The Two-Spirit Tradition

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Click here for the source page of this picture.
The Zuni supernatural two-spirit, Ko'lhamana (ko-, supernatural + lhamana, other-gendered)

The two-spirit (formerly called berdache) was a sort of Native American transgender person who wore the clothing of the "opposite" sex. Two-spirits were highly regarded and respected as artisans, craftspeople, child rearers, couples counselors and tribal arbiters, and yet, one of the reasons they got respect was out of fear, because two-spirits were considered to be touched by the spirits and considered to have powers on the order of a shaman. (In many tribes, a shaman would consult the tribe's two-spirit for advice in spiritual matters!)
It has been determined that there were male two-spirits in more than 150 different Native American tribes, but there were female two-spirits, as well. two-spirits were considered to be a "third gender," and female two-spirits were considered to be a "fourth gender" (similar to the way in which both male and female homosexuals are considered to be gay, while females are also considered to be lesbian).
Due to their perceived spiritual gifts and physical strength, male two-spirits were considered to be "super-women" and as such were often prized as mates. A warrior's strength was seen as being augmented if he counted among his wives one or more two-spirits.
The term berdache has had a checkered past etymologically, and had various negative connotations, so, in 1991, it was replaced with the word two-spirit by a group of Native American anthropologists. The new term has become politicized somewhat, so that the word is now used to describe gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Native Americans, and yet it is preferable in much the same way as the term intersex has replaced the word hermaphrodite. That said, few two-spirits were intersex, although a great many were androgyne, meaning they had the gender identity of both a man and a woman -- or neither.
Berdache had always been a slippery and hard-to-pin-down term for non-Native Americans, and the term two-spirit may well prove to be equally difficult to grasp, for some. And yet, for some groups, the new term has been a spiritual wake-up call. Quite a few non-Native American gays, androgynes and other genderqueers in the United States have taken to the term and its tradition as a way to connect with themselves, their spirits and their adopted homeland. The term's significance has not been lost on Native American youth, either, as there is now a renewed interest in the tradition.
Traditionally, "real" two-spirits have been intersex (formerly referred to as hermaphrodites), a trait they share with the hijras of continental India, who consider "real" hijras to be intersex. In this paradigm, intersex people are "automatically" two-spirited and "automatically" hijras because they comprise the cores of both masculinity and femininity physically as well as psychologically. In seeming corroboration, two-spirits and hijras have both been said to describe themselves as "not man, not woman," and this brings to mind the self-conception of androgynes, who can be said to be the psychological counterpart to intersex people. Originally, the term androgyne was synonymous with hermaphrodite, and referred specifically to physical traits, not to gender identity.
Why are two-spirits and hijras considered to have more in common with transsexuals than androgynes? That may because of current cultural markers and may reflect modern thinking more than traditional context. The very nature of third genderedness is rejected by many layers of culture; it is easier to reduce two-spirits and hijras to a man/woman binary where an androgynous gender identity is not an option. Hence two-spirits and hijras are said to be transsexual, not androgyne, because that keeps things nice and tidy, making them "men" and "women" -- which they are not.

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[ NOTE: Back around 2002, there was a web page called theBungalow | Two Spirit Issues: The Third Gender in Native American Culture and Spirituality at but the web page became defunct, and since it was not archived by the internet archive, it has vanished from the web. If anyone reading this has a copy of this lengthy (approximately 20 screens long) article on their hard drive, please forward it to me so I can create a page for it and put it back online. Thank you. ]

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Native American Tribes' Words to Describe Their Two-Spirits | return to top
(for a more thorough listing, visit this offline 2006 page via the Internet Archive:
Transwiki:Two-Spirit, formerly located at

NOTE: An asterisk (*) after a term denotes information gleaned from the various pages linked to "A Dictionary of Words for Masculine Women" by Gary Bowen, and is not to be taken as factually as the other terms listed below since Gary is not a Native American nor an archeologist, anthropologist or ethnologist.

