According to the former doctrine and practices of the Oglala, the influences that surround a young woman during her first menstrual flow will control her after life either for good or for evil, according to the preponderance of good or evil influences at this time. The Buffalo ceremony secures for the beneficiary the special care of the Buffalo God, the patron god of chastity, fecundity, industry, and hospitality, the virtues most to be desired of a woman. Therefore, it was given for a young woman soon after her first menstrual flow in order to aid the good influences that surrounded her at that time and to announce that she had arrived at woman's estate. One for whom this ceremony was performed was called a buffalo woman and had certain prestige in ceremonial and social affairs. One made a buffalo woman by this ceremony was a very different person from a Buffalo Woman, one of the mythical people who dwell in the regions under the world.
The Buffalo ceremony is now almost obsolete among the Oglala, but certain rites relative to it are occasionally practised. It was a festal occasion similar in most details to the Hunka ceremony and differing from it in that a formal camp circle was not made and in the rites performed by the conductor. The father of the young woman, or, if he could not act, her nearest kinsman, supervised the preparation for the occasion and chose the one to conduct the ceremony. If he was entitled to paint his hands red he could act as Conductor, but it was preferable to have a Shaman, for the prestige of the young woman was in proportion to the notability of the ceremony and feasts. It might be either a very simple or a very elaborate occasion, depending on the ability and inclination of those having it done. The essentials of the ceremony are to invoke the spirit of the buffalo and through it secure the influence of the Buffalo God for the young woman; to impress her with the importance of resisting lasciviousness and practising hospitality. The occasion should also inculcate the virtue of liberality. The author observed the performance of this ceremony on several occasions and was permitted to be present with an interpreter and take notes at one of the more elaborate performances. The following is a description of the ceremony as it was given at that time, with explanations of some of the rites as made by the interpreter. 1
Museum. In the main, the procedure was the same as stated here, but a few points of difference deserve notice. When the altar square was prepared the Shaman painted a number of red lines upon it, parallel to the north and south sides. He took up paint in his fingers and sifted it very skilfully, making a line by one movement of the hand. As he did so, he pronounced a formula, which he said signified that these were the paths of life for women. No women occupied the tipi, it being filled by men among whom the writer and his interpreter were given seats. At one point in the ceremony, the Shaman cast burrs out of the tipi, stating that thus might trouble fail these women, particularly those caused by jealousy and envy. Before the rites with the bowl and the rutting dance, the Shaman filled two handsome pipes and gave one to each girl. They left the tipi and each selected an elderly man to smoke for them. Upon their return the rutting dance and the procedure with the bowl occurred as given above. However, the girls did not remove any of their clothing and immediately upon their final withdrawal a feast of dog was brought in and served. The "canes" given the girls were painted red and tipped with buffalo wool.}
The young woman had her first menstrual flow on the fourth day of June and the ceremony was performed on the fourteenth day of the same month. Ample provision had been made for the feast and invitation wands sent to many people. The day before the ceremony many guests arrived and were camped in an irregular manner near by and others continued to come until nightfall. All were in a jovial mood, and there was visiting, games, singing, and dancing until late at night. The young woman abided alone in a large new tipi. The following paraphernalia had been provided for the ceremony:--
A buffalo skull with the horns attached.
A new wooden bowl.
A fire carrier.
A supply of dried chokecherries.
A supply of dried meat.
A supply of sweetgrass.
A supply of dried cottonwood.
A clout and new dress for the young woman.
An eagle plume with the quill wrapped with skin from the head of a mallard drake having the green feathers on it.
At dawn the next morning the people were astir and as the eastern sky grew red the shaman who was to conduct the ceremony came from his tipi and facing toward the east sang this song:--
"A voice, Anpeo, hear it.
Speaks low, hear it."
According to the interpreter, Anpeo is the red aurora, the forerunner of the sun, a God who should be invoked by song to secure a pleasant day and this song was such an invocation.
Immediately, the people busied themselves with preparation for the occasion. Before the sun was up, the mother and some other women took
down the tipi the young woman had occupied, but immediately set it up again. This was done because the tipi was to be used as a ceremonial lodge and no ceremony will be efficacious if a woman is present during her menstrual flow or if the influences that surround her at that time are present. Such influences remain about a tipi that a woman has occupied during her period until it is taken down and again set up. Therefore, this tipi was taken down and the evil influences were thus driven from it and it was fit to be immediately set up and used for the ceremony.
