Two-Spirited People: The Native meaning
Today, as the title announces, I will be discussing the concept of two-spirited people. I am aware that some people might be somewhat offended by or disagree with this post. But who cares, I am writing it anyways. There is no political agenda or personal agenda on my part. I just want to share the native way of looking at homosexuality or transgender individuals, as it teaches us a lesson in acceptance, respect and seeing the beauty in everyone. Remember the native poem I have posted more than once.
May there be beauty above me, may there be beauty below me, may there be beauty in me, may there be beauty all around me.
What does two-spirited mean?
Our society often refers to individuals as being either male or female. On forms and questionnaires, oftentimes, one has to choose one or the other. Yes we are beginning to see (and it’s just a beginning) a widening of this sexual identity definition with other categories such as “other” (well really what does that even mean?) or “transgender”. Transgender refers to an individual who does not identify with or abide to the traditional male or female role and expectations or identifies with a gender other than the one given at birth. For some, this is a hard concept to grasp. Some will go as far as denying the existence of transgender individuals, seeing them as weird or unnatural.
However, for the Native people, they have been using the term Two-spirit person for a loooong time. They are referring to a person who is considered to be neither a man or a woman. In other more natural terms, someone with both a masculine and a feminine spirit inside of them, living in the same body. Europeans who colonized the lands and nations of the natives, used the term “berdache” to refer to those individuals. It is now perceived as having a negative connotation. Thus I will use the term Two-spirited people.
The gift of the Two-Spirited people
Evidence shows that prior to colonization, the Native people believed in cross gender roles. Two-spirited people then performed both gender roles at ceremonies. And guess what? The beauty of it all is that feminine males or masculine females were often regarded with a lot of respect. Imagine that 🙂 Two-spirited people were seen as having a gift. Rather than emphasizing their homosexuality, Native people focused on the gifts those individuals had. Their spiritual gifts. The balance that they had between the female and male spirit. Indeed, they would be seen as being double blessed, as they had both the spirit of a man and the spirit of a woman. Others then often looked up to them, as leaders, spiritual leaders. Women married women, men married men and they were looked upon as a third or even a fourth gender. In almost all Native cultures, they were honored and revered. Thus Two-Spirited people were often seen as the medicine man, the healers, the teachers and the visionaries.
Some tribes might still even have a name in their traditional language for Two-Spirited individuals. For example, the Lakota people (Sioux) refer to them as “winkte”, the Mohave as “alyha” and the Cheyenne as “he man eh”. Those words used do not have a sexual connotation and do not refer to one’s sexual orientation. In fact, such concepts or words did not exist in traditional languages. Gender would be a more appropriate term to use as it has no connection to a person’s sex or social identity.
Two-spirit and childhood
Some tribes had ceremonies performed during one’s childhood to see if a child was truly two-spirited (after, for example, a boy was observed being disinterested by traditional boy activities). The ceremony was also to see how the child would be brought up. For example, one ceremony involved placing the child (boy or girl) in the middle of a circle made of brush. In the center would be a bow (a man’s object) and a basket (a woman’s object). Once the child was inside the circle, the brush would be set on fire and the child was observed to see which object he would pick to bring with him. If they picked the object associated with the opposite sex, then the child would be considered to be two-spirited.
One ceremony involved placing a child in the center of a circle of people singing involving the whole community and distant relatives. On the day of the ceremony, the child was brought to the middle of the center and the singer began to sing the ritual songs (the singer was hidden). If the child danced in a manner characteristic with the other sex, he would be considered to be two-spirited (after four songs). Some might think of those ceremonies as being simplistic but they represented traditional ways of doing things. They allowed the child to follow their path in a very simple manner. it was not about sexual identity but rather about finding out and following one’s path in the life he/she was given by the Creator.
Children considered to be two-spirited would often worked with healers often two-spirited themselves, and they were taught women and men’s work (their ability to do both was valued). Most of all, they were accepted and respected by the whole tribe. As I said earlier, they were often called upon to later be healers themselves, dream interpreters or singers and dancers.
Well there is a lesson in there
Just think for one second about what I just described. Can you imagine if it reflected the world we live in? If two-spirited children were cherished, and respected, as opposed to bullied? A world in which everyone is respected and two-spirited people in general are seen as blessed? Sometimes, I think that our ancestors had it right. Well no, not sometimes. Always. It was a simple world, where discrimination based on gender did not take place, as both men and women, the life givers were respected. Yes, for a time there was slavery. I won’t deny that. But is it me or was it just a simpler time? Respect was given and received. The land was cherished as was nature. And everyone was seen as having a gift that they could share with the world. Wow.
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