Apache Women - Keepers of The Way

Apache bride ~

An Apache maiden was well educated in the role of woman and traditions of her ancestors by the time she became a bride.
An Apache maiden was well educated in the role of woman and traditions of her ancestors by the time she became a bride. | Source

Role defined ~

The traditional Apache woman was considered a Keeper of The Way, meaning they remembered and passed on their traditions and culture. She was expected to safeguard the lore, customs and traditions of her family, band and tribe then hand them on to the next generation.

In ancient myths of the Chiricahua, White Painted Woman is the Virgin Mother of the people. She is the origin of the ceremonies for the women. It is from the Virgin Mother that the Apache women defined their roles with their husbands, children and tribe.

Apache Sunrise Ceremony Song

I come to White Painted Woman,

By means of long life I come to her.

I come to her by means of her blessing.

I come to her by means of her good fortune.

I come to her by means of all her different fruits.

By means of the long life she bestows, I come to her.

By means of this holy truth.

Apache girl ~

Apache girl with burden basket, 1902
Apache girl with burden basket, 1902 | Source

Apache Sunrise Ceremony

Puberty Ceremony ~

The traditional Puberty Ceremony of the Apache maiden includes four days of song with dancing and feasting. It is an honored and spiritual experience, not well known by those outside the Apache way of life.

The parents of the girl, along with other family members, began making plans for all the special rituals months before the actual ceremony. At puberty, a young girl would enter into womanhood in honored tradition and a sacred ceremony. She would rely on the counsel and advice of an elder woman of the family to guide her in the rituals of the ceremony and also in the ways of her future responsibilities.

The ceremony was to be attended and witnessed by all family, friends and members of other bands from far and near.

This ceremony was to symbolize the end of the girl's childhood and her time to approach marriage. The marriage would be negotiated by her family. Because the man would join the woman's band after marriage, it was the parents and elders of the band that would choose the right one to become part of their band. It was important to choose a man with a reputation of proven worth and respect, with wealth to assure a good future for not just the woman he would marry, but the entire band. A girl remained for her whole life in her family camp with her parents and relatives.

Young Apache girl ~

Apache Indian girl carrying an olla (a water basket) on her head, ca.1900. Photo by Charles C. Pierce.
Apache Indian girl carrying an olla (a water basket) on her head, ca.1900. Photo by Charles C. Pierce. | Source

Many tasks and nurturing ~

The Apache wife was in charge of nurturing and caring for the family. She instructed her daughters in the family and tribal ways. She kept alive the culture and heritage by teaching her daughters how to carry on. It was the daughters who had the most value in the families, for they would bring in the future husbands of worth who would hunt, provide food and defend the people from enemies.

The women were the ones to craft all the clothing and household goods, she also harvested the wild plants for their food, prepared the foods and made sure there was an ample supply of dried berries, roots, nuts, vegetables and other food items for the winter months. They tanned their own hides for clothing and other articles.

In the spring, the women would harvest the agave plant hearts and roast them in huge fire pits far from the camp. This was the most important of the wild food sources. They would begin with ceremonial prayer. When fully roasted, the agave hearts were dug up and put in burden baskets, taken back to camp and dried in the sun.

The women, who knew where to gather the right healing herbs, usually took care of healing the people and sometimes became shamans. They attended ceremonial events along with the men, participated in counsels and were allowed to influence some decisions.

Apache containers and baskets for many uses ~

Apache women made beautiful baskets to aid with every task.
Apache women made beautiful baskets to aid with every task. | Source

Apache girl preparing for Coming-of-Age

Never ending tasks ~

The women wove their own baskets for storing and carrying foods and other items. The burden basket was tightly woven and smaller at the bottom than the top. Tin cone jinglers were attached to the bottom and a strap around the top so it could be placed on the back of the head with the strap around the forehead. This kept their hands free for other use. The jinglers were not only for decoration, but would make enough noise when walking that it would frighten snakes away when the women walked through grasses.

