Cayuga Ceremonies

The Cayuga, known as the people at the landing” in reference to portaging a canoe, are a part of the Iroquois Confederacy (also known as the League of Five Nations and the League of Six Nations). The traditional homeland of the Cayuga was in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Among the Indian nations of the League of Five Nations, the Cayuga had the smallest territory, with the Seneca to their west and the Onondaga to their east. The Cayuga had thirteen main villages.

The most important feature of Iroquois life is the clan system. The clans are matrilineal, meaning that children belong to their mother’s clan. Among the Cayuga, the clans were associated with two moieties (a division of the tribe into two groups): Wolf and Turtle. The Heron, Wolf, Plover, and Snipe clans made up the Wolf Moiety. The Big Bear, Ball, Younger Bear, Suckling Bear, Deer, and Snapping Turtle clans made up the Turtle Moiety. Prior to the coming of the Europeans the moieties were exogamous; that is, a member of the Wolf Moiety could not marry another member of the Wolf Moiety. By the end of the nineteenth century, exogamy no longer applied to the moieties.

Cayuga moieties functioned to provide social and ceremonial equilibrium. Among the Cayuga, members of the same moiety refer to themselves as “brothers and sisters” ceremonially and they refer to the members of the other moiety as “cousins.”

Religious ceremonies are often carried out in a longhouse. Anthropologist Frank Speck, in his work on Cayuga ceremonialism (Midwinter Rites of the Cayuga Long House), writes:

“It should be understood that all the ceremonies discussed in this study are when occasion arises carried out in the Long House, which to the Cayuga ceremonialist is virtually a temple.”

There are two doors and two fires in the longhouse, which are associated with east and west.

In Cayuga ceremonies, members of the Wolf Moiety enter the longhouse through the west door (known as the Wolf Door) and the members of the Turtle Moiety enter through the east door (known as the Turtle Door). For most of the ceremonies there are formal seating arrangements which call for the men and women to sit opposite each other. Men sit to the east and women sit to the west.

The Cayuga ceremonial year was traditionally divided into periods of male control and female control. The winter ceremonies are sponsored by the men. On the last day of the Midwinter ceremonies, the chiefs formally transfer sponsorship to the women. The women then sponsor the ceremonies in the longhouse until the corn has matured in August. At this time, they formally turn their duties over to the men.

The Cayuga use a number of different musical instruments during their longhouse ceremonies. These include turtle rattles (made from snapping turtles, box turtles, and mud turtles), horn rattles, bark rattles, gourd rattles, wood beaters, rasps, water drums, deer-hoof rattles.

Briefly described below are some of the Cayuga ceremonies. While some of the ceremonies may not be currently performed, they are described as they were performed.

Feather Dance:

The Feather Dance is one of the four “Sacred Words” of the Cayuga and is performed soon after sunrise on the sixth day of the Midwinter Ceremony. While everyone is called on to participate, the men wear feather headdresses. The feathers of the Blue Heron are often preferred because of its prayerful attitude. The men also wear face paint: two horizontal stripes on each cheek.

Burning Tobacco Ceremony:

The Burning Tobacco Ceremony is performed on the seventh day of the Midwinter Ceremony. Tobacco is a helper which assists the people in communicating to the spirit world. During a prayer – which is repeated five times – to the spirit forces above the earth, the Creator, the Four Angels, the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, and the Thunders, tobacco is thrown on the fire.

Sun Ceremony:

Among the Cayuga, the Sun Ceremony is carried out in the long house to thank the sun for warmth and the stimulation of plant growth. Each man has his own personal chants which are used in this ceremony. Each man holds a sun-symbol which is a wooden disk that has been painted with red and yellow symbols: a face on one side and rays on the other. Feathers are attached to the disk. The movement in this ceremony is counter clockwise.

Skin Dance:

The Skin Dance is another of the four Sacred Words of the Cayuga and is performed on the seventh day of the Midwinter Ceremony. Anthropologist Frank Speck writes:

“Before the time of Handsome Lake the purpose of the Skin Dance was to afford an opportunity for the war chiefs and warriors to recount their war records and to discuss raids and cruelties inflicted upon other tribes.”

This was condemned by Handsome Lake, the early nineteenth century prophet, who taught that only the wonders of creation should be spoken at this ceremony.

Bowl Game:

The Bowl Game is another of the four Sacred Words of the Cayuga which is performed twice a year. It may also be conducted as a healing rite. The ceremony involves two players, one from each moiety. Six dice – peach pits which are burned black on one side – are placed in a large bowl. The dice are shaken in the bowl and then counted. The game continues until one side has accumulated 101 points.

