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The Kiowas, also called the Plains Apaches, represent a Native American nation from the plains of western Texas, Oklahoma, and eastern New Mexico. The Lipans belong to the group of Apaches from the Southwestern United States.

Burial place

The Kiowa and Lipan Apaches distinguish between the life principle (the spirit) and the evil spirits (the ghosts). After death, the soul continues to live without interference and danger to the community. The beyond represents only a stage, a sort of purgatory, that precedes the future soul’s reincarnation.

The Kiowas believe that the ancestors return to search for the dying person and accompany him on his journey. After they arrive in the afterlife, they ask the defunct’s soul to stop looking back. The different

Apache tribes have in common the fear of evil spirits. Death represents a traumatic experience, and for that reason, they bury the body very fast.

Burial place

Their representation of death is very rich in symbols and ceremonies.

During the funeral, the freed soul can leave for the « land of summer ». For some Apache tribes, following death, the soul goes into the air. For other tribes, it goes to a contrary world, where everything represents the complete opposite of the living world, a space where the rivers flow back to their source.

The family members weep over the dead, rip up their clothes, and sometimes they shave their heads, hurt their bodies, or cut a part of their articulations. The widow has no choice but to wear his clothes blackened by the smoke until the moment when the deceased’s sisters tell her to stop.

The widower asks the family of his defunct wife to cut his forehead or his hair and has to offer them gifts in exchange.

The body and particularly the skull are considered a threat. A woman from the family washes the dead body, combs his hair, and paints his face with red and yellow ocher.

Afterward, they dress the body in the best clothes the family can afford and wrap it in a blanket. If the moment of death occurs during the day, the funeral takes place before sunset, in case it happens during the night, the funeral is organized the next day.

Lipans: Presidio's sacred tomb

As for the Navajos, the deceased’s body is removed from the tipi by a different side than the ones used by the living.

Kiowa mother and baby in his cradle

They carry the body up to the hills to dump it in the crevice of a rock or place it in a shallow grave. Ashes and pollen are sprinkled around the tomb, starting with the southwest corner. This act is considered a prayer for the soul and facilitates his safe entrance into paradise.

Later, the grave is filled with branches, and rocks to discourage animals from reaching the body. Each time they use a cavity left by a moving rock or a fallen tree’s stump, the dead body is folded into the smallest possible space. They return the rock or the strain to its initial position and then place stones around to discourage the coyotes and other animals from entering.

Afterward, the place is avoided. When a child dies, he is tied to his cradle and hung on a tree. They attach very close to the body a container with some water, to allow him to drink.

They do their best to ensure the dead do not return to tempt the living. Some Apaches burn the body of the deceased together with his tipi and all his belongings. The leftover clothes are thrown into the river for an eventual return.

The family members move from their house to avoid being haunted. They kill his favorite horse. After the ceremony, the group takes a different route to return home, they are careful to never look back or discuss about the burial place.

Arrived back home they wash their body and change their clothes. They rub their cuts with grease and generally do not wash it until the wounds are completely healed.

The grieving can last up to a year. They offer food to facilitate the transition of the dead toward the other world. The sage and the cedar are used in fumigation to ward off the fear of evil spirits, anxious thoughts, and dreams caused by death.

Many birds and animals are associated with death and ghosts.

The crow is accused of being the cause of death. The dogs, the coyotes, and the wolves bring bad luck and death.

The Apache believe the owls represent a threat after the burials because they can summon and take away the dead spirits.

Chief Kiowa Lone Wolf



Morris E. Opler and William E. Bittle, The Death Practices and Eschatology of the Kiowa Apache



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