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Native American Tribes: The Caddo, Agawam, and Esopus Indians

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It is believed that Native American people began to populate American lands over 12,000 years ago. Each of these groups formed a tribe and had their own distinct traditions and languages. The Caddo, Agawam, and Esopus Indians are just a few of those numerous Native American groups. These 3 tribes are similar, yet very different concurrently.

Just like traditions and languages, every tribe has a different creation story. Each story is a myth that explains how the world began and how humans started to inhabit it. These myths or stories of creation are often considered sacred to the tribe that it belongs to. All stories have a unique plot and characters that can easily transform. Most Native American traditions revolve around the belief of how the world came to be.

The Caddos believe that hundreds of years ago, males and animals were closely related as brothers and sisters. They lived together below the ground. Then, their leader, Neesh, revealed an entrance to a cave leading up to the Earth’s exterior surface. All the brothers and sisters divided themselves into groups, each one with a leader and a drum to play. They began voyaging through the cave while playing their drums and were not allowed to look back. Soon they reached the surface. First, an old man climbed out of the cave carrying fire and a pipe in one of his hands and a drum in the other. Second, came the old man’s wife carrying corn, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds. Next, came the people and animals that followed the old couple out of the cave. Little did the people know, a wolf was not far behind. When the wolf climbed out, he turned around and looked back to the entrance of the cave. The openings of the cave began to shut, leaving the rest of the people and animals under the ground. Because the Caddo people’s ancestors came from the underworld, they call the middle world, “ina`” or mother. The Caddo people believe that they will return to the ground when they pass.

The Agawam Indians are an Algonquian tribe. These Native American people believe that there was a man named Algon. Algon was a great hunter who always roamed the grassland in search for food. One day when he was grazing the prairie, he found a strange circle cut into the long grass. He decided to hide behind the bushes, so he could find out what caused this bizarre sight. Not much later, a basket carrying 12 maidens dropped from the sky. The maidens hopped out of the basket and started singing spiritual songs and began doing circle dances. They were all beautiful, but the youngest one was the most beautiful. Algon was instantly infatuated. He ran towards the 12 maidens in hopes of stealing the youngest one away. The girls were frightened and flew back up into the sky, and this process was repeated 3 more times. Algon became frustrated and developed a plan. Placing a hollow, mice-filled tree trunk next to the circle, he then took some charms and transformed himself into a mouse. When the girls came back a fourth time, the mice filed out of the tree trunk and began to chase the girls. The girls crushed and killed the mice, but not Algon. Algon kept his human traits and was able to take his girl. They later fell in love and had a son together. Years passed, and the sky-girl became homesick. She built another magic basket and put Algon’s son and some gifts for her sky family inside. She climbed in, headed back for the sky, and remained there for many years. Algon grew sad, lonely, and old. He sat by the circle in the grass, waiting for their return. In the sky-world, his son was becoming a man. He always asked his mother about his father, and this made her miss Algon. The sky-people came back to Earth and were delighted to see each other. The sky-chief wanted an animal trait in return for sending the woman and son back to Earth. The sky girl soon returned with a falcon feather and the sky chief said that they would always have the freedom to travel between the Earth and the sky-world when they wished. Algon and the maiden became falcons and still fly over the forests and the prairies.

The Esopus Indians are a part of the Lenape tribe. They believe that before creation, there was nothing but black empty space. In the darkness, there was a spirit that fell asleep and had a dream about the world we have today. He awakened and returned to the empty darkness that was there before. First, he created helper spirits to do their jobs, and together they created the Earth. Next, he created trees, and from the tree roots came a man. When the tree bent down to kiss the ground, the woman was created. The people and animals all got along until they started to fight over the tooth of a bear. This tooth could give the owner magical powers. The wars between them got so intense, that the animals and people began to move away, and they all created new tribes and traditions.

Native American lifestyles are notable for the large diversity and range. Many of the Indian tribes share the same culture and traditions. What is culture? Culture is a term that can mean various things. It usually describes certain groups of people that share the same beliefs and practices in a population. Culture is passed on for generations by Native Americans. Some of the Caddo, Agawam, and Esopus Indians still practice their culture that has been passed on from their early ancestors.

The Caddo people originate from the Southeast Native Americans. They lived in East Texas among the piney forests. The Caddo Indians speak English today, but they used to speak in their native Caddoan language. They lived in tall cone-shaped huts constructed of grass. The huts were well furnished on the inside with comfortable furniture. Often, these huts were relatively large, and several families would live in one hut together. Caddo men were hunters and to protect their families, they would go to war. They would wear their hair in a mohawk style or shave. They also wore breechcloths made from tree bark or deerskin. Women were farmers, and cooks, and took care of the children. They wore their hair in a bun. They also wore a knee-length skirt made of tree bark or deerskin. Both men and women were responsible for storytelling, art, and music. Caddo children had more chores and less time to play than kids today. They did have dolls, toys, and played games with the other Caddo children. In one game, children would throw a dart through a moving hoop. The Caddo people had a surplus of food to eat. They grew corn, beans, squash, and pumpkin. They also hunted for meat from deer, bear, fox, turkey, and rabbit. The river close by the villages provided fish. The food was cooked into cornbread and soups and a log mortar always stood upright near their dwellings. There were many formal ceremonies and traditions within the Caddo trine and marriage wasn’t one of them. Sometimes the couple would just live together and be seen already as a married couple. Marriage between one man and several women wasn’t an uncommon occurrence either.

The Agawam people lived in small villages that were temporary and mobile. This was beneficial because they were able to find locations with the best food supply. The homes were seasonal. They lived in portable wigwam huts with buckskin doors in the spring and summer. The most common clothing was made from moose, bear, and deer hide. They made leggings, moccasins, capes, and tunics. For hats and gloves, muskrat and beaver hides were used. The Agawam usually ate alewife, sturgeon, salmon, cod, trout, bass, and flounder from rivers, streams, and the ocean. The Agawam men hunted whales, seals, beaver, caribou, moose, and white-tailed deer. The women and children gathered scallops, mussels, crabs, eggs, and various berries. The children played many games and had very few chores. Most of the games prepared them for life later. The boys shot bows that taught them to hunt and the girls played with dolls to learn how to sew and make clothing. To become married, a couple might have to perform certain tasks. The bride and groom would also have to choose sponsors. Their sponsors were there to give them spiritual and marital advice. When the couple is married, there is absolutely no divorce after that. They made a commitment and were demanded to keep it.

The Esopus people lived in villages consisting of longhouses in the winter. Just like the Agawam people, the Esopus had temporary camps and lived in birchbark wigwams in the summertime. The women of the tribe usually maintained beans, corn, and squash. The Esopus men went fishing and hunting to provide for the families. They fished for sturgeon, pike, and a variety of clams, oysters, lobsters, and scallops. The Esopus wore very simple clothing. All clothing was made from animal skins and breechcloths. Women wore wrap-around skirts, tunics, and cloaks. Men wore leggings, cloaks, and moccasins. Men removed all facial hair and both genders colored faces with red ochre. The Esopus made canoes out of tree bark for easy transportation. A Lenape Indian girl who has reached puberty most likely has an arranged marriage set up by her parents. Usually, a couple that lived together was considered man and wife. If there was an actual ceremony, it was a quick exchange of jewelry, belts, and blankets to the bride’s parents. If the girl’s mom and dad took the gifts, the union was complete. The bride wore a knee-length deerskin skirt and beautiful beads around her forehead. She was to wear nothing on the top half of her body.   

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