The Woman

Winona, The Woman-Child

Hush, hushaby, little woman!
Be brave and weep not!
The spirits sleep not;
'Tis they who ordain
To woman, pain.

Hush, hushaby, little woman!
Now, all things bearing,
A new gift sharing
From those above –

To woman, love.
    – Sioux Lullaby.

"Chinto, weyanna! Yes, indeed; she is a real little woman," declares the old grandmother, as she receives and critically examines the tiny bit of humanity.

There is no remark as to the color of its hair or eyes, both so black as almost to be blue, but the old woman scans sharply the delicate profile of the baby face.

"Ah, she has the nose of her ancestors! Lips thin as a leaf, and eyes bright as stars in midwinter!" she exclaims, as she passes on the furry bundle to the other grandmother for her inspection.

"Tokee! she is pretty enough to win a twinkle rom the evening star," remarks that smiling personage.

"And what shall her name be?

"Winona, the First-born, of course. That is hers by right of birth."

"Still, it may not fit her. One must prove herself worthy in order to retain that honorable name."

"Ugh," retorts the first grandmother, "she can at least bear it on probation!"

"Tosh, tosh," the other assents.

Thus the unconscious little Winona has passed the first stage of the Indian's christening.

Presently she is folded into a soft white doeskin, well lined with the loose down of cattails, and snugly laced into an upright oaken cradle, the front of which is a richly embroidered buckskin bag, with porcupine quills and deers' hoofs suspended from its profuse fringes. This gay cradle is strapped upon the second grandmother's back, and that dignitary walks off with the newcomer.

"You must come with me," she says. "We shall go among the father and mother trees, and hear them speak with their thousand tongues, that you may know their language forever. I will hang the cradle of the woman-child upon Utuhu, the oak; and she shall hear the love-sighs of the pine maiden!"

In this fashion Winona is introduced to nature and becomes at once "nature-born," in accord with the beliefs and practices of the wild red man.

"Here she is! Take her," says the old woman on her return from the woods. She presents the child to its mother, who is sitting in the shade of an elm-tree as quietly as if she had not just passed through woman's severest ordeal in giving a daughter to the brave Chetonska!

"She has a winsome face, as meek and innocent as the face of an ermine," graciously adds the grandmother.

The mother does not speak. Silently and almost reverently she takes her new and first-born daughter into her arms. She gazes into its velvety little face of a dusky red tint, and unconsciously presses the closely swaddled form to her breast. She feels the mother-instinct seize upon her strongly for the first time. Here is a new life, a new hope, a possible link between herself and a new race!

Ah, a smile plays upon her lips, as she realizes that she has kissed her child! In its eyes and mouth she discerns clearly the features she has loved in the strong countenance of another, though in the little woman's face they are softened and retouched by the hand of the "Great Mystery."

The baby girl is called Winona for some months, when the medicine-man is summoned and requested to name publicly the first-born daughter of Chetonska, the White Hawk; but not until he has received a present of a good pony with a finely painted buffalo-robe. It is usual to confer another name besides that of the "First-born," which may be resumed later if the maiden proves worthy. The name Winona implies much of honor. It means charitable, kind, helpful; all that an eldest sister should be!

The herald goes around the ring of lodges announcing in singsong fashion the christening, and inviting everybody to a feast in honor of the event. A real American christening is always a gala occasion, when much savage wealth is distributed among the poor and old people. Winona has only just walked, and this fact is also announced with additional gifts. A wellborn child is ever before the tribal eye and in the tribal ear, as every little step in its progress toward manhood or womanhood – the first time of walking or swimming, first shot with bow and arrow (if a boy), first pair of moccasins made (if a girl) – is announced publicly with feasting and the giving of presents.

So Winona receives her individual name of Tatiyopa, or Her Door. It is symbolic, like most Indian names, and implies that the door of the bearer is hospitable and her home attractive.

The two grandmothers, who have carried the little maiden upon their backs, now tell and sing to her by turns all the legends of their most noted female ancestors, from the twin sisters of the old story, the maidens who married among the star people of the sky, down to their own mothers. All her lullabies are feminine, and designed to impress upon her tender mind the life and duties of her sex.

As soon as she is old enough to play with dolls she plays mother in all seriousness and gravity. She is dressed like a miniature woman (and her dolls are clad likewise), in garments of doeskin to her ankles, adorned with long fringes, embroidered with porcupine quills, and dyed with root dyes in various colors. Her little blanket or robe, with which she shyly drapes or screens her head and shoulders, is the skin of a buffalo calf or a deer, soft, white, embroidered on the smooth side, and often with the head and hoofs left on.

"You must never forget, my little daughter, that you are a woman like myself. Do always those things that you see me do," her mother often admonishes her.

Even the language of the Sioux has its feminine dialect, and the tiny girl would be greatly abashed were it ever needful to correct her for using a masculine termination.

