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Omaha Pitek, Emily


This entry focuses on the Omaha living in what is now Northeastern Nebraska, around the time of 1860, prior to significant American influence, Christianization efforts, and subjection to the law of the United States. This entry relies primarily on the principal ethnographic authority (Fletcher and La Flesche, 1911), which provides a reconstruction of Omaha life prior to significant cultural changes. As Fletcher and La Flesche (1911) state, “tribal organization of the Omaha was based on certain fundamental religious ideas, cosmic in significance; these had reference to conceptions as to how the visible universe came into being and how it is maintained” (p.134). The prominent religious idea that the authors refer to is Wakónda, which is the invisible and continuous life force that pervades all things both seen and unseen. Wakónda manifests itself in duality: of motion and permanency, of male and female. It is the sense of oneness of the universe. Wakónda is relevant to all aspects of Omaha life, from social and political structure to religious beliefs and practices. Representing the duality of Wakónda, the Omaha were organized into two grand divisions: Inshtacunda, representing the Sky People, and Hongashenu, representing the Earth People. Within each division were five gentes; each gens was an exogamous kin group with distinct rites, tabu, and symbolic characteristics. Each of the two grand divisions had a principal chief; these two chiefs, together with five other chiefs from across the grand divisions, comprised the Council of Seven. The Council of Seven was tasked with the political leadership of the Omaha and duties such as the maintenance of order and decision-making responsibility. Chiefs were favored by Wakónda; chiefs had a special relationship and connection to its unseen powers. In every gens, a particular family held the hereditary right to fill the position of keeper or “priest” who was charged with the gens’ sacred object and associated rites and rituals. As religious leader, the keeper was responsible for conducting ceremonies and rites for his gens. All ceremonies were connected to Wakónda, including both individual and communal practices. Because religious beliefs permeate almost all aspects of Omaha life, this entry considers the Omaha religious group to be coterminous with Omaha society itself.

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Attribution 4.0 International