Manataka American Indian Council






By Grandmother Selma









Gesture is a symbolic action with intellectual action, by which a thought, feeling or intention is voluntarily expressed in a accepted (within the given culture) form.  However, gestures can also be holding a relationship of arbitrariness between themselves and the acts or objects they refer to.


Gestures are formed by actual movement, be it that of facial muscles, of limbs, of head or the entire physical body.  These movements usually express or emphasize feelings, thought or intentions.  At times they are employed to accompany speech, at other times they may present themselves in silence.


Gesture become complicated due to the fact that it is metaphorical, silent, natural, universal, clear. figurative, picturesque, affective, iconic, pantomimic, cheiromimic, visual language, innate language, syntalk, and an essential adjunct to human audible language that is expressive motion.


Gesturing at someone or even a specific object is considered disrespectful within the Native American Indian culture.  if that gesture is the pointing of a finger.  It is absolutely taboo in ceremonial practices.  Most Native American Indians consider gestureless speech as " lifeless" speech, unspirited and indicates non -involvement, shows reluctance and can be perceived of as insulting.


The absence of gestures would add to our world becoming static and colorless.


"The social anthropologist, Edward Hall states, sixty percent of all communications non-verbal " 1


Gestures and body language communicate as effectively as words....or perhaps more so.  They are woven into our social lives and interaction with all we come in contact with.


The universal singular gesture, the miracle mien, the giant of all gestures is the simple smile.


The traditional Native American Indian using hand gestures, or even signing was not strict regarding the position of the fingers or hand. For there was movement involved as well. 


The consistent elemental variable was not the position, but the motions  The execution as well as the conception were the indication of meaning.   The position of the fingers was somewhat immaterial.  There were hand gestures that the position of the fingers were of paramount importance, but those gestures were linked to sign language and conveying concrete images such as members of the four legged species and or danger.


In dominant cross cultural American society the gesture of pointing with hand and index finger is a common and accepted practice.  It is taboo in many other ethnic cultures, such as the oriental and the traditional Native American Indian.


The true traditionalist draws the observers attention to the point of concern or interest thru facial gestures, cutting the eyes in the precise direction, a slight nod of the head toward the intended focus point, all were and are the accepted non -verbal method of polite directional orientation.   Not Pointing.


The importance of being culturally respectful can not be over emphasized.


References :

1.    Quote from Edward Hall " source: axtell, Roger E.: Gestures:

2.    The Do's and Taboos of Body language Around the World by John Wiley and Sons, 1991

3.    Katz, M. (n.d.) Treading with care upon the Earth: working in Indian Country Respectfully to meet the Challenges and

    seize the Opportunities.


Copyrighted by Selma Palmer, 2006 



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