In the course of doing my normal nerd routine, reading and shit, I ran across something that piqued my interest. The story of York, the African man held as a slave by William Clark, of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition. The tidbit of information that I ran across was about how York was the first dark skinned Black man that most of the Natives had ever seen in the states of the West along the Missouri River. At first the Natives didn’t believe that his skin was so black. They tried to wipe it off. Once they saw that that wouldn’t work, they were enthralled by him. Word is that he was given his pick of the Native women.
I definitely couldn’t just read that and move on with life like it was nothing. I had to look a little deeper into it. What kind of freaky deaky were these Native people on? (I hate the terms “Native American” and “Indian”)
It turns out, that the Native people of this land had some very progressive views on sexuality. It is a bit difficult to speak of the Natives in general because by the time Europeans started invading this hemisphere there were hundreds of different tribes of Natives with separate and distinct cultures. However, there were some commonalities that we can look at.
Generally speaking, the Natives believed that Nature is perfect, just the way it is. What is natural is what is supposed to be. Sex, of course, is a pretty big deal in nature. For people born and raised in Western culture, it is difficult to conceive of a society that had zero shame or guilt around sexuality — any and all kinds of sexuality. But, in fact, the Natives encouraged all people to act on their sexual desires and they recognized sexuality as a great gift from Nature with power to heal, to create, and to bring people together. (Many Native languages didn’t even have a word for “innocence” or “guilt”, meaning they couldn’t even understand the concept of shaming someone for their behavior. Many also didn’t have a word for “prison” or “jail”.)
Another part of the foundation upon which Native sexuality rested was the belief that all people are equal. I’m talking specifically now about the positions of men and women. Native men didn’t have any desire to dominate, control, and subjugate their women. Therefore there was no reason for them to fear female sexuality in the way that other cultures do. So Native women were free to be horny, choose the man who makes her womb jump when she sees him, bring him to the crib, and ride him into Heaven. European “settlers” of the 16th and 17th centuries were outraged when they saw (with their own two eyes) Native women actually being ON TOP during sex. For the Europeans it was a matter of necessity that the man be on top during sex because a woman should never be over a man under any circumstances.
For the Natives, once they reached puberty, it was on and crackin’. Consider these two quotes from different authors about observation of the Huron people from the 1600s:
“The Huron did not place great importance on the difference between married and not married. They encouraged various stages of experimentation and growing commitment.”
“Males had the liberty of giving themselves to evil from their earliest years, while females prostituted themselves as early as they could, and fathers and mothers were panderers for their own daughters.”
Now, among other things, this shows just how stupid white people were 500 years ago. The priests who lived among the Huron in the Great Lakes area (Michigan, Quebec, etc) specifically for the purpose of converting them to Christianity were so wrapped up in their own mythology that they couldn’t fathom the idea of other people just choosing to live in a different way. But check out the content of the words though. Not only were people in their early teens having sex but their parents were actively finding good sexual partners for them. The parents wanted their children to have pleasurable and knowledgeable introductions to the world of sex.
Among the Pawnee people of Nebraska and Kansas, when a boy reached puberty, his mother’s brother’s wife would take charge of him and initiate him into sex. He would continue having sex with her until he married. For a period of four or five years the young man, and perhaps his brothers as well, would be a junior husband for this woman, creating a temporary state of polyandry. Polyandry is when one woman is married to more than one man at a time. There were many other places and ways where polyandry was practiced across North America.
Most Native houses didn’t have bedrooms. They lived in longhouses, which is generally just a long building with no divisions in it. The kitchen and dining room and bedroom is all the same thing. So when mommy and daddy had sex at night, everyone in the house knew exactly what was going on. As a result of that, group masturbation sessions among “tween” age children were common. When their pre-pubescent bodies matured enough to start feeling sexual arousal, they explored their bodies — sometimes in groups of just boys or just girls, and sometimes the boys and girls together. Once they matured to the point of having full use of their sexual organs, the experimentation turned into full sexual encounters, often in the woods, which was the only place to get some privacy.
