Light & Shadows of Chalandor Book of Shadows
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Title: Osage
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Autumn_Heather
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From: USA
Registered: 11/21/2008

(Date Posted:02/09/2009 21:52 PM)
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Osage

The Osage Indians are a people with a rich history. They refer to themselves as the Wazhazhe. When Europeans first met the Wazhazhe, using rough French phonetics, they translated the name of one division of the tribe, the Wazhazhe, into the word "Osage." Osage has been the name that the European-Americans have used to identify the tribe.

The Osage also called themselves by their ancient name, NiuKonska, which may be translated as "Little Ones of the Middle Waters." The traditional history of the Osage puts them in the Mississippian culture situated in central and eastern North America, existing for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. The Osage lived in permanent villages along the Missouri and Osage Rivers in Missouri, building hunting camps on the Great Plains. The tribe grew corn, squash, and pumpkins to supplement the buffalo and venison, the mainstay of their diet. The Osage developed a highly complex culture that reflected an intellectual tradition equally sophisticated and imaginative as any in Europe.

The Osage were often described as war-like since they guarded their land with such ferocity. The ability to obtain firearms at an early date gave the Osage a major advantage in their conflicts with those who intruded upon their lands. The Osage occupied a strategic location between the tribes to the west and the advancing European-American frontier. They were able to control the trade between these tribes and the Europeans until the nineteenth century.

The tribe began a period of treaty-making with the United States in 1809. This period lasted until 1870 and resulted in the minimization of the Osage homeland. The Osage gave up over 100 million acres of land during this period. They moved to the new reservation in 1872 and settled in three main areas that corresponded to the ancient divisions of the tribe. The main settlement areas were at Pawhuska, Hominy and Gray Horse. The capitol of the nation was established at Pawhuska and remains there today. This movement to a new reservation fulfilled an ancient prophesy that included the prediction that the new land would provide immense wealth. This prophecy came true and the Osage prospered throughout the twentieth century.

The Osage had a very unique social structure designed to maintain social balance and control. The basic structural units of the tribe were its twenty-four patrilineal clans, called ton-won-gthon or u-dse'-the ("fireplaces"). Clans were both social and religious units. Every clan had a set of zho'-i-the, or "life symbols," which included animals, plants, celestial bodies, and natural occurrences such as storms and thunder. Although tribal clans are commonly referred to by specific names, Osage clans did not have specific names like other tribes, but could be referred to by direct or metaphoric reference to any of their life symbols. As a result, there were different terms or names for every clan. Based on the basic belief that the cosmos is divided into two parts, the Sky (Father) and the Earth (Mother) clans were divided into two groups or "moieties". Nine clans were grouped as the Sky People, and fifteen clans were grouped as the Earth People. Together they symbolically represented all of the forces of the earth.

Each clan was divided into sub-clans, each in turn associated with some particular life symbol of the clan and called by reference to this life symbol. There was some ranking of sub-clans and they frequently differed in their ritual significance. One sub-clan in each clan was designated as the "Sho-kah" sub-clan whose members acted as the official messengers for the clan. Clan membership was of great significance in that an individual was Osage by virtue of membership in a clan. Each clan had its own set of personal names usually, but not always, a reference to one of the clans life symbols. Also, each clan had its own specific ritual in which a clan name was given to each individual.

Clan membership regulated marriage. A person had to marry a member of one of the other or opposing moieties. A member of one of the nine Sky clans had to marry a member of one of the fifteen Earth clans and vise versa. Just like all life was the product of the interaction between the sky and the earth, so every Osage child was the product of a union of the Sky People and the Earth People.

An Osage Legend

What is the meaning of life? Why is it that people grow old and die?

Although he was young, those questions troubled the mind of Little One. He asked the elders about them, but their answers did not satisfy him. At last he knew there was only one thing to do. He would have to seek the answers in his dreams.

Little One rose early in the morning and prayed to Wah-Kon-Tah for help. Then he walked away from the village, across the prairie and toward the hills. He took nothing with him, no food or water. He was looking for a place where none of his people would see him, a place where a vision could come to him.

Little One walked a long way. Each night he camped in a different place, hoping that it would be the right one to give him a dream that could answer his questions. But no such dream came to him.

At last he came to a hill that rose above the land like the breast of a turkey. A spring burst from the rocks near the base of a great elm tree. It was such a beautiful place that it seemed to be filled with the power of Wah-Kon-Tah. Little One sat down by the base of that elm tree and waited as the sun set. But though he slept, again no sign was given to him.

When he woke the next morning, he was weak with hunger. I must go back home, he thought. He was filled with despair, but his thoughts were of his parents. He had been gone a long time. Even though it was expected that a young man would seek guidance alone in this fashion, Little One knew they would be worried. "If I do not return while I still have the strength to walk," he said, "I will die here and my family may never find my body."

So Little One began to follow the small stream that was fed by the spring. It flowed out of the hills in the direction of his village, and he trusted it to lead him home. He walked and walked until he was not far from his village. But as he walked along that stream, he stumbled and fell among the roots of an old willow tree. Little One clung to the roots of the willow tree. Although he tried to rise, his legs were too weak.

"Grandfather," he said to the willow tree, "It is not possible for me to go on."

Then the ancient willow spoke to him. "Little One," it said, "all the Little Ones always cling to me for support as they walk along the great path of life. See the base of my trunk, which sends forth those roots that hold me firm in the earth. They are the sign of my old age. They are darkened and wrinkled with age, but they are still strong. Their strength comes from relying on the earth. When the Little Ones use me as a symbol, they will not fail to see old age as they travel along the path of life."

Those words gave strength to Little One's spirit. He stood again and began to walk. Soon his own village was in sight, and as he sat down to rest for a moment in the grass of the prairie, looking at his village, another vision came to him. He saw before him the figure of an old man. The old man was strangely familiar, even though Little One had never seen him before.

"Look upon me," the old man said. "What do you see?"

"I see an old man whose face is wrinkled with age," Little One said.

"Look upon me again," the old man said.

Then Little One looked, and as he looked, the lesson shown him by the willow tree filled his heart. "I see an aged man in sacred clothing," Little One said, "The fluttering down of the eagle adorns his head. I see you, my grandfather. I see an aged man with the stem of the pipe between his lips. I see you, my grandfather. Your are firm and rooted to the earth like the ancient willow. I see you standing among the days that are peaceful and beautiful. I see you, my grandfather. I see you standing as you will stand in your lodge, my grandfather."

The ancient man smiled. Little One had seen truly. "My young brother," the old man said, "your mind is fixed upon the days that are peaceful and beautiful." And then he was gone.

Now Little One's heart was filled with peace, and as he walked into the village, his mind was troubled no longer with those questions about the meaning of life. For he knew that the old man he had seen was himself. The ancient man was Little One as he would be when he became an elder, filled with that great peace and wisdom which would give strength to all of the people.

From that day on, Little One began to spend more time listening to the words his elders spoke, and of all the young men in the village, he was the happiest and the most content.

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