View Full Version : Native American rituals

06-08-2007, 11:20 PM
I have a MG story that involves a fictional Native American tribe. The story is set in the 1800s in the West.

What I need to know is if there are any rituals involved when someone dies. In my story, a young man's mother dies and he buries her. It was suggested to me that I use this scene to highlight a NA ritual involving what happens when a tribe member dies.

Also, I once asked someone who was part of a real NA tribe about the name-changing ceremonies in some tribes. He said that when boys reach a certain age, they are given a new name. This is included in my story but I don't know what it involves.

I tried searching on the Internet for this info but no luck. :( If anyone can help me out, I'd really appreciate it. Thanks!

06-09-2007, 12:01 AM
If it's a fictional tribe, you can write the rituals any way you like.

Bear in mind that a lot of Native American ceremonies and rites are not written down anyway, because most of the tribes didn't have written alphabets until fairly recently.

Good article here worth reading: http://are.as.wvu.edu/ruvolo.htm

06-09-2007, 12:35 AM
GW, Hang on for a while I have a friend who has extensive knowledge of Native American heritage. I'll send her your question and relay it when she gets back to me.

06-09-2007, 12:53 AM
I read somewhere that a funeral pyre was the way to go.

However, I'm also aware that in the nomadic tribes, older members of the tribe were often left where they dropped. The fate of the tribe, especially in harsh weather conditions, couldn't be jeopardized for the sake of one person.

I have no idea if those are fact based, but they might give you somewhere to start looking.

However, I echo the above. If it's a fictional tribe, as long as you have a "ritual" purpose for the acts, you can have whatever rites you want.

06-09-2007, 01:10 AM
I spoke with my friend just now and here is what she had to say.

In the time period you’re writing about bodies were buried atop scaffolding and thus nourish the animals, which had been nourishment for the dead person while he/she was alive. Not too hard to write about.
There is also the ritual of “giving away”. Here each item that belonged to the dead person is given away, first to the family members in order of their age in the family, so that they remember the dead person whenever they see or use the item. Then a “star quilt” is given to all those in the burial party, mourners, tribal shaman, and so forth. The women of the tribes make these all year long. Many, star quilts are given and they are considered precious. For a non Native American to receive one is a great honor.

Now as to names, these are given at birth but are often changed when the person does a specific act. There are 7 qualities that a Native American would aspire to and thus may receive a name change in recognition. They are Courage, Honesty, Integrity, Bravery, Generosity and Spirituality.
Example: At the battle of The Little Big Horn a brave fought the entire engagement with the iron tip of a broken spear. After the battle his name was changed to He Who Fights With Iron. Another story is of the man who went hunting. He returned with only three birds. He was chastised for being such a poor hunter and so his name was change to Three Tails!

This story of yours has many possibilities. Good Luck!

Rainy Night
06-09-2007, 02:20 AM
It's different for each tribe, my wife is Sioux, and while I've never seen a funeral in her tribe I know of a ceremony (I think it was Pima) where friends brought gifts for the person to take to the other side. The gifts and I think some of the persons belongings were all wrapped in blankets with the deceased and burnt in a huge funeral pyre.

06-10-2007, 02:52 AM
Thanks so much, everyone. This has been extremely helpful! :D

Cav Guy
06-10-2007, 03:35 AM
This varies GREATLY depending on the tribe. I'd suggest you take a look at some of the Smithsonian Institute's reports from turn of the century (1900s). They contain a wealth of close to contemporary information regarding this and other ceremonial subjects. You won't necessarily find them on the internet, but any university library with a good government documents section should have at least some of them.

You'll want to be sure that the ceremony matches the practices of the tribe. Each tribe had its own specific customs.

With names, be advised that different tribes had different customs as well. I believe the Apache could have a name-changing at just about any time depending on certain events, but I'm going off memory here. George Grinnell Bird wrote extensively about the Cheyenne, and there are others who specialized in other tribes as well (Haley's Apaches is a good starting point for those peoples).

Tsu Dho Nimh
06-10-2007, 05:35 AM
If it's a fictional tribe, you can make up your own rituals.

Name changing ... sometimes a serious ritual, sometimes an embarrassing nickname. Mine was "Falls off Horses" for the obvious reason. My grandmothers was "Iron Woman", using the same adjective that turns a locomotive into "Iron horse" ... it was more than just metal.

Death rituals ... everything from the total avoidance of the navajo to the meticulous rememberance rituals of other tribes. Buried, burned, exposed on platforms ... you name it, they did it.