The Quapaw Indians are part of the Dhegiha Sioux tribe forming Native Americans. They occupied the western part of the Mississippi River which is present-day Arkansas. This essay will discuss the culture of this group of Indians as the group I find most interesting. The writer traces the history of the Quapaw Indians, their location, economic activities, and lifestyle.
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History and Location of Quapaw Indians
The Quapaw is drawn from the clannish phrase “Ugakhpa”. Which means “the downstream people” (Whayne 29). Quapaw Indians belong to “Dhegiha” Subdivision of Sioux. They settled in Ohio Valley, but later migrated from Ohio to the west of Mississippi River – Arkansas (Whayne 33). The name “Arkansas” was started by the Quapaw Indians. During the mid 1600s, Joliet and Marquette, on an exploration mission from the French to the Mississippi River, used the service of Illini Indians as translators and guides (Whayne 405). The Illini interpreters’ and guides called the Quapaw tribe “Arkansea” which meant “the community from the south wind”. Quapaw Indians comprised a larger group called Dhegiha Sioux. They later split into smaller tribal groups after leaving Ohio Valley. These ethnic groups consisted of Osage, Kansa, Ponca and Omaha. The Quapaw migrated from Mississippi River and settled in Arkansas. They displaced Tunica and Illinois who were the original inhabitants of Arkansas. The Quapaw migration gave rise to the term “Ugaxpa,” which means “roughly.” The Quapaw Indians were popularly referred to as “Ugaxpa” by other tribes.
Cultural Traits of Quapaw Indians
Quapaw Indians are easily recognized by their unique cultural characteristics. Their constructions are mainly made of condensed pyramid molds which are either circular, rectangular, or square (Whayne 291). Their temples and domestic houses were built on top of such molds. They preferred this type of architectural style because it was easier to house several families. The Quapaw had a clan system comprising of many gentes. Polygamy was a special marriage of choice though not practiced widely by members of the Quapaw community. It was rooted in traditional disposition and endowed with rich legends and intricate rituals (Whayne 36). The dead were buried either in the ground or on clay floors in the houses. They often wrapped the dead in a sitting position before he or she was buried.
The Quapaw Indians largely practiced agriculture as an economic activity. They grew maize on a large-scale, besides, the clay soil along the Mississippi River encouraged them to venture into ceramics, pottery art, and painting as it was easy to get water for these activities. The Quapaw also had well and elaborate trade networks (Whayne 135). The trade networks spread in various locations such as the Rockies, Gulf of Mexico, and the Great lakes. They also developed trade relations with the French people. The trade relations enabled the two groups to exchange commodities and earn foreign exchange.
The lifestyle of Quapaw Indians was characterized by religion. Society was both religious and secular. For instance, they had complex ceremonies such as sundance. They also posed sacred symbols called a “medicine pipe”. The term “Medicine” was used to mean “power”. Quapaw Indians believed the pipe, an icon of supremacy, assured them of accomplishment in warfare, hunting, and other deeds (Whayne 208). Besides, art was part of the Quapaw spiritual icon. Pictographic art for instance was used to depict feats performed in warfare and hunting. The patterns used as forms of decorations were triangles, diamonds, and straight lines (Whayne 115).
The Quapaw Indians had a unique history. Their culture was different from that of the rest of the other Native American groups. Their farming activities such as large-scale intensive maize cultivation helped them increase food supply and improve their life.
Whayne, Jeannie, M. Arkansas: a narrative history. Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press, 2002.
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