Barely a thousand years ago, a small band of nomads abandoned their lands and reached what is today the American Southwest. There they lived and developed their own unique culture. The nomads called themselves Tinneh, “the people,” but in time they would be known by names given to them by others- the Apache. Throughout all those years, the Apache developed a distinct social organization. Its fundamental unit was the family. Not only families were important to the Apache, but also its formation, the way it was managed, and their next generations were significant to them.
The Apache culture concerned about the children very much. As soon as a baby was born, the parents put it in a cradleboard, which was made of an oak frame covered with buckskins. The cradleboard was made especially for that baby, and the parents would hang an amulet on the cradleboard in order to protect the baby from evil. On the other hand, the mother would punch a hole on the baby’s earlobes so that the child would hear to the right things and be obedient.1 Maybe it was because of that reason, the Apache children were usually obedient and well behaved. If the children were naughty, which was rare, the parents would punish them by threats. Although the Apache parents were proud and fond of their children, they seldom spoiled their children. For instance, the parents would ignored their children if they cried, unless they were actually hurt.2
In the Apache culture, two ceremonies took place during the childhood. The first one was the first haircutting rite. In the spring after the child outgrew the cradleboard, a di-yin, a medicine man, cut the child’s hair very short, leaving only a few strand of hair. The purpose of this ceremony was to ensure that the children had a good health as they grew up. After childhood, haircuts were thought to bring bad luck, so adults rarely cut their hair. The second ceremony that would be held during the childhood was the moccasin ceremony. It took place when the child was two years old. In this ceremony, the children were dressed in new clothes and moccasins. Then the children walked in the direction of east on a trail of pollen. The di-yin prayed that the child would have a long and successful journey through life.3
Training and Discipline:
Teaching the children to become good adults was an important task for the Apache families. As the Apache children grew up, their elders taught them skills they would need to be productive and resourceful adults. The children in the Apache culture did not learn at school. It was because Apaches believed “that children should learn through observation and experience, not by being sat down and told what to do.”4 Although the children did not receive any formal education, they were well trained and well behaved. Since men and women played different roles in the Apache culture, the Apache boys and girls received different types of training.
The Apache boys were trained for the difficulties of raiding and war. They did not learn from the books, but learned by listening to their fathers’ or grandfathers’ stories of their experiences in hunting. They also learned by listening tales of the historic deeds of the Apaches. Besides to learn by listening, the Apache boys also learned by practicing. Their fathers made bows and arrows for their sons, and they showed the boys how to use the weapons and made them practiced until they became skillful. The Apache boys learned what they needed to know to be successful in the hunt all from their older men in the family. As a boy reached his sixteenth birthday, he was expected to be skillful in hunting and was ready to take his manhood test. For the test, the boy had to go on four raids with the men of his group. If the boy did well on the four raids, he was thought to be a man. This meant that he was free to marry, hunt, and raid with the men of his band.5
Since the women had to be able to guard the camp while the men were away, they were also taught to take care of horses, to use weapons, and to hunt small games. While the boys were being trained to be good hunters, the girls were taught by their mothers about food gathering, cooking, tanning deer hides, sewing, and basket weaving. Moreover, the girls were taught how to build the family’s wickiup and to take care for younger children. As the girl was about thirteen years old, she was said to be ready for adulthood, and a coming-of-age ceremony called Nah-ih-es was held for her. It was a four days long ceremony which celebrated a young girl ‘s entry into womanhood. The ceremony was the most important event in a young girl’s life, and after the ceremony, the girl was ready for marriage.6
Marriage was a crucial event for the Apache culture. It was usually arranged by the boy’s parents. When a couple decided to marry, the representative of the man's family bestowed gifts upon the relatives of his intended bride. As soon as the marriage was approved, a wedding ceremony took place. Although the ceremony was not romantic, its processes were unique enough to make the wedding memorable. The wedding ceremony began with carrying a large basin made of buffalo hide to a secluded place. After filling the basin with fresh water, the bride and groom would step into it, holding hands. There they awaited the appearance of both sets of parents, who had to acknowledge the matrimony. After all those rituals, the party walked together to the bride's camp and joined a public dance; this would end this would end the whole wedding ceremony.7
After the marriage, the wedded couple developed close bonds between spouses and their in-laws. The husband provided for the wife's relatives and fulfilled their wishes. If the wife died, this life-long relationship would still continue. On the other hand, the man had to treat his parents-in-law with great respects, especially to his mother-in-law. The man could not look at her, speak directly to her, or be in the same room with her at the same time. It was because having direct contact with the mother-in-law was counted as disrespectful. The Apache man also treated his father-in-law with respect. They could only speak to each other in a reserved manner for sometimes. These behaviors toward their parents-in-law were extremely important in Apache society.
