Native American Time

native timeNative Americans had little use for small elements of time. The cyclical passage of the seasons, marked by the “moons” of the lunar calendar that seems to have been a known feature of people for 35,000 years; the years, marked by the passage of “winters”; the division of days and nights into “sleeps”: these were sufficient for people who did not have to punch a time clock, “get to work on time,” or meet a train-bus-airplane schedule, and for whom, therefore, seconds and minutes and hours were generally useless.

Some native peoples in North America used a measure of time they called “a hand,” meaning the amount of time it would take the sun to pass from one side to the other of a hand extended at arm’s length toward the solar disk. But this measure was highly variable in a seasonal sense (it also would have varied depending on the size of the hand!) and probably was not widely adopted. Because the time-sense of native peoples was so vastly different from that of people who carried timepieces that marked seconds and minutes and hours, European and American explorers had difficulty translating native descriptions of time.

In the Indian world, things happen when they are ready to happen. Time is
relatively flexible and generally not structured into compartments as it is in modern society.