With Christmas just around the corner, my mind goes quite naturally to gift-giving. With layoffs extant in these united states and the economy in a little bit of trouble, there are many who might feel the pain of not being able to give as much as they have always done so in the past. However, give-giving should never become material objects only. There are some things one might give that have no financial tag to them, but are wealthy beyond compare. For instance, there is the gift of one’s time. My daughter has just had a baby and one of my gifts to her (which she considers invaluable beyond compare) is being here with her as she recovers from birth and becomes used to having a new member of the family. In this material age, we sometimes forget that the most valuable gifts of all are not ones that money can buy. Some things are simply precious. So I thought I’d take you on a journey today into the realm of the American Indian and what has been considered gifts that simply cannot be bought, traded or sold.
In the days of old, before the white man came to this country and influenced the American Indian into other traditions, giving was a point of survival. No chief could become chief who did not give to the needy and the less well to do. Often the chief of the tribe was the poorest person in the tribe because he gave away almost all that he had. However, contrary to a more socialist point of view, this was not pure socialism, because the giving was never regulated and never mandatory. (Compare that to our income tax system.) Only the strong, the wise and the kind-hearted could be counted on to give, and it was considered one of the most aspired-to attributes.
Actually, it requires a bit of mind change to grasp the American Indian idea of giving. If a man attained a higher state or did some great deed, he was not given something by the tribe, but rather, he gave gifts to others. If a woman attained some desired state (a young girl attaining puberty for instance — or an older woman attaining praise for her handicraft) she and her relatives worked night and day to give gifts to others. An example of this might be this: Say it is your birthday, but instead of you getting gifts on your birthday, you and your relatives would work for months and months in order to have a feast, where one would give to the community in celebration of something one attained. This was considered the highest honor one might place upon a family member.
This tradition is still carried on in Native America today. When a family wishes to honor one of its own, members of the family will work for months and months (sometimes years) to produce goods, not for oneself, but to give away to others — in honor of the family member. Here again we have an example of giving something that cannot be measure in terms of finance. The gift of caring, the gift of giving of oneself and one’s time.
The gifts in Native America weren’t wrapped. Sometimes the gifts were simply in the form of food or clothing or blankets. Sometimes, in the case of a marriage or some other big event, items such as a tepee were given away (remember Dances With Wolves and the tepee the star of the movie was given?) When one couldn’t give because one didn’t have the wherewithal to do so, one sometimes still gave what one had by simply giving things that one already had. That way such articles were kept afloat in the society. Sometimes one gave the very best thing that he treasured most, especially so if there were a sickness in the family and one wanted to ensure their beloved one’s recovery. Sometimes the gift came in the form of service to one’s people. Certain societies had stringent rules about bundles or other sacred items and most people didn’t want the responsibility of taking care of these items (such as becoming a bundle holder.) In this case the gift would be in the form of the entire family taking on the responsibility, in order to preserve the spiritual traditions of the people.
This picture was taken, by the way, at Patricia’s give-away — Patricia is in the middle, although the blond lady’s name is also Pat. It was considered a real gift of giving if one gave in such a way that the other person didn’t feel they had to return the favor. This happened to George Catlin in the 1830’s when a young warrior gave back to him a diary that Catlin had lost. The giving was done in such a way that Catlin was unable to give-back, since he was embarking upon a ship. This is another example of a self-less gift. There is yet another example of giving by the American Indian comes to us from the Iroquois. The Iroquois (which was composed of originally 5 tribes and eventually 6) had a system of government that was truly Of the people, For the people, and By the people. Men served and were never permitted to draw any kind of pay for serving — it was simply considered their duty and their way of giving to the the tribe. Such service is still in operation today.
I’d like to disagree with corporate Ameria for a moment if I might. I think the most potent gifts are those that one cannot measure by physical universe means. When my kids were growing up, they used to give me coupons for Christmas — I still have them to this day — little chores they would do for me upon presentation of the coupon. I guess the point is that one can always give something of themselves to another. And indeed, despite the decay of the material world around us, this is often the most beautiful gift that one might give, something that those who seek pleasure through material gain might might never come to know.
And here’s the most beautiful gift of all — something that those who crave material wealth over all else will never understand nor will they ever receive this gift (though some might pretend an affection) — the gift of love — true love. No gold, no silver, can ever replace these gifts, since they have their roots in one’s heart and one’s nature.
For my own part, I would like to make this wish for all mankind at this season: That the reasons for war — and the profit received from war — will perish from this earth. That true giving and true wealth (not gold or silver or the FRN — Federal Reserve Note — the dollar bill) will come to those who understand why these things are more important than anything material in this world.
Also, before I leave you for today, let me remind you that I have two books that are still out on the shelves. And SENECA SURRENDER is also available in hardcover at Rhapsody Book Club. So come on in to the blog today and let’s chat. What’s the most wonderful gift you have ever given — or received? Let’s talk.