Lakota Culture 101: Wacinko

Lakota Culture 101: Wacinko.

In Lakota culture there are certain traits of tribal men that should be
understood by non-Lakotas, especially women, and more especially white
women who might want to enjoy a relationship with a real Lakota man. One of
these traits is what’s referred to in Lakota language as wacinko.

“What is wacinko,” you ask? It’s pronounced “wah-cheeng-ko,” and to the
Sioux it is a honed art form, especially to the men. The women wacinko, but
can be readily cutesy-talked out of it. Besides, women, it seems, can’t go
very long under any circumstances without talking. But a man’s wacinko can
go for hours or days. It involves a freezing silence, a virtual arctic
front.

The wife or girlfriend is usually the target, and sensing it, has to guess
what she did to give offense, imagined or real. To ask, “What did I do?” or
“Was it something I said?” only results in a further drop in the lower lip
and a corresponding drop in ambient temperature.

It could be called a “pout,” but Lakota men don’t pout. They wacinko. And
if you are a male, never, ever suggest to a Lakota man that he is pouting,
especially if he’s a big man.

The purpose of the wacinko is to drive someone batty, usually a spouse or
friend; it works best on non-Lakotas. Experienced Lakota women usually just
consider themselves lucky for the silence. They have learned that the best
way to handle a wacinko is to ignore it, and to go about business. That
often will bring a man out of it and then the problem can be addressed and
resolved.

I’m on the receiving end of a 31-year wacinko, which has got to be a
record. The year was 1973, in the “Moon of Appropriations Hearings,”
according to the NCAI calendar. My erstwhile friend took offense at
something I did or said, and hasn’t spoken a word to me since. I would give
that person’s name, but that would only be giving him honorable
recognition.

He’s a Lakota, and to the Sioux, the glory of that kind of record is
something akin to an Olympic gold medal. I have never learned what I did to
offend him, and I’m sure that he has forgotten what it was. But that adds
all the more to the honor of the thing; to have wacinkoed so long that the
reason has been forgotten.

Strangers or enemies are seldom wacinkoed. That was tried early on when
white men first showed up in Lakota territory. All the stony silence
resulted in was the stereotype of the stoic red man, depicted in wood
carvings guarding the entrance to cigar stores. Our forefathers learned
long ago (but still a bit late) that you can’t be subtle with the white
man; arrows are your only way to make your point.

God, what an awful pun. This lesson on Lakota culture is deteriorating
fast, so I better put an end to it.

But remember “wah-cheeng-ko.”

There’ll be a quiz.

Charles E. Trimble is an Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian
Reservation. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press
Association in 1970, and served as executive director of the National
Congress of American Indians from 1972 to 1978. He is president of Red
Willow Institute in Omaha, Neb. and a columnist for Indian Country Today.

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