Two-Spirit World: Otherness in the Native American Tribes

The concept of the two-spirit person, or two-spirits inhabiting one body is not a new one though it has rarely been understood or accepted rather it has often been deemed a threat to society and as such suppressed; but this wasn’t always the case and its existence was widely acknowledged among the Native Tribes of the North American Continent.

Rather than be ignored difference would be recognised early and one example of how a young person’s future would be determined was by trial:

A male child who had displayed an aversion to the usual boyhood activities of rough and tumble and displayed unusually feminine behaviour would be told to place a male bow and a female basket in the brush which would then be set alight. His future would be determined according to which item he chose to save from the flames. If it was the basket he would enter the two-spirit world and be taught the skills of a woman, though he would still be expected to learn how to ride, hunt, and shoot.

No doubt he would be teased, boys will be boys after all, but they would often be chastised for doing so.

indians berdache x

The two-spirit person or Berdache, a French term, was as an obviously effeminate man who dressed like and had the mannerisms of a woman. Of course attitudes would vary from tribe to tribe but there was a degree of acceptance that would see them, assigned specific roles within rather than excluded from society.

For example, they would be the guardians of the tribe’s oral history, the tellers of stories and the singers of songs, or they would simply undertake the tasks traditionally considered those of a woman. Within the Lakota Sioux they were often the Winkjte or tribal matchmaker.

The Berdache was neither brutalised nor cast out, they were who they were and if not always admired it was the way it was meant to be for though homosexuality could be frowned upon otherness was not.

indians berdache pair x

Among the Sioux the Winkjte could also be the Wakan or Shamen, an important role within tribal society. Indeed, believed to have magical powers it was considered good fortune to sleep with a Winkjte which was not considered the same as having sex with another man for the Winkjte was neither man nor woman.

Not all tribes acknowledged the existence of the two-spirit or its physical manifestation. The Apache and Comanche for example, frowned upon such people and held them in low esteem but even so they were in the main permitted to live out their lives unmolested.

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