Apache, Lipan (Native Americans of the Southwest)

Lipantmp6C-10_thumb may mean "warriors of the mountains." Apache comes from the Zuni word Apachu, meaning "enemy." The Apache call themselves Ndee, or Dine’etmp6C-11_thumb, "the People."

Location The Apache arrived in the Southwest from present-day Canada around 1400. By about 1700, the Lipan were living on the south-central Texas plains, as far south as Texas’s Colorado River. Today they live on the Mescalero Reservation, in southeast New Mexico.

Population Approximately 100 Lipan Apache lived in their region around 1900, although possibly up to ten times as many lived there prior to contact with non-natives. Of roughly 25,000 Apaches nationwide in 1990, 3,500, including Chiricahua, Mescalero, and Lipan Apache, lived on the Mescalero Reservation; several hundred lived off-reservation.

Language The people spoke a dialect of Southern Athapaskan, or Apachean.

Historical Information

History Ancestors of today’s Apache Indians began the trek from Asia to North America in roughly 1000 B.C.E. Most of this group, which included the Athapaskans, was known as the Nadene. By 1300, the group that was to become the Southern Athapaskans (Apaches and Navajos) broke away from other Athapaskan tribes and began migrating southward, reaching the American Southwest around 1400 and crystallizing into separate cultural groups.

Before contact with the Spanish, the Apaches were relatively peaceful and may have engaged in some agricultural activities. By about 1700 the Lipan had become separated from the Jicarilla and had migrated into the central and south Texas plains. They had also acquired horses and had become expert buffalo hunters and raiders of the western plains from Kansas to Mexico. Caddoan villages felt the wrath of Lipan raiders and slavers until they acquired guns from French traders and were able to drive the Lipan back into Texas.

A Lipan request for Spanish protection against the Comanche, who were pressing them from the north and east, resulted in the establishment of a mission in 1757, which the Comanche promptly destroyed the following year. By the late eighteenth century, the Comanche had forced most Lipans from Texas into New Mexico to join other Apache bands there.

By the early nineteenth century, the remaining Lipans had established good terms with the Texans, serving as their scouts, guides, and trading partners. Following the war between Mexico and the United States (1848), the Apaches, who did their part to bring misery to Mexico, assumed that the Americans would continue as allies. Instead, the Texans adopted an extermination policy, and those Lipans who escaped went to live in Mexico. In the late 1870s, some Lipans fought with the Chiricahua leader Victorio in his last stand against the United States and captivity. He and they were killed in Mexico.

In 1873, the U.S. government had granted the Mescalero Apache a small reservation surrounding the Sierra Blanca Mountains. The Mescaleros absorbed Apache refugees and immigrants in hopes that the increased numbers would help them gain the elusive title to their land. In 1903, 37 Mexican Lipan Apaches arrived, followed in 1913 by 187 Chiricahuas from Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Eventually, largely through intermarriage, these peoples evolved into the modern Mescalero community.

The United States engaged in extreme repression and all-out assault on traditional culture at the end of the nineteenth century. Cattle raising and timber sales proved lucrative in the early twentieth century. Eventually, day schools replaced the hated, culture-killing boarding schools. By the late 1940s, every family had a house, and the Mescalero economy was relatively stable. The reservation is managed cooperatively with the Mescalero and the Chiricahua Apache.

Religion Apache religion is based on a complex mythology and features numerous deities. Most deities are seen as personifications of natural forces. The sun is the greatest source of power. Culture heroes, like White-Painted Woman and her son, Child of the Water, also figure highly, as do protective mountain spirits (ga’an). The latter are represented as masked dancers (probably an indication of Pueblo influence) in certain ceremonies, such as the girls’ puberty rite. Apaches believe that since other living things were once people, we are merely following in the footsteps of those who have gone before.

Supernatural power, which pervades the universe, may be utilized for human purposes through ritual procedures and personal revelations. It is both the goal and the medium of most Apache ceremonialism. The ultimate goal of supernatural power was to facilitate the maintenance of spiritual strength and balance in a world of conflicting forces. Apaches recognize two categories of rites: personal/shamanistic and long-life. In the former, power is derived from an animal, a celestial body, or another natural phenomenon. When power appears to a person and is accepted, rigorous training as a shaman follows. Shamans also facilitate the acquisition of power, which may be used in the service of war, luck, rainmaking, or life-cycle events. Power may be evil as well as good, however, and sickness and misfortune could be caused by the anger of a deity or by not treating properly a natural force. Witchcraft, as well as incest, was an unpardonable offense.

Long-life rites were taught by elders and connected to mythology. They were also closely associated with various song cycles. Among the most important and complex is the girls’ puberty ceremony. Lasting for four days and nights, this ceremony involved masked dancers, feasting, games, rituals in a ceremonial tipi, and a long and intricate song cycle. Other important rites included cradle, first steps, first haircut, and boys’ puberty ceremonies. Once common, the Native American Church has now declined in popularity.

Government Traditionally, the Lipan knew little tribal cohesion and no central political authority. They were a tribe based on common territory, language, and culture. As much central authority as existed was found in the local group (composed of extended families). Its leader, or chief, enjoyed authority because of personal qualities, such as persuasiveness and bravery, often in addition to ceremonial knowledge. (All the famous Apache "chiefs" were local group leaders.) Decisions were taken by consensus. One of the chief’s most important functions was to mitigate friction among his people.