Sex was seen as a way of strengthening the bonds of friendship between people. It also strengthened the bonds between families. Marriage was seen as more than just a union of husband and wife, it was a union of family and family. For people who placed such high value on sharing, adding a whole new group of people to share with was huge cause for celebration. When Europeans came to live and trade among the Natives in peace, they were confused by the Natives offering them sex. For the Natives this was no more strange than offering food to someone who you wish to be cordial with. Sex brought people together.
Sex was also believed to be a source of great spiritual and healing power. As such, engaging in sex and abstaining from sex were both used in various ways. Abstaining would allow for the power of sexual energy to be stored up and increased, then the energy could be put to use in several ways.
Women would often abstain from sex for the entire time that they were breastfeeding a baby. Motherhood was seen as a sacred duty of women, similar to the sacred duty of men to be soldiers in defense of the community. Abstaining would allow women to channel the power of their sexual energy into raising strong and healthy babies.
For the Huron people, abstinence was usually believed to bring dreams, which were essential to all sacred rituals. Prior to a ball game, the players from each village fasted, abstained from sexual intercourse, and sought dreams that would bring them victory.
Huron shamans also observed periods of sexual abstinence. Like other shamans around the world, these were men AND women who had control over the forces of nature. They obtained their special potency through visions or dreams in which a powerful spirit had revealed itself to them. Such visions required prolonged fasting and the avoidance of sexual intercourse – similar to the period before the ball game. However, these periods of abstinence only lasted for some days or weeks. There was no concept among them of abstaining from sex for life like monks or priests in Western traditions.
Sex played a central role in many healing rituals. In one particular ritual, andacwander, any ill person could call for a number of young people to come and have sexual relations in his or her cabin. Andacwander was described in great detail by Gabriel Sagard, a Recollect (French missionary) who lived among the Huron between 1623 and 1624:
There are assemblies of all the girls in a town at a sick woman’s couch. When the girls are assembled they are all asked, one after another, which of the young men of the town they would like to sleep with them the next night. Each names one, and these are immediately notified by the masters of the ceremony. All come in the evening to sleep with those who have chosen them, in the presence of the sick woman, from one end of the lodge to the other, and they pass the whole night thus, while the two chiefs at the two ends of the house sing and rattle their tortoise shells from evening till the following morning when the ceremony is concluded.
Notice that it was the young women who did the choosing, not the young men.
But Sagard didn’t mention the name of this ceremony. The first one to do so in writing was Jesuit Father Jerome Lalemant, writing in 1639. He wrote of an old man, Taorhenche, who was dying. He wished (through riddles that people had to guess) for a White Dog Ceremony, sufficient cornmeal to feed the people involved in the festivities, other unnamed ceremonies. At the end there was to be:
“The ceremony of the ‘andacwander,’ a mating of men with girls, which is made at the end of the feast. He specified that there should be 12 girls, and a thirteenth for himself.
“The answer being brought to the council, he was furnished immediately with what could be given at once, and this from the liberality and voluntary contributions of individuals who were present there and heard the matter mentioned, – these peoples glorying, on such occasions, in despoiling themselves of the most precious things they have. Afterward, the Captains went through the streets and public places, and through the cabins, announcing in a loud voice the desires of the sick man, and exhorting people to satisfy them promptly.
“They are not content to go on this errand once, – they repeat it three or four times, using such terms and accents that, indeed, one would think that the welfare of the whole country was at stake. Meanwhile, they take care to note the names of the girls and men who present themselves to carry out the principal desire of the sick man; and in the assembly of the feast these are named aloud, after which follow the congratulations of all those present, and the best pieces … then ensue the thanks of the sick man for the health that has been restored to him, professing himself entirely cured by this remedy.”
The name of the ceremony was endakwandet, which literally means “they (many people) are enveloped in sex.” If you wished for the ceremony, you would say “tayendakwandeten” – be enveloped in sex for me.
