The act of Counting Coup signifies a victory over an enemy or an accepted challenge. The Warrior Clans of Native America used many methods of stealth, guile, surprise, planning, and physical strength to claim prizes from their opponents. The Traditional prizes taken on raids were Horses, Eagle feathers, Medicine Bundles, Medicine Shields, tomahawks, bows, and other weapons. Scalps were not honorable prizes of Counting Coup before the Boat People came to Turtle Island.
Trappers and traders sold scalps to European curiosity seekers saying that the “savages” in the new world cut each other’s scalp off, when, in fact the practice of scalping was started by those who sought money from the wealthy in Europe. As the scalping horror spread and Native women and children were being killed and scalped or scalped alive, the Warrior Clans began to retaliate.
The men of any race or Tribe were of the Warrior Clan in the eyes of Native Americans and were charged with the honor of protecting women and children. It was the highest form of shame for a Warrior to have the women and children under his protection hurt in any way.
Anger and hatred began to grow on all sides, Tribe against Tribe and Indian against white. The act of Counting Coup had been soiled and the honor normally between Warriors and soldiers had been cast aside. In the original meaning, Counting Coup had been an act of victory. A Warrior would steal something from the Brave he had bested to show how strong his Medicine was against his rivals.
This practice varied among Tribes. Members of the Warrior Clan among the Plains Indians often had a Coup Staff or Stick, much like a shepherd’s crook that was placed inside his lodge and carried the reminders of his personal victories. The Coup Staff had various prizes tied to it. These objects could include Horse hair (if he had stolen the mount of another Warrior), Eagle feathers, a piece of material, beads, or a Medicine Pouch, which had been tied to the mane of an opponents Horse. Later with the practice of scalping, a scalp could also be seen hanging from a Coup Stick.
In marking a victory, there were certain things that a Brave was then allowed to do that would tell others of his Counting Coup. He could use the designs in his face paint which added honor to his status and told those who knew how to read its meaning that he had one or more acts of bravery added to his name. These symbols could also be added to his Horse’s warpaint when he rode into battle again. The more Coups Counted, the stronger the Medicine of that Warrior.
Four to six major types of Coups were Counted among the Sioux, the Crow, the Blackfoot, the Apache, the Cherokee, the Cheyenne, the Kiowa, the Flathead, the Ute, the Arapahoe, the Pawnee, the Shoshone, and others.
- The first in importance was to strike an enemy with bow and arrow, tomahawk, or later a rifle’s bullet.
- Another important Coup was “riding the enemy down.” To ride an enemy down was to knock the Warrior off his Horse and finish him off with hand-to-hand combat.
- To steal an enemy’s Horse was another important Coup. Stealing Horses was to steal the means of retaliation, and therefore, steal Warrior-power, or strength.
- The fifth was to steal some of the enemy’s Medicine, which could be his Shield, his Eagle feathers, his Medicine pouch, a beaded medallion, a Buffalo-bone chestplate, or scalplock.
A scalplock is one tiny piece of hair that is braided with some kind of Medicine representing that person’s Allies, connections, or strengths. A scalplock can have a strip of hide, a feather, a tooth, beads, and/or other small objects tied to it. To cut the braided scalplock from a Warrior’s hair was to strip him of his war medicine.
- The final recognized form of Counting Coup was to destroy a Warrior’s Lodge or Tipi, take his woman, or personal possessions. This form of Counting Coup was not as honorable and was used only as a last resort, to humiliate rather than to conquer another Warrior’s Medicine.
Among the Plains Indians, if a death occurred, the raiding party would smear black paint on their faces when returning to camp. The women would start their mourning trills and cries at the first sight of the Black Faces. The grieving family would be relieved from the duties of daily life and work for four days.
The four days of mourning honored the Winds of the Four Directions, which would take the loved one to the Sky Lodge after having “dropped his robe” (dying). If the raid was not victorious, the entire Tribe observed the death with mourning. If the Warriors had Counted Coup, the grieving family was taken care of and waited upon, but the Coup celebration would continue for the other Tribal members.
At the Coup feast, the leader of the war party or raiding band would give those who had witnessed the individual victories of their friends the honor of telling the events. A Warrior was honored by his friends and was not allowed to tell the story himself.
This practice added another dimension to the celebration since a friend’s pride in another Brother’s accomplishments came into play. This insured the participation of those who had not accomplished an act of Coup personally and made them part of the celebration as well. It also ruled out any embellishments on the part of those actually involved.
To speak in an exaggerated manner was considered prideful and to lie was to lose face. A true witness was bound by honor to speak honestly of a Brother’s courage or lack of it.
If someone had shamed the Warrior Clan, it was spoken of in the Council of that Clan and never in front of the entire Tribe. A loss of courage was a blemish on all of the Brothers of the Warrior Clan and since they acted as an elite group or unit, “shame-faces” were not allowed to continue as members.
