Tlingit - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Early records suggest that the Tlingit believed in a creator, Kah-shu-goon-yah, whose name was sacred and never mentioned above a whisper. This primordial grandfather, or "divisible-rich-man," controlled the sun, moon, stars, and daylight in addition to creating all living things. Little more is known of him. The sacred past centers upon Raven (cultural hero, benefactor, trickster, and rascal) who was credited with organizing the world in its present form and in initiating many Tlingit customs. Raven was never represented, symbolized, or made equal with the supreme being who transcended Tlingit legends. The Tlingit inhabited a world filled with spirits, or jek. These spirits could manifest their power through individuals, animals, or things. Since every material object or physical force could be inhabited by a spirit, Tlingit were taught to respect everything in the universe. The penalty for disrespect was the loss of ability to obtain food. Properly purified persons could acquire spirit power for curing illnesses, for protection in warfare, for success in obtaining wealth, and for ceremonial prerogatives. Each Tlingit had a mortal and an immortal spirit.

Religious Practitioners. Two options open to youths were to seek good power and help the community or to seek evil power and threaten the community. Every Tlingit had a personal guardian spirit, or tu-kina-jek. Spirit doctors, or ichet, received more powerful spirits and therefore could treat the sick with herbs, discern the presence of evil, predict the future, and protect the community from evil forces. Witches, or nukw-sati, sought evil power and used it to harm others.

Ceremonies. Dancing societies never gained a major foothold in Tlingit society as they did in neighboring Northwest Coast tribes. The Tlingit sought their power primarily through their clan spirit doctor whom they trusted to help and not to harm them. Politicoreligious ceremonies called potlatches, or koolex, marked significant events in the life of the clan and its members. Sacred songs, dances, symbols, and stories accompanied all changes in social stature, political leadership, and ceremonial objects within the clan.

Arts. Carving of house posts, heraldic screens, chiefs' hats, chiefs' staffs, and weaving of Chilkat blankets were highly acclaimed. Wood-carvers, metalworkers, and blanket weavers continue to use their traditional clan symbols ( kotea ) to indicate ownership and identity.

Medicine. Every family possessed a basic knowledge of herbs and principles of hygiene and for the most part were medically self-sufficient. Occasionally, a spirit doctor, who possessed superior knowledge of herbal medicines and special spirit power, was called in for difficult cases after household remedies failed. Contemporary Tlingit do not hesitate to consult modern medical facilities when the need arises.

Death and Afterlife. Spirits of the dead traveled to the appropriate level of heaven commensurate with their moral conduct in this life. Morally respectable people went to the highest heaven, Kiwa-a, a realm of happiness; moral delinquents went to a second level, or Dog Heaven, Ketl-kiwa, a place of torment. Individuals remained in the afterworld for a period of time and then returned to this world as a reincarnation of some deceased maternal relative.

User Contributions:

1
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Apr 1, 2011 @ 4:16 pm
EXCELLENT ARTICLE. MOVING TO THE NW IN 1 YEAR. ADOPTED LAKOTA SO I WILL BE LOOKING SOMEONE TO HELP ME WITH THE GUIDENCE TO THE KLINGIT WAYS.
2
bam
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Dec 11, 2011 @ 8:08 am
tlingit eat what food? why don't u post about music or game ,custom,cloth,food?
3
alania
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Mar 22, 2012 @ 1:13 pm
What do most Tlingits do for fun like what kind of fun things do they do ?
4
Sadie
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Oct 17, 2012 @ 8:08 am
Thank You So Much For this!.. I am doing A report on this. Thank You So Much Again. THis helped me ALOT!. :)
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Riley
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Nov 6, 2012 @ 11:11 am
Thank you so much! I had to do a report on the Tlingit. It helped me get an A+
6
Gabe
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Nov 21, 2012 @ 10:22 pm
We eat hooligan oil, gink, herring eggs and lots of salmon. We love to enjoy our lands with activities like hunting, fishing and enjoying nature all together.
7
chuck
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Jul 29, 2013 @ 8:08 am
Is sweat a common practice and or what are the regular spiritual practices
8
Michelle
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Aug 27, 2013 @ 6:18 pm
What religion do they practice today? or do most still practice their traditional religion?
9
Gracie
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Jan 18, 2014 @ 10:10 am
I am doing a report on this sort of thing. This helped me out A TON!! thank you so much!!!
10
Kyanna
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Oct 23, 2014 @ 1:13 pm
Awesome article I had to do a report on the Tlingit Indians and this site helped me a lot...THANKS SOOO MUCH
11
pop
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Oct 28, 2014 @ 12:12 pm
Hi. This really helped me on an assignment I have to do in class. Thank you!
12
pop
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Oct 29, 2014 @ 11:11 am
I am here again today. I love this website. you should try it.
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carlos
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Feb 25, 2015 @ 12:12 pm
This is reallly dope because we are doing a presentation on this and it helps alot, a
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Percy Jackson
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Sep 2, 2015 @ 5:17 pm
this website helped me a lot and I recommend it to other people
15
Cooldude
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Sep 22, 2015 @ 10:10 am
There were over 200 North American tribes speaking over 200 different languages. The United States used the uniqueness of the Navajo language to its advantage in World War II. Rather than encrypting radio messages, it proved simpler to use Navajos to speak to each other in their everyday language to convey high-security messages. It worked.
16
Rose Stecher
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Sep 26, 2015 @ 4:16 pm
I need to make a presentation on the Tlingit Social Organizations, what I would like to know is"what all did the Tlingit do in their ways of Sccial Organizations?" Please help me. Thank you
17
kaya catron
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Sep 27, 2015 @ 12:12 pm
What is the climate, landform,and the cultural tradition?
18
Mya
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Oct 15, 2015 @ 10:10 am
awesome information im doing a project on it in school
19
Sage
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Oct 25, 2015 @ 4:16 pm
That was a great article it is very helpful for my social studies report
20
Roger
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Jan 19, 2016 @ 6:18 pm
Thanks for the help i needed this site for a research paper 5 star site
21
Claire
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May 9, 2016 @ 10:10 am
I have seen a large heavy Tlingit bear mask.
How would the Shamen attach it to his face?
22
Ian
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Dec 15, 2016 @ 6:06 am
This got me an A on the last day of my report. THANK YOU SO MUCH!
23
Alexia
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Feb 8, 2017 @ 9:21 pm
Thank you so much for this. I am doing a report for school and this helped me a lot!

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