Blessing for a Long Time: The Sacred Pole of the Omaha Tribe

Blessing for a Long Time: The Sacred Pole of the Omaha Tribe

Blessing for a Long Time: The Sacred Pole of the Omaha Tribe

Blessing for a Long Time: The Sacred Pole of the Omaha Tribe

Synopsis

Robin Ridington and Dennis Hastings ingeniously adopt the conventions of Omaha oral narratives to tell the story and significance of the Sacred Pole. Portions of classic anthropological texts (particularly Fletcher and La Flesche's The Omaha Tribe), Omaha narratives, and other historical and contemporary accounts are repeated - each time in a different, more enlightening context - in a circle of stories seamlessly woven around Umon'hon'ti. The result is an innovative account that effortlessly glides between past and present. The distinct personality of Umon'hon'ti emerges and becomes the principal actor in the drama of its history and return. This unique blend of ethnography, ethnohistory, and Omaha poetics promises to make a significant contribution to our understanding of the religious life of Native Americans.

Excerpt

Aho Inshta'thunda, Hon'gashenu ti agathon kahon.

Ho Inshta'thunda, Sky people; Hon'gashenu, Earth people, I greet you as both sides of a single house joined here together as one people.

This book is a circle of stories from the life of Umon'hon'ti, the "Real Omaha," and his companion, Tethon'ha, the Sacred White Buffalo Hide. In English Umon'hon'ti is known as the Sacred Pole of the Omaha tribe. In times past he was called the "Venerable Man." He is a physical object, a cottonwood pole--but he is also a person with a life of his own. His life centered the lives of the Omahas after they moved from a homeland in the Ohio Valley to their present location on the Missouri River several hundred years ago. He served to symbolize the tribe's unity at a time when they were moving from one place to another. He continued to stand for their tribal identity during the good times when they controlled the trade up and down the Missouri River. He was with the Omahas through years of war and epidemic disease. He accompanied them on the great tribal buffalo hunts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For a century, he was cared for by the Peabody Museum of Harvard University. In 1989 he returned to tribal hands. Blessing for a Long Time tells the braided stories of his life as an emblem of Omaha identity.

Indian stories do not begin and end like the lines of words that make up a book. Rather, they start and stop at meaningful points within a circle. Stories, songs, and ceremonies constitute a body of tribal literature, passed down from generation to generation. Omaha tribal historian Dennis Hastings and I are writing a book, but we are also telling a story that connects to the tribe's body of knowledge. We will try to stop at meaningful points in the story and start again as one story suggests another. Each story suggests every other story. Each story contains an essence shared by all. Each story is both a fragment and an entirety. Indian stories are like holographic images--break . . .

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