Shawnee Spirituality

Shawnee Spirituality

The Shawnee, whose name means “Southerners”, once occupied a vast region west of the Cumberland mountains of the Appalachian chain in what is now part of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. Like the other Algonquian-speaking tribes of the western part of the Northeast Woodlands Culture Area, the Shawnee had a traditional economy based on farming (corn, beans, and squash), hunting, and gathering wild plants.

As was common among hunting tribes, spirituality was an important part of hunting. In his book The Shawnees and the War for America, Colin Calloway writes:  “In the Shawnee world, humans and animals communicated, hunters dreamed the whereabouts of their prey and offered prayers to the spirits of the animals that gave their bodies so that the people might live.”

In order to maintain the harmony between humans and the animal people, and between humans and the plant people, it was necessary to conduct certain rituals to keep the world in balance.

Among many of the woodlands tribes sacred medicine bundles were important. The Shawnee at one time had a sacred bundle – mishaami – for each of the five divisions of the tribe. The Shawnee were a confederacy of five political units: Chillicothe (Chalahgawtha), Hathawekela (also spelled as Thawekila or Thawegila), Kispoko (Kispokotha), Mequachake (Mekoche or Maykujay), and Piqua (Pekowi). The bundles contained not only items which were sacred, but also included ritual concepts and songs.

The Shawnee were originally given their bundles by Our Grandmother at the time of creation. Since that time, items have been added to the bundles. According to James Howard, in his book Shawnee! The Ceremonialism of a Native American Tribe and its Cultural Background:  “Each of the sacred bundles is assigned to the care of a designated custodian, who is always a man, and a person of high moral character.”

The bundle was traditionally kept in a structure which was separate from the keeper’s home. James Howard also writes:  “The bundles are treated much as human beings, and it is believed that they may become cramped from resting too much in one position.”  Therefore, the position of the bundles is regularly shifted.

The Dakwanekawe or Bread Dance was an important Shawnee ceremony which was traditionally held in the spring and in the fall. The ceremony was given to the Shawnee by Our Grandmother who sometimes appeared on earth to observe the ceremony and to participate in the singing. In the spring, the role of women in the ceremony was predominant and this ceremony asked for fertility and good crops. In the fall, the men led the dancing and their role as hunters was emphasized. The spring dance asked for an abundant harvest while the fall dance expressed thanksgiving and asked for abundant game.

The Green Corn Dance was held in August and marked the first corn harvest. Charles Callender, in his chapter on the Shawnee in the Handbook of North American Indians reports:  “On this occasion persons were absolved of misconduct, and all injuries except murder were forgiven.”  The Green Corn Dance lasted from 4 to 12 days.

The Buffalo Dance was generally held in late August or early September. The dance was originally given to Tecumseh by the Buffalo, his guardian spirit. Two kettles of corn mush were prepared for the dance as this dish was favored by the buffalo. The ceremony included body painting and eight sets of dances which were performed by men and women. The final element of the dance was a mock battle for the corn mush, which was then eaten. Social dances often followed the ceremony.

The Buffalo Dance was conducted outside of the ceremonial grounds used for other ceremonies because it did not come from Our Grandmother.

Among the Shawnee, funeral rites usually lasted four days. The body was buried on its back in an extended position with the head toward the west. Prior to burial, friends and relatives would dress and paint the body. Before the grave was filled, friends and relatives would sprinkle small amounts of tobacco over the body and ask the soul not to look back or to think about those remaining behind.

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Genealogy: Indian Tribes of North America Shawnee Indians

https://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/shawnee-indians.htm

 Shawnee Indians

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Updated: October 18, 2013

Shawnee Tribe: Meaning “southerners,” the best-known variants of the name being the French form Chaouanons, and that which appears in the name of Savannah River. Also called:

  • Ani’-Sawǎnu’gǐ, by the Cherokee.
  • Ontwagana, “one who stutters,” “one whose speech is unintelligible,” applied by the Iroquois to this tribe and many others.
  • Oshawanoag, by the Ottawa.
  • Shawala, by the’ Teton Dakota.

