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In every religious group, each has its own belief of God’s existence and death. Each also has its own tradition or practices that reflect the group’s beliefs. Such tradition and practices make every group unique from one another because it also reflects their roots, historical origin, and way of life. One of the unique groups that have long been in existence is the Apache Indian Tribe. They also have their own exceptional belief and practices about God and death.
Brief Background of the Apache Indian Tribe
As early as Spanish exploration, the Apache Indian tribes have already existed in some lands of the United States. From 1200 to 1500, the Apache tribes, who originated from the Atabaskan family of Canada, started to occupy the plains in Southwest and Northern Mexico and extended towards northern Arizona (Hoxie, 1996). The Apache tribe was divided into six different tribes speaking in their own dialect namely; “Western Apaches, Chiricahuas, Mescaleros, Jicarilla, Lipan, and Kiowa” (Hoxie, 1996, p.
27). The word Apache was coined by the Zuni which means “enemy,” but the Apache call themselves as Tinneh which means “the people” (Waldman, 2008). Each tribe is ruled by a captain or chief who usually wears an eagle’s feathers a sign of justice, wisdom, and power. Usually, the tribe is engaged in agricultural activities, hunting, and raining other tribes (Geroni & Barett, 2007). Religious Beliefs and Practices of the Apaches The Apaches also have spiritual leaders called shaman (Hoxie, 1996).
Traditionally, the religion of Apache tribe is focused on “curing, puberty ceremonies, hunting and agricultural rituals, personal power and protection, and guidance for a moral life” (Hoxie, 1996, p. 28). The shaman is referred to as medicine men or medicine women having special gifts and access to special power (Hoxie, 1996). Furthermore, the shaman is tasked to head the rituals and ceremonies. Having recognized the spiritual dimension of life, the Apache call their God as Usen, implying the attributes of a deity held in their primitive religion (Geroni & Barett, 2007).
Usen is also regarded as the “Giver of Life” (Waldman, 2008). Aside from Usen, Apache tribes also believe in the gaan. The gaan refers to the mountain spirits who are usually represented during healing and ceremony religious ceremonies (Waldman, 2008). Hence, their religious belief is polytheistic as they put their faith in two kinds of supernatural beings. Among the Apache tribes, Usen is benevolent because they believe that Usen was the one who gave them the knowledge in making herbs or medicine, as well as their skills in hunting and fighting.
In addition, the Apaches also believe that Usen provided for their homes in the west (Genomi and Barett, 2007). They also practice ceremonies and rituals in worshipping before their god and the mountain spirits. The usual way of worship and prayer is dancing. There are dances performed for different kinds of occasions for a particular prayer. For instance, they call Usen during important ceremonies like rain dance and crop dance. They dance to communicate with Usen for rain and for a fruitful crop.
On the other hand, gaan is highlighted during puberty and curing ceremonies which are marked by dancers wearing mask. The first ceremony is also referred to as formal while the latter regarded as informal. Like any other tribe, the Apaches believe that life is not permanent. Death is a natural phenomenon. Among Apaches, human soul consists of two parts. One is associated with the air or breath that gives life upon birth, while the other is the evil that is regarded as threatening to family of the dead person (Crawford & Kelly, 2005).
The first soul is believed to exit the sole of the foot upon death and journeys to the land of the dead, while the other is believed to linger in the body or place of death that can possibly hurt or take away lives of his relatives (Crawford & Kelly, 2005). Hence, the death rituals are focused on ways to avoid danger posed by the soul and to assist the soul in its journey to the land of the dead. Among Apaches, ghost is also an important element that is avoided during burials. As a result, the Apaches swiftly bury the dead. The house and possessions of the dead are also burned to prevent the evil from hurting others.
The family, on the other hand, purify themselves by wearing old things to cover and warm them. They are also moved to another house to escape the dead relative’s ghost. Interestingly, some members of the family have their hair cut. Other rituals include wailing by women and crying by men. However, the Apaches discourage open crying when mourning as it is believed to make ghosts appear. Furthermore, the Apaches accept death in a positive way because they believe that their departed loved ones have reunited with their ancestors and their deity. Conclusion
The existence of the Apache Indian tribe in history is considered as remarkable. Aside from having established their roots before the declaration of independence, they also contributed to the cultural growth of the place where they lived. The Apache tribe also lived like any other community with their unique culture, traditions, and religion. Interestingly, they believe in the existence of the Supreme Being through Usen despite being educated by religious organizations. Furthermore, they also believe in life after death as they prepare rituals necessary in helping the soul reunite with the Creator.
Crawford, S. Z. & Kelley, D. F. (2005). American Indian Religious Traditions: An Encyclopedia. Oxford: ABC-CLIO. Geroni & Barrett, S. (2007). Geronimo’s Story of His Life. Boston: Cosimo, Inc. Hoxie, F. E. (1996). Encyclopedia of North American Indians: Native American History, Culture, and Life from Paleo-Indians to the Present. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Waldman, C. (2008). Apache. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 23, 2009 from http://encarta. msn. com/text_761552000___0/Apache. html.