Blackfoot Etiquette

To discuss this subject in detail would be a matter of considerable inter-est and doubtless of definite comparative value; but it is our intention to note only such points as came readily to notice. Naturally, many points mentioned under previous heads may be considered as bearing upon this topic. On approaching the tipi of a stranger, it is proper for a man to pause some distance away and call out to know if the head of the family is at home. If he is out and there is no adult male to act instead, the visitor is upon such information not expected to enter but may, of course, carry on a conversation with the women on the outside. When one is acquainted, or where the man is known to be within, he enters without ceremony and takes a place to his right of the door. Should the entire side be unoccupied he moves up to a place opposite the host; should it be occupied he takes the first vacant place. However, a man’s status and age may make it incumbent upon those seated to make a place appropriate to his rank. 1 The fire is the dividing point of the house: hence, to pass between a guest and the fire is very impolite. Should a man of some importance be smoking, one must not pass between him and the fire, he may, however, take the pipe in his hands and pass between it and the smoker. As soon as a male guest enters, the host begins to cut tobacco and fill a pipe, which when lighted is passed to the guest, back to the host etc., until it has burned out. Women as guests usually take places to the left by the wife.

There are a great many observances that partake of taboo rather than etiquette. These will be discussed elsewhere, but it is proper to respect all the restrictions of your host’s medicine. The well-informed are expected to know what bundles the host owns and, of course, the observances thereto. Thus, the bear must not be named in a tipi when there are certain bundles, guests seeing these bundles hung up there must act accordingly and designate the bear, if at all, by some descriptive terms. Again many men have individual restrictions of the same sort, all of which are to be respected.

It is a breach to ask a leading question as to one’s personal medicine or experiences. One may wear an object until it has attracted general attention and though many are certain that it is a medicine object of interest, they will not ask about it. It may, however, be hinted at and a desire for information implied, but the approach must end there. On the other hand, the owner may speak freely if he so choose. We found no reason to believe that a man felt any great reluctance to speak of such things at his own initiative or that he felt under special obligation not to do so: it is the blunt asking for information that is offensive.

Food should be set before a guest. A visitor, if from a distance, should receive presents from the host and his relatives. Even now, a Blackfoot visiting one of the other divisions of his people, returns with horses and other property. This is, however, a kind of exchange, since his relatives are expected to do likewise when visited by those befriending him.

Jesting at the expense of a guest, provided he is not a distinguished man, is regarded as proper. Of times very rude jokes are thus played upon strangers. A show of timidity or resentment is sure to stimulate such acts. The usual procedure is for a number of men to gather, some of whom begin to make indecent remarks concerning .the guest while the host and a few others pretend to speak against such proposals. Further indignities may be offered but the host prevents the affair from going too far. We mention this extreme of jesting to emphasize the large place it plays in Blackfoot social life. Notwithstanding all this, the victims whatever their rank, are extremely sensitive to such jests.Citations:

  1. The ownership of certain medicines may determine the seat. Thus, as guests, the medicine pipe men are given a seat opposite the host and must give way to no one. Should they go out for an interval, no one should occupy the seat. As the penalty will be disease, we have here what may be considered a taboo.[]


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