Hidatsa - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Traditionally, the Hidatsa believed in a pervasive supernatural force that existed in all animate and inanimate objects. Through vision experiences, fasting, and self-torture, this power could be harnessed by individuals. Personal and tribal medicine bundles were the repositories and symbolic expressions of the Hidatsa spiritual world. This power could be used for good or evil, and successful hunting, war exploits, and healing were defined in terms of strong medicine or power. The Hidatsa supernatural world consisted of a vast array of human personifications, spirits, game keepers, and inanimate forces. Three important culture heroes in Hidatsa origin traditions are Charred Body (founder of the Awatixa Hidatsa), First Creator, and Only Man (both of whom created the earth in Awaxawi tradition). The Awatixa are believed to have descended from the sky, led by Charred Body, whereas the Awaxawi are believed to have emerged from the underground after the earth was created.

Religious Practitioners. Religious and medical practitioners were those men and women who held special medicine bundles and associated songs and rites. Many of these bundles dealt with specialties such as buffalo calling, healing of wounds, or child birth. "Priests" were those influential older men who held the important clan and tribal bundles, which gave them control of major mythological and ceremonial knowledge. They were charged with maintaining harmony Between the tribe and the array of supernatural forces and spirits. Since the reservation era, many Hidatsas have converted to various denominations of Christianity, and some have retained portions of the aboriginal religion.

Ceremonies. Major ceremonies included the Naxpike or the Hidatsa variant of the Sun Dance, the Big Bird rainmaking ceremony, and the Red Stick buffalo-calling ceremony.

Medicine. Traditional Hidatsa medicine was a blend of practical knowledge in treating ailments and injuries like frostbite, wounds, snow blindness, and broken bones and Supernatural intervention through shamanistic healing. Hidatsa doctors were paid for their skills, and the healing process was accompanied by sacred songs, symbolic healing, and sweatbaths. Modern medical etiology and practice now dominate among the Three Affiliated Tribes, although traditional practices such as the use of the sweatlodge and its associated ritual are still followed.

Death and Afterlife. Traditionally, at the death of an Individual, the father's clan was responsible for making funeral arrangements. Forms of disposition included scaffolds, interment, and placing the deceased in trees or under rock overhangs. Concepts of the afterlife varied, although generally it mirrored earthly existence. Murderers were excluded from the villages of the dead and were believed to become aimless wanderers, an eternal banishment. Some Hidatsa (the Awatixa) believed that at death one returned to the sky, the origin place of the culture hero Charred Body. Others, like the Awaxawi, believed that they would return to their traditional homeland on Knife River or to their mythical homeland near Devils Lake. In general, death was attributed to supernatural causes and related violations of ritual prescriptions.


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