THE CLAN ORGANIZATION OF THE WINNEBAGO
A PRELIMINARY PAPER
By PAUL RADIN
Paul Radin, "The Clan Organization of the Winnebago. A Preliminary Paper," American Anthropologist, 12 (n.s.), #2 (April - June, 1910): 209-219.
(209) THE first person to enumerate the clans of the Winnebago was Lewis H. Morgan,1 whose list is as follows:
This list remained the only one until 1893 when J. O. Dorsey2 obtained another and better one from James Alexander (Winnebago), a member of the Wolf clan. J. O. Dorsey's list comprised the following:
|Wolf (shunk-cank). Archaic name (dhego-ni).
|(c) Hawk (keretcuⁿ).
|Bear (hontc). Archaic name (conakera).
|(b) Pigeon (rutcge).
|(d) Thunder-bird (wakaⁿtcara).
|(a) Eagle (hitcaxcepara).
Another list, that cannot, however, have been intended as a clan list, is given by Dr Foster.3 It comprises the following:
|Thunder-bird family or invisible Thunder-bird people.
|The Air-family, the visible Thunder-bird people.
|The Land or Quadruped family.
|The Water family.
The writer obtained the two following lists, that of Jasper Blowsnake being the more perfect. (210)
|JASPER BLOWSNAKE'S LIST
|JOHN HARRISON'S LIST
|A. uáñgerêgi hérera (in the heaven there being).
|A. Upper or Heavenly Clans.
|wónaγírê uáñkcik, People of War.
|rútcgê, Pigeon (extinct).
|rútcgê, Pigeon (extinct).
|wonaγírê uáñkcik, Warrior.
|B. maⁿnégi hérera (on earth there being).
|B. Lower or Earth Clans.
The main differences between the above lists are the order of clans, the position of the Wolf clan, the presence of a general bird clan called wániñk by Dorsey, the double names for the Wolf and Bear clans, and the absence of a Fish and Warrior in Dorsey's and of a Hawk clan in Blowsnake's list.
With regard to the position of the Wolf clan, in spite of Dorsey's and Morgan's agreement, I am positive that it is due to mere accident, the informants of both observers having in great likelihood belonged to that clan. In no case did there seem to be any doubt among the Winnebago questioned in 1908 and 1909 that the position of leaders of the two groups belonged to the Thunder and Bear clans. This is also borne out by the clan legends. There is a considerable amount of evidence in favor of the relative positions of the clans in the upper division as given by Blowsnake. Dorsey's order is based on a misconception and is confessedly artificial. As to the order of the clans in the lower or maⁿnégi division, there seems to be agreement only for the Bear, Wolf, and Snake clans. The position of the others is still indefinite. Dorsey's “Bird gens” is really the upper division of Blowsnake. He did not know of the existence of two exogamic divisions and was misled by the fourfold (211) division, of which the legends frequently speak, into believing that his Bird group with its supposed four sub-divisions was in reality a vestige of an older four-fold subdivision of the gens.
The “dhegoni” and “conakera” names for the Wolf and Bear clans, the writer also obtained. They may be archaic as Dorsey supposed, but there is likewise considerable likelihood that, in addition to being archaic, they also had some special significance. Their meaning is unknown to the present Winnebago. Of the identity of the Hawk and Warrior (wónaγírê uáñkcik) clans there is little doubt. Members of the Winnebago tribe refer to this clan indiscriminately as Warrior or Hawk-people, and in the clan legends they are spoken of as being descended from four hawks (kerêtcû́ⁿ).
Foster's "four original totems," as he calls them, represent neither clans nor the divisions corresponding to the uáñgerêgi and maⁿnégi. Some of the myths speak vaguely of such a four-fold division but that this " mythological " classification was ever reflected in the social organization is not corroborated by evidence of any kind.4
The upper or heavenly (uáñgerêgi hérera) and lower or earthly (maⁿnégi hérera) people constitute two exogamic divisions. The terms, however, have no connotation of superior and inferior but refer simply to the fact that the ancestors of the one were birds, i. e. inhabitants of the air, and those of the other, land animals. To the former belong the thunder-birds who are strictly speaking supposed to live beyond the air and the water-spirits and fish who inhabit the water. Some legends even speak of the water-spirits as living underneath the water. There is considerable discrepancy in the information obtained about the Water-spirit clan. Many of the Indians questioned stated that they merely meant water animals such as the beaver, otter, etc., while others thought that the spirit-beaver, otter, muskrat, etc., were meant, and still others considered that mythical monsters were referred to. All of these statements may be correct. The various answers can certainly be justified by many of the Water-spirit clan names.
