Kickapoo - Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Traditionally, the Kickapoo religion has been an intrinsic part of every facet of life. The religion is animistic and includes a belief in manitous or spirit messengers. The supreme deity is Kisiihiat, who created the world and lives in the sky. Kisiihiat is assisted by a pantheon of manitous, or manitooaki (plural), who are embodied in the earth, objects of nature, and natural forces, and who serve as spirit messengers. There is also a culture hero, Wisaaka, the son of Kisiihiat, who created the Indian world and taught the Kickapoo to build their houses, which are a vital element of the Kickapoo religion. Religious practice is organized around sacred bundles, misaami, for clans and herbal societies. The religion is protected and practiced almost fanatically among the Mexican Kickapoo, whereas the Kansas Kickapoo have been strongly affected by Christianity. Most Oklahoma Kickapoo practice the traditional religion, but some other Religions, such as the Native American church and Protestant denominations, have made some impact.
Religious Practitioners. Each bundle society and clan has a leader to perform the various rituals associated with its Respective sacred pack. Religious leaders have long years of training in order for them to attain the knowledge necessary to the performance of rituals, and they exercise considerable influence socially and politically.
Ceremonies. A highly ritualized cycle of ceremonies plays a part in maintaining the cultural integration of Kickapoo Society in Mexico and Oklahoma, but less so in Kansas. A display of lightning and thunder, usually in early February, signifies the beginning of the New Year and hence the cycle of ceremonies. Festivals include clan and bundle rituals as well as ceremonies and dances that encompass all village Members. Special ceremonial foods play a role in these feasts and are eaten with ceremonial ladles.
Arts. Dancing and singing are important to Kickapoo Ceremonial life as are the instruments of accompaniment such as drums, flutes, and rattles. Some dances and songs are owned by individuals and may be performed only at their invitation.
Medicine. Religious ritual and herbal treatments are combined in traditional medical practices. A wide variety of plants are used in curing rituals and may be conducted by clan leaders, members of bundle societies, and individuals. The Buffalo Dance and Woman's Dance are often associated with treatment of illness and infertility. Modern medicine is accepted by all three Kickapoo groups, sometimes in combination with traditional healing.
Death and Afterlife . Death is accepted with some equanimity and is surrounded with little display of emotion or prolonged mourning. The spirit will journey to a place in the West and reside there happily. There is some fear of the spirits of the dead, however, and children and surviving spouses are considered at risk. Burial takes place after an all-night wake during which chants and prayers are performed. Several times a year, clan members gather to "feed the ghosts" of deceased relatives in the belief that they, too, get hungry. Between four days and four years of death, a special friend of the same sex and approximate age will be adopted into the role of the deceased among his or her consanguineal kin.