Walapai - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Walapai, like other Yuman groups, do not have an elaborate cosmology or a complex ritual cycle. Spirits to which shamans attach themselves are associated with particular locations within aboriginal Walapai territory. In the twentieth century, they have been subjected to repeated missionary activity, but the Baptists, Mormons, and the revivalist Four Square Gospel mission have met with little success on the reservation. Much of the traditional religious activity, continuing well into the present century, centers around the shaman.

Religious Practitioners and Medicine. A deceased relative's spirit alerts a prospective shaman to his specialty through a series of dreams. Then, during a solitary visit to a mountain, the individual acquires the necessary power from the spirits through additional dream sequences. Thus prepared, the shaman may operate in the realm of curative Medicine. Treatment of diseases and snakebites consists of singing over the patient and sucking the wounds. The specialist may then produce a small object from the wound, believed to be the locus of the malignant spirit. By extracting the offending object, the shaman returns the evil spirit to its mountain. It is reported historically that the shaman was liable to be killed by the relatives of a deceased patient or rewarded with buckskins if the patient recovered.

Ceremonies. The individualistic character of the shaman complex gives rise to few groupwide ceremonial occasions among the Walapai. Girls pass through a brief puberty Ceremonial following their initial menses, but, historically, Marriage was not marked by formai rites.

Arts. Facial painting and shell neck pendants were, historically, important modes of personal decoration and expression. The shells, obtained in trade from Yumans along the Colorado River, functioned as charms or amulets, guarding the wearer against disease.

Death and Afterlife. Traditionally, Walapai dead were cremated along with their material possessions. The souls of the good people departed for the ancestral land on the bank of the Colorado River to the accompaniment of ceremonial crying by living relatives and friends. Late in the nineteenth century, U.S. soldiers attempted to enforce Christian burial practices, and many Walapai partially acquiesced, interring the dead in rock slides and cairns. The mourning ceremony, an elaborate ritual among the Colorado River Yumans, persists in attenuated form among the Walapai.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: