Phonetic And Graphic Arts

The Siouan stock is defined by linguistic characters. The several tribes

and larger and smaller groups speak dialects so closely related as to

imply occasional or habitual association, and hence to indicate community

in interests and affinity in development; and while the arts (reflecting

as they did the varying environment of a wide territorial range) were

diversified, the similarity in language was, as is usual, accompanied by
similarity in institutions and beliefs. Nearly all of the known dialects

are eminently vocalic, and the tongues of the plains, which have been most

extensively studied, are notably melodious; thus the leading languages of

the group display moderately high phonetic development. In grammatic

structure the better-known dialects are not so well developed; the

structure is complex, chiefly through the large use of inflection, though

agglutination sometimes occurs. In some cases the germ of organization is

found in fairly definite juxtaposition or placement. The vocabulary is

moderately rich, and of course represents the daily needs of a primitive

people, their surroundings, their avocations, and their thoughts, while

expressing little of the richer ideation of cultured cosmopolites. On the

whole, the speech of the Siouan stock may be said to have been fairly

developed, and may, with the Algonquian, Iroquoian, and Shoshonean, be

regarded as typical for the portion of North America lying north of

Mexico. Fortunately it has been extensively studied by Riggs, Hale,

Dorsey, and several others, including distinguished representatives of

some of the tribes, and is thus accessible to students. The high phonetic

development of the Siouan tongues reflects the needs and records the

history of the hunter and warrior tribes, whose phonetic symbols were

necessarily so differentiated as to be intelligible in whisper, oratory,

and war cry, as well as in ordinary converse, while the complex structure

is in harmony with the elaborate social organization and ritual of the

Siouan people.

Many of the Siouan Indians were adepts in the sign language; indeed, this

mode of conveying intelligence attained perhaps its highest development

among some of the tribes of this stock, who, with other plains Indians,

developed pantomime and gesture into a surprisingly perfect art of

expression adapted to the needs of huntsmen and warriors.

Most of the tribes were fairly proficient in pictography; totemic and

other designs were inscribed on bark and wood, painted on skins, wrought

into domestic wares, and sometimes carved on rocks. Jonathan Carver gives

an example of picture-writing on a tree, in charcoal mixed with bear's

grease, designed to convey information from the Chipe'ways (Algonquian)

to the Naudowessies,(22) and other instances of intertribal

communication by means of pictography are on record. Personal decoration

was common, and was largely symbolic; the face and body were painted in

distinctive ways when going on the warpath, in organizing the hunt, in

mourning the dead, in celebrating the victory, and in performing various

ceremonials. Scarification and maiming were practiced by some of the

tribes, always in a symbolic way. Among the Mandan and Hidatsa scars were

produced in cruel ceremonials originally connected with war and hunting,

and served as enduring witnesses of courage and fortitude. Symbolic

tattooing was fairly common among the westernmost tribes. Eagle and other

feathers were worn as insignia of rank and for other symbolic purposes,

while bear claws and the scalps of enemies were worn as symbols of the

chase and battle. Some of the tribes recorded current history by means of

winter counts or calendaric inscriptions, though their arithmetic was

meager and crude, and their calendar proper was limited to recognition of

the year, lunation, and day--or, as among so many primitive people, the

snow, dead moon, and night,--with no definite system of fitting

lunations to the annual seasons. Most of the graphic records were

perishable, and have long ago disappeared; but during recent decades

several untutored tribesmen have executed vigorous drawings representing

hunting scenes and conflicts with white soldiery, which have been

preserved or reproduced. These crude essays in graphic art were the germ

of writing, and indicate that, at the time of discovery, several Siouan

tribes were near the gateway opening into the broader field of scriptorial

culture. So far as it extends, the crude graphic symbolism betokens

warlike habit and militant organization, which were doubtless measurably

inimical to further progress.

It would appear that, in connection with their proficiency in gesture

speech and their meager graphic art, the Siouan Indians had become masters

in a vaguely understood system of dramaturgy or symbolized conduct. Among

them the use of the peace-pipe was general; among several and perhaps all

of the tribes the definite use of insignia was common; among them the

customary hierarchic organization of the aborigines was remarkably

developed and was maintained by an elaborate and strict code of etiquette

whose observance was exacted and yielded by every tribesman. Thus the

warriors, habituated to expressing and recognizing tribal affiliation and

status in address and deportment, were notably observant of social

minutiae, and this habit extended into every activity of their lives. They

were ceremonious among themselves and crafty toward enemies, tactful

diplomatists as well as brave soldiers, shrewd strategists as well as

fierce fighters; ever they were skillful readers of human nature, even

when ruthless takers of human life. Among some of the tribes every

movement and gesture and expression of the male adult seems to have been

affected or controlled with the view of impressing spectators and

auditors, and through constant schooling the warriors became most

consummate actors. To the casual observer, they were stoics or stupids

according to the conditions of observation; to many observers, they were

cheats or charlatans; to scientific students, their eccentrically

developed volition and the thaumaturgy by which it was normally

accompanied suggests early stages in that curious development which, in

the Orient, culminates in necromancy and occultism. Unfortunately this

phase of the Indian character (which was shared by various tribes) was

little appreciated by the early travelers, and little record of it

remains; yet there is enough to indicate the importance of constantly

studied ceremony, or symbolic conduct, among them. The development of

affectation and self-control among the Siouan tribesmen was undoubtedly

shaped by warlike disposition, and their stoicism was displayed largely in

war--as when the captured warrior went exultingly to the torture, taunting

and tempting his captors to multiply their atrocities even until his

tongue was torn from its roots, in order that his fortitude might be

proved; but the habit was firmly fixed and found constant expression in

commonplace as well as in more dramatic actions.