Acoma :

 mujerado ("womaned") or qo-qoy-mo ("effeminate person") or kokwina ("men-women")

Aleut :

 achnucek [shupan, according to Sabine Lang] (male)

Anishnawbe :

 ougokweniini (male)

Arapaho :

 haxu'xan (male)

Assiniboine :

 win'yan inkwenu'ze winktan (male)

Atsugewi :

 yaawa (male) and brumaiwi* (female)

Bella Coola :

 sx'ints (male)

Blackfeet :

 Aki-Skassi (male) and Aki kwan ("woman-man") or sakwo'mapi akikiwan* (female)
[Note: Blackfeet is not the same tribe as Lakota (Blackfoot)]

Cheyenne :

 hee-man-eh or he'emen (male) and hetaneman (female)

Chukchi (Alaskan
Bering Straight) :

 yirka-la ul

Cocopa :

 elha (male) and warhameh* [warrhameh, according to Sabine Lang] (female)

Coeur d'Alène :

 st'amia ("hermaphrodite")

Crow :

 boté [bate, according to Sabine Lang] (male)

Dakota (Santee) :

 winkta (male)

Dakota Sioux :

 koskalaka* (male) and koskalaka winyan* or winkta* or winkte winyan* (female)

Eskimo (Chugach) :

  aranu'tiq (male)

(St. Lawrence) :

 anasik (male) and uktasik (female)

Flathead :

 ma'kali or me'mi or tcin-mamalks ("dress as a woman") (male) and ntalha* (female)

Fox :

 i-coo-coo-a (male)

Hawai'ian :

 Mähü or mahu [also in Polynesia and Tahiti; cf Fa'afafine]

Hidatsa :

 miati ("to be impelled against one's will to act the woman") or biatti

Hotcâk :

 dedjángtcowinga ("blue lake woman") (male)

Hopi :

 hova (male) [na'dle ("being transformed") (male), and nadle (female), re Sabine Lang]

Huchnom :

 iwap kuti

Illinois :

 ikoueta (male) and chelxodelean(e)* or ickoue ne koussa* (female)

Isleta :


Juaneño :


Kaniagmiut :

 shupan [?]

Keres :

 kokwimu (male)

Klamath :

 tw!inna'ek (male and female)

Kodiak :


Kutenai :

 tupatke'tek ("to imitate a woman") (male) and titqattek* (female)

Laguna :

 mujerado (man-woman [?]) or kokwimu or kokwe'ma (male)

Lakota (Blackfoot) :

 wintke [derived from "winyanktehca"] ("two-souls-person" or "to be as a woman") (male);
[Note: Lakota (Blackfoot) is not the same tribe as Blackfeet]

Lakota (Ogala) :

 winkte (male) and winkte winyan* (female)

Lassik :

 murfidai ("hermaphrodite") (male)

Luiseño :

 cuit or cuut

Maidu :

 suku (male and female)

Mandan :

 mihdacke [mihdäckä ("mih-hä" means "woman"), according to Sabine Lang] (male)

Maricopa :

 ilyaxi' (impolite) or yesa'an (polite; "barren man or woman") (male) and kwiraxame'* (female)

Miami :

 waupeengwoatar ("the white face") (male)

Miwok :

 osabu ("osa" means "woman") (male)

Mohave :

 alyha: (male) and hwame: or hwami (female)

Navajo :

 nadle ("being transformed") or nadleeh or nádleehí (male and female);
dilbaa’ or nadleeh <family name> baa* (female)

Nomlaki :

 walusa ("hermaphrodite") or tohket ("boy who goes around the women all the time")

Ojibwa/Chippewa :

 agokwa ("man-woman" or "split testicles") (male) and okitcitakwe* or ogitchidaakwe (female)

Omaha :

 mexoga or mixu'ga ("instructed by the moon") or minquga ("hermaphrodite") (male)

Oto :

 mixo'ge (male)

Paiute, Northern :

 Tübas or t'üBáse or moyo'ne or tüBázanàna (polite) Düba's ("sterile person") (male);
Düba's or Moroni noho Tüvasa (female)

Paiute, Southern :

