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Native American Death Rituals and Funeral Costumes

3450 words (14 pages) Essay in Cultural Studies

08/02/20 Cultural Studies Reference this

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Introduction:

Native Americans, also known as American Indians, native Americans, native Americans and other terms refer to people who first settled in the United States and their descendants. The first group of native Americans landed North America at least 15,000 years ago via the Beringia, a land bridge between Asia and the Americas during the ice age. (O’Rourke) The inhabitants of the Americas have been the subject of extensive genetic, archaeological and linguistic research. (Cavalli)

Wellesley’s research was published in the November 20 issue of the journal Nature explained that the study now depicts native Americans as a group of two distinct ethnic groups, one descended from east Asians and the other from Europeans and Asians. (Bryan) There are studies have analyzed the genetic diversity of most native Americans, specifically mitochondrial DNA or the y chromosome. (Tamm) To analyze most of the genetic diversity of native American studies have shown that some interpretation of the data model is that the United States is a single wave immigrant from Asia. (Fagundes) Subsequently developed a variety of tribal, society and culture.

There are more than 500 federally recognized tribes in the United States, about half of which are Indian reservations. The data included only tribes living in the continental United States, excluding Hawaii and Alaska. Regardless of the nature of the gene, the native American culture has a number of similarities to Asian cultures as to the culture of death and burial. Funerals are part of our lives. A funeral can make death a reality, normalize the grieving process, and introduce the possibilities for hope, imagination, and new life for survivors (Giblin). 

Every culture in the world has its own culture dealing with the deaths of family and friends (Johnson). The Indians were no different. Every culture rituals and ceremonies, although all is for the same reason, but different from each other (Johnson). Native Americans sound like a whole, historically the Native Americans never thought of themselves as a unified group. Natives’ death rituals are widely varied according to different tribal traditions with sharing some common beliefs. 

There is no central set of rules or beliefs and historically spiritual teachings were never written down, only passed on from generation to generation. Native American beliefs are deeply rooted in their cultures and histories, and in the past spirituality would have been an integral part of daily life. As previously mentioned, each tribe has its own specific traditions regarding death rituals and funerals. There is no concept of hell or paradise in aboriginal culture. Most native American tribes believed that the spirit of the dead had entered the spiritual world, so the family of the dead was focused on providing the soul with what it needed to reach its destination safely or it might return to the land of the living or wander off until it dissipated. This article will introduce the funeral rituals and the clothing of the dead of the three Native American tribes, Sioux, Navajo and Chippewa.

Sioux/Dakota

The Sioux are groups of Native American tribes and First Nations peoples in North America. The term can refer to any ethnic group within the Great Sioux Nation or to any of the nation’s many language dialects. The Sioux comprise three major divisions based on language divisions: the Dakota, Lakota and Nekota. The religion and beliefs of the Sioux tribe was based on Animism that encompassed the spiritual or religious idea that the universe and all-natural objects animals, plants, trees, rivers, mountains rocks etc. have souls or spirits.

In general, the Sioux thought that the soul of the deceased did not leave immediately. Perhaps because of the nostalgia of all that was alive, it takes four days for the soul to leave for the next resting place. They believe that death is not the end of life, but the beginning of another spiritual journey.

Traditionally, Sue people will put the bodies of the dead in a tree, or in about eight feet high from the ground of the scaffold platform. The body will be there for a year, and the body will be treated as if it still alive. On the guillotine, the dead placed with the property and fresh food for the soul. The man was dressed in the best clothes sewed with animal fur.

In the Sioux nation, most of the clothes are made of deerskin and buffalo leather. The costumes of Sioux men and women are usually painted, porcupine quills or beads and ornaments decorated with geometric patterns, especially necklaces and armbands. Usually, women dress in buckskin and decorate them with rabbit fur, while men wear leggings and buckskin shirts. When the weather is cold, they wear warm cloaks made of bison skins. Like most Indians, they wear moccasins, called moccasins

Today, many Sioux practice both traditional and modern Christian death rituals. Modern Sioux burials last four days until the dead are buried. The coffin was rolled up onto a small ramp and placed on a scaffold platform eight inches above the ground in the middle of the room. All the flowers are arranged around.

