Bee in the Bonnet: The Funny Bone

By B.H. Bates

In this day and age, the sixth sense – a sense of humor – is as necessary as the other five. For without it, the native would be lost, or would soon be told to do so.

As a people, natives are among the best at seeing the “HA, HA” in almost any situation, even in those where others might be shaking their heads and wringing their hands with worry. A native would probably be the first one in a group of people to ‘crack wise!’

Let’s say a group of people, including a native, walked though the woods and came upon a dead body. Perhaps a lady would scream, another may bow their head to say a little prayer and yet another could pass out cold at such a sight, but not the native – he might say something like: “Check and see if he has a wallet. I think he owed me five bucks!”

Of course I’m only kidding, a native would never make fun of the dead, at least not out loud. But you can rest in peace and be assured that he’d be chuckling to himself, as he thought it.

I’ve noticed a similar trait among the African-American people. The tendency to make light of almost any given situation, be it, as ordinary as someone accidentally spilling coffee on their shirt or as horrific as an attempted assassination.

In my opinion, as a person of native heritage, the one connecting factor is hard times – times of hunger, isolation and desperation. During these trying times, it’s normal to want to band together, assure one another and comfort one another by acting alike. It’s a very natural occurrence, it’s even been observed in the animal kingdom.

And that’s where humor comes in. What better way to lift the human spirit, than to make someone laugh? And, again, in my opinion – “Natives, in general, are very funny people!”

An example of this theory comes from my own childhood. Growing up as a poor little Indian boy on the old Rez, I saw it first hand. Picture a group of native men sitting around the front steps of an old, unpainted, broken down Rez house. They’re all about the same age and unemployed; they’re just hanging out enjoying the first warm days of spring.

One of them raises his head and sniffs the air. It’s the smell of cooking coming from my Auntie Martha’s house. He says: “Can you smell that?” And then it starts, quicker than a blink, one of the Bros pipes-up, “Uh, oh, Willy shit himself.” Another, jokes, as he sniffs the air, “Beans! He had beans!” They all laugh for a moment, until yet another Bro interjects, “No, no! It smells like, Willy had beans, moose meat and bannock!” Again, another round of laughter ripples through the band of Brothers.

The ‘one-ups-man-ship’ continues until one of them utters something stupid or unfunny. Better known on the reservation comedy circuit as a ‘Boner.’

The reason I’m using this childhood memory as an example is because it just goes to show how natives can have a sense of humor, even in the face of hunger. Here are these guys poking fun about food, even as their tummies are growling! Funny stuff … eh?

But not all natives are created equal; take the native women, for instance. If the legend is true – that the Creator made women from the bone of a man – I can tell you it sure wasn’t the funny bone! I’ve observed a definite difference in the behavior between the ‘out-ies’ and the ‘in-ies!’

And I can prove it by this simple little test. Imagine this: say you’re walking around outside and you see your son walking toward you, he’s wearing his best Sunday clothes. Suddenly he slips in the mud! Then he lands in some fresh dog shit! And to top it off, he rips the crotch out of his pants!

Now be an honest Injun, what’s the first thing that came to mind, as you imagined the sequence of events unfolding? If you thought: “Oh, my, are you Okay?” Or “That’ll never come clean!” Or “Damn it, I just bought those pants!” Then you, dear reader, are either an ‘in-ie’ or an interior decorator.

If you’re still grinning at the thought of junior landing on his ass in that pile of sticky, smelly doggy doo … You, my friend, are more than likely an ‘out-ie!’

But in defense of those of you who prefer the seat down – you’re hard wired by nature to be the way you are. As a native woman, you’re more likely to be serious, sober and stoic for the simple reason – women marry men! Funny stuff …eh?