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Throughout the nineteenth century, Lakota (Sioux) individuals devoted an enormous amount of time, energy, and resources to the production and purchase of lavish clothing, headdresses, and accessories. These items seemingly lack any practical value, making them difficult to account for in economic terms. Costly signaling theory, however, predicts that the costs of the production of personal adornment and body decoration may be offset by the accumulation of prestige. For Lakota men, prestige translated into higher status, membership in warrior and headmen's societies, leadership opportunities, marital opportunities, and ultimately, differential reproductive success. Lakota women also garnered prestige based on the quality and quantity of the elaborately decorated goods they produced, benefitting themselves, their families, and their kin groups. This study will explore the multitude of ways that prestige was signaled by males and females both within and between Lakota societies, as well as the social benefits that were accrued as a result of this signaling behavior.
Adviser: Raymond B. Hames