Apache Women - Keepers of The Way
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 Sunrise 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
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
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.
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
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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