The Apache bands were nomadic and this placed a lot of burden on the women, they faced hard times and trials, but they persevered and held the band and family together. The young girl, after the marriage is arranged and she has gone through the Puberty Ceremony, built her own wickiup (home) with the help of other women in her family. This was carried on throughout her life, every time they settled in a new area.

The Apache woman's work was a never-ending task. From Puberty on, she was the substance that held the family together, the center pole of the home, the one always there to rely on, the one to nurture and teach.

Apache wikiup ~

Apache women outside their cloth covered wickiups in a camp in Arizona. 1880
Apache women outside their cloth covered wickiups in a camp in Arizona. 1880 | Source

When a child my mother taught me the legends of our people; taught me of the sun and sky, the moon and stars, the clouds and storms. She also taught me to kneel and pray to Usen for strength, health, wisdom, and protection. We never prayed against any person, but if we had aught against any individual we ourselves took vengeance. We were taught that Usen does not care for the petty quarrels of men.

— Geronimo (Goyathlay), Chiricahua Apache

Geronimo, 1829 - 1909 ~

Geronimo, Chiricahua Apache leader. Photograph by Frank A. Rinehart, 1898.
Geronimo, Chiricahua Apache leader. Photograph by Frank A. Rinehart, 1898. | Source

Note from author ~

Thank you for reading my article. Your opinions are important to me and let me know your interests. This helps me to offer more of your favorite subjects to read about. Your time and interest are very much appreciated. I hope to hear from you in the comments section below.

I write on several different subjects, all evergreen articles. You can read more about me and see more articles I wrote by clicking on my name by the small picture of me at the top right of this page.

Blessings and may you always walk in peace and harmony, softly upon Mother Earth.

Phyllis Doyle Burns - Lantern Carrier, Spiritual Mentor
~ ~ ~ ~

© 2013 Phyllis Doyle Burns

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Comments 20 comments

Cleio profile image

Cleio 3 years ago from Ireland

Thank you for a very interesting article. It was fascinating to read that the Apache had such a strong matriarchal element to their society.


lrc7815 profile image

lrc7815 3 years ago from Central Virginia

Phyllis, I am always so happy to see articles written well about Native People and their beautiful culture. The dominant society could learn much from these traditions. You have written a wonderful hub on the Apache way of life. Voted up and sharing it too.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Cleio. I am so gad you found the article interesting and fascinating. Yes, the Apache really honored their women. Thanks for your visit and comment -- I greatly appreciate it.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Linda, nice to hear from you. I am so glad you like articles on the Native Americans. Their cultures are very beautiful and deeply spiritual. Thank you for the nice compliments, your visit and votes. I greatly appreciate it.


Homeplace Series profile image

Homeplace Series 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

Always enjoy articles about strong women roles. Native American just makes it more interesting! Thanks for each of your thoughtful contributions! ;-)


sheilamyers 3 years ago

Another wonderful and educational hub! Thanks teaching me more about the role of Native American women.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Homeplace, thank you for your visit and comment -- I greatly appreciate it.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Sheila, as always, I love to hear from you -- you keep me motivated to write more often on certain subjects. Thank you for your visit and comment. I greatly appreciate you and your comments.


Marie Flint profile image

Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, FL

There's a lot in this hub.

I enjoyed the Sunrise Ceremony. The chants reminded me a little of a Kuan Yin Rosary.

I read somewhere on a spiritually channeled message that the Native American languages are closest to what was used on either Lemuria or Atlantis.

With the close-knit social fabric of the tribe, I would imagine that crime is virtually nonexistent between members.

We should incorporate more of the rituals for the stages of life in our culture. Young women are often embarrassed and ashamed about the change between childhood and puberty. With the community celebrating this passage, a young woman would certainly be better prepared psychologically for the responsibilities facing her during adulthood. I suspect there would be far fewer broken families.

I surmised the man with the cross and cover on his head was probably a shaman. I found the painting of a bear claw, undoubtedly symbolizing strength and power, on his back interesting.

A wonderful hub. Thank you for sharing it.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Marie, nice to hear from you. The Sunrise Ceremony is so rigorous for the young maidens with four days of endurance testing.