(212) A uáñgerêgi man must marry a maⁿnégi woman and vice versa, but a member of one of the uáñgerêgi clans does not have to marry into any particular maⁿnégi clan. Those Winnebago who cared to give an explanation of their exogamy declared that the members of one clan, or of the clans of either division, were too closely related to permit intermarriage.
The Winnebago knew of no significance attaching to the two-fold division of the tribe. Among many of the other Siouan tribes5 analogous divisions are found but, with the possible exception of the Osage6 and Iowa,7 their significance is vague. Among the Omaha8 there are two divisions, and a certain clan in each division, bearing the same name as the division itself, has specific functions which may in a way be considered as representative of that division as a unit. In a similar manner it is possible that the positions of the Thunder-bird and Bear clans at the head of the uáñgerêgi and maⁿnégi divisions, together with the specific powers conferred upon them, are indicative of an analogous condition.9 The functions of these clans may, however, be regarded simply as those of ordinary clans possessing certain specific powers, in no way connected with, or representative of, the larger divisions.
Descent is patrilineal and a man's name generally belongs to his father's clan. Formerly the clan name was always that of the father's clan, but the Winnebago have now become exceedingly lax in this particular. This is also true of the inheritance of the sacred clan bundles, and for purposes of convenience both points will be treated together. At the present time certain irregularities have crept into the reckoning of descent and the transmission of the clan bundle which were exceedingly puzzling at first. A large number of individuals, for instance, bear names belonging to the mother's clan, and the war or clan bundle occasionally passes out of the clan.
The first point was satisfactorily explained as soon as a number of genealogies were collected. From these it became apparent (213) that whenever a person bore a name of a clan not his father's, he had a male paternal ancestor who was either a white man or an Indian of another tribe. Such individuals had, of course, no Winnebago clan name, and consequently a name from the wife's clan was selected. This custom once begun seems to have acted as a precedent and thereafter the names were taken from the maternal clan, although descent was still reckoned in the paternal line.
The second point is admittedly an irregularity that occurs oftener now than in previous times but was by no means impossible then. The war or clan bundle, the most sacred object in the possession of a clan, was supposed to be transmitted in the male line only, so that it should not pass out of the clan. But at the same time it could be given only to that child of the possessor of the bundle who by his actions and the interest he manifested in learning the ritual, legends, and songs pertaining to the ceremony showed himself capable of properly providing for the bundle. It happened occasionally that a man either possessed no son or his son did not exhibit sufficient interest in the sacred object. In such a case he might not care to give it to a distant relative or to a stranger, even though the latter belonged to the same clan, but preferred to give it to a child of his sister or of his daughter. This passing of the clan bundle of one clan into another happened very rarely in early days, and even now, when the old customs are fast falling into disuse, is not very common. These two points have been dwelt upon at some length, because they explain in a simple manner data that would in all probability have been seized upon by sociologists as proofs of vestiges of a former matriarchate, and because they emphasize again the need of obtaining specific explanations for every case.
Two other features of considerable importance which, however, need further investigation before they can be properly understood might be mentioned here briefly, namely that relating to marriage relationship and that relating to the attitude of a person toward his maternal uncle. A married man always lives with his wife's parents for the first few years after marriage, must never address his mother-in-law, and must act as a servant of his father-in-law as long as he lives with him. The other point, the relation of a man to his maternal uncle, is very peculiar. A man can take liberties with his (214) maternal uncle (hidék) which are expressly prohibited with his paternal uncle and aunt and his maternal aunt. Yet in spite of this freedom a man and his maternal uncle stand in particularly close relationship, the former (hitcûncgế) always acting in the capacity of a servant. On the war-path, particularly, this relationship is shown in its strongest phase, for then the nephew (or as he is called on such an occasion the wagixốna) must accompany him as a sort of esquire and suffer himself to be slain should his maternal uncle – known as dotcáⁿhûñk or war-path leader – be slain or captured.
All the Winnebago clans have animal names. In this they are similar to the Algonquian tribes that surrounded them (Menominee, Sauk and Fox), and to a certain extent to their kindred Siouan tribes, the Omaha, Ponka, Kansa, Oto, Osage, and Iowa. In no case, however, did the Winnebago names have reference to animal taboos as do those of some of the kindred Siouan tribes.10 All of the animal clan names of the Winnebago refer to living species of animals with the exception of the Thunder-bird and perhaps the Water-spirit.
