“fieldwork” and the anthropologists Margaret Mead and Rep Fortune are mentioned, typically what comes to mind is the South Pacific, including New Guinea and Melanesia. As an afterthought, knowing anthropologists might include the Omaha Tribe as well. This is understandable in view of the fact that Mead’s foremost interest was in the peoples and cultures of the South Pacific while Fortune’s most well known anthropological study undoubtedly is The Sorcerers of Dob, a book on a people of Melanesia. This situation notwithstanding, both authored publications of lasting value on the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska. For Mead it was The Changing Culture of an Indian Tribe and for Fortune Omaha Secret Societies; both appeared in 1932 A Mead biographer has observed that “…overshadowed by her better Samoan and Manus works, it is virtually ignored” (Rice 1979: 106). Of Fortune’s study, the same writer has the following words that merit citing.
…Omaha Secret Societies, brooding, wry, joking, apologetic, by a mind that seems at home in its field but alienated in its career, is one of those oddities one might encounter in any discipline, a work so strange, moving and unusual that it cannot be categorized, and thus is set aside by the more formalistic members of the field. “I have not been excessively tender in my handling of the previous authorities,” Rep remarks of the anthropological establishment, and they take the same attitude toward him.
Mead can add sadly, to the account of his troubles, “The situation was so unusual, as Ruth [Benedict] had sensed that Rep analysis did go unrewarded. Americanisms did not appreciate the detective skill, developed in his work with the Melanesian sorcerers, with which Rep had unraveled as unfamiliar fabric…. He is given very little [credit] for Omaha Secret Societies, the book in which he published the work he had the greatest difficulty in doing”(Rice 1979: 107).
In reality, both were given difficult assignments, an issue that will be touched on below. This paper will look at three different ceremonies of the Omahas . The fact remains, these three aspects were described in the field notes but did not receive adequate coverage in their published works.