Pierrette Désy



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Nota : I have done slight changes in the English version.


2 Son of a pastor, John Tanner was born in Tennessee in 1780. Captured by the Saginaw-Chippewa, he lived for a time with the Ottawa and finally the Saulteurs-Chippewa until 1828. He then withdrew to the American side at Sault Ste. Marie, where he was for a time the official interpreter for the celebrated ethnographer of the period, Henry R. Schoolcraft. Treated as an “old liar” and a “White Indian” by the population, he disappeared tragically in 1846 after being accused of the murder of Schoolcraft’s brother. (Tanner’s narrative appears with annotations and commentary by the author in Payot 1983)

3 N.B. : Words in italics followed by an asterisk designate berdache in the tribal language. Homosexuality most often concerned men and only very rarely women (the most widespread cases were found among the Mohave, Yuki, Yuma and Cocopa). Consequently, unless expressly indicated, we speak here of berdache men.

4 The North West Company was absorbed by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1823.

5 James, ed. 1830 : 89-91. See also Désy, ed., 1983.

6 See also Angelino & Shedd 1955 : 121.

7 Dumont de Montigny 1753 : 247-248 and 254.

th Baron de La Hontan [1705] [1974], vol. 2 : 143.

8 Ibid : 144.

th Cited in Swanton 1911:100.

9 Covey 1961: 100.

10 Cited in Swanton 1922: 373 ; see also Le Moyne de Morgues 1591 : ill. XVII & XXIII.

th i.e. the Sioux.

11 Relations inédites de la Nouvelle-France 1672-1678 [1974] (2) : 268.

12 Emphasis added.

13 tome I, 1724 : 52-54.

14 Dumont de Montigny 1753 : 248 and 254.

15 Among the Natchez, three exogamous social groups were found : the suns, the nobles and the honourables, and a fourth group which could also practice endogamy : the commoners. Filiation was matrilineal and membership in the larger group was determined by the mother. According to the French chroniclers, social mobility was determined in the following manner : the child born of a union between a sun mother and a commoner father was a sun ; the child born of a union between a noble mother and a commoner father (or a sun father and a commoner mother) was a noble, the child born of a union between an honourable mother and a commoner father (or a noble father and a commoner mother) was an honourable, the child born of a union between a commoner mother and an honourable father (or a commoner mother and a commoner father) was a commoner. Cf. Swanton 1911.

16 Fages 1973 : 250.

17 Font 1973 : 259.

th Ewers, ed., 1973 :187-88, see also note on page 188.

  Catlin 1841 [1973] (2) 215 and illustration 296.

18 Fages 1973 : 260.

19 Hill 1935 : 274 and Goddard 1933 : 128-129.

20 Parsons 1939b : 236-237.

21 Cushing 1896 : 401 et passim and Parsons 1939b : 220-222.

22 Parsons 1916 : 524.

23 Ibid.

24 Cushing 1896 : 401.

25 Parsons 1939 : 339.

26 Parsons 1916 : 525.

27 See, for example, Sebag 1971 : 425 et passim.

28 See Laski 1959 and Sebag 1971 : 421-428. For obvious reasons, we are not able to include all the versions of the origin myths here. We refer the reader to the bibliographic references.

29 Bowers 1950 : 286-295. There is also a beautiful example of cohabitation by two men in this myth : The Snow Owl called Big Man and the Grey Owl called Little Man.

30 Radin 1976 : 3-60.

31 Laski 1959 : 25-26 and Sebag 1971 : 424-425.

32 Dorsey 1889-1890 : 378.

33 Compare this metamorphosis to that of the Siberian shaman, particularly the Tchuktchi : he passed through several stages of transformation before becoming a woman.

34 Fletcher & La Flesche 1905-1906 : 132.

35 Ibid.

36 Brown 1972 : 3-4.

37 Wissler 1912 : 92.

38 Bowers 1965 : 330.

39 Wissler 1912 : 93.

40 Kroeber 1973 : 417.

41 Hill 1938 : 338-340.

42 Li Causi 1971 : 89-96

43 Bowers 1965 : 256.

44 Ibid : 220. To strike coups : among the Plains Indians, to touch an enemy with a ritual baton without killing him was one of the greatest feats.