The Winnebago do not claim descent from the animal after which the clan is named but assert that their ancestors were transformed animals who met at Green Bay, Wisconsin, and were there transformed into human beings. Four of each species of animal were present, and the older Winnebago can still tell you from which of these four brothers they are descended. Their attitude toward the clan animal is in no way different from that toward any other animal. They observe no taboo, and hunt and eat at any time of the year the animal which they regard as their personal manito. They even pray to the bear-spirit to grant them medicine sufficiently powerful to capture bears easily.
The Winnebago never possessed a camp circle, and if any definite order of clans existed during the hunt or at a council it has long been forgotten. Among the Omaha11 and southern Siouan tribes12 the clans on certain occasions were arranged around their camp circle in a definite manner. The camp circle itself was divided (215) into two, sometimes four divisions.13 All that can be stated with any degree of certainty regarding the Winnebago is that, on hunting trips, the members of the Bear clan took charge of the two wings of the party, and the members of the Thunder-bird clan occupied the center.
Among the Omaha the order and importance of the clan in the camp circle depended upon the clan's possession of certain sacred tribal objects.14 The same was true to a large extent for the Ponka, Kansa, Osage, and Iowa.15 There was likewise a considerable distribution of powers of all kinds among the clans of these tribes. These powers were of the most varied kind, dealing sometimes with the details of the handling of sacred objects as among the Omaha,16 with leadership in the worship of special powers, with the duty of acting as servants to other clans,17 with the regulation of the hunt,18 with the consecration of the mystic fire-places,19 with war and peace,20 or with general disciplinary powers.21
Among the Winnebago only two clans have distinctive functions, the Thunder-bird and the Bear clans. It is probable that the Warrior or Hawk and the Water-spirit clans22 also possessed specific powers but the evidence is too fragmentary as yet to permit any positive statement to that effect. The Winnebago tribe, as such, possessed no sacred objects, but each clan did possess a clan or war-bundle, connected with which was an elaborate ritual known as the Winter Feast. As far as the writer knows, the division of this Winter Feast into two parts, one for a deity known as Hócerê’û́ⁿwahi, Disease-giver, and one for deities known as Haⁿhé, Night, and Wakáⁿdja, Thunder-spirit, was found among the feasts given by all the different clans.
Although, as mentioned before, only the Thunder-bird and Bear (216) clans have definite functions, every clan has certain objects and immaterial possessions which are considered as belonging especially to it. With regard to these clan possessions a strange psychological fact was observed. If a member of one clan asks for one of these specific objects belonging to another he never receives it but receives instead the most valuable present that the clan addressed can give. However, it is considered such bad form, it is so immodest, to make such a request, that no self-respecting Indian would be likely to ask for such an object. (The writer could obtain only a few of these peculiar clan "properties.") Such were, for example, to ask a member of the Thunder-bird clan for a brand from its fire-place, or to sit on the fire-logs in his house; to admire or criticize anything in the lodge of a Bear clan man; or sit or stand in the doorway of a man of the Wolf or Water-spirit clan and ask for water.
The Thunder-bird clan was regarded as the most important of the uáñgerêgi class. The chief of the tribe was always selected from it and he stood as the exponent of peace at all times. He could not lead a war-party, although, according to some, he could accompany such a party. His lodge always stood in the center of the village and contained a sacred fire-place, around which only members of the Thunder-bird clan could sit. The lodge was a sanctuary for all wrong-doers. No one could be killed there, and a prisoner of war escaping to it had to be spared. The Thunder-bird chief always acted as intercessor between wrong-doers and their avengers. Even in so extreme a case as the murder of a clansman, this chief would always attempt a reconciliation by which the life of the offender might be spared.
The Bear-clans possessed a sacred lodge which stood at one end of the village. The lodge itself was known as manûⁿpétciⁿ (soldiers' or policemen's lodge), and the members themselves as manûⁿpé.
The functions of this clan consisted in the regulation of the hunt, general disciplinary rights, and the duty of carrying into effect the orders of the Thunder-bird chief. At a tribal hunt their power was seen in its most characteristic development. Whosoever disregarded the rules, such as shooting too early or cutting up the captured animal out of turn, could be deprived of his bow and arrows, which would then be restored to him only if he acquiesced in his punishment. (217) But should he repeat his offense bow and arrow would be broken.23 The general disciplinary powers were those of patrolling the village and preventing disorder. Adultery was punished by flogging. The leader of the clan carried an emblem symbolical of his power called náⁿmañxî́nixî́ni (wood growling), very similar in appearance to that called "invitation stick" by Hoffman and figured in his Menominee24 monograph. The leader of the Bear clan always carried this emblem of his authority whenever he patrolled the village. He and his followers would make their rounds singing, and at their approach all noise would immediately cease.
