Mandan - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Aboriginal Mandan religion centered around a belief in supernatural powers that were shared by all living things. Sacred bundles represented some of the powers that could be obtained through participation in ceremonies. In the mid-1800s Father DeSmet, a Catholic priest, made regular visits to Like-a-Fishhook Village where he taught Christianity and baptized children. In 1876, a Congregational missionary established a permanent mission and school that attracted a number of converts. Today, Mandan participate in both Indian and non-Indian religions. The Mandan believed in First Creator who contested with Lone Man to make the region around the Missouri River. Lone Man traveled around, making tobacco and people and precipitating events that resulted in ceremonies. Other people came from above and below bringing other supernatural beings and ceremonies with them. Of these other sacred beings, Old Woman Who Never Dies, the Sun, the Moon, Black Medicine, and Sweet Medicine were most important.

Religious Practitioners. Ownership of sacred bundles, acquired either through a vision or by ceremonial purchase, committed individuals to act as priests during ceremonies and sometimes provided instructions for curing.

Ceremonies. Mandan life was filled with private and public rituals. The principal public ceremonies were held to make the crops grow, to bring buffalo to the village, to ensure success in warfare, and to cure. The Okipa, held in summer, was a four-day event dramatizing the creation of the earth and promoting general well-being and buffalo fertility.

Medicine. The Mandan distinguished between illness from natural causes and ill health brought about by breaking a supernatural instruction. In cases of supernaturally caused illness, a bundle owner was called in to diagnose the cause and prescribe treatment. The bundle owner would pray and give herbal medicines to the patient. Today, people may seek a traditional healer for some health problems, but most go to the Indian Health Clinic or to one of the physicians living on or near the reservation.

Death and Afterlife. Although death was caused by not following tribal customs, it was considered normal because Lone Man decreed that people would die. People had four souls: two went to the spirit world and two stayed on earth. Funerals were conducted by the father's clan. Burial was Usually on a scaffold in a cemetery near the village.

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