The Maidu were the Native Americans who once inhabited the region of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Sacramento valley. The Maidu are divided into principally three groups called, the mountain Maidu, the hill Maidu and the valley Maidu. The hill and mountain Maidu were the divisions who actually used the term Maidu which means “person” whereas; the valley Maidu used the term Nishinam or Nisinan. The differences between these three groups exist in slight distinctions in language, customs, either subtly or grossly, and relative wealth. The Valley Maidu tended to be wealthier, living in more weatherproof houses, and having more elaborate ceremonial regalia. Probably at least partially because for the mountain Maidu, summer was short, and the gathering season needed to be fully taken advantage of because they lived in harsh conditions most of the year was either spent preparing for winter or trying to live through the winter. Whereas, for the valley, and to some extent the hill Maidu, there was more time during the summer and in the mild winter for the development of their society and culture.
The Maidu were divided into villages each containing two to eleven houses, and almost always a sweat lodge (a larger house in which ceremonies and dances were held.) The mountain Maidu typically only interacted with villages within a twenty-mile radius of them, only occasionally trading with the Northern Paiute, but there is evidence that the valley Maidu may have traveled farther, visiting other tribes such as the Pomo, Wintun and Miwok. The Maidu received their money, clamshells and glass beads, solely from trade; the beads were counted in tens and handled on strings. But the most common form of currency was the disk bead made by the Pomo, and transmitted by the Wintun. Five of the larger version of these beads (about a third of an inch thick) equaled about one dollar in today’s currency, and the smaller ones were about twenty beads to the dollar. In Maidu culture, money was more of a casual thing than it is today, it was traded with other tribes to acquire such valuables as obsidian for knifes and arrows, as well as tobacco and the green pigment used for bow decoration. However there was no real feeling of ownership, at least not in an individual sense. A person’s house belonged to the tribe, as well as anything that they might gather. Everything was in reference to the tribe, and a person’s identity was in terms of the tribe. This is reflected in the view of Maidu warriors,
The foremost responsibility of an Indian warrior is to be true to one's self (...) to
the People (...) and to the Creator. The purpose in life is to ensure the survival and
well being of The People (…) A true Warrior will sacrifice His Heart upon the
altar of life for the survival of the People (…) A true Indian Warrior is Proud (...)
yet humble, with a heart full of love for the People. (Schneider, “What is a
Therefore, a very different view, that that of an individual. The tribe was the each person, and each person was the tribe.
There were however, different roles that individuals played in the tribe. Such as the Warriors, who hunted game such as deer, wild dog, wolfs, coyotes, large birds, salmon, rabbit and on occasion grizzly bear. They also went to battle with other tribes when necessary, and defended the tribe from wild animals. There were also Shamans who were the spiritual teachers and guides of the tribe, and Chiefs who acted in conjunction with Shamans when it came to decisions about the tribe. The specific role a chief played in the tribe varied according to the region. In the valley, the line of chiefs was hereditary. A chief also received a larger part of game brought in for the tribe and sometimes even had young men hunt for them specifically. The hill and mountain Maidu choose their chief for his wealth and popularity. In these areas by popular vote, a chief could be disposed of at any time if the people in anyway saw...
Cited: Azbill, Elaine. Interveiw. April 25. 2006.
Bruchac, Joseph. The Native American Sweat Lodge, History and Leagends. Berkley, Toronto, The Crossing Press, 1993
Gray-Kanatiiosh, Barbara A
Josephson, Dale. Konkow Valley Band of Maidu. 6 Nov. 2005. 15 April. 2006
Kroeber, A.L. Handbook of the Indians of California. Mineola, New York: Dover
Mechoopda Maidu Indians. 2004. History and Culture. 27 April. 2006
Potts, Marie. Northern Maidu. New York: Naturegraph Publishers, 1971.
Schneider, Robert. Home page. The First Americans. 11 April. 2006
Spencer, Lewis. Native American Myths. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 2005.
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