When the mother began to take down the tipi the young woman took the bundle in which she had wrapped her menstrual discharge and went out alone and placed it in a plum tree. This was done as an offering to the Buffalo God which should be placed in a plum tree because it is the emblem of fruitfulness and hospitality preferred by the Buffalo God; also, if any person or thing should obtain possession of any portion of a woman's first menstrual discharge such a person or thing would thereby have an influence over the woman that might be exercised to cause her to do foolish or shameful things. The bundle should be so placed in a plum tree that the coyotes cannot get it, for they are often the emissaries of Iktomi and try to get such bundles for him so that he may have the power to make women ridiculous. Such bundles have a potency of their own and if disturbed may cause eruptive diseases of the skin and falling of the hair, in witness of which see young men with pimply faces and many coyotes without hair. Having deposited her bundle, the young woman returned to her father's cabin and remained there until she came from it for her part in the ceremony. The women set up the tipi with its door toward the east and the father of the young woman levelled the catku and made an altar between it and the fireplace. He then placed the buffalo skull on the altar and spread sagebrush around it and over the catku. Women built a fire of the cottonwood north of, but near the tipi, and this fire was kept replenished until the close of the ceremony. Cottonwood was used for this fire because this wood is repugnant to Anog Ite, the double or two-faced woman who incites to bickerings and licentiousness; the fire was built on the north side to ward against the approach of Wazi, the wizard, who might make the ceremony of no effect. While making the fire, the mother sang this song:--
"The spirit of the dry wood.
Those coming are pleased.
The spirit of the dry wood.
Wazi is going away."
The interpreter gave this as the meaning of this song:--A spirit fire made of dry cottonwood pleases the Gods. The spirit fire so made will
drive away the wizard, Wazi. This song was an invocation to have these things accomplished.
As the sky grew red before the rising sun, the Shaman stood facing east and said, "Anpeo, I am your friend. I have prepared the red paint you like best. I have mixed it with marrow fat. Tell this to Wi that He may be pleased. Give your potency to this paint." When the sun was rising he said, "Grandfather, look with favor on us. Command the Gods to do as we ask of Them. We will do nothing to displease You this day. Tell the West Wind that I am His friend so that He may keep the Winged God from the sky."
Then the father placed in the lodge a pipe and smoking material, the wooden bowl, chokecherries, sweetgrass and sage, the eagle plume, and the fire carrier. He then announced to the Shaman that the lodge was ready for the ceremony. The Shaman went into his tipi and donned his regalia. This was a headdress consisting of a cap made of buffalo skin with the long shaggy hair on it and a small buffalo horn attached to each side so that it would stand out from the head as buffalo horns do; from each side hung a pendant made of white weaselskins and hawk quills. From the rear hung a strip of buffalo skin with the hair on and a buffalo tail attached to it so as to come below his knees when standing. This was the formal regalia of a buffalo medicineman. His only clothing was a breechclout, leggings, and moccasins. His hands, body, and face were painted red, symbolizing his sacred powers as a Shaman; there were three perpendicular black stripes painted on his right cheek, this being the sign of his authority on this occasion. When he came from his tipi he held in his right hand his Fetish and two small wands, each having a small globular package wrapped in soft tanned deerskin attached near the smaller end; in his left hand he carried his ceremonial pipe and a staff made of chokecherry wood. He faced the sun and sang this song:--
"The Sun is going.
The Sun is going.
Traveling they go.
My kinsman is going.
My kinsman is going.
I do this thing."
The interpretation of this song was that the Sun on His daily journey dispersed the evil beings that lurk about at night and that on this journey He confirmed the mystic power of the Shaman to do his mystic work. As he chanted the song, the people gathered about and stood in respectful attitude and then he harangued them, lauding the young woman and her father,
and his own proficiency as a Shaman. He then announced that the ceremony would soon begin.
The people immediately assembled in and about the lodge. The father sat at the left of the catku with the men at his left against the wall of the lodge to the door. The mother sat at the left of the door and the women sat at her left against the wall of the lodge to the catku. Those who could not seat themselves thus in the lodge sat in a circle in front of the lodge door, the men together on the north side, the women on the south.
When the people had arranged themselves the Shaman walked with slow strides to the fire at the north side of the lodge and after inspecting it sprinkled sweetgrass on it. This he did to add the potency of sweetgrass to that of the cottonwood fire in order to still further please the Gods.
