Native American Hospitality

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Native American Hospitality – Hospitality, distinguished from charity, was a cardinal principle in every Indian tribe. The narratives of many pioneer explorers and settlers, from De Soto and Coronado, Amidas and Barlow, John Smith and the Pilgrims, down to the most recent period, are full of instances of wholesale hospitality toward the white strangers, sometimes at considerable cost to the hosts. Gift dances were a feature in every tribe, and it was no uncommon occurrence on the plains during the summer season for large dancing parties to make the round of the tribes, returning in the course of a month or two with hundreds of ponies given in return for their entertainment. Every ceremonial gathering was made the occasion of the most lavish hospitality, both in feasting and the giving of presents. In some languages there was but one word for both generosity and bravery, and either one was a sure avenue to distinction. A notable exemplification of this was the institution of the potlatch (q. v.) among the tribes of the N. W. coast, by which a man saved for half a lifetime in order to give away his accumulated wealth in one grand distribution, which would en title him and his descendants to rank thereafter among the chiefs. In tribes where the clan system prevailed the duty of hospitality and mutual assistance with in the clan was inculcated and sacredly observed, anyone feeling at liberty to call on a fellow-clansman for help in an emergency without thought of refusal. The same obligation existed in the case of formal comradeship between two men. Among the Aleut, according to Veniaminoff, the stranger received no invitation on arriving, but decided for himself at which house he chose to be a guest, and was sure to receive there every attention as long as he might stay, with food for the journey on his departure.

On the other hand it can not be said that the Indian was strictly charitable, in the sense of extending help to those unable to reciprocate either for them selves or for their tribes. The life of the savage was precarious at best, and those who had outlived their usefulness were very apt to be neglected, even by their own nearest relatives. Hospitality as between equals was a tribal rule; charity to the helpless depended on the disposition and ability of the individual. See Ethics and Moral, Feasts. (J. M.)

MLA Source Citation:

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906. Web. 30 January 2015. - Last updated on Jul 18th, 2012


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