By Alexander Spoehr
Among the tribes which formerly lived on the plains of the United States, it was not uncommon for two men to become "friends." This type of friendship entailed obligations greater than that which we ordinarily associate with the term. Depending on the tribe, "friends" were bound to assist each other in ceremonial matters, on the warpath, and in routine affairs connected with daily life. However, except for a very few scattered references this institution has not been noted among the tribes which lived in the southeastern part of the country. For this reason the following information is of interest.
In the course of ethnological field work among the Oklahoma Seminole, I found that in the old days they also had a type of formally recognized friendship. Two men who had known and liked each other for a long time might decide to become anhissi lakko, or "big friends." There are none of these living today, but I was told that "big friends" treated each other "better than brothers." They were very respectful and did not joke or make fun of each other. They were always helpful, in small matters as well as in those of greater importance. A man who had just returned from hunting would go out of his way to give a cut of meat to his "big friend." If one partner were ill, the other took special care to see that he was well attended. "Big friends" went to war together, and should one be killed the other was pledged to fight by the body till the end. Men who had entered into this type of relationship did not belong necessarily to the same clan or town, but might live a considerable distance apart. The native attitude is well expressed by the comment of an elderly Seminole:
By no means did all men have "big friends." It was a very serious thing. "You must be very careful in making anhissi lakko," parents would tell their son. Sometimes a man would want to be friendly with another because he wished to marry the other's sister; that was the opposite of this kind of friendship. Sometimes women would become "big friends" also. When that happened they exchanged gifts precious to themselves. But because two men were "big friends," their wives didn't have to be too.
The Seminole and various Plains tribes have lived in Oklahoma for a long time, and one cannot ignore the possibility that the Seminole might have borrowed the institution from one of the Plains groups. However, there is evidence to the contrary, for in 1880 MacCauley found that the isolated Florida Seminole also had the institution of formal fellowhood, though he gave no details about the custom.1 Today it is still remembered by the older Florida Indians, though no longer practiced. As the Florida Seminole have not been in sustained close contact with Plains tribes, nor even with their Oklahoma brethren until quite recently, formal friendship was apparently characteristic of the Seminole prior to the removal west of the main body of the tribe. The institution may consequently be considered a Southeastern as well as a Plains culture trait.