The Shawnee belonged to the Algonquian linguistic stock, their closest relatives being the Fox, Sauk, and Kickapoo.

There was scarcely a tribe that divided so often or moved so much as the Shawnee, but one of the earliest historic seats of the people as a whole was on Cumberland River. (See also Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland and the District of Columbia, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia.)

Connection in which the Shawnee have become noted: Although prominent by virtue of its size, the Shawnee tribe is noteworthy rather on account of numerous migrations undertaken by its various branches and the number of contacts established by them, involving the history of three-quarters of our southern and eastern States. They constituted the most formidable opposition to the advance of settlements through the Ohio Valley, and under Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa attempted an extensive alliance of native tribes to oppose the Whites. The name Shawnee is preserved in various forms in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Kansas, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois, and most conspicuously of all, perhaps, in the name of the river Savannah and the city of Savannah, Georgia. There are places called Shawnee in Park County, Colorado; Johnson County, Kansas; Perry County, Ohio; Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma; and Converse County, Wyoming; Shawnee-on-Delaware in Monroe County, Pennsylvania; Shawanee in Claiborne County, Tennessee; Shawanese in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania; Shawano in Shawano County, Wisconsin; Shawneetown in Gallatin County, Illinois, and Cape Girardeau County, Missouri.

Read more of Shawnee Indian Genealogy at https://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/shawnee-indians.htm

Visit the official website of the Piqua Shawnee at  www.piquashawnee.com

Native American Chiefs & Leaders Series: Tecumseh

Native American Chiefs & Leaders Series: Tecumseh

“A single twig breaks, but the bundle of twigs is strong.”

These are words spoken by Chief Tecumseh, a Shawnee warrior who was a great orator and a fine leader. Tecumseh had the ability to bring tribes together and the ability to create respect among his contemporaries, Native American and white as well as ally and foe. Tecumseh’s words were revered as being honest and from his heart, yet tempered with sometimes biting honesty at the way he believed circumstances should be and the way they were.

Chiefs-Tecumseh-1

Tecumseh

It is the “single twig” quote that I find so very valuable because it rings just as true today as it did in the early 1800s. Tecumseh realized that the numerous Native American tribes in and around the Ohio River valley were much stronger as a united “bundle of twigs” against the American militia of the time. He understood that most anything is stronger and able to withstand external pressure when reinforced with other allies that share similar values and beliefs.

Tecumseh experienced a lifetime of strife as the edge of the United States kept expanding into what had been Native American lands. His father was killed in a battle in West Virginia with state militia as they pushed west, and Tecumseh himself had to move several times while growing up as their settlements pushed them further and further west.

During the War of 1812, Tecumseh felt he would be better served to assist the British in their fight against the U.S. (To this point, my own great, great grandfather also fought against the U.S. in this same war.)  Tecumseh believed the U.S. would never honor a treaty and that it was not possible for a treaty – words on paper – to keep the whites from encroaching on and stealing their lands whenever they saw fit.

To this end, Tecumseh stood for the principle of doing what was right:  fighting to protect the U.S. from continuing to take Native American lands while violently killing their previous inhabitants or simply forcing them farther and farther westward. Tecumseh used his oratory skills to successfully unite many tribes against the U.S. He continued speaking out against the way tribes were treated by the U.S. until his death at the 1813 Battle of the Thames in Canada (during the war).

Chiefs-Tecumseh-2

While Tecumseh was as much a human being as any one of us, he possessed a very special talent for speaking about matters in a way that transcended ethnicity or alliances and simply reverberated as human.

Tecumseh’s main legend was that by coming together, uniting for a noble and just cause, you can accomplish so much more, and be stronger, and able to withstand much more as a collective than as a singular person or entity… That when you come together “as a bundle of twigs” you are strengthened not just in physical fortitude but also in spirit… That you become the sum of your parts.

Applying Tecumseh’s viewpoint and way of life today, we can all look for opportunities to unite and work together, to see and use the best in all of us for the greater good, in business and in life.