People who take care of funerals around cemeteries, most of them are family. They lined up near the coffin. Mourners walk up to them to greet them, and gifts for the holy spirit, such as knives and shawls, are placed in coffins before burial. The moderator reads the obituary, talks about the life experience of the deceased, and invites the person participating in the funeral to talk about the friendship with the deceased. Then prayers start praying, and all the people were praying and singing an honor song with the traditional Sioux language. The participants walked counterclockwise in the hall, everyone follows.

That night, on top of the opening of the coffin, there was a thin layer of purple lace. It’s a common practice among The Santee Sioux because bad moods are most active at night, which prevents them from taking the spirits of the dead (Johnson). The Santee Dakota, known as the Eastern Dakota, was established in 1863 and reside in the extreme east of the Dakotas, Minnesota and northern Iowa. The last watch was held at midnight, and everyone stayed overnight. Next to the coffin, at least one family member has to stay with the deceased every night until the burial.

The next three days will be the same as the first day, with the obituary, praying and songs of honor. After each ceremony, friends and family would take turns paying their respects to the deceased, giving him a “spiritual food” called wakan or pemmican to help the spirit move along the journey. ‘Wakan Tanka’ is the Sioux name for the Great Spirit, which translates as the Great Mystery. The Sioux people believe that every object was spirit, or “wakan.”

On the fourth day after the prayers, stood on either side of the coffin with three people. Then everyone lined up to come over to shake their hand, and finally look at the dead. When the family finally finished, the coffin was closed. It would then be raise to that place where it was ready to be buried. When the coffin was sent down to the grave, the people who carried the coffin each took a shovel of earth, standing next to the grave, making the people willing to take a piece of the earth and sprinkle it on the coffin (Johnson). When the work was done, the man carrying the coffin had the job of filling the grave. The burial will be accompanied by more prayers and songs. Finally, all the people leave and enjoy the last meal together.

Navajo

This section focuses on the death customs and rituals of the Navajo people. The Navajo tribe, also referred to as the Diné tribe, were a semi-nomadic people who lived in the southwest desert regions in the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. The Navajo are the second largest American Indians. The Navajo nation extends to Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, covering more than 27,000 square miles. The tribe is divided into more than 50 families whose lineage can be traced back to female families (Clements). The religion and beliefs of the Navajo tribe, like Sioux’s, are based on animism. The Navajo see the Yei spirit as an intermediary between humanity and the great spirit. Through symbols and symbols such as the Yei symbol (Yei), Native American Indians spread their history, thoughts, thoughts and dreams from generation to generation.

The Navajo have strict standards for the traditional custom of death. They consider that traditional burial and condolence procedures must be carefully followed to ensure that the deceased completes his or her journey to the next world. Any actions that deviate from the established practice is believed to affect the happiness of the living relatives and the soul of the deceased (Clements). Relatives and friends of the deceased spent four days after the death dealing with all the problems of the deceased, including the cleansing and preparation of the body, burial, and mourning. The property of the deceased is usually disposed of by burning and not leaving any of it at home.

Purification is the first step in preparing a journey for the dead. The body was cleaned, and the face coated with chei (i.e., a war paint made of soft red rock, crushed and mixed with sheep oil) and white corn protection of the deceased during the journey (Clements). The deceased wears his or her best clothes and can bless the maize pollen and his or her hair was tied with eagle feathers symbolizing the return to his homeland (Clements).

The traditional headdress the Navajo wore was a leather hat, replaced by a simple cloth or leather headband. Before starting to herd sheep, the Navajo wore clothing woven from Silang or deerskin. Men’s clothing includes a hip cloth, which is worn between the legs and tucked into a belt. In cold weather, a coat with a conch belt around the waist is also worn with a cloak or a poncho. They wore moccasins like high boots. The women of this tribe wear clothing made up of skirts and tops, as well as blankets that serve as cloaks in cold weather. In later years, when they started raising sheep, they switched to wool. Men and women wore brightly colored velvet shirts or jackets, and lots of silver and turquoise jewelry for special occasions.