The Apache man could have more than one wife. But since not many men were rich enough to support more than one family, such practice was rare. Another reason that polygamy was rare in the Apache culture was that the men did not want to get into trouble of avoiding two mothers-in-law. But such problem could be avoided by marrying sisters.
If a man had more than one wife, each of them and her children would live in a separate wickiup. The husband usually kept his personal belongings in his first wife’s wickiup. Moreover, the first wife was considered as the leader of the other wives; she directed the work of the other women.
Despite the close relationship developed between the couple's families, divorce happened to the Apache culture also. Failure to fulfill the duties of family life was the principal causes of divorce. If the woman wanted to divorce his husband, all she had to do was to throw her husband’s personal belongings outside the house under a tree. If a man want to divorce his wife, he could tell her that he was going hunting and would not return. The divorced man or woman usually remarried immediately. It was because a single adult did not fit into the social and economic pattern of Apache society.8
In the early Apaches, kinship system stands an extremely important role in their culture. The major social organization they had was the matriarchal system in which mother represents the head of the family. The descents and children all belonged to the mother’s sides. Even now, the matriarchal system is still used by some Apache tribes.9 These tribes are all consisted of a number of clans or extended matriarchal families. The main reason of obtaining such kind of organization is to mobilize the group faster and easier to safety locations. Also, they can move, have combat and retreat more rapidly and achieve the goal safer. Instead of individual households, most Apache families were consisted of family groups. In a group, it usually is made of grandparents, unmarried children, married daughters, their husbands, and of course, their children.10 In the past, most of the Apaches were matrilocal. Married Apache would move and reside with his wife’s family rather than his own family. He would no longer be responsible of his own mother’s family but the family of his wife’s side. Even though a married son would live with his wife’s side, he could never look at his mother-in-law. Whenever he wanted to tell something, he would have to transmit the information by another person. Although being matrilocal was a major issue, nonetheless there were sons, especially ones who were the only born in the family, that brought his wives with him and live with his parents. Other than the matrilocal system, there is also the matrilineal system in which the descents would be traced through either of his parent’s side. In such a kind of system, an individual would either belong to his mother’s side or his father’s side. If he belonged to his mother’s side, this would be called matrilineal, but if he belonged to his father’s side, he would then be said to be patrilineal. A person would never belong to both sides of his family. The only exception in the past was the Chiricahua Apaches because they were said to be bilateral, treating maternal and paternal relatives the same.
