Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Native Americans used the calumet ceremony throughout the Plains to trade between different tribes, or between different bands of the same tribe, for food and other needed items. The ceremony evolved in the thirteenth century, possibly among the Wichitas. During the early thirteenth century the climate of the Plains was wetter, supporting more bison and encouraging more tribes to move into the region. Subsequently, as the weather turned drier, many tribes, caught without adequate food supplies following a poor hunt or a local drought, needed to trade with neighbors to survive. In time, the calumet ceremony not only provided food but also often became a primary bond between bands and tribes.

In its fullest form, the calumet was a long and complex ceremony, but even the more common shorter version involved several days of ritual feasting, gift giving, singing, and dancing. The ceremony climaxed with the presentation of the calumet pipe, which made unrelated peoples one "family" through the working of a fictional kinship. Leaders of different bands adopted each other as father or son. Exchanges of gifts then went on for several days, in the later stages accompanied by exchanges between the men and women of each band, who acquired the same fictive father-son relationship to the other band as that established by their leaders. A leader's calumet relationships were considered permanent, and leaders were expected to maintain a number of calumet relationships with other tribes, bands, and villages. The calumet ceremonies also allowed men and women from different bands to meet and court each other, and often trade bonds between bands were supplemented by matrimonial bonds.

Mark A. Eifler University of Portland

Blakeslee, Donald J. "The Plains Interband Trade System: An Ethnohistoric and Archeological Investigation." Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, 1975.

Fletcher, Alice C. The Hako: Song, Pipe, and Unity in a Pawnee Calumet Ceremony. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996.

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