly basketry and some traditional foods will continue among the Chitimacha for many more generations. The Houma, the largest tribe in the state, are very complicated culturally. They have married non-Indians frequently, but many are of full Indian ancestry to this day.
Further, their geographic locations were, until the development of the offshore oil industry, the most isolated in the state. Crafts have survived, and, rarely, octogenarians remember stories and songs of Indian or syncretic French and African origin Duthu Many of their mythic themes and motifs are older French themes from their ancestry contact with Acadian and West Indian cultures Spitzer, Plaited palmetto mats and baskets suggest Mexican and Filipino origins, but some double-woven ones are clearly Indian forms.
Frank Speck notes that, alone of the southeastern Indians, the Houma possessed solid wood blowguns, once a functional artifact, but today used more for sale as a craft or even as tourist art Spitzer, Elaborate hardwood blowguns, made of two composite segments and shear-lashed together with twine, are seldom seem; they have been almost wholly replaced by cane or marsh alder ones. The older ones are carefully guarded by the families who have them. The Houma adapted themselves to the lower coast at an early date sometime after the s they shifted across the Mississippi from St.
James Parish and spread down the bayous. Today many of the men work at oil-related industries, as do their neighbors, the Chitimacha. However, Houma men have also become famous boat wrights and their inland waterway shrimp boats, a type of Lafitte Skiff, are famous among Gulf Coast fishermen from Galveston to Houma indian women Bay. This folk industry, while tying the Houma to the outside world, has served them well at home, too. They are still among the best fishermen in south Louisiana. Acculturation from l8th century contact has also left them in the position of being among the most traditional speakers of the Acadian dialect in the state.
While only snatches of Houma songs and a few isolated Indian words remain, conservative "old-fashioned" French music and language dominate Houma communities. Geographic isolation and the fact that the Houma were segregated from both blacks and whites in schools, movies, churches, and other public places, kept the people together and limited language exchanges. Today, the Houma have selectively integrated the best of both culturesFrench and Indian. Change has come, but newer elements, Houma indian women Lafitte Skiffs, have become powerful recent sources of community identity, and Indian culture has survived.
The Tunica-Biloxi fused in the s; the two tribes had become so inextricably mixed socially and culturally that they chose a unitary chief Downs Once they occupied several villages, but they now are concentrated near Marksville in Avoyelles Parish. While their last Tunica and Biloxi speakers died in the s, the older people have preserved a relatively large of both Tunica and Biloxi words.Houma indian women
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