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Blackfoot Care and Training of Children
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Large families seem not to have been unusual though I have never seen many children with one woman. Some old men now living claim to be fathers of more than twenty children each, though not by a single mother.1 The young children, at least receive considerable attention and some discipline. They are sometimes punished by a dash of cold water or a forced plunge. In former times, some old men were charged with responsibility for each boy’s morning bath in the stream regardless of temperature; hence, children were admonished that these men would get them. Striking a child is not regarded as proper. The favorite boggie is the coyote, or the wolf. Women will say, “Now, there is a coyote around: he will get you.” Sometimes they say, ” Come on wolf and bite this baby.” Such words often compose lullabies, a favorite one being, “Come, old woman, with your meat pounder smash this baby’s head.” After the use of intoxicants became general, children were threatened with a drunken man.
From the first, children are taught to respect all the taboos of the medicine bundles owned by the family and those of their relations and guests. Girls are taught to be kind and helpful, to be always willing to lend a hand, to be virtuous and later, to respect their marriage vows. Special stress is laid upon virtue, as a “fast” girl is a disgrace to all her relatives. All children are expected to retire early and rise early. They must respect the words and acts of the aged and not talk back to elderly people. They are taught to take “joking” gracefully and without show of temper. All ‘”tongue-lashing” is to be taken quietly, without retort. Should a child be struck by his equal, to retaliate in kind is proper. All requests for service or errands made by elders are to be rendered at once and in silence. The ideal is the child that starts to perform the service before it is asked; or if asked, before the last word of the speaker is uttered. Talkativeness is almost a crime in the presence of elders. The ideal is he who sits quietly while the adults talk. If he is teased, he may smile but not speak. Above all, when grown up, he should be self-controlled as well as firm and brave.
Boys were taught to care for the horses and to herd them by day: girls to carry wood and water and to assist with other children and household duties. Before marriage, girls must be proficient in the dressing of skins, the making of garments, and the preparation of food. About the time of puberty, boys are expected to go to war. Singly or in pairs they may get permission to accompany a war party, provided they have shown efficiency in hunting. At such times, they receive new names, as previously stated. While the boy is expected to go to war, his family not only uses persuasion to keep him at home, but often forbids his going. In any event, he gets permission or goes secretly. It is said, that in this way the virtue of both parents and sons is shown.
We failed to find definite evidences of puberty ceremonies aside from the boy’s change of name. Certain other small ceremonies may be noted. Often when a child takes its first step or speaks its first word, the parents are adroitly reminded that it is their duty to do something. Then they give out presents or make a feast to which all the relatives contribute. Ear- piercing is also somewhat of a ceremony and may be accompanied by a display of wealth, except when performed at the sun dance. An old woman is called for this service and, in imitation of a warrior counting coup, calls out just before piercing an ear, ” I have made a tipi, worked a robe, etc., with these hands.”
“These Indians often have many children, who generally run and play about quite naked, and swim in the river like ducks. The boys go naked till they are thirteen or fourteen years old, but the girls have a leather dress at an early age.” Maximilian, Prince of Wied. Early Western Travels, 1748-1846. Edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites. Cleveland, 1906, Vol. 23. p. 110. ↩
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