Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche Military Societies

Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche Military Societies

Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche Military Societies

Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche Military Societies

Synopsis

For many Plains Indians, being a warrior and veteran has long been the traditional pathway to male honor and status. Men and boys formed military societies to celebrate victories in war, to perform community service, and to prepare young men for their role as warriors and hunters. By preserving cultural forms contained in song, dance, ritual, language, kinship, economics, naming, and other semireligious ceremonies, these societies have played an important role in maintaining Plains Indian culture from the pre-reservation era until today.In this book, William C. Meadows presents an in-depth ethnohistorical survey of Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche military societies, drawn from extensive interviews with tribal elders and military society members, unpublished archival sources, and linguistic data. He examines their structure, functions, rituals, and martial symbols, showing how they fit within larger tribal organizations. And he explores how military societies, like powwows, have become a distinct public format for cultural and ethnic continuity.

Excerpt

When I began working with the Kiowa in 1989, I was interested in traditional dance and music, particularly in the origins of the modern powwow. This led me into the world of Plains Indian military societies. I was introduced to the Kiowa Black Legs Society, on which I eventually wrote my master’s thesis (Meadows 1991). As I began to comprehend the vast historical and symbolic importance which this society holds for the Kiowa people, I began to look at other Kiowa and, later, Comanche, Apache, and Cheyenne societies. Though they are qualitatively different, I found great general and temporal similarity in the structure, functions, and continuing symbolic importance of veterans within these communities. Even more importantly, however, I began to comprehend the extent to which traditional sociocultural forms were being associated with traditional ways of honoring veterans through public dance, song, and ceremony to commemorate the past and present martial heritage, ideology, and ethos. While some prereservation cultural elements had been lost and new ones adapted, much had survived, and other forms had even been revived through the social arena of martial-based cultural events. As other social institutions in these cultures declined in their enculturative roles, Southern Plains Indian military society events continued to provide arenas for enculturation and even increased in complexity.

This study of Southern Plains military societies delineates comparatively and ethnohistorically the martial values embraced by the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache (KCA) since circa 1800, describing how military society structure, functions, and ritual symbols connect past and present. in contrast to most ethnographic religious studies, I combine ethnohistorical documentation and oral traditions with symbolic analysis to elucidate the temporal evolution and role of these more secular sodalities and their symbols, focusing upon the continuity and change, meaning, and functions of martial symbols. While Plains Indian sodalities were not homogenous, they are central to understanding past and present Plains social organization, law, politics . . .

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