Jicarilla - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The Jicarilla held that a strong tie existed between themselves and the land because all natural objects and all living things were representations of the power of their chief deity, Hascin. Hascin was believed to have been born of the union of Black Sky and Earth Mother, two supernaturals who lived in the inner womb of the earth and who had existed since the beginning of time. In Jicarilla mythology Hascin was responsible for the creation of Ancestral Man and Ancestral Woman and also for the creation of the animals and the sun and moon. Sun and Moon were considered important supernaturals. According to their mythology the Jicarilla were the sole descendants of the first people to emerge from the underworld, the abode of Ancestral Man and Ancestral Woman who produced the first people. Animals were revered and entreated by the Jicarilla with special ceremonies prior to hunting because it was believed they were descended from the first animals who had used their powers to facilitate the emergence of the first people from the underworld. In the 1970s approximately 70 percent of Jicarillas continued to hold to their traditional religious beliefs.

Religious Practitioners. The Jicarilla believed that at birth a child might receive a special power from an animal, a celestial body, or some natural phenomenon. In later years this power would appear to the select individual who then had to decide whether to accept the power and become a shaman. If the person accepted it, he or she underwent a test of courage and then a period of training under the guidance of an experienced shaman during which prayers, songs, and Rituals were learned. The shaman's power could be either good or evil and was believed to be a finite resource, the effectiveness of which diminished with too frequent use.

Ceremonies. Jicarilla religious ceremonies were of two types, personal or shamanistic ceremonies and long-life Ceremonies. Shamanistic ceremonies included curing and divining rituals that required the shaman's special power. Long-life ceremonies did not require such special personal power. One of the most important long-life ceremonies was the annual autumn Relay Race that pitted the young men of the Ollero and Llanero bands against one another. The purpose of the race was to ensure an abundant food supply during the coming year. Participants were painted and decorated with feathers and yucca leaves according to their band affiliation and raced on an east-west-oriented course. If the Olleros won the race, it was believed that plant foods would be abundant; if the Llaneros, animal foods. In the 1930s long-life ceremonies enjoyed much popularity among the Jicarilla, and in the 1970s the Relay Race was still active and supported by the Tribal council.

Arts. Ground drawings were an integral part of the Relay Race ceremony. On the evening preceding the race each band selected a leader who, with his assistants,"painted" colorful drawings in the ground with pollen and colored materials. The drawings usually included the images of the sun and moon and two fast birds. The evening also included a good deal of singing, with the bands competing with one another and singing songs to the race participants.

Medicine. The Jicarilla attributed a variety of sicknesses and ailments afflicting children to contact with birds and other animals. For example, the shadow of a turkey vulture flying overhead could make a child sick and die. Contact with eagles or the tracks of snakes and bears could give a child rheumatism. Contact with menstrual blood could also cause rheumatism. Some sicknesses were believed to be caused by ghosts. Ghost sickness was marked by nervousness, hysteria, and derangement. Curing ceremonies were of both the shamanistic and the long-life type. One of the most Important long-life ceremonies, the Holiness Rite, was a curing ceremony. Held three days prior to the appearance of a full moon, this ceremony was conducted inside a tipi within a brush enclosure. Patients were confined to the tipi and were the object of extended periods of singing by shamans for three successive nights. On the fourth night sacred clowns entered the tipi and participated in the cure with special prayers. On the morning of the fifth day the patients and participants received a blessing within the tipi and then exited the tipi and the brush enclosure to the east where they "deposited" their ailments on a tree especially prepared by a medicine man. At the conclusion of the ceremony all returned to the brush enclosure without looking back and had their faces painted by a shaman.

Death and Afterlife. The Jicarilla believed that in the process of dying an individual's ghost or spirit was conducted northward to the edge of the earth where it was offered fruit. If the ghost refused the offer, it returned to its physical body and life, but if it accepted, it slid down into the afterworld and death occurred. Upon death close relatives of the deceased went into mourning and one or two relatives prepared the corpse. Burial took place during the daytime as soon after death as possible. Some personal possessions were buried with the deceased, and the person's horse was killed at grave side. The burial party returned from the grave site by a route different from that by which it had come, being careful not to look back and refraining from discussing the location of the grave with others when they returned. The burial party then discarded their clothes and washed themselves thoroughly. These elaborate precautions by the burial party were followed in order to avoid the vengeful, evil nature of the ghost of the deceased. The Jicarilla believed that the evil of ghosts was the result of the accumulation of its frustrations, conflicts, and disappointments while living and that ghosts could return to the living to avenge some past injury. Ghosts were believed to visit the living in the form of coyotes, which were considered an omen of one's own death or the death of a close relative.


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