While the common stereotype of Plains Indians brings up images of tipis and horse-mounted warriors hunting buffalo, not all of the Plains tribes fit this image. The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara, whose home is on the Missouri River in what is now North Dakota, were a farming people who lived in permanent villages with substantial houses. Ceremonies are an important part of spirituality and ceremonies symbolically integrate religion with other aspects of daily life.
Shown above is a painting of a Mandan village by George Catlin.
While the Mandan were farmers, raising corn, beans, and squash, they also sent out hunting parties to harvest buffalo on the Great Plains. The Okipa was a four-day Mandan ceremony to ensure that the buffalo would remain plentiful and that catastrophes could be averted; it reinforced the relationship between the supernatural and the people. The ceremony reenacted the creation of the earth and the history of the Mandan people. In this ceremony the Mandan recognized their responsibilities to maintain the covenant of generosity at the sacred center of creation.
During this ceremony, some of the men fasted and were then suspended from the poles in the Okipa lodge by thongs which were fastened under the skin of the chest.
Shown above is a painting of the Okipa by artist George Catlin.
Among the Okipa dancers was The Foolish One, a male clown who was painted black with white spots and other designs. The Foolish One wore a carved wooden phallus which represented those who do not respect sacred things. Two pumpkins would hang below the giant fake penis. A thin piece of sinew connected the eight-foot-long rod carried by the dancer to the penis. The dancer would use the rod to raise and lower the penis. When The Foolish One approached the sacred cedar post, he would be driven off by the pipe of Lone Man and he would then be driven from the village by the women. His genitalia would be wrapped like a doll and paraded around the plaza.
All of the farming tribes of the northern Missouri River-Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara-also had a Buffalo Calling Ceremony to insure a good buffalo hunt. As a part of the ceremony, the wives of the younger hunters would court and have sexual intercourse with the older men. These sexual relations were seen as a kind of conduit which could transfer buffalo hunting medicine (the spiritual power which made one a good hunter) from older experienced hunters to the younger hunters. In some instances, the distinguished hunters would invite some of the married women to join them in a special lodge covered with jerked meat. Each would offer a fine horse to the woman, and then have sex with her in the presence of everyone. Following this ritual, the women would return to their husbands with some of the spiritual power of the older men.
Shown above is a painting of the Buffalo Dance among the Mandan by artist Karl Bodmer.
Among the Arikara, the Mother Corn Ceremony centered on the theme of renewal and linked the universe, through Mother Corn, to the keepers of the sacred bundles and to their kin. In the ceremony, Mother Corn was represented by a cedar tree. During the ceremony, the women imitated the process of planting and harvesting crops.
All of the farming tribes along the Missouri also served as trading centers for the more nomadic Northern Plains tribes. As with other Indian nations, trade was about relationships and people usually traded with their relatives. The Adoption Pipe Ceremony provided a way for people to acquire relatives (and trading partners) through adoption. Most frequently this ceremony was conducted by a man with a sacred pipe who wished to adopt a son. After a day-long ceremony with ritual exchanges, the new son would pledge to treat his ceremonial father with respect and reverence. The ceremony was used to help build peaceful trading relationships among other nations.