Whether the Bear-clan possessed other powers such as war-powers is an open question. The name of the Warrior or Hawk clan and the testimony of a number of Indians suggests that this clan may have had such powers, as does likewise the fact that a careful distinction is made between a manûⁿpé or policeman and a uañkwácocê or warrior. In spite of this, however, the Bear or Soldiers' lodge is commonly referred to as a war lodge. All capital punishments were executed there. If the Thunder-bird chief failed in his intercessions for a criminal the latter was handed over to the Bear lodge for punishment. A prisoner of war seeking refuge in it was immediately put to death there. The lodge was the repository of the war bundles and the scalps, and was at times a general meeting place for the warriors of the entire tribe. Children and women were rarely admitted; menstruating or pregnant women never.
Although there are no customs and beliefs distinctive of the two classes, the clans have numerous ones. These consist, in addition to those enumerated above, of characteristic ceremonies at birth, at the naming of a child, at death, and at the burial and funeral wake of a clan member. One might also add a prohibition of certain clans belonging to different classes against intermarriage. From a theoretical point of view this is of the greatest importance. This prohibition to intermarry is considered almost as strong as that existing among the clans of the same class, because these former (218) clans have been adopted by one another and are therefore related. Parallel to this prohibition, there is a tendency, that practically has the force of law, that a man belonging to the upper class must be buried by one of the lower class and vice versa.
If we were then to compare the clan organization of the Winnebago with that of the northern Siouans (Crow, Hidatsa, Mandan, and Dakota), the differences would be quite considerable, although the number of similarities would by no means be negligible. With the southern Siouans (Iowa, Oto, and Missouri), or the central Siouans (Omaha, Osage, and Kansa), the similarities in the clan organization are innumerable. On the other hand, the Winnebago clan organization is extremely like that of the central Algonquian. Indeed, in the relation of the Winnebago clan organization to that of these two areas lies the central problem of Winnebago culture.
Clan animal names and exogamy are other questions of fundamental importance in a study of Winnebago culture. None of the northern Siouan tribes possess animal clan or band names, and, while the southern and central divisions do possess them in part, they are for the most part descriptive animal epithets. Even among the Winnebago, where real animal clan names exist, some clans have non-animal duplicate appellations. Among the Central Algonquian, on the other hand, all the clans have animal names. Are we then to regard the central and southern Siouan clan names as typical of their culture, or must they be regarded as an element borrowed from the central Algonquian? There is much to be said for the former assumption, and something for the latter.
The question of the exogamic divisions gives us similar results, except that exogamy seems the exception among all the northern, southern, and central Siouan, although we find it among the Crow. It is universal among the central Algonquian. Here, again, it is impossible to determine whether we are dealing with a Siouan or a central Algonquian element.
The important point to be borne in mind is the fact that the area occupied by the Winnebago and their central Algonquian neighbors contains so many general cultural similarities that, crediting certain (219) characteristics to the possible influence of the one or the other cultural area can only then be legitimate when there is positive proof of such having been the case. Otherwise they should be assigned to their respective areas as of independent origin.
BUREAU OF AMERICAN ETHNOLOGY,
WASHINGTON, D. C.
1 Morgan, Ancient Society [New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1877] p. 157.
2 Fifteenth Ann. Rep. Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 240-241.
3 Quoted in J. O. Dorsey's Mss. of Winnebago Clan Names (Bur. Amer. Eth.).
4 That such a classification may be at the basis of a Siouan social organization is shown by the Ponka where the names of the divisions correspond strictly to those of Foster; cf. Fifteenth Ann. Rep. Bur. Amer. Eth., pp. 228-229.
5 Fifteenth Ann. Rep. Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 213-244.
6 Ibid., pp. 233-234.
7 Ibid., pp. 238-239.
8 Ibid., pp. 230-232; also Third Ann. Rep., pp. 219-251.
9 Ibid., also Eleventh Ann. Rep., p. 542.
10 Third Ann. Report Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 227-251.
11 Ibid., pp. 219-221.
12 Eleventh Ibid., pp. 522-524; Fifteenth Ibid., pp. 226-240.
13 Fifteenth Ann. Report Bureau of American Ethnology.
14 Third Ibid., pp. 219-251.
15 Eleventh Ibid., pp. 522-524; Fifteenth Ibid., pp. 226-240.
16 Third, Eleventh, and Fifteenth Ibid., op. cit.
17 Eleventh and Fifteenth Ibid., op. cit. 6 Ibid.
22 Dr. Foster's Mss. in Bureau of American Ethnology.
23 This power is similar in all details, to the "soldier-killing" of the Dakota. Cf. Riggs, Dakota Texts, etc.
24 Fourteenth Ann. Rep. Bur. Amer. Eth., pt. I., p. 73.
by Richard L. Dieterle
"the only one" — an unpublished list dating from 1823 can be found in Charles C. Trowbridge:1
Tshau.waúk.shep. is actually for Cawą́kšep, which is the Male Black Deer (Bull Moose); Hoo.rá.rau. (Xurax’a) is the Gray Eagle. Also from 1889-1891 is Gatschet's list, obtained from John Michel St Cyr:2
John Michel St Cyr
|bird clan; "chiefs" of royal blood.
|also of "royal" blood; belonging to the object above the earth, "upper division."
