Object: House Post

E/1947/3/3a
House Post
Tribe: Delaware
Region: North America
Material: Oak
Dimensions: 80″ x 9″ x 4″

The twelve Delaware house posts were a central feature of the Big House, or Gamwing, ceremony that took place each fall. Three posts stood along each of the side walls of the Big House, marking the four directions. Some minor disagreement exists regarding precisely what the carved faces on the posts represent. According to some accounts, the posts are lesser Manitou – or deities – surrounding the large post in the center which represents the Great Manitou – or Great Spirit. Other accounts maintain that the twelve posts represent the twelve Misi’ng, or messengers of the Great Spirit. Some descriptions of the Misi’ng maintain that they were mischievous spirits whose likeness was used to scare children in a “Boogey Man” sort of fashion. General agreement exists that the faces of the Misi’ng were half red and half black, which is similar to the coloration of the faces on the house posts. This coloration lends credence to the Misi’ng interpretation of the posts.

The number twelve held great significance to the ceremony. Along with the twelve posts, the number 12 correlated with the number of nights the ceremony encompassed and the number of stacked houses which the Delaware believed to comprise the universe. They believed that the Great Spirit resided in the highest of these houses. The number 12 held such significance, in fact, that twelve prayer sticks are included in the Delaware Seal to mark those used on the ninth night of the ceremony.

In addition to giving thanks, the Ceremony was intended to stabilize and renew the universe and ensure that disaster would not befall the Delaware in the coming year. Having been practiced by the Delaware through their migration from their original territory along the Delaware River to their present locations near the Caney River of Oklahoma, the last complete Big House Ceremony took place in 1924. Although the Big House itself is in ruins, some of the posts – such as the one shown above – have fortunately been preserved.

[Allison Wilson]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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