He then entered the lodge and passed slowly around on the south side, deliberately scanning each woman to discover if any were present during the menstrual flow. If he had found one such he would have ordered her to retire from the lodge. He returned to the door as he came from it, so as not to pass between the altar and the catku, for it is a sacrilege to pass between an altar and the catku of the lodge. He then carefully scanned the men on the north side and if he had found one unworthy he would have ordered him to retire from the lodge. He then sat at the catku and gave the fire carrier to the father, who brought burning coals from the cottonwood fire and placed them at the north side of the altar, making the spirit fire there.
While he was doing this, the Shaman arranged the sagebrush around the catku and altar, meanwhile intoning something in a low voice. It was explained that he did this to ward off evil beings and influences. He then filled his pipe in the ceremonial manner and lighted it with a coal from the spirit fire. He blew smoke from the pipe into the nostril cavities of the buffalo skull and then passed the pipe to the father, who smoked and passed it. The pipe was passed until all in the lodge had smoked in communion. While the people were smoking, the Shaman painted the right side of the forehead of the buffalo skull red and then painted a red stripe from the occiput to the middle of the forehead. This is the symbol of the Buffalo ceremony. He then placed the skull on the altar with its nostril cavities towards the fireplace and then on each side of it thrust upright into the latter, one of the small wands he had brought into the lodge. Then he made incense by sprinkling sweetgrass on the spirit fire and in a formal manner filled his ceremonial pipe and lighted it with a coal from the spirit fire. He then invoked the God, the Four Winds, by pointing the mouthpiece of the pipe first toward the west, and carrying it horizontally in a circle, pausing a moment at the north, east, and south. This was done
because in any ceremony pertaining to the Gods, after the smoke in communion and the incense of sweetgrass, the Four Winds have precedence before all other Gods and they should be so recognized in order to propitiate them.
The Shaman then said, "My friends, we have smoked with the spirit of the buffalo, and the influence of the Buffalo God will be in this lodge." He then sang this song:--
"Buffalo bull in the west lowing.
Buffalo bull in the west lowing.
Lowing he speaks."
The explanation of this song was: The Lakota designate the rutting time of the buffalo by the term, "The buffalo bull is lowing in the west" and that the ceremony represents the buffalo during the rutting time. The Shaman then laid a bit of cloth on the skull and said, "My oldest sister, I make an offering of this robe to you."
He then directed that the young woman be brought into the lodge. Her mother led her in and seated her between the altar and the fireplace. She sat with her legs crossed, as children and men sit. The Conductor, the Shaman, then sprinkled sage on the spirit fire and said, "Iya, go away from this place so that this may not be a lazy woman." Sprinkling more sage on the fire he said, "Iktomi, go away from this place so that this young woman may not do foolish things." Again sprinkling sage on the fire he said, "Anog Ite go away from this place so that this young woman may not do shameful things." The fourth time he sprinkled sage on the fire and said, "Hohnogica go away from this place so that this Young woman may not be troubled when she is a mother." He then made incense with sweetgrass on the spirit fire and said, "Bull buffalo I have painted your woman's forehead red and have given her a red robe. Her potency is in her horns. Command her to give her influence to this young woman so that she may be a true buffalo woman and bear many children." He then said to the young woman, "You have abided alone for the first time. The influence of the lower Gods has possessed you. You are now a woman and should be ashamed to sit as a child. You should sit as a woman sits." The young woman's mother then came and arranged the young woman so that she sat with her feet and limbs together, sidewise, as women sit.
The Conductor then said to her, "You should always sit as women sit. If you sit as men sit, your mother will be ashamed of you. Young men will say that a coyote has taken your bundle." The explanation given of this address is: if an Oglala woman sits with her legs crossed as men sit, this indicates that she is a lewd woman; and if it is said of a woman that a coyote has taken her bundle, it is equivalent to saying that she is considered
a lewd woman. The Conductor then arose and walked slowly four times around the young woman, scanning her closely. Then he sat at the catku and said, "I sought a vision and saw the messenger of the white buffalo cow. I sang this song:--
The messenger of the buffalo in the west.
The messenger of the buffalo in the west.
I will give you a robe."
