13 October 2016

Black Elk Speaks. Biography. History.

Heȟáka Sápa (Black Elk) (1863-1950) was a famous wičháša wakȟáŋ (medicine man and holy man) and heyoka of the Ogalala Lakota who lived in the present-day United States, primarily South Dakota. The heyoka is a contrarian, jester, and satirist, who speaks, moves and reacts in an opposite fashion to the people around them. Their purpose was to entertain and make people laugh. He was a second cousin of the war chief Crazy Horse.

John G. Neihardt (01 August 1881 - 24 December 1973) Wrote “Black Elk Speaks”  which was originally published in 1932. The story is a combination oral history and biography of Black Elk. The story provides a fascinating insight into the life and times of the Lakota people of the Great Plains of North America. 

Like probably 99% of us Wasichus (whites) I was so erroneously influenced by movies depicting cowboys and Indians and other meaningless and trivial influences of our era. The American Indian had great dignity and was sensitive, intelligent, and emotional. They cried. They wept. They laughed. They had wonderful times. That is, until European immigrants, in their insatiable greed for land and gold totally destroyed a culture that they never made any effort to understand.

According to the Heyokas, truth comes into the world with two faces. One sad with suffering and the other with laughter. Regarding two faces, one cannot help but be reminded of the Janus masks which depict tragedy and comedy.

The Indian believes that everything that an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when the Indians were a  strong and happy people, all power came from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace and light. The south gave warmth. The west gave rain. The north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. Such knowledge came to the Indian from the outer world with their religion. Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round. The Indian heard that the earth is round like a ball. So are the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as that of the Indian. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood. So it is in everything where power moves. Tepees were round like the nests of birds and were always set in a circle. The Indian nation’s hoop, is a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for the Indian to hatch their children.

It was the Wasichus who put the Indians in square houses. According to Black Elk, the Indians’ power was taken and they were dying, for the power was not with them anymore. Black Elk said for us to look at their boys and see how it is with them. When they were living by the power of the circle in the way that they should, boys were men at twelve or thirteen years of age. Being forced to live in square boxes (houses) made them mature much later.  

Black Elk was philosophical in that he believed the Indians were only prisoners of war while they waited. But he also believed that there was another world.

Wonderful non-fiction. I was sorry to reach the end.


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