Shawnee society, as any kind of noise or the wrong movement could spoil a hunt or alert an enemy. Babies were
fed before they began to cry for food; if they did begin to cry, they were picked up and cradled to make
them stop. Infants were strapped to a cradle board from the age of one month until they could sit up by
themselves, a custom that the Shawnees believed would make the child grow straight and strong (it also produced
a flat spot on the backs of their heads), and they were bathed daily in cold water to make them hardy.
Older children learned by doing, with fathers instructing sons and mothers instructing daughters, who learned
necessary skills such as weaving baskets and tanning hides by imitating their mothers and other women in the tribe.
All children spent alot of time with the elderly of the tribe, who fulfilled the role of teachers. Girls and boys were
rarely allowed to play together, but both played games to develop strength, skill, and resourcefulness. Children
wrestled, fished, hunted, ran race, and played games similar to marbles and lacrosse. A popular boy's game was
made of grapevine, and the inside was filled with netting of pliable bark. The boys chose sides and stood in two
lines, facing each other approximately 15 or 20 feet apart. A boy from one side would roll the hoop along,
and the boys on the opposite side would shoot at it with their bows and arrows as it went by. The boy
whose arrow stuck in the netting was the winner.
When Shawnee boys reached age nine, they began a special program of training to increase endurance and
self-control. One such exercise was to take early morning dips in the cold water of a pond or lake, breaking
the ice that had formed the night before if necessary. Around the time of puberty, boys were sent out into
the woods to fast and to seek a spirit helper. They would blacken their faces with charcoal, to indicate that
they were not to be offered food or spoken to. The spirit helper would usually come to the seeker in the form
of an animal or bird and would give the seeker some kind of instruction that would protect them and help them
in life. A Shawnee boy could bear arms by age 15, but young men were still considered under the control of
adults until age 20 and generally married in their mid to late twenties.
Shawnee custom dictated that a maiden lower her head and avert her eyes if she should happen to catch a glance from an unmarried man. During normal daily activiites unmarried men and women did not interact, however if a frolic dance was held practically all the unmarried men and women of the village and those from nearby villages would attend. The men lined up facing the circumference of the circle around the fire, each looking at the back of the man who stood several feet before him, while the women darted about to select their partners for the dance. Each man held his hands crossed behind his back and the woman who took the position behind him took his hands in hers, holding a cloth between them so their skin did not touch. But if contact of hands was made without benefit of such cloth, it was an acknowledgment of the woman's admiration and possible love for the warrior.
The shuffling dance, to the beat of a drum, the rattle of gravel-filled gourds and a peculiar melodic chant, then commenced and if the young woman who had grasped the man's hands without the benefit of cloth pulled his hands up and bent her own head down to place her cheeks between his hands for a moment, it indicated she would consider him as a mate. If she took this one step further and turned her head first to the left and then to the right to press her tongue against his palms, then it was an avowal to become his wife if he would have her.
"To Be Shawnee"(Part 1)
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