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Paukeigope (Kiowa), Cradleboard

The 19th-century Kiowa cradleboard, crafted by Paukeigope, reveals the tribe's daily life, communal child-rearing, and artistic skills. Made from trade goods like red wool and glass beads, it served as a baby carrier, toy, and standing aid. The intricate beadwork, unique to Paukeigope's family, reflects Kiowa's rich cultural heritage. Created by Smarthistory.

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  • starky sapling style avatar for user Kam✨
    When the baby is freshborn, does the mother put him/her in the cradleboard? And if she did, wouldn't it be too rough for him/her? If it was rough, would the mother have a softer material? If she did have a softer material, what was it? (I know, it's a lot.)
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

(gentle jazz music) - [Chelsea] We're at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, standing in front of a 19th century cradleboard, attributed to Paukeigope and in this singular object we can learn so much about daily life of the Kiowa in the late 19th century and the knowledge that shared among community members. Cradleboards have been made, not just among the Kiowa, but among many tribes across the United States for generations. However, the materials and the techniques used are a fairly recent innovation with the introduction of trade goods, such as red wool or what's called broadcloth, cotton calico cloth, glass beads, and German silver. Let's talk about what a cradleboard is supposed to do. A baby would be placed inside the cradleboard. It would hold the child, entertain the child there, elements that would have dangled in front for a baby to reach out. It was also a form of transportation. This would allow parents to transport their child across distances, and lastly, when propped up vertically, this would help to orient the child to experience the world much like an adult would while standing. This cradleboard and others like it would take months to create if not longer and typically it would take the entire period of gestation, so once a woman found out she was pregnant, then other women in her kinship network would create a cradleboard like this in community with one another. It also extends past the moment of birth, so there's room for the child to grow inside of the cradleboard. It also is meant to be passed down, so the cradleboard wouldn't only be used for one child. It would be used throughout the family. Although this cradleboard is attributed to Paukeigope, we know that she worked with other women in her family to create this cradleboard over many months, so everyone involved would likely have a different responsibility. Someone would be responsible for harvesting and shaping the wood for the slats. Someone else would be responsible for creating the raw hide support that is inside the cradleboard. Someone else might be responsible for sewing the wool and the calico together and then others would be responsible for the bead work all along the outside. Everyone who was involved in the process of making it took great care and had expertise. Look at the way that the bead work designed is so wonderfully outlined with white contour lines then with different colored glass beads inside. And there's a compelling combination of both geometric and organic forms and lines. So this is recognizable as Kiowa bead work because of that combination. So we see floral motifs rendered in very pale or sometimes referred to as greasy colors, such as the light pink and light blues, but then they're also very strong geometric forms such as the diamonds and the triangles that are peppered through those organic motifs. And it's not just these small glass beads. We're seeing silver metals, we're seeing different patterns and colors of calicos on the inside and on the bottom of the carrier, we're seeing bells and the two silver medallions that are attached to the piece that would dangle over the front of the hood to entertain the child and help develop motor skills, those are trade items. They are made out of German silver. One of them is a medal with a representation of St. Joseph, and then the other comes from Texas. So these materials were widely traded throughout what is now Oklahoma and though it may not look like it, movement was a very important part of creating this piece. There are also bells attached to the fringe that hangs down from the bottom below the child's feet. And you would hear that tinkling as the cradleboard moved either on the mother's back or if it was strapped to a saddle, and yet here we are, looking at it in a museum where it's now static. We don't know how long it might have been used before it was collected and eventually accessioned into the Gilcrease collection, but we do know that it was not created with the intention of being on display or being stored in a museum setting. This is representative of how harsh life on reservations and in this case on the Kiowa, Comanche, Apache Reservation in the late 19th century would've been. Although Paukeigope had access to highly valued materials, this piece was sold at some point, and it's possible that it was to deal with those harsh conditions on reservations and to be able to feed her family. The designs are not just aesthetically beautiful, they also have deeper meanings associated with them. The bead work designs across the cradleboard would've been specific to Paukeigope family, and so other bead workers would not have used the same designs, the same patterns or the same color motifs because it identifies this child as part of her kinship network. In the diamonds that bisect their cradleboard that are outlined in white, but contain yellow and dark green stripes, and then also in the floral motifs themselves, there are yellow and dark blue stripes. Those likely referred to Paukeigope's genealogy and her descendancy from a Kiowa chief named Dohasan or Little Bluff. He was the keeper of what is now referred to as a battle tipi and he was a highly ranked warrior within Kiowa society, so it was his responsibility to visually record his experiences in battle. He created this tipi that is painted on one half with bold yellow and black stripes and on the other half with pictorial representations of the battles that he had been involved in. So it's possible that that yellow and black motif is specific to Paukeigope family and that's why it's included in this cradleboard. So this is a fantastic embodiment of intergenerational knowledge in the Kiowa community. Paukeigope, who was also known as Etta Mopope, was Stephen Mopope's mother. As we look at this cradleboard, we're actually standing next to a painting by Stephen Mopope, who we know would have been placed into a cradleboard like this one. So that responsibility for keeping history of your community can also be seen in the way that the Kiowa community has privileged child rearing as a community effort. Not only did it take several people with specific knowledge to create this cradleboard but many other members of the community would've also been responsible for helping to raise that child, and so, that communal gathering of multiple people for the benefit of one child is poignant expression of love within the Kiowa community. (playful jazz music)