"Then the messenger said: 'A spider; a turtle; the voice of a lark; a brave man; children; a tipi smoking.' I have spoken with the Gods and I will tell you what these things mean. The spider is an industrious woman. She builds a tipi for her children. She gives them plenty of food. The turtle is a wise woman. She hears many things and says nothing. Her skin is a shield. An arrow cannot wound her. The lark is a cheerful woman. She brings pleasant weather. She does not scold. She is always happy. If a brave man takes you for his woman you may sing his scalp song and you may dance his scalp dance. He will kill plenty of game. You will have plenty of meat and skins. You will bear him many children and you will be happy. There will always be a fire in your tipi and you will have food for your people. If you are industrious like the spider; if you are wise like the turtle; if you are cheerful like the lark, then you will be chosen by a brave man, and you will have plenty and never be ashamed. These things I saw in the vision: A coyote; worn moccasins; and I heard a voice in mourning. The Buffalo God sends this message to you. If you listen to Iktomi, or to Iya, or to Anog Ite, then you will be lazy and lewd and poor and miserable. A brave man or a good hunter will not give a dog for you. Your robe will be old and ragged. Your moccasins will be worn and without color on them. The buffalo horns are on my head and I speak for the Buffalo God. The buffalo tail is behind me and this makes my word sacred. I am now the buffalo bull and you are a young buffalo cow. I will show you what the bad influences would have you do. I will show you what the good influence would have you do."
He then formally filled his ceremonial pipe and lighted it with a coal from the spirit fire. While he smoked it the people sang a wordless song in unison with the sounding of the drum and rattles. Then the conductor formally emptied the residuum from the pipe on the spirit fire and sang this song:--
A man from the north, gave me a cane.
I told this Young woman.
She will live to be old.
Her tribe will live."
The given explanation of this song is: The man from the north is. Wazi, the wizard, who appears as a very old man. So when the Oglala say of a man that he is a man from the north, they mean that he is a very old man who needs help. To give a cane to an old person indicates a willingness to give such aid as may be needed. The expression, "I told this young woman" means that the Shaman has formally stated to her the rules that should govern her conduct in life. The second stanza implies that if she will observe the rules that have been explained to her, she and her offspring will live long.
Then the drum and rattles were sounded and the people began to sing a wordless song in unison with the beating of the drum. The conductor went to the door and stood a moment facing out, then he turned and began to dance toward the girl, stepping in time with the drum, and repeatedly uttering a guttural cry something like "Uh-hu-hu-ah." He danced up to and beside the young woman and back to the door. Then he danced up to the other side of the young woman in the same manner. He repeated this at each side of the young woman, the music and his step becoming more vigorous, so that at the last he was dancing in a frantic manner. Then he went outside the door and getting on his hands and knees, bellowed and pawed the ground as a bull does, then lifted his head and sniffed in different directions as if trying to locate something by scent. Then he came on his hands and knees into the lodge, lowing as he came. In this manner, he sidled against the young woman, when her mother placed a wisp of sagebrush under her arm and threw some sage in her lap. The Conductor then sidled against the other side of the young woman and the mother placed sage in a like manner under her arm on that side and threw more sage in her lap.
Then the Conductor sat at the catku and said to the young woman, "That is the manner in which the Crazy Buffalo will approach you to tempt you to do things that will make you ashamed and will make your people ashamed of you. Your mother showed you in what manner you can drive away the evil things that would harm you. She will teach you how to do this. If you remember this a man will pay the price for you and you will be proud of your children. According to the interpreter, the price of a woman was the equivalent of six good buffalo robes and it was an honorable and desirable distinction for a young woman if, when a man chose her be would give this price for her. She could afterwards proudly make the boast that her man had paid the price for her.
The Conductor then took the wooden bowl and putting into it chokecherries and water, mingled them, intoning a song in a low voice as he did so. He placed the bowl on the ground and said to the young woman, "We
are buffalo on the plains and this is a water-hole. The water in it is red for it is sacred and made so by the Buffalo God and it is for buffalo women. Drink from it." The young woman stooped and drank from the bowl in the manner that the buffalo drink. Then the Conductor went on his hands and knees and drank from the bowl in the same manner. Then he took the bowl in his hands and said, "My friends, this young woman gives you this red water so that you may drink of it and be her friends. Let all who are her friends drink of it." He then passed the bowl and it was passed from one to another until all had sipped from it.