Customs Women were the anchors of the Apache family. Residence was matrilocal. Besides the political organization, society was divided into a number of matrilineal clans. Apaches in general respected the elderly and valued honesty above most other qualities.

Gender roles were clearly defined but not rigidly enforced. Women gathered, prepared, and stored food; built the home; carried water; gathered fuel; cared for the children; tanned, dyed, and decorated hides; and wove baskets. Men hunted, raided, and waged war, although women sometimes took part in antelope hunts and rabbit surrounds. The men also made weapons and were responsible for their horses and equipment. The male puberty ceremony revolved around war and raiding. Girls as well as boys practiced with the bow and arrow, sling, and spear, and both were expert riders.

Although actual marriage ceremonies were brief or nonexistent, the people practiced a number of formal preliminary rituals, designed to strengthen the idea that a man owed deep allegiance to his future wife’s family. Out of deference, married men were not permitted to speak directly with their mothers-in-law. Divorce was relatively easy to obtain. The mother’s brother played an important role in the life of his sister and her children.

All Apaches had a great fear of ghosts. Death was repressed as much as possible. So great was their fear of the dead that outsiders sometimes buried their dead. Perhaps paradoxically, however, the elderly were venerated. The afterlife was pictured as twofold in nature: a pleasant land for the good but a barren one for witches. The Lipan pictured the underworld, home of the dead, as the place of their original emergence.

Dwellings Lipan Apaches generally lived in hide tipis. Occasionally, and especially when they were moved off the plains, they used dome-shaped brush wikiups, which they covered with grass thatch or with hides in bad weather.

Diet Lipan Apaches were primarily hunters and gatherers. They hunted buffalo into the eighteenth century, and afterward they continued to hunt deer, elk, antelope, rabbits, and other game. They ate few birds and did not eat fish, coyote, snake, or owl.

Wild foods included agave; cactus shoots, flowers, and fruit; berries; seeds; nuts; honey; and wild onions, potatoes, and grasses. Nuts and seeds were often ground into flour. The agave or century plant was particularly important. Baking its base in rock-lined pits for several days yielded mescal, a sweet, nutritious food, which was dried and stored. The Lipan moved often to follow animal migrations as well as the ripening of their wild foods. Traditional farm crops were obtained by trade or raid and by practicing some agriculture.

Key Technology Like the Plains tribes, the Lipan used hide rather than baskets or pottery for most receptacles. Most of their tools were also buffalo based.

Trade Trading partners included Plains tribes and Hispanic villages, especially before the eighteenth century. At that time their main surplus item was buffalo meat and hides.

Notable Arts Traditional arts included tanned hides and some basketry.

Transportation Lipans acquired horses in the seventeenth century. Prior to that time dogs had drawn the travois. To ford rivers, they used rafts or boats of skins stretched over a wooden frame.

Dress Men wore buckskin shirts, breechclouts, leggings, and hard-soled, low-cut moccasins. They braided and wrapped their hair. Women also dressed in buckskin and braided their hair. They also plucked their eyebrows.

War and Weapons Historically, the Apache made formidable enemies. After they acquired horses, raiding became one of their most important activities. The main purpose of raiding, in which one sought to avoid contact with the enemy, was to gain wealth and honor. It differed fundamentally from warfare, which was undertaken primarily for revenge and which, like hunting, was accompanied by complex rituals and rules. From the sixteenth century on, the Lipan were in periodic conflict with Utes, Comanches, Spanish, and Mexicans. The Lipan were less concerned than other Apache about contamination from a dead enemy, and, like Plains Indians, they considered it a virtue to be the first to strike a fallen foe (count coup). Military equipment included shields with painted buckskin covers, bows and arrows, quivers, bow covers, wrist guards, spears, rawhide slings, flint knives, and war clubs.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations The Mescalero Reservation, in southeast New Mexico, contains roughly 460,000 acres of land and is home to the Chiricahua and Mescalero Apaches in addition to the Lipan. The 1992 population was 3,511. After 1934, the tribal business committee began functioning as a tribal council. In 1964, a new constitution defined the Mescalero tribe without reference to the original band.

Economy Important industries include logging, cattle raising, and the Inn of the Mountain Gods.

Legal Status The Mescalero are a federal corporation and a federally recognized tribal entity. They obtained title to the reservation in 1922.

Daily Life Intermarriage has tended to blur the distinction between the once-separate tribes on the Mescalero Reservation. Up to three-quarters of the people still speak Apache, although the dialect is more Mescalero than Chiricahua or Lipan. The written Apache language is also taught in reservation schools. Some young women still undergo the traditional puberty ritual, and there is a marked interest in crafts and other traditions. The reservation confronts relatively few social problems, despite its high un- and underemployment. Traditional dancing by costumed mountain spirits now coincides with the July Fourth celebration and rodeo. Many Mescaleros are Catholic. Children have attended public schools since 1953. A tribal scholarship fund exists to help with college expenses. The Lipan language is virtually extinct.

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