In the Native American culture, women are not much talked about even though they do play an important role in the Native society. Women don’t only serve as a housekeeper, which is the generally believed myth, but they rather do other thing like farming and crafting while the men were out hunting. Native Americans even believed that women had more healing powers than the men did and thus we have heard of more medicine women than medicine men. Also, to the native culture, music and dance is an important part of the culture. Even though throughout class we have learned that women play a lesser of a role in native music and dance, they actually do a lot more to provide to their society culturally. In my essay, I will be focusing on the roles of Native American women in the skills of music, dance and daily chores which are of particular importance to the Indian culture. We mainly focus on the southwestern region and how women in the southwest contribute which in many cases overlap with other regions.
The music in the southwest includes styles such as Navajo and Apache and they hold agricultural ceremonies like Kachina. Southwest is believed to be known for its outstanding women’s musical custom of using leg rattles which is used while they dance (Southwest Navajo Indians). Even though men are given importance while singing or dancing, women do play a supporting role in the dancing and singing and they are not completely ignored by the Indian community. Normally, women dance on their spots while men tend to move around in circles or other formations. Women also do sing, but many times men do the main stream singing, while the females accompany them. But in most cases women only accompany in the dancing or even dance solo without men rather than sing. These celebrations of dancing and singing occur during ceremonies held by the community. Two such celebrations that I found interesting and that played an important role in the native women’s life were the Navajo coming of the age ceremony and the Navajo wedding ceremony. The Navajo coming of age ceremony is the celebration in the southwest region, of a girl undergoing puberty where she is no longer a girl but a woman. The ceremony includes a song sung by the medicine man to mark the change in the girl’s status from girl to woman. After the singing is done, she runs east and she is escorted by a few men whose purpose is to keep the evil spirit away. The Southwest is not the only tribe that holds ceremonies but the region of California also holds ceremonies as such Flower Girl which has a similar meaning behind the ceremony, but not necessarily the same ritual. The other ceremony is the Navajo wedding ceremony which is quite an unique ceremony because it is a custom in the Navajo culture where the groom gets married into the brides household which is different in the case of the of the American tradition. It is said that the woman’s family gets a son instead of losing a daughter which is the opposite in many different traditions. The groom gives up his family in order to adopt his bride’s family and relative. Whenever the groom travels, he seeks shelter in the household of his bride’s relatives rather than his own (Southwest Navajo Indians). Thus, ceremonies did give importance to women in tribal society. Another important aspect of Native American culture is the regalia and clothing. Women were the seamstresses. They gave high importance to the making of clothing and they added in decorations and intricate details that signify deep meaning like power and stature (Native American Clothing). Women also made these clothing’s with care and tenderness as a symbol of love for their loved ones. Many of these outfits are made out of animals that were hunted by the men. Women treated animals as sacred beings and they made sure that did waste any part of the animal or animal product. Women’s regalia include a skirt with legging and the skirts differ according to tribe; also they would wear tunic style shirts. In many tribes, women actually wore dresses made out of buckskin. These unique clothing styles set the Indians apart from other cultures. When it comes to religion, women are believed to be more powerful. Even though there are some medicine men, women are commonly found doing the role medicine woman. They play an important role during ceremonies like the Navajo coming of the age ceremony. They are considered to have healing powers which lasts them through death. Women more easily become medicine woman because they are more familiar with medicinal herbs than the men (Medicine Woman). A woman is gifted her powers during her sleep by one of the spirits. One task of Native American women as a matter in fact every woman which goes unnoticed is their contribution to society with young and new members ( The Women’s Role). This holds importance in Indian tribes because they are so small and compact they might not have enough members and without a new generation, none of the cultures or traditions would be passed down but would rather die off. Many Indian societies today face the danger of extinction because they do not have enough members to carry on with the traditions or many times these members lack the interest in learning more about their culture. Women play an important role as a housekeeper and provide their children with basic knowledge about the tribal society and its importance. Therefore, it can be concluded that Native American women do play an important role in their society as clearly shown by the women of the southwestern region. Many of these duties performed by women overlap with other regions like the Northwest and Arctic. In most cases some of the rituals and traditions are the same with a slight difference. Even though it is believed that men play a major role in the tribal society, it is not true because women play an equal role as men do and also contribute to their tribal society. Thus, women play an equally important role as men do in building up their culture and society.
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