Then the Conductor directed the young woman to stand and take off her dress, which she did, handing the dress to him. He spread the dress over the buffalo skull saying as he did so, "This young woman gives her dress to the buffalo women. One who needs it, may take it." After a pause, a woman from outside the lodge came and took the dress. Then the Conductor gave the young woman a bit of sage and told her to eat it; as she chewed it, he said to her, "Sage is bitter, but your mother has shown you how to use it." He then gave her a bit of sweetgrass, and bade her eat it. While she was chewing it be said, "Sweetgrass is good. It pleases the Gods. You should remember these things." He then took the wands from beside the buffalo skull and handing them to her said, "These are your Buffalo charms. You should keep them for they will keep bad influences away from you. They have the potency of the Buffalo God and of the spirit of the buffalo. They will keep the two-faced woman, Anog Ite, from you. They will bring you many children." He then directed the mother to arrange the young woman's hair, which she did, parting it carefully in the middle, and braiding it into two strands which she brought over her shoulders so that they would hang in front as women wear their hair, instead of behind, as a girl's hair is worn.
Then the Conductor painted red the right side of the young woman's forehead and a red stripe at the parting of her hair, and while doing so he said, "You see your oldest sister on the altar. Her forehead is painted red. This is to show that she is sacred. Red is a sacred color. Your first menstrual flow was red. Then you were sacred. You have taken of the red water this day. This is to show that you are akin to the Buffalo God and are His woman. The Buffalo God is pleased with an industrious woman. He is pleased with those who give food to the hungry. He will cause a brave man to desire her, so that he will pay the price for her. She may choose the man she desires. If he has other wives she will sit next to the catku. They will carry wood while she mends moccasins. You are now a buffalo woman. You are entitled to paint your face in this manner."
He then tied the eagle plume at the crown of her head and said, "The
spirit of the eagle and the duck will be with you. They will give you the influence of the Sun and the South Wind. They will give you many children." He then handed her a staff of cherry wood and said, "This staff is of the sacred cherry wood. It will aid you in finding plums and choke-cherries, so that you may make plenty of pemmican." He then directed the mother to remove the clout from the young woman, which she did, handing it to the Conductor, who handed it to the father, and said, "You are now a woman. The buffalo woman is your oldest sister. Go out of this lodge." He then began to intone a song without words and the young ,woman arose and looked confusedly about, then went from the lodge. After she had passed from the door, all the inmates of the lodge, except the Conductor, arose and went from the lodge. All assembled outside the lodge and went from it. Then the Conductor took the buffalo skull from the altar and turned it upside down, and destroyed the altar. He then took his paraphernalia and went to his tipi, removed his regalia, and then joined the people. The father harangued the people and gave a horse to the Conductor, and after this there was a general giving of presents, the presents being grouped on the ground, and the people standing in a circle about them. Each person who gave a present either harangued, or employed someone to harangue for him, calling the name of the one to receive the present, who came and took it. A number were haranguing at the same time and the people were shouting, singing, and joking, so that there was a jovial hubbub. After this there was a feast, the principal dish of which was dog meat. This feast continued until far into the night. The next forenoon the guests began their departure, but it was not considered good form for anyone to go immediately after the feast, so some lingered a day or two.
Songs for the Buffalo Ceremony.
A man coming from the north.
Give me a cane.
So I told this girl
She will live to be old.
And the whole tribe will live.
A man scratched himself beside a bank.
He proved to be a buffalo.
He said, "Young man take care for yourself.
Young man try to be straight.
It will be to your good."
From the rising sun I heard many voices.
And they were traveling west.
Ahead came an old man with white hair and a cane.
He said, "Good men be good.
And you will live long.
I will give a cane to the aged, and to this young woman."
Where the sun goes down I saw many animals
They said to me to prepare this place.
So you will see it and live long.
The above is Antoin Herman's translation, but as the songs are in the ceremonial language of the Shamans, it is probable that a much better interpretation could be given. For instance, a better interpretation of the first line of the first song would be: "Wazi inspires this ceremony." In the language of the Shamans, "A man coming from the north" means the wizard, Wazi, who, according to their mythology, taught many ceremonies to the Lakota. All these songs are related to the Buffalo ceremony, and it requires a liberal interpretation of the concepts they express to comprehend them. In the original, the meter is adapted to the music of the Lakota.
141:1 in 1902 the Editor was present at a ceremony performed by a different Shaman in which there were two girls. The essential equipment for the ceremony was secured for the footnote p. 142