Characteristics of the Apache Indians

by Frank B. Chavez III

The Ndee, better known as the Apache, are several related tribes found primarily in the American Southwest. A stubborn people, they are well known for their struggles against the various governments that attempted to impose their will on them. Like other Native Americans, their toughest struggle has been maintaining their traditional cultural identity.

Origins

The Apache migrated from Canada around A.D.1200. They first settled on the western edge of the Great Plains where they became nomadic bison hunters. In the 18th century, the Comanche drove them away from the Plains and into the deserts of the Southwest. However, the Lipan Apache remained on the Plains of Texas while the Kiowa-Apache settled in what is now Kansas. Today, the rest live in Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

Family

Apache families are matrilineal. When a man marries, he joins his wife's family. If the marriage fails, children stay within the wife's family. Tradition encourages marital harmony by forbidding interaction between mother-in-law and son-in-law. Until relatively recently, Apache tribes lacked a central government; each extended family conducted their affairs independently. This lack of central authority forced the Spanish, Mexican and American governments to deal with each extended family individually, making imposing authority over the Apache difficult.

Language

Apache languages are part of the Athapascan language family spoken in Canada, the Pacific Coast, Alaska and the Southwest United States. It includes Navajo, Western Apache, Mescalero, Chiricahua, Jicarilla, Kiowa-Apache and Lipan. Like many Asian languages, the meaning of Apache words changes with different tones. Many English speakers find Apaches languages difficult.

Food

The Apache were nomadic hunters rather than farmers. Game included antelope, bison and deer. Apache women gathered seeds, nuts and fruit. They acquired corn through trade with farmers or stole it during raids. A member of the agave plant family called mescal is a traditional delicacy. It is stripped down to a bare bulb about 3 feet around and slow roasted in a large fire pit. Cooked mescal is sticky, syrupy and fibrous. Dried strips of mescal last indefinitely, providing the Apache with rations for extended trips.

Culture

The Apache perform several ritualistic dances each year that celebrate significant moments in life. For example, the Sunrise Dance celebrates a girl's entrance into adulthood. The ritual involves months of preparation such as choosing godparents, selecting a medicine man and training the girl for the grueling dance. The dance itself is a reenactment of the Apache creation story and lasts three to six hours. For four days after the dance, the girl is considered holy and is believed to have healing powers.

Apache's Today

There are five Apache tribes in New Mexico, five in Arizona and three in Oklahoma. The tribes in Arizona and New Mexico each live on their own reservation. Except for the Kiowa-Apache, the Apaches residing in Oklahoma are descendants of Apaches taken prisoner with the warrior Geronimo. They reside on land near Apache, Oklahoma. Modern Apache are white-collar professionals, college instructors, artists, ranchers and farmers. Several Apache tribes own businesses including timber companies, ski resorts, museums, gift shops, hotels and tourist attractions.

About the Author

Frank B. Chavez III has been a professional writer since 2006. His articles have appeared on numerous websites including WitchVox and Spectrum Nexus as well as in the e-magazine Gods and Empires. He has his associate degree with an emphasis in theater arts from Chabot College, where he received the theater department's Joeray Madrid Award for Excellence in Dramaturgy.

Photo Credits

  • www.loveleaf.net