Some Apache Ceremonies

While the movies and popular books (including some textbooks) speak of the Apaches as if they were a single American Indian nation, there are many different, distinct, and autonomous Apache groups. There are six major divisions of the Apache: the Western Apache, Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Lipan, and Kiowa-Apache. East of these is also divided into discrete groups.

The Western Apache include five groups: Cibecue, San Carlos, White Mountain, Northern Tonto, and Southern Tonto. While there was intermarriage between these groups, they considered themselves to be distinct from one another and had clearly defined territorial boundaries. The traditional territory of the Western Apache is in Arizona and ranges from as far north as Sedona to as far south as the San Pedro River Valley.

The Chiricahua Apache are south of the Western Apache in the mountains of southeastern Arizona. The term “Chiricahua” was coined by an anthropologist to refer to the autonomous tribes living in or near the Chiricahua Mountains. The word “Chiricahua” is actually of Ópata origin.

The Jicarilla Apache are divided into two bands: the Llaneros (the plains people) and the Olleros (the mountain-valley people). The Jicarilla borrowed culturally from the Plains tribes (especially the war and raiding complexes) and from the Pueblos (agricultural and ceremonial rituals).

The Eastern Apache include five groups: Gila, Mimbres, Coppermine, Warm Springs, and Mescalero.

Ceremonies are a part of the social and cultural glue that brings people together, allows them to pass on their heritage, and reinforces their sense of purpose. There are many different kinds of ceremonies including rites of passage—ceremonies which designate a change in social status such as the transition from child to adult—and healing ceremonies. A few Apache ceremonies are described below. There are no photographs, as photographs of spiritual events are often considered offensive to Native peoples.

Girls’ Puberty Ceremony:

Among the Western Apache the Girls’ Puberty Ceremony invests in young girls the qualities which are felt to be important for adulthood. The ceremony is known as Na’íí’ees which means “preparing her” or “getting her ready.” This is an elaborate ceremony which has consequences for the entire community. In the ceremony, the power of Changing Woman enters the girl’s body and lives there for the four days of the ceremony. The gift of Changing Woman is longevity and physical health. During the ceremony the people come together to reaffirm kinship ties and to benefit from the healing powers of the ceremony.

Among the Jicarilla Apache the ceremony is performed in a large tipi that faces east. During the four-day ceremony, the girl and her partner (an adolescent male of the same age) listen to sacred songs about tribal origins. The ceremony stresses the positive traits that people should imitate in their own lives.

Among the Chircahua Apache the Girls’ Puberty Ceremony is composed of a series of rituals which reinforce the basic values of Apache culture. During the ceremony, the girl is united spiritually and personally with the most revered of the Chiricahua’s ancestors, White Painted Woman. Chiricahua elder Elbys Naiche Huger notes:  “Here we say White Painted Woman, other Apaches might say Changing Woman or call this a Sunrise Ceremony.”

Cradle Ceremony:

 Among the Chiricahua Apache, the Cradle Ceremony is conducted four days after birth. The ceremony involves marking the child with pollen, presenting the cradleboard to the four directions, and then placing the child in the cradleboard. The ceremony is intended to ward off evil influences.

First Moccasin Ceremony:

 The Apache hold this ceremony to celebrate a child’s first steps. The ceremony is held at the new moon with the children wearing newly made outfits and their first moccasins. The purpose of the ceremony is to keep the children healthy and strong. The ceremony includes a feast and a gift give-away as well as songs, prayers, dances, and blessings with pollen.

Holiness Rite:

The Holiness Rite is an Apache long-life ceremony which is based on the story of Bear and Snake stealing two girls during the emergence of the People from the underworld. The girls were rescued and returned by the White and Black Gods. As a curing ceremony which relieves Bear and Snake sickness—that is illness which originate from Bear and Snake. The complex, four-day ceremony may treat up to 12 patients. During the ceremony, the patients are subject to treatments which are intended to frighten away the bear and the snake.

Among the Jicarilla, the Holiness Rite is also known as the Bear Dance and is usually performed for three days before and during the appearance of the full moon (for a total of four days). The ceremony cures bear, snake, and other sicknesses. The ceremony takes place in a large enclosure (about 80 feet in diameter) which has an opening to the east. Within the enclosure on the west side is a tipi which faces east. The patients are confined to the tipi during the ceremony.

Hoop Dance:

The Hoop Dance is a White Mountain Apache healing ceremony. During the ceremony, the sick person is seated on a blanket facing east. The dancers – one boy and one girl at each of the four cardinal directions – dance in toward the patient. The boys place their hoops over the patient’s head and the girls place the crosses which they carry over the patient’s head. This is repeated four times. Next, there are ceremonies involving the four directions in which the hoops are placed over the patient.

Lightning Ceremony:

The Lightning Ceremony is a White Mountain Apache ceremony which is done to protect the people from the danger of lightning. In addition, the ceremony brings the rain and insures good crops.