 Tüwasawuts or maipots or onobakö or töwahawöts or Maai'pots (male)

Patwin :

 Panaro bobum pi ("he has two (sexes)") (male)

Piegan :

 ake'skassi ("acts like a woman") (male);
ninauposkitzipspe* ("manly-hearted woman," "female 'berdache'") (female)

Pima :

 wiik'ovat ("like a girl") (male)

Plains Cree:

 a:yahkwew or a-yahkwew (male)

Pomo, Northern :

 das ("da" means "woman") (male)

Pomo, Southern :

 t!un (male)

Ponca :

 misu'ga or morphodite ("hermaphrodite") (male)

Potawatomi :

 m'netokwe ("manito" plus a female suffix) (male)

Quinault :

 keknatsa'nxwixw ("part woman") (male)

Salinan :

 joyas (Spanish for "gem" or "jewel") (male)

Sanpoil :

 sinta'xlau'wam* (female)

Sauk :

 i-coo-coo-a (male)

Shasta :

 gitukuwaki (male)

Shoshone :

 tennewyppe or tená-wipeh (male)

Shoshoni :

 tainna wa'ippe* (male) and sungwe* or taikwahni wa'ippe* or waippu* (female)

Shoshoni (Bannock) :

 tuva'sa ("vasap" means "dry") (male)

Shoshoni (Gosiute) :

 tuvasa (male)

Shoshoni (Lemhi) :

 tübasa ("sterile") or tenanduakia ("tenap" means "man") (male);
Tübasa tenanduakia waip:ü sunwe ("woman half" [?]) (female)

Shoshoni (Nevada) :

 tuyayap or tubasa'a ("half man, half woman")
or tangwu waip ("man-woman") or waip: sinwa ("half woman") (male);
nüwüdüka ("female hunter") or tangowaip or tangowaipü ("female") (female)

(Promontory Point) :

 tubasa waip ("waip" means "woman") (male)

Sioux :

 winkte (male) [cf Dakota Sioux]

Tewa :

 kwidó or kweedó or kwidõ (male) and senp'aa* (female)

Tiwa :

 lhunide (male)

Tlingit :

 gatxan ("coward") (male)

Tübatulabal :

 huiy (male)

Ute :

 tozusuhzooch (male)

Ute (Southern):

 tuwasawits or tuwasawuts (male)

Wailaki :

 clele (male)

Winnebago :

 shiánge ("eunuch" or "unmanly man") (male);
dedjángtcowinga ("blue lake woman") (male)

Wishram :

 ikte'laskait (male)

Yana :

 lo'ya (male)

Yokuts (Kocheyali) :

 tonoo'tcim ("undertaker") (male)

Yokuts (Michahai) :

 tono'cim (male)

Yokuts (Paleuyami) :

 tono'cim (male)

Yokuts (Tachi) :

 tonochim or lokowitnono (male)

Yokuts (Wakasachi) :

 tai'yap (male)

Yokuts (Yaudanchi) :

 tongochim (male)

Yuki :

 i-wa-musp ("man-woman") or iwap-naip ("man-girl") or iwop-naiip ("men-girls") (male);
musp-iwap naip* (female)

Yuma :

 elaxa (male) and kwe'rhame* or kurami* (female)

Yurok :

 wegern (male)

Zapotec :

 muxe, muxhe, muxé [pronounced moo-SHAY], or ira’ muxe (male)

Zuni :

 lhamana (male and female) and ko'thlama (male) and katsotse (female)

? :

 aranaruaq (male) and angut-n-guaq (female)

? :

 keknatsa'nxwix (male) and tawkxwa'nsix (female)

? :

 osha'pu (male)

If you're reading this and know of any other tribes' names for two-spirits, please contact Stephe Feldman at <> so that these terms can be added to the list above. Also, please contact Stephe if you find any errors in spelling, tribal attributions, or correspondence between name and sex.
There is an online map with male and female two-spirits' names plotted on it, but which tribes used which terms is indicated by location, not tribe. Hence, the question marks on the last five entries above.

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