Nordamerikas Indianer

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  Geographic Region: Plain and Praries
  Linguistic Group: Algonquian

The oldest traces of Cheyenne culture are from the 13th century. This people were farmers, gatherers and hunters. There is evidence revealing that corn, tobacco, beans and pumpkins were cultivated along the rivers from South Dakota to Texas. The people were settled and seldom left their homes, except for when they went hunting buffaloes.
     In the late 17th century, the Cheyennes were driven from the area by the Sioux and Ojibwa. They gradually migrated westward along the river that now bears their name. They settled on the Cheyenne River in North Dakota, living in earth lodges, and farming. The Ojibwa destroyed this settlement about 1770, and the Cheyenne moved south.
     As time when on the Cheyenne people started to get a growing interest in hunting, which soon forced them to give up their feeling of security and the peaceful farmer life. During the periods of hunting they had to keep pace with the buffaloes, and therefore moved from one place to another all the time.

Cheyenne comes from the word Shai-ena, meaning people with a foreign language. The language Cheyenne belongs to Algonquian, the same proto-language as Shawnee, Ojibwa and Blackfoot.

Within almost every Indian tribe, the people were divided into smaller tribes or clans, all with their specific duties and rights. In Cheyenne for example, the children always got the same clan as their father. Two people within the same clan could not get married, and this system kept the people from ever worrying about wedding between those who were close relatives. The first houses of the Cheyenne was small mud houses, but they were later replaced by the tipi, which I suppose were more practical to carry along at times when they had to move often.

The Cheyenne wore clothes in form of tanned leather, from all different kind of animals. Both men and women wore breech clothes with leggings tied to the belt and moccasins with different length depending on the season. In cold weather, they usually put a buffalo robe on.

Religion and ceremonies
It might be difficult for a "non-Indian" people to get a clear conception of what the reality of Indian belief is. What we are most familiar with, is the so-called "Indian lore", which is largely borrowed from European folklore and witchcraft, and does not have much to do with the "real" Indians.
     One has to be raised as a Cheyenne to really understand all ceremonies and the cosmology of the Cheyenne beliefs.
     Story telling was a common tradition among all native Americans, so also among the Cheyennes and the Haidas. Knowledge was passed on from one generation to another through the elders telling stories about creation, the animals in nature, fables, folktales and the spirits.
     The highest and most sacred of the Cheyenne spirits is Maheo, manifested in the Sun and the Moon and in the spirits of cardinal directions , who are in turn represented by such lesser manifestations as the rain spirit: Hoimaha and Nemevota. In addition to the classical stories about gods and their struggles and love affairs, Cheyenne stories deal with spiritual forces with humans. One special kind of spirit is the hematasooma, which is a soul-force. It inhabits the human body, and usually a human have four of this spirit; two good ones and two bad ones. The good forces sometimes struggle physically within the body against the bad forces. Each of these four spirits can whenever they want to leave the body for a while. If all four leave, a person dies, and the immortal soul, Seoto takes over.
     Most Indian groups had at least one shaman in each tribe. The shaman, or the medicine-man was one of the most important people in the tribe. The shaman could be either male or female. The shaman was the people's gate to the spirit world. He or she could among many other things heal those who got sick through indicated rituals of dance, chanting and sleight of hand. The shaman was the one to protect the village from evil spirits.
     The organisation and logistics of Indian ceremonies and rituals are often very complex. The Arrow Ceremony, which is unique to the Cheyenne, is one of the most important ones built around the four sacred arrows, which are called mahuts, once given to the Prophet Sweet Medicine. These arrows represent the nation, and the purpose of the ceremony is to purify the arrows and thence the nation so that they are worthy of receiving the blessings of Maheo during the Sun Dance. During the ceremony, the participants increase their control of energy; the whole tribe becomes renewed and prepared for the Sun Dance.
     The Sun Dance is unlike the Arrow Ceremony shared among nearly all Indian nations. There are three standard practices for the tribes that are celebrating the Sun Dance. They require the attendance of the whole tribe, they have a central arbor for the performance of the ceremony and they incorporate the dancing of painted, fasting supplicants. The Cheyennes do not call their ceremony a Sun Dance, except for when they are speaking to white people. They usually call it the New Life Lodge or Life Generator Lodge.

Cheyenne today
In 1970 there was about 10 000 cheyenns living in reservations. Most of the Cheyennes live in reservations, and most do not have a telephone. Poverty and unemployment are big problems here as well. There is a special authority dealing with these kinds of questions, but it is still an unfair system. Young people are offered education, but not at all on the same conditions as the white people.
     Everywhere in the United States and Canada, special "Indian Days" are arranged each year, partly because of the commercial interest, but also for the Indians' sake. The Indians themselves has also kept many of their traditions and ceremonies. The Cheyennes, for example still keep the four arrows and they are still doing the Sun Dance.

Written by Lena Larsson

© K. Malmborg