December 6, 2013

Omaha Sacred Pole

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The Omaha revere an ancient Sacred Pole, from before the time of their migration to the Missouri, made of cottonwood. It is called Umoⁿ’hoⁿ’ti (meaning “The Real Omaha”), and considered to be a person. It was kept in a Sacred Tent in the center of the village, which only men who were members of the Holy Society could enter.

 

 In 1888 Francis La Flesche, a young Omaha anthropologist, helped arrange for his colleague Alice Fletcher to have the Sacred Pole taken to the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, for preservation of it and its stories, at a time when the tribe’s continuity seemed threatened by pressure for assimilation. The tribe was considering burying the Pole with its last keeper after his death. The last renewal ceremony for the pole was held in 1875, and the last buffalo hunt in 1876. La Flesche and Fletcher gathered and preserved stories about the Sacred Pole by its last keeper, Yellow Smoke, a holy man of the Hong’a gens.

In the twentieth century, about 100 years after the Pole had been transferred, the tribe negotiated with the Peabody Museum for its return. The tribe planned to install the Sacred Pole in a cultural center to be built. When the museum returned the Sacred Pole to the tribe in July 1989, the Omaha held an August pow-wow in celebration.

The Sacred Pole is said to represent the body of a man. The name by which it is known, a-kon-da-bpa, is the word used to designate the leather bracer worn upon the wrist of an Indian for protection from the bow string (of the weapon of bow and arrow). This name demonstrates that the pole was intended to symbolize a man, as no other creature could wear a bracer. It also indicated that the man thus symbolized was one who was both a provider for and a protector of his people.

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