I agree that when a culture has such ceremonies for young people, that there is far less struggle in that maturing stage and better understanding of the importance of responsibilities as an adult. It would be very interesting if you wrote a hub on the benefits of incorporating " rituals for the stages of life" in a society. Native American rituals and ceremonies are so deeply religious. Yet, if you look into the different religions in America, you will find there are more "coming of age" or "right of passage" rituals than what is generally known.

Thank you, Marie, for the visit and comment -- I greatly appreciate it.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

Of all Native American tribes, I think the strong Apache groups hold the most fascination. The legendary, forced surrender of Geronimo, and the shameful way in which these people were treated in their defeat is part of our nation’s disgraceful history.

I learned so much from our hub, Phyllis, about the difficult role women played in this fascinating culture. They led a hard life, but the emphasis on family unity was very impressive. I also didn’t realize that the Apaches were nomadic.

Excellent research, knowledge and presentation. :-)


Marie Flint profile image

Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, FL

I received First Holy Communion and Confirmation sacraments through the Roman Catholic Church, but only my sister attended the ceremony of the First Holy Communion. So, there was not much family support there. I did get some sense of community support because other children my age at the time were also receiving those sacraments.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Genna, it is always good to hear from you. The Apache were very much a fascinating and strong people -- they still are, for, like many other tribes, they have not let go of their ancient traditions and love of community. Changing Woman, the prayer and the legend, exemplifies the defining role of women in the tribe. To see not just the family, but the whole tribe and a gathering of other Apache tribes, attend the sacred ceremony of a young maiden's coming of age is a wonderful, heart warming, thing to see. This shows how much the women are honored.

Thank you, Genna, for reading and commenting on this hub -- I really appreciate it. Have a great day.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Marie. I am surprised to learn that the "First Holy Communion and Confirmation sacraments through the Roman Catholic Church" are not always attended by the whole family, friends, and many other church members -- for, that is such an important and honored event for a child. I believe America needs to return to time-honored traditions and uphold these type of ceremonies when children reach the right of passage age. Thank you for sharing this.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

This is a wonderful read Phyllis. I have a strong connection with Native Americans. Not sure where this came from but led me to the publish my first ebook on Smashwords 'Sunshine Ray and I.'

Voted up and shared for sure Phyllis.

Eddy.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Eddy, thank you for the compliment. I know you have a strong affinity to Native Americans, so I am glad you enjoyed reading this hub. I will have to find your ebook to read. Thanks, Eddy, for the votes and sharing.


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 3 years ago from Stepping past clutter

Phyllis, this hub fascinated me. I knew some tribes held women in especially high esteem- they were the property owners and chiefs- but I did not know there were tribes with this sort of respect for traditional women's roles.

I love all of the rituals for girls and women. I am even jealous! Why have we shoved these special moments into sex education classes and family living classes?

Happily my sister in law Nancy- one of my Scorpio women- brought ceremonies to my girls from Machu Picchu.

I hear so much of Native life that is pristine. Did they never argue, get angry or jealous? I like to think they were as humanly frail as we, lol.

Thanks so much for this beautiful hub!!!


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Storyteller, glad you found the hub fascinating. The Apache people have always fascinated me for their strengths and beautiful culture/traditions. I so admire any culture that retains their traditional ceremonies, which show honor to their ancestors.

hahaha - yes, they did argue and lose their tempers at times, just as anyone does. You should read my hub about Lozen - Apache Woman Warrior. She was fierce and feared by her enemies. Much about the Native American tribes was pristine prior to European contact. Yet, they had their strengths and weaknesses just as any other human does. I have several hubs on Native American people. I hope you get a chance to read them.

Thanks for stopping by again and for the comment.


Dee aka Nonna profile image

Dee aka Nonna 3 years ago

Voted up, useful, and interesting. I love reading about Native Americans, the culture, and yes....their stories. I find so much wisdom and inspiration. Really, really enjoyed reading your hub.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Dee, thank you for the visit and comment. I am so happy you enjoyed reading my hub. The Apache people were and still are a very strong people of the heritage the honor. Thanks again, Dee.

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