Pawnee - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Pawnee had a highly integrated System of religious beliefs that resisted European missionization until well into the nineteenth century. In this system of beliefs all life was understood to have derived from the meeting of male (east) and female (west) forces in the sky. The supernatural power at the zenith of the sky where these forces met was known as Tirawa. Tirawa produced the world through a series of violent storms and created star gods, who in turn created humanity. In 1891, along with other Plains Indian groups, the Pawnee participated in the Ghost Dance, a revitalization movement envisioning the return of the dead from the spirit world and the disappearance of the White man from the land. The two most prominent star powers were the Evening Star, the goddess of darkness and fertility who lived in the western sky, and Morning Star, the god of fire and light who was located in the eastern sky. Next in rank to Tirawa, Evening Star and Morning Star were the gods of the four world quarters in the northeast, southeast, northwest, and southwest who supported the heavens.

Religious Practitioners. Pawnee religious specialists consisted of a group of wise men who derived their power and authority from a star planet and held their position as a matter of heredity. They were understood to stand between normal men and Tirawa and supervised a yearly round of religious ceremonies conducted to bring success in farming, hunting, and warfare.

Ceremonies. The foci of Pawnee religious ceremonies were sacred bundles of religious objects believed to have been passed down a line of ancestors. Each village had its own sacred bundle with which its members identified strongly, and each sacred bundle was a medium through which the people communicated with Tirawa. The annual ceremonial cycle began with the first thunder in the spring and concluded with the harvest of maize in the autumn. The climax of the cycle was the sacrifice of a young woman to the Morning Star at the time of the summer solstice in order to ensure prosperity and long life. The sacrifice to the Morning Star persisted until about 1838. Another important ceremonial event concerned preparations for the buffalo hunt. The ceremony began with fasting, prayer, and sacrifice by the priests, followed by a public ritual in which the priests appealed to Tirawa for aid. The ritual concluded with three days of uninterrupted dancing. Arts. Pawnee music was simple in its melody and rhythm and was an important part of Pawnee ceremonial activities. At the time of the Ghost Dance songs secured in dreams or visions emphasized memories of former days, reunion with the dead, and other aspects of the Ghost Dance revitalization movement.

Medicine. The Pawnee recognized witchcraft and, ultimately, anger and hostility to be major causes of disease. Pawnee religious specialists also included shamans who cured the sick through powers believed to have been acquired from animal spirits. Shamans were organized into societies with specific rituals performed twice each year in order to perpetuate and renew their powers.

Death and Afterlife. As with disease, death was believed to sometimes be the result of hostility and witchcraft. Burial preparations varied according to the rank and position of the deceased. Individuals of importance and those who died in extreme old age were painted with a sacred red ointment, dressed in their best costumes, and wrapped in a bison robe before burial. It was believed that after death the soul of the deceased ascended to heaven to become a star or, in the case of those who were diseased or died in a cowardly manner in battle, traveled to a village of spirits in the south.

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Oct 8, 2011 @ 7:19 pm
this article was very useful. it really helped me on my school newspaper on the pawnee indians:)
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Oct 10, 2011 @ 11:23 pm
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Oct 13, 2011 @ 3:03 am
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Feb 11, 2012 @ 11:11 am
Thank you so much. i had to do a project and this helped so much
Carrot top
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Feb 28, 2012 @ 5:17 pm
This article was so helpful when writing a reasearch report on the Pawnee.
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Aug 24, 2012 @ 7:07 am
very good! thank you for helping me with my project about the pawnee indians :)
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Sep 15, 2012 @ 4:16 pm
Although I found this article fairly informative. As a person of NDN heritage of both US & CAN, there a couple inaccuracies, that I think should be pointed out. The first being, that for First Nations (Indigenous PPL of Canada) and for US NDN (native american/Indian) PPL, the word "Shaman/Shamen" is very Inaccurate, when describing the Holy PPL and or the Medicine PPL of the our Nations. Shaman is a term that originated outside of the US and Canada, and Shamanism is no way similar to the ways of the Natives ppl of the Pawnee or any other Ndn Nation of US or Canada. I don't speak for any nation in particular, I only tell you what I've come to be educated about thru family and friends of Nations of the US and Canada.

