Native Americans (American Indians) Spirituality (Religion) Research Paper Examples
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Native Americans are composed of different communities who are believed to be the ancient settlers of the land. Just like many other indigenous communities, religion was an important aspect of their day to day life. The practice of religion was a cultural religion that brought people together as well as connecting them to a supernatural being. The belief in a supernatural being during those early years was more important compared to the present years. Religion was at the center and heart of every community. During those years, there were no scientific or technological developments that enable people to verify and even research on almost everything. This hence means that the Native Americans relied on religion for their health, safety and even livelihood. The aspect of religion has so far been diluted and manipulated by people who feel they have more options for their livelihood.
It is difficult to tress and to evaluate the ancient religious practices of the Native Americans. This is due to the fact that there were no avenues that enabled the people to record and keep track of their religious practices. The practices were passed on to subsequent generations through the word of mouth and practical lesson. Furthermore there were so many communities, each with their own set of beliefs and religious practices. However, over the years, archeological studies have been able to reveal some aspects of religious practices that were adopted by the Native Americans. Even though there was a belief in the existence of a supernatural being, they had physical points of contacts that they associated with their practices. Among the objects that were regarded in high esteem and used for worship and religious practices include tress, rivers, mountains, rocks, old men and women, certain animals and even departed souls (Dongoske, Aldenderfer& Doehner, 2000).. There was no formal way through which religion was practiced, but they had rituals which they performed during specific occasions and events.
Early Native Americans did not have a specific way through which they could track days, but could read seasons basing on the changing climatic conditions. Worship to them was hence not based on a specific day but a daily practice, depending on their needs and the season they are going through. Religious rituals were commonly during certain events and occasions like births, deaths, rains droughts and the likes. There were also rituals done when something strange happens like an outbreak of disease, frequent deaths in the family or community and various tragedies befalling the community. There was a strong belief in the departed souls many who acted as their ancestors and hence objects of worship (Johnstone, 2004). The legacy of the dead did not just end when they were buried were considered as some sorts of saints who would intervene in their situations whenever they were in trouble. It was believed that the dead connected with supernatural beings and hence acted as mediators between them and their gods. It was easier to contact the gods by praying to the ancestors who empathized more with their issues.
Native Americans had religious leaders, who were mostly older members of the community. They were respected because of their experience and wisdom in handling situations around them. Religious leaders were referred to by specific names depending on the ethnic tribe and the positions they held in the society. There were several religious leaders, each responsible for specific ritual and happenings (Mihesuah, 2000). For instance there were religious leaders experienced in matters concerning children, women, births, deaths, food, protection rain and the likes. This implies that whenever there were abnormal deaths in a community or a family, they were consulted for advice and even prayers. Similarly, issues that concerned women, such as reproductive health were handled by a specific religious leader of the same gender. Medicine men and women were also part of religious leaders who were consulted whenever there was a disease. They would use concoctions made from roots, leaves and plants top treat specific diseases.
Religious leaders were held in high esteem as they acted as intermediaries between the people and the specific gods. They were honored by the people who had the responsibility of ensuring that they were well taken care of. Their religious responsibilities did not allow them to participate in economic activities. It was the responsibility of the people they served to ensure that they were well taken care of. They spent most o their time praying and performing religious rituals to appease their ancestors and their gods for the safety of their communities. They would frequently sermon their communities or even specific people to deliver a message from the gods. Being summoned by a religious leader was one of the most dreaded things as it implied that something was not right (Martin, 2001). Such summon would be accompanied by a number of rituals and sacrifices to appease the gods. Apart from the rituals that were performed by individual people and groups, a community would be engaged in a ritual that was meant to cleanse them. This mostly happened when there was a tragedy that threatened the safety and well being of the community. Such tragedies included an outbreak of disease, famine and civil wars.
Some of the rituals that were commonly practiced include dancing during special events, singing, chanting, engaging in certain sporting activities and feasts. Prayers were done at specific places that acted as shrines. Normal prayers were held in homesteads with trees, rocks or even animals acting as shrines. Whenever there were communal prayers, members of the community would gather around hills or along river banks where they would jointly pray and seek intervention for their various needs (Deloria, 1995). Some of the gods that were frequently prayed to included the sun god, rain god, the god of fertility and the god of the harvest. They were referred to with special names that were associated with their responsibility. For instance, the rain god was frequently contacted and appeased to ensure that there was adequate rain in the land to provide food for the people. The main economic activities of the Native Americans was farming, hunting and gathering. The gods will therefore be contacted during such events to intervene and ensure that the people were successful in their activities.
