Are you, like me, intrigued by Native American customs? Unfortunately, there aren’t many travel opportunities that offer insights into Native American customs, and most of what we generally know, is gained from Cowboy and Indian movies. The ancient and noble tribes of American Indians have deeply spiritual beliefs and traditions. Here are some fascinating Native American customs:
1. Medicine Man
This is a name or title of high significance when related to customs of Native Americans. Names given varied significantly between the tribes and frequently were determined by their natural environment, animals and other factors including the character of a person. They are an integral part of a rich, cultural heritage and even today great effort is made to preserve them. The holy men, or medicine men known as Maya Shamans symbolized these customs and had the status of priests. They were healers and performed various rituals for sufferers of all illnesses, in some cases with the common and ceremonial practice of bloodletting in which a small cut was made to the affected area. Indications are that this practice was especially successful in the reduction of back pain, toothache and headaches, among others.
2. Totem Animal
One of the fundamental Native Americans beliefs is that every human has an inherent animal force or presence, for example an eagle, wolf or bear. This is one of the primary identity influences for a tribe, and the subject of great controversy and superstition. Among the more popular beliefs is that tribe members took a name as a form of guardian angel or as their guide through life. Various records show an astrological link related to the use of animal symbolism, which is a usual practice in many and varied cultures. It is representative of the values attached to American Indian customs, culture and the influences of nature.
Native American celebrations are symbolized largely by ritual dances with a popular example in the modern, the “Pow Wow”. Male and female tribe members took part in the dancing, which was performed on various occasions, such as following a victorious battle. Dancing played a significant part in the lives of the tribes. It was a means of displaying triumph and joy such as for weddings and in many regions, giving thanks for a good harvest of corn. Dancing was used to honor the sun and rain spirits, and to help the sick and those wounded in battle. For the men, their bravery in battle was portrayed by the dance that demonstrated the fighting sequences.
4. Sand Painting
According to the beliefs of the Navajo, this art form originated when the Holy People instructed the tribe in the creation of paintings from a variety of natural materials. Using white, crushed gypsum, yellow ochre, charcoal, red sandstone and various mixing techniques, the paintings were made on a smooth base of sand and became part of Native American customs for many tribes. Pollen, crushed flower petals and cornmeal were employed to achieve a wide and varied range of colors. The paintings have deep, symbolic meanings, especially in Navajo mythology and were made during harvest ceremonies and in relation to healing processes. Portrayals of traditional dances, sacred mountains and legendary visions formed most of the usual subjects for these paintings.
5. The Great Spirit
Wakan-Taka is at the center of the universe that is everywhere and within every person. This is the fervent belief that is at the heart of all Native American customs and which includes Father Sky, Great Spirit Mother and Mother Earth. Before men and women start their day in the morning, the Master of life is thanked for their lives on that day. Their belief in the sacred circle is symbolized by the rotation of earth, its elements and the stars around, and is revered as a connection to the Great Spirit. The Plains Indians believe the spirit has power over animals, trees clouds, stones, with earth being given light and warmth by the sun and its great power. According to the Hopi Pueblo, power was given to the Shaman or medicine man, who could not only heal the sick, but also interpret the signs and dreams from the spirits.
6. Kachina Dolls
Representing the spirit of the Hopi, dolls were originally made as gifts for the children of the tribe, with each doll having a different meaning and significance. According to Native American customs, Kachinas are the holy spirits that dwell in the San Francisco Peaks of Arizona and other scared mountains. On ceremonial occasions, masked Hopi Pueblos represent the spirits, and between traditional dances, distribute the dolls with various toys, and candy to the children. Kachinas may be the spirits of deities, animals, or deceased members of the tribe who were recognized for their special qualities.
7. Dream Catcher
This talisman was intended by the Ojibwa to teach the wisdom of nature. Since ancient times, dream catchers have been woven from natural materials such as twigs and feathers, and hung over a sleeping newborn child to give them a peaceful sleep filled with wonderful dreams. According to the traditions of American Indians, the air at night is filled with dreams, but good dreams are able to find their way to the dreamer, shown by the slightest movement of the feathers in the catcher. A bad dream is confused, unable to find its path through the web of the catcher, and therefore remains trapped until the sun rises, when they evaporate.
Aren’t these Native American customs interesting? I’d love to know more. Would you? Are you from a Native American Tribe or background, we would love to hear more of your stories and about the customs your family wears or used to wear.
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