Black as Sin

from the collection of W. C. McKern

Original manuscript page: | 203 |

(203) A woman who stayed with her husband's people was called a hinųk cĕ́k. When anyone did this, her folks gave meat from time to time to her people. This girl was going out with a hunting party consisting of her husband's people and also her maternal uncle's people. They lived in different tents in the camp. When they hunted, they killed no deer or large animals. So they went hungry because there were no animals to kill. So her husband finally killed a coon. Her husband's folks did the cooking. It was then placed in a wooden dish and they told her to give a piece to her uncle, since he was hungry. This happened at night. She stopped some distance from her uncle's tent. There she ate the meat herself. She ate all of it. Then she wiped her hands and mouth with gravel; she thought it was rock that she used, it being dark, but really it was rotten charcoal. When she came back to her husband's house, where it was lighted, he said, "What is the matter?" he said. She then sensed what was wrong. "My uncle told me to do that way before I came in, so I did that," she said. So he noticed this. "That's too bad," he said. So she was ashamed.1

Commentary. "hinųk cĕ́k" — this means literally, "a new woman."

"uncle" — McKern's notes elsewhere reveal that there is more to this than meets the eye:

The children of any woman work for maternal their uncle. They have a right, though, to take anything that their uncle owns. This work is exchanged for materials so taken. Same with girls. The maternal uncle can demand that she make mats, etc., for him. She could also claim poperty in her uncle's house. Meat shot by her husband must be brought to her maternal uncle, also. All of the family profits by this meat, but the maternal uncle is most favored. He is given powers to distribute. The meat belonged to him personally, and he could dispense with it as he pleased.2

"gravel" — this shows how difficult it was to maintain sanitation in the absence of an easy source of running water. It also reveals how people cleaned up after a meal, since the abundance of paper that technological civilizations enjoy were not available, nor were there cloth or leather rags in any quantity. Wood shaving were used for this purpose, as we see from an account of a Warbundle Feast in which dogwood shavings were used to clean the hands of the guests once the meal was over (140).

Comparative Material. ...

Links: ...

Stories: about greedy women: The Greedy Woman.

Themes: ...


1 W. C. McKern, Winnebago Notebook (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1927) 203.

2 W. C. McKern, Winnebago Notebook (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1927) 78.