William Clark wrote of a ceremony called the Buffalo Dance that he witnessed in the winter of 1805 among the Mandan people of North Dakota:
The old men arrange themselves in a circle and after smoke a pipe, which handed them by a young man, dress up for the purpose. The young men who have their wives back of the circle go to one of the old men with a whining tone and request the old man to take his wife, who presents naked except a robe. The girl then takes the old man, and leads him to a convenient place for the Business. We sent a man to this medicine dance last night, they gave him four girls.
This gets to the reason why York was so popular with the Native ladies….
Elders are, of course, associated with wisdom. This Buffalo Dance was an expression of the Native belief that sex can be used to transfer one person’s attributes to another person. When the Natives saw York with his black skin and his muscular body, they believed that he possessed a lot of “medicine” or spiritual power. The men jumped at the opportunity for York to have sex with their wives because the wives could receive York’s medicine and then transfer it to them — just as the old men at the Buffalo Dance could have their wisdom transferred to the young men.
The same kind of stories are told about Estevanico. Estevanico was a young Black man from Morocco who was held as a slave by one of a group of Spaniards who went to explore and crash landed in Florida in 1528. Permanently separated from their support vessels, the group marched up the inner Florida coast and by late summer arrived near the mouth of the Wakulla River in the Florida panhandle. At that time, the surviving Spaniards and at least one African numbered just less than 250 men, the others having died from hurricanes, accidents, or been killed by Natives. They chose to slaughter their horses, build five makeshift barges, and attempt to sail along the Gulf Coast toward Mexico. The five rafts left Florida on September 22. After a month at sea, the raft that Estevanico was in landed on Galveston Island in Texas. By spring 1529, Estevanico and two other men —the only survivors from their craft— had traveled on foot down the Texas coast to the area of Matagorda Bay. They were later captured and held by Coahuiltecan Natives who lived southwest of the Guadalupe River. In fall 1532, the three men were joined in captivity by one sole survivor from a second raft. By early 1535, these four castaways had escaped their captors by fleeing south along the inner coast and entering Mexico near the present-day Falcón Lake Reservoir.
Throughout their travels in both Texas and Mexico, the three Spaniards and Estevanico gained fame and material support as healers. We can see how that worked. These foreign men obviously had many qualities which were different from what the Natives had and therefore they were welcomed to share their medicine by having sex with the women. The Black man was especially well received in that way.
However, Estevanico misunderstood this custom. He didn’t realize that his sexual encounters were offered out of respect and friendship and appreciation for what made him unique. He began to think of himself as a God among the Natives who was welcome to anything that he wanted at any time. When he was sent back north from Mexico City to lead another expedition in 1539, Estevanico didn’t make very many friends for himself. Traveling ahead of his group as an advance scout, he approached the Zuni pueblo of Hawikuh in western New Mexico where he was killed by numerous arrows fired into his body. Francisco Vazquez de Coronado, upon reaching Hawikuh one year later in 1540, reported back that “Estevanico’s death could be blamed on his cruelties and assaults on Indian women.”
As we can see, the Natives of this land had a social system that consisted of polyamorous relations and a rather advanced Tantra system. You can see previous posts on this blog if any of those terms confuses you.
In the near future I’m gonna be addressing a continuous theme dealing with how our future will be determined by to what extent we are willing and able to start living by ancient wisdom. These customs of the western hemisphere Natives is a great illustration of this theme.
There are many people today doing think pieces and hosting conferences and symposiums on how to incorporate Tantra and polyamory into your life, and making a lot of money in the process. These Native people just did it. It wasn’t anything deep to them. It was just what made sense given their cultural values and their way of looking at the world. We can all learn from their example.
The basic thing that made it all possible for them was the freedom of their women. The total lack of any efforts to control women or make their natural sexual desires a sin/crime made their whole culture flourish in beautiful ways that modern people can barely fathom.
Me personally, I’m striving everyday to be bout that Indigenous Egalitarian Sex-Positive Sustainable Communal Tantra Poly life.