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Native American Grandmothers Of The Past
Taos Woman ~
Those Who Walked Before Us ~
Native American women, who walked before us, often enter my thoughts. They are prominent in my musings and reflections. I imagine their daily lives and all the work they must have done to keep family and home together to provide comfort and sustenance -- not an easy life, but beautiful in its simplicity. They were the grandmothers of the past.
Chukchansi Matron ~
Skilled hands ~
Every thing a woman did had a purpose, an important meaning, the end result of each task held clearly in mind, and completed with skilled hands, prayers, and love.
A woman faithfully passed down everything she did to her daughters and granddaughters. With the mother so busy at her tasks, from morning to night, the training of the young girls became a duty of the honored and respected Grandmother.
With rough, hard hands accustomed to work, and gentle loving hearts, they created the needed items and clothes for their families. They gave their children the love and understanding so needed to thrive on.
They passed on the spirituality of the Ancestors through stories, legends and memories.
Hupa Woman by Edward S. Curtis ~
Keepers of the Heritage ~
The Grandmothers not only kept the family history alive but taught their young how to accomplish the every day tasks -- such things as making clothes, beading, setting up their households and how to care for their families.
They did this without the help of books or printed instructions. They learned from the verbal knowledge passed down from generation to generation. Each grandmother taught her daughters and granddaughters how to make everything they needed. Nothing was written down -- it was a hands-on learning technique and the girls practiced by making clothes and beading them for their little dolls, which their mothers made for them. They even went so far as to create little horses, carts and tiny tipis, decorated with their sacred "passed down" designs. The children knew their ancestors through the voices of their grandmothers.
The grandmothers were, and still are, "Keepers of the Heritage".
Hidatsa woman ~
Young brides ~
In some tribes, parents promised girls as young as seven years of age in marriage to a man from another tribe. After the agreement of an acceptable trade made between the father of the girl and the husband-to-be, the girl and all the belongings needed to set up a new home became a member of a new tribe, sometimes never to see her parents again.
She had to have the skills needed to begin life in her own home. Until the girl reached the proper age and went through a puberty ceremony, her new mother-in-law, or another tribal woman, took over the teaching of the girl in everyday matters. Over the years the mother-in-law, or aunties continued to teach the girl all she needed to know. In time the girl who had grown to a grandmother taught her own granddaughters the ways of the people.
Cree Woman by Edward S. Curtis ~
Not an easy life ~
The Native American woman of the past did not have an easy life. We may look back on it and think that it must have been so wonderful to live a simple life like that. To live in and with nature, to be part of the great Mother Earth and to eat healthy, natural foods was a wonderful way to live.
To not worry about what the current fashion is and to make one's own clothes from animal hides with whatever design or colors one liked must have been so nice -- yet it was very hard work that toughened their hands and made for a long day.
If anyone of this day and age felt themselves thrust back in time to the days of the Grandmothers who walked strong and free on this land, serious second thoughts about "living the simple life" would enlighten us. It would take tremendous endurance, strength, courage, and profound spirituality to succeed with the life those women lived.
Just to make a new dress took many days of hard work and toil. She did not simply cut out her pattern and begin sewing on a machine.
Cayuse woman in beaded dress ~
Tanning the hide ~
Animals had to be hunted, skinned, and prepared for food, clothing, and other necessary items. The responsibility of hunting the animals belonged to the men. Skinning, carving, preparing the meat for storage, tanning the hides, and producing food and clothing fell to the women.
The hide is what she made clothing, moccasins, bags and pouches out of. The hide had to be scrubbed, cleaned, scraped, dried, scraped again, and stretched. After this process, it might have to be soaked in water, scraped again to make sure no hairs were left on. Then once again the hide was to be stretched and dried again.
This process to prepare and soften the hide was called tanning and took days to complete. After the cleaning, scraping and stretching, the hide had to be beat or rubbed around poles to soften it up for ease of handling, cutting and sewing. Finally, with the hide free of hair, soft and easier to handle, it could then be cut for clothing.
Then the beading was added, which took several more days, possibly weeks. The dress in the photo here was apparently made for a special occasion.
Wichita Matron ~
Patterns from memory ~
The pattern a woman used came from her memory, from her Grandmother's teachings. The exact size of hide, whether for moccasins or a garment, she cut with her knife. She just knew how much to cut for the needed item for a particular person.
After carefully cutting the pieces, she then used an awl to punch holes in the hide and sinew to sew the garment together. If you have ever tried making holes in leather or hides with a piece of sharp bone, you know this is not an easy task.
There is also the arduous task of preparing sinew for sewing. This is another job in itself and a woman had to have this to hold the garments together. Sinew was used as thread is used today. The sinew (animal tendons) was stripped from the muscle and bones of the animal, washed and dried. When dried, the sinew could be separated into thinner strands.When ready to be used for sewing, one end of the strand was soaked in water and twisted to a point, like a needle, then allowed to dry. This point easily went through the holes made by an awl.
The awl, was made out of bone or hard wood and sharpened to a point on one end. The awl was kept, along with other valuable tools, in pouches on the woman's belt. The belt and pouches were also made and beaded by hand.
Native American Women
Not a minute wasted ~
Everyday of her life a Native American woman worked hard to provide a home, food and clothing for her family.
Every tool used she hand made or it was passed down from grandmothers before her. Her tools were always with her, for they were important for her life's work.
While at her tasks, so natural to her, she took the time to tell her daughters stories of her grandmothers and to pass on much needed lessons and life instructions.
Not a minute of her time was wasted. She lived by the legend and traditions of those who walked before her and gifted these valuable lessons to the next generation.
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Grandmothers have a special wisdom to help younger generations learn .
Note from author ~
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Blessings and may you always walk in peace and harmony, softly upon Mother Earth.
Phyllis Doyle Burns - Lantern Carrier, Spiritual Mentor
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© 2010 Phyllis Doyle Burns