Ethnic religious practices and activities started loosing their taste and meaning with subsequent generations. Civil wars that were experienced in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries posed a serious threat to indigenous communities as their land and privacy was invaded. Many communities from neighboring regions fought to have a share of the resources that the natives were enjoying. As they came, they also introduced their own set of religious practices and hence diluting the original beliefs. In as much as some communities used force to invade their territories, others came gently and slowly influenced them with their religious believes. One of the earliest religious groups that were determined at changing the beliefs of the Native Americans was Christianity (Hughes, 1983). Christian missionaries approached Native Americans with the gospel of hope that promised to transform their lives. Christian missionaries came with the intentions of changing the mindset of the natives and making them belief in the existence of one supernatural being, who had the power to control all their situations.
Christianity, compared to other religious practices that were observed by the people was considered a breath of fresh air to most natives, who were hungry for change. It was also a form of civilization that most natives wanted to be associated with. The new believes were easily bought into by the natives who were tired of being manipulated by religious leaders and even practices, most of which did not make sense to them. Christianity was considered to be a religion with fewer complications and whose teachings were easy to understand and follow. As time went by, Christianity spread to America like a bush fire that it was a preferred system by the government (Peña & Smith, 2009). It was considered that the many ethnic religious practices were primitive and manipulative to the people who were required to engage in many rituals. The acceptance of Christianity by the government acted as a big transformation as it used its powers to convert people into Christianity. Christian teachings were adopted in schools and even taught at formal and informal gatherings.
With formal education being made compulsory by the government, children were taken to schools where they were taught about Christianity. They were confided in learning institutions where they were given boarding facilities. This was done for the aim of changing their mindset from indigenous cultural practices and implant Christian teachings, which were considered to be more civilized. Some of the civil wars that were experienced among native communities and immigrants were because of religion. There was a rising concern on the rate at which immigrants were influencing the young people with their religious practices (Gill, 1987). The civil wars were mainly aimed at preventing immigrants from engaging in their religious practices, which were diluting the religions of the natives. It was difficult to win the war considering the majority of the natives, who were easily drawn to foreign cultures, looking at them as a new form of civilization that will transform them.
Years have gone by and Native American religious practices are more read in historical books rather than practiced. America has experienced a lot of changes and transformations, most of them attributed to the immigrants who came into the land. Currently, it is so difficult to trace the cultural roots and even practices of the Native Americans due to the various communities that have since migrated into the country and transformed it. Christianity is the biggest religious movement in the country, yet the practice of religious rituals is not common. As a matter of fact, most Americans are Christians by birth and are not necessarily inclined to religious teachings. Secularism and the belief in science and technology is what many American communities are driven by. People are loosing taste in religion as they find satisfaction and fulfillment in technological and scientific inventions (Eck, 2002). The issues that made people to be committed to religion such us sicknesses, insecurity and provision have changed with scientific invention. Instead of praying for healing, most people seek treatment in hospitals as well armed soldiers assure them of their security. However, despite all this, there are still many more people who are inclined to religious teachings and are involved in missionary activities to impart religious activities.
Deloria, V. (1995). Red earth, white lies: Native Americans and the myth of scientific fact. Fulcrum Publishing.
Dongoske, K. E., Aldenderfer, M. S., & Doehner, K. (Eds.). (2000). Working together: Native Americans and archaeologists. Society for American Archaeology.
Eck, D. L. (2002). A new religious America. HarperCollins World.
Gill, S. D. (1987). Native American religious action: A performance approach to religion. Univ of South Carolina Pr.
Hughes, J. D. (1983). American Indian Ecology. Texas Western Pr.
Johnstone, R. L. (2004). Religion in society: A sociology of religion. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.
Martin, J. W. (2001). The land looks after us: A history of Native American religion (p. 24). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mihesuah, D. A. (Ed.). (2000). Repatriation reader: who owns American Indian remains?. U of Nebraska Press.
Peña, A., & Smith, R. A. (2009). Native American Religion.
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