I’m working on the second book of a trilogy set among the Nez Perce Indians of Idaho, NE Oregon, and SE Washington. In this book the heroine is pregnant, so I’ve been spending hours reading books about the Nez Perce customs and social living aspects to learn all I can about pregnancy and child birth.
The Nez Perce women had specific jobs. They gathered roots, berries and herbs as well as the firewood. It was their job to keep the fire going all night during the winter months. They were the cooks, the ones who dried and stored the meat, fish, berries and roots. Tanned the hides, made the clothing, wove baskets and constructed the dwellings. They did everything needed to sustain a family other than hunt, prepare weapons, and fight. If need be, they could hunt for smaller animals, fight, and take care of weapons though it was not one of their jobs.
During battles women provided fresh horses, food, and water for the warriors, tended the wounded, warned others of danger, directed children and the old people where to hide and how to leave when their encampments were attacked. If a husband was shot they could pick up his gun and fight. They also cooked and gathered wood during attacks, keeping the children, old people, and warriors fed during the attacks and battles.
Pregnant women still did most of the chores right up until the moment they started labor. Some would have miscarriages from long periods of riding horses in the last months of pregnancy. Usually during campaigns of fighting.
If a woman was pregnant they believed their man would have bad luck hunting. She was also not allowed to see any part of a kill—blood, skinning. They feared her child would be born deformed. They also didn’t touch, view, or ridicule any deformed animals or humans, fearing it would cause their child the same misfortune. They didn’t tie knots or do things symbolic of obstructing the birth.
A wide strip of buckskin was tied around their bellies. This was believed to protect the child. After the birth, this strip was burned or buried, giving the child a healthy, strong body. They did everything to keep the baby safe. The Nez Perce wanted to build a large strong tribe.
When a woman started labor she was isolated in a small dwelling with either an older family member or a mid-wife. If there were complications the Ti-wet (medicine man) was called in. The dwelling had a hole dug in the middle of the structure. The blood and after birth were put in this hole and buried. The umbilical cord was kept in a small leather pouch attached to the cradleboard. It is believed to be bad luck to destroy such an intimate part of the baby.
The cradle board is made by a relative. The baby is transported and tended in the board until he is ready to walk. Children were breast fed for several years. This was one of their ways to contribute to birth control. Other ways were with herbs.
This is just a minuscule picture of what I’ve learned and hope to incorporate into my paranormal historical book.
Sources: Nez Perce Women in Transition, 1877-1990- Caroline James; Nee Me Poo – Allen P. Slickpoo Sr. and Deward E. Walker Jr.
Photos: First Americans