MLA Platinum Award Press Release

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

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Days Without End

by Sebastian Barry

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry X
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2017, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2017, 272 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
Buy This Book

About this Book

The Native American Tradition of Winkte

This article relates to Days Without End

Print Review

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 of women in peacetime is known in nearly two dozen different Native American tribes. It was first encountered by European traders and explorers in the seventeenth century, but may have been in existence for much longer. Chiefs and warriors kept winkte as sexual partners alongside their other wives, and they were sometimes believed to have special spiritual powers.

As white men's influence increased in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, missionaries and government agents tried to wipe out the winkte tradition, but even in the 1980s it was still being documented. The fact that the Great Spirit has no gender is often mentioned in defense, and various myths have arisen to explain how winkte individuals might come to be and what ritual roles they might serve. For example, here is one legend from The Spirit and the Flesh, by anthropologist Walter L. Williams:

Among the Arapahos of the Plains, berdaches are called haxu'xan and are seen to be that way as a result of a supernatural gift from birds or animals. Arapaho mythology recounts the story of Nih'a'ca, the first haxu'xan. He pretended to be a woman and married the mountain lion, a symbol for masculinity. The myth, as recorded by ethnographer Alfred Kroeber about 1900, recounted that "These people had the natural desire to become women, and as they grew up gradually became women. They gave up the desires of men. They were married to men. They had miraculous power and could do supernatural things. For instance, it was one of them that first made an intoxicant from rainwater."

In the 1990s, a convention of gay and lesbian Native Americans pushed for the adoption of a more positive, inclusive term than berdache, deciding on "Two-Spirit" to refer to anyone who does not fit into conventional male or female categories. The Two-Spirit tradition is now a part of the general Pride movement. However, historical terms still resonate: A transgender social organization in Fort Lauderdale, Florida calls itself the Winkte Club.

Picture of painting Dance to the Berdache by George Caitlin

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Rebecca Foster

This "beyond the book article" relates to Days Without End. It originally ran in April 2017 and has been updated for the September 2017 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for a year or $39 for 3 months
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Master Class
    Master Class
    by Christina Dalcher
    Christina Dalcher's Master Class shows America sleepwalking into a perfectionist eventuality not ...
  • Book Jacket: How to Pronounce Knife
    How to Pronounce Knife
    by Souvankham Thammavongsa
    Many examples of immigrant fiction dedicate a portion of their storytelling to exploring details of ...
  • Book Jacket: The Easy Part of Impossible
    The Easy Part of Impossible
    by Sarah Tomp
    Teenager Ria Williams is a skilled diver. She is on track to compete at the Olympic level, but ...
  • Book Jacket: Fire in Paradise
    Fire in Paradise
    by Alastair Gee , Dani Anguiano
    On November 8, 2018, a fire started in Northern California's Butte County after 50-70 mph winds ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Prisoner's Wife
    by Maggie Brookes

    Inspired by the true story of a courageous young woman who enters a Nazi POW camp to be with the man she loves.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Daughter of the Reich
    by Louise Fein

    A spellbinding story of impossible love set against the backdrop of the Nazi regime.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Paris Hours
by Alex George

One day in the City of Light. One night in search of lost time.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win The House on Fripp Island

The House on Fripp Island
by Rebecca Kauffman

A taut, page-turning novel of secrets and strife.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

B I T T Water

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.