The Native American Tradition of Winkte: Background information when reading Days Without End

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Days Without End

by Sebastian Barry

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry X
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2017, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2017, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
The Native American Tradition of Winkte

The two main characters in Sebastian Barry's Days Without End, Thomas McNulty and John Cole, are white soldiers who at various points dress up as women for entertainment or disguise. They are thus surprised but bemused when they take part in the Indian Wars and encounter the Native Americans' winkte or berdache tradition of men who dress as women:

with the ease of men who have rid themselves of worry we strolled among the Indian tents and heard the sleeping babies breathing and spied out the wondrous kind called by the Indians winkte or by white men berdache, braves dressed in the finery of squaws. ...The berdache puts on men's garb when he goes to war, this I know. Then war over it's back to the bright dress.

Winkte is a shortened form of an old Lakota word, Winyanktehca, which roughly translates as "wants to be like a woman," while berdache comes from the French for a catamite, a boy who was kept for sexual favors. The tradition of men dressing as women and taking on the roles ...

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