The Meaning of Food in Native American Cultures

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Taking a deeper look at the meaning behind food through the eyes of traditional societies reveals nothing more than absolute complexity. Sam Gill, in Native American Religions, indisputably shows the complexity through detailed performances and explanations of sacred ceremonies held among numerous traditional societies. Ultimately, Gill explains that these societies handle their food (that gives them life), the source in which the good is obtained, and the way they go about getting their food are done in extreme symbolic manners that reflect their cosmology, religious beliefs, actions, and respect for ancestors/spirits that live among them. All of which are complexly intertwined. These aspects are demonstrated through the hunting traditions of the Alaskan Eskimo and the agricultural traditions of the Creek.

Hunting, which was the primal source of food, goes far beyond satisfying the physical body. Therefore societies, such as the Eskimo, handle every aspect of their food in a `special' and symbolic way. This is what Gill was explaining and the ceremonies, as well as, the way of life in regards to the food are evidence of this.

The Eskimo hold an annual Bladder Ceremony which demonstrates all of these things previously mentioned. To explain the complete meaning and symbolism behind this Bladder Ceremony in its entirety, is very difficult because every act that goes into this ceremony is meaningful and of concepts not easily understood. In the Eskimo society, the Kwakiutl men go hunting. To go and kill an animal is to kill the fleshed body of an ancestor's soul that is temporarily occupying it. So it is clear that this source of food (hunting of animals) connect the people to the ancestors or spirits of their pray. Therefore, extra care needs to exist in the approach and killing of the animal because each animal has the soul of an ancestor. The ideology of animals having souls runs much deeper. In fact, these souls are powerful forces in the Eskimo's lives and they determine the future's prosperous gain of game or the lack there of. For that reason, the hunters of Eskimo treat the physical body of these animals with the up most respect in order to keep harmony. The bladder of each hunted animal is hung in the Men's house because it is believed that the souls of these powerful forces are held within them (Gill, Native American Religion, p.122). During the ceremony, the men must become purified.

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