This mother makes for her little daughter a miniature copy of every rude tool that she uses in her taily tasks. There is a little scraper of elk-horn to scrape rawhides preparatory to tanning them, another scraper of a different shape for tanning, bone knives, and stone mallets for pounding choke-cherries and jerked meat.

While her mother is bending over a large buffalo-hide stretched and pinned upon the ground, standing upon it and scraping off the fleshy portion as nimbly as a carpenter shaves a board with his plane, Winona, at five years of age, stands upon a corner of the great hide and industriously scrapes away with her tiny instrument! When the mother stops to sharpen her tool, the little woman always sharpens hers also. Perhaps there is water to be fetched in bags made from the dried pericardium of an animal; the girl brings some in a smaller water-bag. When her mother goes for wood she carries one or two sticks on her back. She pitches her play teepee to form an exact copy of her mother's. Her little belongings are nearly all practical, and her very play is real!

Thus, before she is ten years old, Winona begins to see life honestly and in earnest; to consider herself a factor in the life of her people – a link in the genealogy of her race. Yet her effort is not forced, her work not done from necessity; it is normal and a development of the play-instinct of the young creature. This sort of training leads very early to a genuine desire to serve and to do for others. The little Winona loves to give and to please; to be generous and gracious. There is no thought of trafficking or economizing in labor and in love.

"Mother, I want to be like the beavers, the ants, and the spiders, because my grandmother says those are the people most worthy of imitation for their industry. She also tells me that I should watch the bee, the one that has so many daughters, and allows no young men to come around her daughters while they are at work making sweets," exclaims the little maiden.

"Truly their industry helps us much, for we often take from their hoard," remarks the mother.

"That is not right, is it mother, if they do not wish to share with us?" asks Winona. "But I think the bee is stingy if she has so much and will not share with any one else! When I grow up, I shall help the poor! I shall have a big teepee and invite old people often, for when people get old they seem to be always hungry, and I think we ought to feed them."

"My little daughter will please me and her father if she proves to be industrious and skillful with her needle and in all woman's work. Then she can have a fine teepee and make it all cheerful within. The indolent woman has a small teepee, and it is very smoky. All her children will have sore eyes, and her husband will soon become ill-tempered," declares the mother, in all seriousness.

"And, daughter, there is something more than this needed to make a cheerful home. You must have a good heart, be patient, and speak but little. Every creature that talks too much is sure to make trouble," she concludes, wisely.

One day this careful mother has completed a beautiful little teepee of the skin of a buffalo calf, worked with red porcupine quills in a row of rings just below the smoke-flaps and on each side of the front opening. In the center of each ring is a tassel of red and white horse-hair. The tip of each smoke-flap is decorated with the same material, and the doorflap also.

Within there are neatly arranged raw-hide boxes for housekeeping, and square bags of soft buckskin adorned with blue and white beads. On either side of the fireplace are spread the tanned skins of a buffalo calf and a deer; but there is no bear, wolf, or wildcat skin, for on these the foot of a woman must never tread! They are for men, and symbolical of manly virtues. There are dolls of all sizes, and a play travois leans against the white wall of the miniature lodge. Even the pet pup is called in to complete the fanciful home of the little woman.

"Now, my daughter," says the mother, "you must keep your lodge in order!"

Here the little woman is allowed to invite other little women, her playmates. This is where the grandmothers hold sway, chaperoning their young charges, who must never be long out of their sight. The little visitors bring their work-bags of various skins, artistically made and trimmed. These contain moccasins and other garments for their dolls, on which they love to occupy themselves.

The brightly-painted rawhide boxes are reserved for food, and in these the girls bring various prepared meats and other delicacies. This is perhaps the most agreeable part of the play to the chaperon, who is treated as an honored guest at the feast!

Winona seldom plays with boys, even her own brothers and cousins, and after she reaches twelve or fourteen years of age she scarcely speaks to them. Modesty is a virtue which is deeply impressed upon her from early childhood, and the bashfully drooping head, the averted look, the voice low and seldom heard, these are graces much esteemed in a maiden.

She is taught to pay great attention to the care of her long, glossy locks, combing, plaiting, and perfuming them with sweet-scented leaves steeped in oil. Her personal appearance is well understood to be a matter of real moment, and rich dress and ornaments are highly prized. Fortunately they never go out of fashion, and once owned are permanent possessions, unless parted with as ceremonial gifts on some great occasion of mourning or festivity.

When she reaches a marriageable age her father allows her to give a feast to all the other girls of her immediate clan, and this "Feast of Virgins" may only be attended by those of spotless reputation. To have given or attended a number of them is regarded as a choice honor.

Tatiyopa, by the time she is fifteen, has already a name for skill in needlework, and generosity in distributing the articles of her own making. She is now generally called Winona – the charitable and kind! She believes that it is woman's work to make and keep a home that will be worthy of the bravest, and hospitable to all, and in this simple faith she enters upon the realities of her womanhood.

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