Beads and a Vision: Waking Dreams and Induced Dreams as a Source of Knowledge for Beadwork Making. an Ethnographic Account from Sioux Country

Article excerpt

Dreams and visions still play an active part in northern Plains craft making and fully participate in the elaboration of decorative designs. This is a process in which the mythical figure of Double Woman plays an important role. However, the social purpose of dreams and visions sharing is largely diminished by the transformations of familial and cultural ties.

Keywords: northern Plains, beadwurking, dreams, visions, Double Human


I have known Jane1 for almost ten years and I try to visit her each time I have the opportunity to travel to the United States. Our first encounter occurred while I was doing fieldwork for my Master's thesis in Art History and Archaeology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Belgium. I was analyzing beadworking practices among Sioux communities of North Dakota and had obtained a Rotary Grant to interview Native beadworkers. and Jane, whom I met through the North Dakota Historical Society, had agreed to show me the basics of her tanning and beadwork techniques. During return visits, even if fieldwork brought me to other parts of the country, we would meet, talk and basically hang out together while she worked with beads or just went about her other activities. This usually involved spending a lot of time resolving banking problems or searching for some cash in order to pay a pressing bill. My stay in 2004 was no different, but after three weeks of almost daily contact I started despairing of actually witnessing any beadworking. Jane was struggling with money issues, health concerns of her own, as well as her sons' precarious condition. She was busy writing up a large-scale project to promote northern Plains arts, and she was extensively worried by recurrent visions of "bad times to come" and "the struggle her People had to face". All this kept her from any serious beadwork, even if she could have used the income from a sale. As she stated:

I am like a widow, mourning for the suffering of my People who still live under oppression. In that state of mind I cannot work on my beads I can only fast, pray and visit our different ritual sites.

As Kathleen Pickenng (2000) observed in regard to South Dakota reservations, Lakotas use aspects of their culture to explain or justify work related behavior. Indeed, many Lakotas today, as in earlier years, view life as a path that is revealed through dreams, visions and other signs. Through several examples, she demonstrates how such a cultural disposition can influence working life, as with this account from an Oglala woman:

I got another boss Then she started doing things out of the way, so I decided I better resign, because this is a telltale sign. I had nightmares that this postal inspector was standing over me and I was lying on the floor and she was threatening me... (Pickcring 2000:26)

In a similar way, Jane feels she has to follow her visions and dreams even if it means losing her main source of income.

I knew that Jane tended to move a lot, but she always kept me informed of any changes in her mailing address. Yet until one afternoon in late August of 2004, she had never offered to take me to her home. Previously, we met in public places or at friends' houses. What made that particular day different, I will never know, but I grabbed the opportunity and thanked her for the invitation.

Her home, as I discovered, was a one-room studio, with an adjacent small bathroom in an offreservation town's apartment complex. It was cluttered with piled objects of all sorts. There was just enough space for a small chest of drawers, an old table desk stacked with papers on which sat a personal computer, a twin bed scattered with old photographs, paperwork and various items, a kitchen corner one would have found difficult to cook a meal in, and an old armchair. It seemed as though a lifetime's belongings had to fit in less than 350 square feet. The armchair was placed in front of the window but little light seemed to find its way into the room. …