The Navajo asked three family members to put the body with blanket on the back of a horse after it was washed and transported to the cemetery. At the burial place, the dead were placed on Hogan along with saddles and all personal belongings. Hogan means a holy home in that Navajo culture. After the body buried, Hogan was abandoned. After that, horses need to be slaughtered and buried. They believe that the dead will set off on a journey to the afterlife with the horse.

On the morning of fourth day, on the east side of the house, relatives and friends of the deceased purge themselves as a symbol of purging their own events and funerals (Clements). Purification means that the souls of the dead are allowed to enter his or her start to the north next life journey. So, there is also the custom of burying the dead as far north as possible, to help the soul move on to the next journey more quickly.

Navajo people think it is best to leave home and go to, just like in the hospital. In this way, the spirits would not linger in their houses. At present, the Navajo people still view the body as a blessed container. Therefore, when a person died, the body will be left alone. The body should not be corrosion-resistant, and the funeral must be held as soon as possible after the funeral ceremony. If a person died in the home, the house itself needs to be destroyed. As a result, the house would be burned by surviving family members. The relatives of the deceased will stand in the fire room to purify themselves.

Chippewa/Ojibwe

The Chippewa are also known in Canada as Ojibwe, Ojibway or Ojibwa. Palin tile (Ojibwe) tribal initially in Lake Huron, lake and south Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota occupy large areas of land, at that time, their way of life belongs to the northeast woodland cultural groups. In the United States, their population in the United States ranked fifth in the indigenous tribes, second only to the Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw and Lakota-Dakota-Nekota people. They are hunters, fishermen and farmers and they are one of the most feared tribes of the horde, with the reputation of the ferocity, of the fighting, and the sheer number of people. They expanded their territory, crossed a vast desert, and many people took the lifestyle of buffalo hunters in the great plains.

In the Chippewa culture, they also believed that it would take four days to achieve a happy death in the spirit of the dead. The Chippewa tradition traditionally believed that this spirit would have left the body after it was buried, rather than dead, so they preferred to bury it immediately. This belief drives their ritual, as family members consider it their duty to help the spirit move forward as soon as possible. If someone died in the morning, people will bury the dead on the same day to help them reach the happiness (Hilger). If the body had to be kept overnight, people would go to the victim’s house, not only to spend time with the grieving relatives of the deceased, but to be with the person who was lying there (Hilger).

In the evening, a sorcerer will sing several songs at intervals, and each song will have its own unique meaning. At the time of third or fourth section intervals, the deceased’s family will hold a hide that is placed on the bottom of the coffin and will hold it in a living way, which will put the eye to the sky and gently and quietly dance around the coffin (Hilger). A bowl and a pipe were placed next to the coffin. The bowl contained the kinnikinic, smoking kinnikinic with a special pipe was a part of all ceremonials (Hilger).  Between the songs and all the quiet, the people at the ceremony soothe their grieving loved ones with appropriate words.

When a funeral is held, it is usually conducted by an older person and given a final short speech before filling the soil. A guard team of honor fired a salute in honor of the dead. In the evening after the funeral, a prayer ceremony is held at the deceased’s home. Before dark, a man lights a fire in front of the grave, and the fire continues to ignite for four nights. Chippewa believes that the flames of the bonfire will help the soul and direct it to its destination. At the end of the fourth day, when the spirits of the dead arrive at the happy place, a feast begins.

Final feast was also shall be the responsibility of the medicine man, the man will donate all property of the dead to the participants. Each person who receives a thing must exchange a new one for return. All of the new clothes are wrapped in a bunlde, along with a plate to nearest relatives, usually is husband and wife. Then that person will hand out each piece of new clothes to the people he or she thinks is worth.

