Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community: A Giving Heritage explores how gift exchange, motivated by the values of generosity and hospitality, serves as a critical component in the preservation and perpetuation of Osage society. Authors, Daniel C. Swan and Jim Cooley collaborate with members of the Osage Nation to discuss this foundational cultural practice over two centuries and in multiple social contexts.
The book begins with an in-depth examination of the Mízhin form of marriage, which bound two extended Osage families together for economic, biologic, and social reasons intended to produce value and community cohesion for the larger society. Swan and Cooley then follow the movement of Osage bridal regalia from the Mízhin from of marriage into the "Paying for the Drum" ceremony of the Osage Ilonshka—a variant of the Plains Grass Dance, which is a nativistic movement that spread throughout the Plains and Prairie regions of the United States in the 1890s. The Ilonshka dance and its associated organization provide a spiritual charter for the survival of the ancient Osage physical divisions, or "districts" as they are called today. Swan and Cooley demonstrate how the process of re-chartering elements of material culture and their associated meanings from one ceremony to another serves as an example of the ways in which the Osage people have adapted their cultural values to changing economic and political conditions. At the core of this historical trajectory is a broad system of Osage social relations predicated on status, reciprocity, and cooperation. Through Osage weddings and the Ilonshka dance the Osage people reinforce and strengthen the social relations that provide a foundation for their respective communities.