Reciprocity—Since we have developed
the idea of reciprocity to some extent above, we will only note
here its sacred ramifications: reciprocity is expressed most
openly in the practice among the Mohawk of identifying moieties
or clan memberships according to principles of totemic and
genetic relationships.1 Important festivities such as a
funeral require organization of the proceedings with the moiety
structure in mind, that is, the ceremonies will not be carried
out by the moiety of the deceased, but by the moiety of a
reciprocal social group. Among the Cree, reciprocity is a
fundamental structure of the cosmos, signaled by the notion that
Manitou or the great beauty and power of the universe is
expressed in dialogic opposites, i.e, kisemanitou and
macimanitou, one positive the other negative, both of which are
said to operate within the cosmos and human social order. These
are the primary ways of expressing reality in the universe, and
hence are regarded as absolutely sacred.
This perception of reality is
not developed into a theological system, the way the being of
god and the concept of the Trinity evolved in Christianity.
Rather, the principles and embedded in a natural description,
and from that description one was to draw conclusions about the
nature of reality. A fine example of this is Jenny Leading
Cloud’s story of the woman and the dog:
Somewhere at a place where the prairie
and the Maka Sicha, the Badlands, meet, there is a hidden cave.
Not for a long, long time has anyone been able to find it. Even
now, with so many highways, cars, and tourists, no one has
discovered this cave. In it lives a woman so old that her face
looks like a shriveled-up walnut. She is dressed in rawhide, the
way people used to be before the white man came. She has been
sitting there for a thousand years or more, working on a blanket
strip for her buffalo robe. She is making the strip out of dyed
porcupine quills, the way our ancestors did before white traders
brought glass beads to this turtle continent. Resting beside
her, licking his paws, watching her all the time is Shunka Sapa,
a huge black dog. His eyes never wander from the old woman,
whose teeth are worn flat, worn down to little stumps, she has
used them to flatten so many porcupine quills.
A few steps from where the old woman
sits working on her blanket strip, a huge fire is kept going.
She lit this fire a thousand years or more ago and kept it alive
ever since. Over the fire hangs a big earth pot, the kind some
Indian peoples used to make before the white men came with his
kettles or iron. Inside the big pot, wojapi is boiling and
bubbling. Wojapi is berry soup, good and sweet and red. That
soup has been boiling in the pot for a long time, ever since the
fire was lit.
Every now and then the old woman gets up
to stir the wojapi in the huge earthen pot. She is so old and
feeble that it takes her a while to get up and hobble over to
the fire. The moment her back is turned, the huge black dog
starts pulling the porcupine quills out of her blanket strip.
This way she never makes any progress, and her quill work
remains forever unfinished. The Sioux people used to say that if
the old woman ever finishes her blanket, then at the very moment
that she threads the last porcupine quill to complete the
design, the world will come to an end.(In Baillargeon, 116)
This selection reflects several important
aspects of the sacred:
- Nature’s Law relates to a more
fundamental belief in a sacred history of the universe…the
potential is there for it all to end.
- The sacred cannot be
comprehended by the human, it can only be experienced in the
daily encounters of life.
- The human lives with the
possibility of death (symbolized with the earthen berry soup,
used to feast the dead in funerary rituals), and this is a
normal part of Nature’s Law.
- That Nature’s Law requires
both positive and negative activity in the world, for purposes
that are beyond the human to articulate (i.e., the positive of the
quill work of the old woman offset by the negative of the
destruction of the quill work by the dog).