Religious Ceremonies of the Caddo Tribe

by Taylor Echolls
Caddo priests performed deer rituals with the animal's head and antlers.

Caddo priests performed deer rituals with the animal's head and antlers.

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The Caddo are a Native American tribe whose homeland covers parts of Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. Caddo culture thrived between C.E. 700 until the late 17th century when diseases from European settlers decimated Caddo populations. The Caddo observed many religious and spiritual ceremonies that aligned with the seasons and natural events throughout the year. The tribe saw its success as hinging on the continued performance of religious rituals, and their descendants maintain these traditions today.

Religion

The Caddo revered a god called Caddi Ayo or "captain of the sky." A member of the tribe called the "xinesi" acted as intermediary in communicating between god and the tribe, primarily through meditation. One of the xinesi's ritual duties was to keep a perpetual fire burning in a fire temple, usually a high-domed thatched hut. Other spiritual officials existed in the Caddo tribe including medicine men who typically performed healing ceremonies. Caddo tribes were highly centralized, constructing large mounds of earth that acted as civic-ceremonial centers.

Nature & Harvest Rituals

As a tribe of hunters and farmers, Caddo religious ceremonies honored animal spirits and forces of nature. The night before a deer hunt a Caddo priest performed a ceremony involving a deer head and antlers -- if the next day's hunt was successful then the hunters waited to butcher their kill until the priest had whispered in its ear. In the spring Caddo women danced and blessed seeds in a "green corn ritual" to ensure a bountiful crop. The autumn season also brought ceremonial feasting to give thanks to nature for an abundant harvest.

Funeral Ceremonies

The Caddo also had elaborate ceremonies for funerals of tribal leaders and loved ones. Archaeologists from the University of Texas at Austin believe Caddo funerals were multi-day ceremonies where slaves may have been sacrificed and buried with their honored owners. Funerals were held to send the deceased into the afterlife, whom the Caddo buried with their personal effects such as pottery, ceremonial weapons and jewelry made from shells.

Caddo Today

Descendants of the Caddo today work hard to promote their history and culture, though not all members continue to observe ancestral religious rituals . Nevertheless many aspects of Caddo culture survive today, like the rich tradition of social dances. The Caddo Duck Dance and Alligator Dance are performed today at fundraisers for Caddo schools, while others like the Turkey Dance are performed to remember the accomplishments of Caddo warriors. Caddo pottery has also been revived by dedicated members of the tribe, resplendent in its swirling engravings and contrasting colors.

About the Author

Taylor Echolls is an award-winning writer whose expertise includes health, environmental and LGBT journalism. He has written for the "Valley Citizen" newspaper, where his work won first- and second-place awards in sports and outdoor features from the Idaho Press Club. Echolls holds a B.A. from Mount Holyoke College.

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