This too substitutes a Moose Clan for the Deer Clan. The word hų́wesa, translated as "moose," may be hųwéǧa, "elk" (the moose in Europe is called an "elk"). Hų́wesa may mean, "Pale (sa) Horned (he) Elk (hųwą́); the latter may be, "Connected (ǧa) Horned (he) Elk (hųwą́)." His son David also mentioned a Fish Clan, and a Bird (Wánik) phratry, as well as a Snake (Waką́) phratry. Of the former, he says that it "contains eagle, bird, thunder, lightning, sky, and more."
"lists" — a number of such lists have been obtained since 1910. Jipson compiled a list of clans in 1923.3
This list is complete, but as with some others, it represents the name of the Hawk Clan as specifically Kerejųsep, "Black Hawk." This list is from McKern (1927):4
The Hawk Clan is here listed by its functional name, the "Warrior Clan." The Bear Clan is denoted by an old nickname, Coną́ke, "Green/Blue Back." Susman in 1938-1939, also made a list of clans:5
This list omits the Elk and Fish Clans, and collapses the Eagle, Hawk, and Pigeon into the Bird Clan. The contemporary list of clans is the following:
"invitation stick" — there is no known picture of the nąmąxį́nįxį́nį. The Menominee invitation stick is pictured in the inset at the right. As Radin notes, the name means "growling wood." An insight into the origins of such a name is found in McKern, who gives na máxinixini as, "to shave the notched end of an arrow in such a way that the spent arrow comes down flat." This arrow is used in the game called nąmą́xgeguc, which appears to mean, "to shoot (guc) an open mesh (xge) wooden (ną) arrow (mą)." For this game a special arrow is prepared of dog wood, split in three pieces on its end so that it won't hurt anyone. It is shot at a bundle of straw tied to the end of a pole and swung in a broad circle. The three-pointed arrow sticks in the hay rather than going through it.6 An arrow of the nąmąxį́nįxį́nį form would no doubt make a growling noise as it flew. Ną, of course, means, "wood." Xį́nį means, "to growl (as an animal)" (Miner, Helmbrecht-Lehmann), leaving mą to mean, "arrow." The form xį́nį-xį́nį is an emphatic reduplication. So nąmąxį́nįxį́nį means, "wooden arrow that really growls." It may be the connection to growling that recommended this baton to the Bear Clan as their emblem.
"a war lodge" — according to McKern, who seems to have had more thorough knowledge on this point, the War Lodge was in the possession of the Hawk (Warrior) Clan. It was the Hawk Clan that executed prisoners of war. As McKern's Bear Clan informant said, "If a captive first goes in warrior band's house, he must die."7 The Bear Clan executed sentences on domestic offenders, which may be responsible for the confusion that arises on this matter. The Bear Clan lodge might also be used as a prison for captives, but at some point they are turned over to the Hawk Clan.
Notes to the Commentary
1 Charles C. Trowbridge, "Manners, Customs, and International Laws of the Win-nee-baa-goa Nation," (1823), Winnebago Manuscripts, in MS/I4ME, Charles Christopher Trowbridge Collection (02611), Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library, 85-102.
2 (q.v.) Albert S. Gatschet, Hotchank hit’é. The Winnebago Language. Obtained from David St Cyr, at Winnebago Agency, Thurston Co., Nebraska, Aug. 31 and Sept. 1-3, 1889, and from John Michel St Cyr, then in Washington, 1890. 1891.
3 Norton William Jipson, Story of the Winnebagoes (Chicago: The Chicago Historical Society, 1923) 408, This is an unpublished typescript.
4 McKern, Winnebago Notebook, 196-197.
5 This list comes from somewhere in Susman's notebooks. Its precise location has not been tracked down, so it was extracted from the lexicon. Amelia Susman (Schulz), Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society Library, 1938-1939) Accession Number, X 5.2.
6 W. C. McKern, Winnebago Notebook (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1927) 50.
7 McKern, Winnebago Notebook, 185.