Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tribal Spirit

A few passages from the Barry Holstun Lopez's, ``Of Wolves and Men.'' They inspire an important intuition in me that I cannot articulate well, not yet.
The spirit that kept a people together through time, even as individuals passed away, was one of the most deeply felt emotions in the native American soul. Every year in small and large ways the spirit of life, of tribal identity and solidarity, of the individual's place in tribe, was renewed. And the wolf played a role here too. …

Tribal initiation in the wold ceremony was central to one's sense of identity with the tribe, and participation was necessary before one could take part in any other ceremony. It also renewed a sense of tribal identity for former initiates who participated.

The mystic basis for the initiation ceremony … was the stealing of a young man by a pack of wolves. The wolves tried to kill him but could not and so they became his friends. They taught him about themselves, then sent him back to his village to teach his tribe the rites of the wolf ceremony. The young man told his people that it was necessary for the strength of the tribe, for their success in war, and everything else they did, that they should be like wolves. They must be a fierce, as brave, and as determined as the one who is the greatest hunter in the woods. In this ceremony people are ``stolen'' by wolves, go through a terrifying confrontation, and emerge wolflike. ---pp. 128-129, Of Wolves and Men

The social fabric of the Naskapi tribe is the result of an acknowledgement of dependence on each other for food. The young, the old, the sick, they cannot hunt. The social system of the Naskapi bestows prestige on the successful hunter; that us what is exchanged for meat. Each man hunts as he chooses, calling on personal skills, but with a single, overriding goal: to secure food. The individual ego is therefore both nurtured and submerged. A man's skills are praised, his food is eaten, his pride is reinforced. ---p. 89, Of Wolves and Men

Alpha animals do not always lead the hunt, break trail in snow, or eat before the others do. An alpha animal may be alpha only at certain times for a specific reason, and, it should be noted, is alpha at the deference of the other wolves in the pack.
The wolf is a social animal; it depends for its survival on cooperation, not strife. Human beings, particularly in recent years, have grown accustomed to speaking of ``dominance hierarchies'' in business corporations and elsewhere, and the tendency has been to want wolf packs (or troops of chimpanzees) to conform to similar molds. The social structure of a wold pack is dynamic---subject to change, especially during the breeding season---and may be completely reversed during periods of play. It is important during breeding, feeding, travel, and territorial maintenance, and seems to serve a purpose when wolves gather to reassure each other of the positive aspects of their life-style as reflected in this social order, one that enhances survival by collective hunting and natural population control. ---p. 33, Of Wolves and Men

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