Berdache Tradition

Zuni Berdache

We'wha (1849-96), a Zuni berdache, lived in New Mexico. He is shown holding a ritual vessel, dressed in women's clothing.

In some Native American cultures, male children who display feminine characteristics at an early age are valued by the tribe as a sacred trust. It is believed that the Great Spirit has sent this child to them as a go-between for males and females, a bridge between the sexes who understands both sides of the human condition.

Such a child is apprenticed to a shaman, or holy man of the tribe. In his training, he learns the traditional work of both sexes, dresses as a woman, and usually performs the functions of healer and arbiter for his people.

The European word for this person is "berdache". Among the Zuni, for example, it is "lhamana".

The ideal of male and female sharing one body has long been fertile soil in my psychic garden. These images explore the fusion of male and female which the berdache represents, and are part of a larger series.

The subject is a young Native American from New Mexico who has recently discovered and is exploring this aspect of his culture.

See A Native American Perspective on the Theory of Gender Continuum by DRK


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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2007, August 9). Berdache Tradition, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 26 from

Last Updated: March 15, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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