The use of the "costumes" when describing the "clothing that is ceremonial, whether this be for Powwow, Dance, Marraige, Death, etc...these clothings are referred to as "Regalia" or in more relaxed terms as "Outfits"...but never as costumes. A costume is something that ppl where for "fun" for pretend, to the Native PPls, their Regalia may take years to create, many do all the work by themselves, or thru sometimes help from family members...there is usually prayers involved in the making of each piece. Much thought and emotion goes into the regalia's total "look" and affect. And each person, a has their individual beliefs, and tribal beliefs, customs and symbols, attached in some manner to their regalia. If one understands what a tribe's symbols many times, they will understand the purpose of the regalia by "reading the outfit" I said, I'm no one of any nation..I just felt corrections to this information should be stated.
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Sep 23, 2012 @ 9:09 am
this is helpful for my 5th grade book report i got assigned pawnee thank you technolgy
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Oct 5, 2012 @ 1:13 pm
Helped me with my indian report, on the pawnee indians, thank you very much :D
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Dec 17, 2012 @ 8:20 pm
I'm a Pawnee searching for answers to hiding mysteries in Pawnee college. As an outside source, this was very well done and did state things that even my people hadn't taught me. Arora's comment is a little sketchy but will do I guess. Well done all around for picturing the Pawnee as we truly were and are and will soon be again.

Silver Wolf
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Oct 10, 2013 @ 12:12 pm
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Oct 28, 2013 @ 7:19 pm
I liked the article, and it was very useful. Even though I did get a lot out of it, this article sadly did not answer my main question, "Do the Pawnee indians wear different clothes for certain ceremonies?". I would not recommend this website to anyone seeking information on social studies. I am sorry to say, I would rate this app two out of five stars, and will not be using this website anymore.
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Jan 24, 2014 @ 11:11 am
Im looking for more pawnee heritage, can anyone help me with more email is thanks:)
hayley jene' colt harness
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Nov 22, 2014 @ 2:14 pm
This is very helpful it helped me with an essay. I highly recomend it
John hill
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Oct 1, 2015 @ 12:12 pm
I love this site it was very helpful for my social studies class
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Oct 21, 2015 @ 12:12 pm
Thank you so much i had a project to research on about these Indians and this helped me with their religious beliefs
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Jan 18, 2016 @ 8:20 pm
This website is awesome it helped me understand the Pawnee culture better
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Mar 31, 2016 @ 2:14 pm
this article is very helpful very descriptive 5 star rating
Dusty Roads
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Sep 28, 2016 @ 1:13 pm
This was very useful for my research paper in U.S. History. Thanks
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Jan 15, 2019 @ 12:12 pm
this website is one of the best websites for students like myself to be doing a resurch project.
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Jan 24, 2019 @ 1:13 pm
am searching for information on Pawnee ceremonial shovel, how it was used and for what ceremony
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Oct 2, 2019 @ 1:13 pm
Pawnees dressed similar to other plains tribes; however, the Pawnees had a special way of preparing the scalp lock by dressing it with buffalo fat until it stood erect and curved backward like a horn.

After encroachment by white settlers, the Pawnees ceded their territory to the U.S. Government in the 1800s and were removed from Nebraska to what is now Pawnee County in 1875. The Pawnee Indian Agency and an Indian boarding school named the Pawnee Industrial School were established just east of the present site of the City of Pawnee. The school, affectionately known as “Gravy U”, was closed in 1958 and the land was returned to the Pawnee Nation in 1968. Many of the former Industrial School buildings now serve as Tribal offices and as a home for the Pawnee Nation College. The area is on the National Register as a Historic District.

In support of American’s freedoms, the Pawnees have served in all military conflicts to date beginning with the Pawnee Scouts that served during the Indian wars. A ceremony was held on Oct. 15, 2011 to honor the decision of the Bravo/Pawnee Company 486th Civil Affairs BN of the U.S. Army to alter their name to reflect this distinguished Pawnee tradition.

Today, the number of Tribal enrolled members is over 3,200 and Pawnees can be found in all areas of the United States as well as foreign countries within many walks of life. Pawnees take much pride in their ancestral heritage. They are noted in history for their tribal religion rich in myth, symbolism and elaborate rites.

The Pawnee Nation supports many other activities including honor dances, Native American Church meetings, hand games and sporting events. The Pawnee Indian Veterans also host a Memorial Day Dance, a Veterans Day Dance and a Christmas Day Dance. The Pawnee Indian Veterans Homecoming and Powwow occurs the weekend that falls closest to the 4th of July.
wolfy demon
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Jan 20, 2020 @ 3:15 pm
it helped a lot because I have a report to do on the pawnee indians

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