Hidatsa Social and Ceremonial Organization

Hidatsa Social and Ceremonial Organization

Hidatsa Social and Ceremonial Organization

Hidatsa Social and Ceremonial Organization

Synopsis

Hidatsa Social and Ceremonial Organization, a study of an important horticultural Plains Indian tribe, synthesizes the rich material Alfred W. Bowers recorded in the early 1930s from the last generation of Hidatsas who lived in the historic village of Like-a-Fishhook.

Excerpt

For most Plains Indian peoples their traditional religion, although alive through most of the nineteenth century, was generally no more than a memory during the early decades of the twentieth century. For many tribes--notably the Sioux, Pawnees, and Osages--Christian missionaries had begun proselytizing as early as the 1830s and by the end of the century had established congregations in the Indian communities; for the Sioux they had, moreover, effectively established literacy in the native language as well as a vast church network over numerous reservations. For other tribes like the Mandans, Arikaras, and Hidatsas, less populous and more remote from major paths of transcontinental travel and early Euro-American settlement, the full impact of missionization was not felt until much later in the nineteenth century; but even among these tribes native religious practices, at least in overt form, had given way by the close of the century to vigorous government and denominational efforts to suppress traditional beliefs and replace them with Christianity.

At the same time that missionary efforts were focused on the eradication of old beliefs and practices, traditional religious leaders of the nineteenth century frequently died unexpectedly from one of the many diseases, often of epidemic proportions, that recurrently afflicted Plains Indians throughout this period of drastic cultural upheaval. Although the deaths were not so detrimental to the religious life of the nomadic tribes, whose holy men typically dreamed their rituals and ritual paraphernalia anew with each generation, for the conservative semisedentary tribes, whose priests and bundle keepers guarded both legendary ritual shrines and accompanying secret knowledge that were generally imparted only late in life to novitiates, the early deaths were devastating for traditional religion. Through an unceasing process of attrition the knowledge and rituals of priests were removed from tribal life. Moreover, when tribal religious leaders and their rituals were clearly unable to control events and fend off adversity in a dramatically changing world, younger men, faced with unrelenting acculturative pressures to take on a new lifestyle, were no longer motivated to apprentice to elder tribal priests and bundle keepers in order to sustain a religion that had lost meaning and efficacy.

This late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century period, when . . .

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