Native American Humor

Native American Humor – It has been so commonly the fashion to describe the American Indian as “the stoic of the woods without a tear,” that he has generally been denied as well the possession of a sense of humor. That he does not lack such, however, will readily be admitted by anyone who has come to know the Indian as he is, has shared his meals and his camp fire, and had the opportunity of enjoying the real wit and humor abounding in common speech and in ancient legend. The pun, the jest of all kinds, the practical joke, the double-entendre, of which he is some times past-master, are all known to him. Particularly does the awkward action or the inexpert movement of the white man incite him to laughter. Like the white man, he has a fund of wit at the expense of the weaker sex and its peculiarities. The Eskimo and the Pueblos especially are merry, laughing people, who jest and trifle through all the grades from quiet sarcasm to the loudest joke. This appears in their songs and legends, in which humor and satire are constantly cropping out. That the Micmac and closely related Indian tribes of the Algonquian stock in N. E. North America have a keen sense of the humorous and ridiculous anyone may convince himself by reading some of the tales in Leland and Prince’s Kuloskap (1902), especially the episode of the master and the babe, and the story of the wizard and the Christian priest. The mythic trickster is, in fact, found in every tribe, sometimes as a misshapen person age, sometimes as a supernatural coyote, rabbit, or other animal, and the relation of his adventures provokes the greatest mirth. Around their camp fires, and ” when the spirit moves them,” the Chippewa and related tribes can jest and trifle in real fashion. The episodes in many of their tales and legends also prove their possession of wit and humor. The Cherokee sense of humor is proved by their myths and legends (Mooney in 19th Rep. B. A. E., 1900), and that of the Zuni by the folklore of that tribe (dishing, Zuni Folk Tales, 1901). The Kutenai of British Columbia and Idaho are not without the virtues of humor and sarcasm (Chamberlain, Rep. on N. W. Tribes of Can., 70, 1892). Puns and mistakes in pronunciation easily set them into fits of laughter. The Pueblos, Iroquois, Apache, some of the Plains tribes, and those of the N. W. Pacific coast had regular clowns or fun-makers at some of their dances and other ceremonies. Some Plains tribes had the custom of marking the spot where any amusing accident occurred while on the march in order that later travelers might inquire and learn the joke.  (A. F. C.)

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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