Before the coming of traders the Arikara made their cooking utensils of pottery; mortars for pounding corn were made with much labor from stone; hoes were fashioned from the shoulder-blades of the buffalo and the elk; spoons were shaped from the horns of the buffalo and the mountain sheep; brooms and brushes were made of stiff, coarse grass; knives were chipped from flint, and spears and arrowheads from horn and flint; for splitting wood, wedges of horn were used.
Whistles were constructed to imitate the bleat of the antelope or the call of the elk, and served as decoys; popguns and other toys were contrived for the children and flageolets for the amusement of young men. Garments were embroidered with dyed porcupine quills; tooth shells from the pacific were prized as ornaments. Also noteworthy was the skill of the Arikara in melting glass and pouring it into molds to form high colored beads used for trade. Their basket weaving has been identified with one practiced by former tribes in Louisiana and probably survived from their ancestors who migrated from the far southwest.
The Arikara were equally tenacious of their language, even though they were next-door neighbors to the Sioux tribes for more than a century, living on terms of intimacy and intermarrying to a great extent. At the turn of the century, almost every member of each tribe understood the language of the other tribes, yet spoke his own most fluently. At this time they also adhered to their ancient form of dwellings, erecting, at the cost of great labor, earth lodges that were generally grouped about an open space in the center of the village, often quite close together, and usually occupied by two or three families. Each village generally contained a lodge of unusual size, in which ceremonies, dances, and other festivities took place. The religious ceremonies, in which the individuals subscribed or village had its special part, bound the people together by common beliefs, traditions, teachings, and supplications that centered on the desire for long life, food, and safety.
In 1835 Prince Maximilian of Wied, the German explorer and naturalist, noticed that the hunters did not load on their horses the meat obtained by the chase, but carried it on their heads and backs, often so transporting it from a great distance. The man who could carry the heaviest burden sometimes gave his meat to the poor, in deference to their traditional teaching that “the Lord of life told the Arikara that if they gave to the poor in this manner, and laid burdens on themselves, they would be successful in all their undertakings.”
In the series of rites, which began in the early spring when the thunder first sounded, corn held a prominent place. The ear was used as an emblem and was addressed as “Mother.” Some of these ceremonial ears of corn had been preserved for generations and were treasured with reverent care. Offerings were made, rituals sung, and feasts held when the ceremonies took place. Rites were observed when the maize was planted, at certain stages of its growth, and when it was harvested. Ceremonially associated with maize were other sacred objects, which were kept in a special case or shrine. Among these were the skins of certain birds of significance and seven gourd rattles that marked the movements of the seasons.
Elaborate rituals and ceremonies attended the opening of this shrine and the exhibition of its contents, which were symbolic of the forces that make and keep all things alive and fruitful. Aside from these ceremonies there were other quasi-religious gatherings in which feats of jugglery were performed, for the Arikara, like their kindred the Pawnee, were noted for their slight of hand skills.
The dead were placed in a sitting posture, wrapped in skins, and buried in mound graves. The property, except such personal belongings as were interred with the body, was distributed among the kindred, the family tracing descent through the mother.
The Arikara were a loosely organized confederacy of sub-tribes, each of which had its separate village and distinctive name, few of which have been preserved. The following names were noted during the middle of the 19th century:
Hachepiriinu (Young Dogs)
Hia (Band of Cree),
Hosukhaunu (Foolish Dogs),
Hosukhaunukare rihn (Little Foolish Dogs’),
Sukhutit (Black Mouths)
Kaka (Band of Crows)
Okos (Band of Bulls)
Paushuk (Band of Cut-throats’)
Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation
404 Frontage Road
New Town, North Dakota 58763
About the Author: Excerpted and adapted from the Handbook of American Indians, by Frederick Webb Hodge written in 1906. Though the context remains generally the same, some words, phrases, and the order of the material has been changed to correct grammar and spelling and to make this old document more easily read by the modern reader.