Friday, April 27, 2012

Cultural Memories

Do you think there's such a thing as cultural memory? Even though we are separated by time from our ancestors do we retain some of the cultural behaviors of our forebears? My sister and I have discussed this at length and we both believe that yes, it's true. Even being raised outside of our great-grandmother's culture we have retained some of it's aspects without it being handed down visually or by example.

Let me explain. My sister and I both love to sew, we are crazy for sewing machines but most of all we love hand sewing whether it be embroidery, hemming or quilting. We love tiny stitches and the more detailed the better. Manufacturers of electronic components have found that Indians are excellent at tiny detail work. Likewise, men of the Mohawk tribe are renowned for their agility and fearlessness as ironworkers on skyscrapers.

Our great-grandmother was a Seminole, which is a matrilineal tribe. Upon marriage men would become a member of the wife's clan and live with her extended family. Go matrilineals!

One of the most interesting stories concerns jewelry. Take a look at the glass bead necklaces on these Seminole women.


Those are not collars, those are individual necklaces!  The story goes that a female Seminole baby would receive her first strand of beads at her birth. Additional strands would be added as could be afforded. When the woman reached middle age the sequence would be reversed, removing strands of beads until at her death she would have only the original set of beads presented at her birth.


Here's Jane Tiger Motlow sitting in her chickee (traditional Seminole shelter) with a hand-crank Singer sewing machine. My sister has one of these! Woven fabrics and sewing machines were introduced in the 1880's and there was an explosion of patchwork creativity.  It's fascinating that from a running start these women seemed to be able to quickly develop an artform out of thin air.

How is it that both my sister and I love and excel at the same handwork and creative tradition of our great-grandmother who we had never met?

Have you noticed any cultural traits that continue through the generations in your family?

OK, I'm off to sew some tiny stitches. NO kidding!


Jayne Honnold said...

What an intriguing thing to ponder! I am 55, and still have my Grandmother, who is 95 and still as sharp as a tack. Next time I visit, I am going to ask her if any of us remind her of her sisters, or her aunts or her grandparents. Would be interesting to hear her ideas on this! Won't that be a great conversation?? :-)

Tess said...

I come from pioneer stock. Funny enough, I love to go camping and cook on an open fire.

Go figure.

Yours at the Menger,


Mary Rex said...

I love this story Suzanne. I have never seen such a good picture of Seminole women. Thanks for sharing that.
I am sure that these things pass down thru the generations, and that often times these talents or interests show up when we are very young, if pictures of me as a toddler drawing, reading, gardening and cooking are any proof.

Anonymous said...

I certainly agree. Some things are in our genes. linda

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Vee said...

Such an interesting topic. I don't believe that it holds true in my family. (Okay, now that I've just put that down, there are a number of landscape artists in the family.) The story of the necklaces is so intriguing and I am quite certain that their wardrobe would be a good look for me.

Kjacqueline said...

That's my grandma Jane....