The loved one of the deceased keeps this bag with plates and carries it with him or her for a year at every meal he or she attends. The time of the year takes the year of mourning. In each meal, in other places, the person carrying the dish, the food provided for each provision in this meal is brought together with the dish, thus, as if it were carried (Hilger). The plates are full of food in memory of the dead. At the end of the mourning for years, this person can be free to do anything she or he want to do in the future, such as the remarriage (Hilger).

Religious influence

Although modern Indian American death ceremony is very different from a few hundred years ago, but their practice still contains the elements of some traditional beliefs. In a ceremony of actual practice, often mixed with elements of Christianity or the effects of other religions, for example, the way that Chippewa treats death culture is similar to the Hindu thought.

When European settlers in the 15th and 16th century began to colonial America, they brought the Christianity. They marked the arrival of the great changes in native American culture and eventually lead to hundreds of tribes and the destruction of the ancient traditions.

The Christian missionaries tried to change the tribe, and they achieved all kinds of success. In 1882, the federal government of the United States attempted to ban the religious ceremony of Indians and called “against public decency and morality”. Some tribes continue to practice their ancient beliefs, but many lost their way on the way. Since the 19th century, some native Americans have begun to agree with Christianity, but it has brought this new religion together with tradition

The culture of each Native tribes reflects the influences of assimilation and acculturation, the results of relocation of education by boarding schools, and rival missionary efforts (Clements). Many native American children grow up without the tradition of their ancestors. In addition, many native Americans currently believe in several forms of Christianity, such as Catholic, Presbyterian and Jehovah’s witness (Shaefer).

For American Indians who believe in Christianity, that means honoring a Christian god and respecting their non-Christian tradition. Indigenous people did not forget what happened at the boarding school, but they accepted a new part of their spirit (Nikki). The spirit is the spirit, in whoever name and in whatever form, and above all, the most important is helping healing people (Nikki). As Charmaine bird says, “The deeper you go into any spiritual practice, how can you not see that it’s related to all deeper spiritual practices?” Tribes who converted to Catholicism celebrated All Souls’ Day on 1st November, commemorating the dead. Related to the Mexican festival of Dia de los Muertos, on this day Native Americans would leave food offerings and decorate their homes with ears of corn.

Conclusion:

Because native Americans believe that these ceremonies are sacred and passed on by word of mouth, these ceremonies and beliefs are not well documented, so when Indians remember their dead, these rituals and beliefs remain mysterious to outsiders.

References:

  • O’Rourke DH, Raff JA. The human genetic history of the Americas: the final frontier. Curr. Biol. 2010;20: R202–R207.
  • Cavalli-Sforza LL, Menozzi P, Piazza A. The History and Geography of Human Genes. Princeton, UP: 1994.
  • Tamm E, et al. Beringian standstill and spread of Native American founders. PLos ONE. 2007:1–6.
  • Fagundes NJ, et al. Mitochondrial population genomics supports a single pre-Clovis origin with a coastal route for the peopling of the Americas. Am. J. Hum. Genet. 2008; 82:583–592.
  • Giblin, Paul, and Andrea Hug. “The psychology of funeral rituals.” Liturgy 21.1 (2006): 11-19.
  • Johnson, Jim. “A funeral in Indian country.” Whispering Wind43.2 (2014): 28.
  • Hilger, M. Inez. “Chippewa Burial and Mourning Customs.” American Anthropologist 46.4 (1944): 564-568.
  • Clements, Paul T., et al. “Cultural perspectives of death, grief, and bereavement.” Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services 41.7 (2003): 18-26.
  • Shaefer, J. (1999). When an infant dies: Cross-cultural expression of grief and loss. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Public Health Service.
  • Clements, Paul T, PhD, APRN,B.C., D.F.-I.A.F.N., et al. “Cultural Perspectives of Death, Grief, and Bereavement.” Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, vol. 41, no. 7, 2003, pp. 18-26.
  • Nikki Tundel. “American Indians balance native customs with Christianity”. MPR news. Arts & Culture. November 13, 2013.
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