Even today, matrilocal and matrilineal systems both occupy a great role in Apaches’ lives and their social organizations.11
Death in a family had great effects. For instance, no one would live in a wickiup in which a death had taken place. And also, the Apache never called their dead relatives by their names, but always called them “that girl,” “that boy,” “that woman or man.”12The Apache fear of the dead and everything connected with them. Thus, they usually buried the dead the same day they died in order to avoid any contacts with them. The Apache made the burial as far away as possible. It was either took place in the ground or in a hole in the rock. On one hand, the personal belongings of the dead and their wickiups were burned or destroyed. On the other hand, the family moved to a new site immediately. Their movement mustn’t be far, and it might just be to a neighboring field. The main purpose of doing so is to trick the ghost. After their arrival to a new place, the deaths’ relatives would also change their hairstyle to avoid the ghost of recognizing them. Apache Indians would never approach graves even though the buried were their friends are relatives. They believed that anyone who mentioned or even thought about the death would bring the ghost back. Besides, they also suspect anyone who approaches the grave to be considered as a witch. The main reason of their dodging the ghost is because they were afraid that it would return and seek revenge on them. Also, if the dead was not buried properly, they were believed to return and give punishment to the one who buried them of their neglect. In brief, Death stands as a significant event in Apache family.13
In the United States right now, there are more than fifty thousand Apache Indians. Most of these Indians lived in area such as Arizona or New Mexico because of the effects of reservations. Apache children are allowed to attend school today and many of them have become successful in the society. For example, Allan Houser has become a world known famous artist. Besides in education, Apaches have also been very active in business and industries. Many of the Apaches’ social customs had changed, too. For instance, Apaches wouldn’t publicize announcements about their wedding in the past. But now, they are willing to post the information even on the newspaper. Even though the Apaches had lost their lands, freedom, and numerous other things, they still keep most of ancient traditions and ceremonies with them and these are their the most valuable estate.14
Apache Indians have different cultures and backgrounds compared to Americans. They have their own values and ways of making decision, and they view their family in a totally different aspect. Even though they are now able to keep their tradition and culture, and there are laws protecting them, most of the Apaches still felt unfair in the society, and wanted to seek equality. They wanted to have the same opportunities in education and in working as most Americans. They wanted to obtain more respect and have their skills being accepted without racial prejudice. On one side, they would like to adapt to White man’s culture, on the other, they wanted to keep their traditional culture. Apaches wanted to live in an environment with justice, equality, dignity and of course, maintain their Apache pride.
1) Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk. The Apaches. New York: Holiday House, 1997, 15.
2) Baldwin, Gordon C. The Apache Indians: raiders of the Southwest. New York: Four Winds Press, 1978, 143.
3) Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk. The Apaches. New York: Holiday House, 1997, 15.
4) Fleischner, Jennifer. The Apaches: People of the Southwest. Connecticut: the Millbrook Press, 1994, 28.
5) McKissack, Patricia. The Apache. Chicago: Childrens Press. 1984, 27.
6) Fleischner, Jennifer. The Apaches: People of the Southwest. Connecticut: the Millbrook Press, 1994, 31-32.
7) Melody, Michael E. The Apache. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988, 24.
8) Baldwin, Gordon C. The Apache Indians: raiders of the Southwest. New York: Four Winds Press, 1978, 145-146.
9) Burlison, Irene. Yesterday and Today in the Life of the Apaches. Philadelphia: Dorrance & Company, 1973, 5-6.
10) Baldwin, Gordon C. The Apache Indians: raiders of the Southwest. New York: Four Winds Press, 1978, 138-139.
11) Ibid., 205-206.
12) Burlison, Irene. Yesterday and Today in the Life of the Apaches. Philadelphia: Dorrance & Company, 1973, 68.
13) Baldwin, Gordon C. The Apache Indians: raiders of the Southwest. New York: Four Winds Press, 1978, 165-166.
14) Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk. The Apaches. New York: Holiday House, 1997, 28.
1) Baldwin, Gordon C. The Apache Indians: raiders of the Southwest. New York: Four Winds Press, 1978.
2) Burlison, Irene. Yesterday and Today in the Life of the Apaches. Philadelphia: Dorrance & Company, 1973.
3) Fleischner, Jennifer. The Apaches: People of the Southwest. Connecticut: the Millbrook Press, 1994.
4) McKissack, Patricia. The Apache. Chicago: Childrens Press. 1984.
5) Melody, Michael E. The Apache. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.
6) Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk. The Apaches. New York: Holiday House, 1997.