“To add a Coup Feather to one’s Bonnet” is an expression that comes from the idea of personal achievement or accomplishment that will aid or assist the whole. In the concept of Counting Coup, jealousy and envy have no place. There is no victory when anyone is belittled through the boasting of another. There is no honor in self-importance.
Actions speak louder than words when victory is sought. A Coup Feather is never awarded to someone who intended to do something but did not follow through. Walking One’s Talk is the essence of true victory. As reflected by our Ancestors, the victory of the Coup Feather is based upon the high ideals of Eagle. Those ideals are followed by action. Just as Eagle marks and kills its prey, so must we mark and attack the weaknesses that keep us from fulfilling our words.
As Counting Coup is a personal victory that affects the whole, so is the war we wage on the old patterns that keep us from knowing world peace. These enemies can be ignorance, inner conflict, envy, jealousy, willful pride, laziness, fear, bitterness, hatred, greed, bigotry, gossip, resentment, and broken promises.
Our modern Medicine Shields are made from truth, our weapons are living that truth, and our prize is our future, bringing the healing of Earth Mother’s children. Every Two-legged has been asked to accomplish these Coups through the discovery and healing of the Self.
You can seek visions, looking for deeper meaning, many times in your life. But once you have an answer, you can no longer claim ignorance. To receive a vision is to be responsible for that vision. You can bless a new born baby and give her a name, and try to help those first steps walk a path that will be straight and true, but the greatest work will occur through the choices she makes along the way.
Fulfillment of spiritual purpose received through vision is rarely an easy or a straightforward path. Very often it will mean a change in a living situation because inconsistency is a form of dishonesty. If you have a vision of personal wholeness, but your investments support practices that are destructive or your relationships fail to communicate and share your wholeness, you are not being true, nor doing honor to the visions you have received.
The universe exists in its own unimaginably complex rhythm and balance, contributing freely to our spirituality and requiring balance as its only return. What that means in practical terms is that those who participate in a traditional Ojibwe vision fast never pray for themselves alone, but for the People, the tribe, the nation, the animals, the plants and the blessed spirits. Though the specific nature of the vision might be a secret, its practical use is likely to aid the life of the people.
We have access to everything the world has known, if we can learn to listen to the stones and the stories they have to tell, if we hear the winds speak who have been everywhere and heard everything since the beginning of time. The world will always provide vision, if we allow ourselves to be alone, then open our eyes and look, as if for the first time, at what has been around us all along.
From: A Voice From The Earth
At some distant point in mythological time, the living being which we call the planet Earth joined together with the Great Spirit of All That Is to co-create humankind. As the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so is every child more than a joining of two parents. Distinct from the rest of creation, humankind achieved self-awareness and by so doing gained the right of free will.
Because we are children of form and spirit, we have access to both the Earthly and the Divine within ourselves. Further, every individual is a collection of many parts: emotional, mental, spiritual, physical. Each part affects the rest in invisible fashion. But there is a way to achieve balance by seeking the center point of stillness where all parts will merge. If we learn to move from that center, responding not to the various insistent voices of body, heart, spirit or mind but acting from an awareness of the greatest good, then all four are served. They may not receive all their wants, but their real and essential needs will always be met.
By seeking to balance the plurality of our existence, we have the ability to balance the entire planet. This is the challenge that faces us. But there is no way to point at humanity and say, all right, take responsibility for your actions, make these realizations, because humanity is a collection of billions of individual beings who have lived, live, and may yet live. Our movements as a whole are difficult to perceive. But the awareness of a few can profoundly affect the rest of humanity through the invisible but powerful winds of change. Humanity can evolve through movements in individual lives.
The Earth as Gaia, a living being imbued with the spirit of All That Is, is faced with the same challenge that we face as individuals seeking to balance our plurality. If we choose of our own free will to accept our destiny, releasing the weakness, inadequacy and resistance that binds us to our old vision and world view, then yield to our greatest potential, we can be the wielder of will for the Earth as well, making the decision that will end this cycle and allow a new one to begin.
The gift of free will gives us the right to choose any direction and any path. Somehow the gift seems most powerful if it is used to do other than what is expected. Destruction appears to us so much more powerful than creation, taking so much more powerful than giving, controlling so much more powerful than yielding. But this is a distorted view. The other side of the gift of free will gives us the right to choose to be what we are intended to be. While non-human beings accept their roles without choice, we are given the freedom to choose to take our part. From here we make our own paths, then choose to walk upon them, taking responsibility for every choice that we make.
No one is going to tell us what we have to do. No force outside us is going to provide an easy solution to our global crisis. No ultimate authority is going to deliver an absolute truth in which we will all finally be able to believe. No relationship, no religion, no acquisition, no achievement, nothing that we find outside us is going to make us whole.
As we journey within ourselves, searching for the center point of stillness, we may discover it is a place we can only approach empty-handed and alone. But turning our backs on the world we may find, to our endless joy, the whole world waiting there for us to arrive and our empty hands holding everything we need.
From: A Voice From The Earth
- Khetani Machangana: Learn To See