The Mandan are a Native American tribe with a fascinating history. The basis for this report is the book Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People by Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth A. Fenn. This paper provides a reflection on the Mandan people’s influence on other populations and their customs and ideas that I might find personally beneficial. In the report, I concentrate on Mandan traditions, trade, peculiarities, spiritual life, and customs. The paper reaches the conclusion that the history of the Mandan people as well as their traditions have the potential to play a significant role in the contemporary world.
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The Mandan Influence on Other Populations
I believe that the Mandan influenced other Indians, Americans, and Europeans in several ways during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. One of these spheres of influence, in my opinion, was trade, as the Mandan people were known for actively cultivating this practice. The author notes that the Mandan sold beaver pelts to the French, in all probability shaping the European fashion market of the time.
Moreover, Fenn notes that Mandan traditional clothes amused other populations as well, and this might possibly have had an additional effect on fashion trends. Mandan traditions—for example, the use of calumet for ceremonies—also had some influence on other people groups. Fenn notes that the Spanish and French implemented pipe ceremonies as a part of diplomatic events after seeing them playing out in the Mandan culture. They saw such interactions as a significant part of negotiations. Thus, following the Mandan example, other societies started to use calumet to establish alliances, generate trade, build relationships, and establish peace.
In addition, other populations, European Americans in particular, admired the Mandan people’s national character. The American citizens noted their modesty, kindness to each other, truthfulness, and honesty, an impression that had the potential to influence the American people’s perspectives on how to manage trade and relationships with other communities. Indeed, other populations were not as likely to approach strangers with such a generous attitude, providing them with food and trusting them while selling and buying goods. Thus, the Mandan character might have played a significant role in changing other nations’ values and approaches to trade and interpersonal relationships.
Beneficial Mandan Customs
Several Mandan customs, ideas, and beliefs seem interesting and beneficial to me. One that may not be as valuable to me in particular as to current society in general is the significant role of women in Mandan society. Fenn notes that women played a crucial role in the Mandan people’s life as in many ways, though not all, tribal society was female-dominated and maternal clans were present. Women were responsible for building earth lodges, gardening, and childcare; men seemed to understand their contribution to the community’s life. Moreover, the Mandan people held ceremonies that “affirmed female ascendancy” (Fenn 100). In contrast, currently, the problem of gender discrimination has become acute. In my opinion, the Mandan attitude toward women is worth noting and would be beneficial for society today.
Another Mandan custom that seems beneficial to me is their spiritual life. One important facet is that the Mandan steadily improved their practices, abandoning those that lost their sustainability or usefulness and developing more effective approaches. It appears that the Mandan people did not adhere to outdated traditions and made an effort to evolve their practices continuously to achieve the best results.
It is also evident that their spirituality was a significant part of their lives and contributed to the community’s well-being. I find this idea beneficial as I would like to involve spiritual practices in my life that are not currently a part of my lifestyle. While in a contemporary sense, spirituality may not involve ceremonies similar to those the Mandan performed, I believe that a number of practices such as yoga and meditation would allow me to be calmer and improve my mental health as well as help me to stay positive and creative.
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Another significant Mandan idea that I would incorporate into my life is their perspective on knowledge. Fenn notes that from an early age, the Mandan people taught their children that knowledge had significant value; in fact, the Mandan traded knowledge like other goods. This idea is beneficial to me as in this age of technology, people do not filter the information that they receive and do not appreciate its current accessibility. Considering the Mandan people’s attitude to knowledge, I think it is vital to value information and strive to enhance the quality of data that we receive from various sources. While most of the time, I do not pay for knowledge, it is crucial to approach information as a source of power and wisdom.
Another peculiarity of the Mandan people that would be beneficial to me is their enthusiasm for sports. Fenn describes several types of sport that the Mandan practiced, including “game of the arrow,” footraces, and “tchung-kee” (112,114). Personally, I rarely exercise as I have little time for such pursuits, and I do not enjoy watching sports events. At the same time, I know that physical activity is vital for human health, both physical and mental. I would like to incorporate this aspect of the Mandan people’s life into my lifestyle as well.
The final Mandan idea that I find personally beneficial is their perspective on family and interpersonal relationships. The Mandan people lived in large households, joining their efforts to improve each family and clan. As the author mentions, the Mandan were generous and owned many things collectively; for example, they lived in large households, and each child had several mothers. In my opinion, such relationships between family members encourage strong bonding and improve each individual’s life. Of course, Mandan polygamy may not be appropriate in the present-day life in many countries and does not align well with my values. However, the ideas that parents should not neglect offspring and that all family members are physically and emotionally close seems feasible to me.
The history of the Mandan people, as well as their ideas, customs, and other aspects of their life, are worth studying. The book by Fenn enhanced my knowledge about this Native American tribe and served as a valuable source for this paper. The Mandan influenced other Indians, Americans, and Europeans through their trade as well as their traditions and character. Many of their customs and ideas seem beneficial to me.
I have described how their spirituality, their perspective of the roles of women, the value of information in their culture, their enthusiasm for sports, and their attitude toward family are all aspects that I would want to incorporate into my lifestyle. To me, the Mandan represent a remarkable population whose traditions and knowledge are relevant to modern times.
Fenn, Elizabeth Anne. Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People. Hill and Wang, 2014.