45 Bell 1888 : 7.

46 Bowers 1965 : 315, 326 and 330. It was after menopause – which was perceived as a rite of passage in the feminine state, and not an illness – that these women joined this type of society.

47 Wissler 1912 : 93.

48 Hill 1935 : 273-279. G. A. Reichard reports that one nadle * had been emasculated by the Ute in the course of a warrior raid. Cf. Reichard 1950 : 141.

49 Grinnell 1972 Vol. 2 : 37-40.

50 Simms 1903 Vol. 5 : 580-581.

51 Lowie 1966 : 48.

52 Bowers 1965 : 166-168, 259 and 315.

53 Stevenson 1901-1902 : 310-311.

54 Ibid.

55 On this subject, the berdache-man could pretend to be pregnant thanks to a judiciously padded skirt and he went as far as simulating childbirth. He could pretend to have menstrual periods by inflicting a wound to his penis (contrary to the well known thesis, menstrual blood conferred power on a woman). It is thus completely normal that there were prohibitions. The berdache-woman could take the role of husband and become the legal father of the children of his spouse.

56 Lowie 1966 : 48.

57 Bowers 1965 : 315.

58 Dorsey 1889-1890 : 379.

59 Lurie 1953 : 709.

60 Hill 1935 : 276.

61 Devereux 1961 : 416-425.

th La Barre 1972 : 221.

62 This data suggests that it is a matter of the representation of regression into childhood or a sort of fixation which does not transcend the rite of passage. But we might also ask if these berdaches are not in a position (just like their mothers after menopause, cf. note 46) which situates them beyond the biological difference between the sexes.

63 See Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique, Gallimard, 1972 :103 et passim.

64 Parsons 1916 : 523.

65 Stevenson 1901-1902 : 38.

66 Voget 1964 : 490.

67 Lowie 1966 : 48.

68 Lowie 1963 : 198.

69 i.e. the tribal police.

70 Lowie 1966 : 312.

71 La Barre 1972 : 157.

72 Delcourt 1958 : 6.

73 Here we are alluding to the creation myth in which the women live in a village in the west, under the direction of the Evening Star and Moon, and the men live in a village in the east, under the direction of the Morning Star and Sun. The men covet the women, but thanks to the Moon, the latter succeed in getting rid of them until the day when the Morning Star marries the Evening Star and the Sun marries the Moon (see Linton 1922). Otherwise, the ritual sacrifice of the young captive was undertaken in honour of the Morning Star. Once more, we see the dualism/opposition of masculinity/femininity.

74 In Wissler, ed., 1913 : 115.

75 Devereux 1970 : 5-6.

76 J. O. Dorsey, op. cit., 1889-1890 : 379. Otherwise, we do find the idea of suicide in a Pawnee myth of the hermaphrodite reported by J. O. Dorsey. Here, we witness the metamorphosis of a young man into a young girl when he was bewitched by Spider-Woman. But this myth (which deserves closer analysis) places more emphasis on transsexuality than on the sanction of death (p. 128 in “The Pawnee : Mythology” 1906). We see the same idea of metamorphosis in a myth of the Netsilik Inuit where a female shaman, having been transformed into a handsome young man, leads a happy life (Rasmussen 1931 :303-304).

th Devereux, op. cit., 1970 : 41 and 55.

77 1959 : 71.

78 A. W. Bowers 1965 : 267.

79 E. A. Hoebel 1958 : 589.

80 W. La Barre 1972 :139-40.

81 R. L. Munroe, J. W. M. Whiting & D. J. Hally 1969 : 87-91.

82 For more detail on “Red Cloud’s War”, refer to Dee Brown 1972, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

83 In fact, a Sioux winkte *.

84 G. B. Grinnell 1956  ,m: 237-238.
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