Arapaho is an important Plains tribe of the great Algonquian family, closely associated with the Cheyenne. They call themselves Iñunaina, which means'our people.
As a people the Arapaho are brave, but kind and accommodating, and much given to ceremonial observances. The annual sun dance is their greatest tribal ceremony, and they were active propagators of the ghost-dance religion (q. v.) a few years ago. In arts and home life, until within a few years past, they were a typical plains tribe. They bury their dead in the ground, unlike the Cheyenne and Sioux, who deposit them upon scaffolds or on the surface of the ground in boxes. They have the military organization common to most of the Plains tribes and have no trace of the clan system.
Hunting was a very important food resource for the Arapahos. In fact, not only was it a way of providing food to the people, but it also contributed to shelter, clothing, and trade.
The Arapahos hunted for meat, mainly buffalo and big game. One of their most favorite parts of the buffalo to eat was the hump ribs. Other parts of the buffalo that were eaten included the inner organs, which were either cooked or eaten raw. These included the liver of the male buffalos, kidneys , and the brains . Just like we have delicacies today, the Arapahos also considered parts of the buffalo to be delicacies, which were the fat off of the buffalo’s back and the tongue . The buffalo meat was also dried/jerked as well as pounded. Some of us might find this strange today but the Arapaho also drunk the fresh blood from the buffalo as well as cooked it into a pudding or used it in a stew .
The Arapahos also used gathering techniques to acquire plants and berries. The Arapaho Indians used a wide variety of plants for many different purposes. Chokecherries are berries were that were eaten fresh and dried, and used to make "gravy" - a sauce really, put over other dishes - as well as pemmican, which included ground cherries mixed with lard and dried meat, for a winter food. Wild grapes, raspberries, and plums were also eaten fresh. Skunkbrush are berries that were added to dishes for flavor or made into a sauce which was poured over other dishes.The Arapaho used hawthorns for food. The Arapaho ate Serviceberries and also made a tea from the bark of the plant.
Before the Arapaho had pots and pans, they would use rocks to boil their meat in. First they would pound a hole in the rock then add the water and meat. Next, they placed it over a fire to boil. They also would place little rocks in the fire and once they were heated up, take them out with sticks and place them in the water. In order to start these fires, they would take bark and shred it real fine, then would clap sandstone rocks together and the sparks would start a fire. Animal heads were used as a type of bowl to pound meat inside. To prepare the animal head, they would soak it and then stuff it with swamp grass. Then it was staked out until it dried. Once that was finished, it was then used to pound the meat inside of these heads.
The Arapaho used square pieces of rawhide as their plates to eat the food off of. They also used gall bladders from animals and blew them up to carry water in. Eating utensils were generally made out of bones. The antlers of elk were cut and used like spoons. Usually that was to eat their soups with. Knives were made out of rib bones. They also used sticks to eat their food with, but mostly the Arapaho ate with their hands. A quick little “do and don’t” was that the Arapaho believed you should never stir with a knife or use it on the ground.
The Arapaho relied on different types of tools for gathering food such as bags. One in particular is called the elk hoof bag, which was made out of elk legs. The four hoofs of the elk had to be placed a certain way before being sewn up to hold up the bag. Once this was completed, they sewed them up with sinew, stuffed them with a type of straw, and then dried them out, taking about a week to dry. Once the bag was finished, it was used to store berries, as well as many other things.
The vegetables the Arapaho’s gathered were much smaller in size than many of the vegetables you would get at the store today. For instance, they would gather wild carrots but they were only about three inches in size. They also gathered turnips.
It is not known when the Arapahos started using tipis as shelter when they moved onto the plains. They used the tipi because not only is it very sturdy but it is very portable as well. When they first started using the tipis, they were very small and were transported by the women as well as by dogs. Once the horse was introduced around the 17th century, they were able to make the tipis much larger, stronger, and in one large piece to transport.
Tipis were made out of fifteen to twenty tanned buffalo hides and long wooden poles, usually made out of cedar or pine trees. The poles were completely stripped of all of their bark to make them smooth. A finished tipi could consist of sixteen to twenty poles tied together about three or four feet from the top. The buffalo hides were all sewed together to make one large piece and wrapped around the poles and attached at the top of the tipi. The longer pieces were the ones attached at the top because they were used as smoke flaps or also called “ears.” The Arapaho made small pockets at the tips of these flaps and the tips of the poles fit into the pockets. This way, the ears could be adjusted to control the ventilation of the tipi.
The Arapaho were able to stand up the tipis by starting at the base. They would take three poles that were the height of the hide cover and stand them up. When that happened, the remaining poles would be leaned into place at even intervals to form a circle. Next, they would tie all the poles together with a long piece of rope. One last pole is tied to the top of the hide cover between the two smoke flaps and used to lift them when needed.
The Arapaho always made a liner to fit inside of the tipi walls. This too was made of buffalo hide until white traders came along and then they were made out of canvas. These liners usually were about six feet high and were suspended from the poles, reaching the ground. This helped them stay warmer in the colder days, drier during rainy days because it prevented rain from dripping in as well as giving the Arapaho family more privacy by blocking the shadows. The linings were almost always decorated. The males usually were the ones that painted them about his brave deeds, accomplishment, or vision.
The fireplaces were always in the center of the tipi and were made out of a hole dug out of the ground. The beds were placed close to the walls of the tipi. They were made out of slender willow rods that were peeled of their bark and straightened. Then they were placed side by side and fastened together by buckskin strings to form a mat. The beds were usually raised about a foot off of the ground and was about three or four feet wide. Buckskin blankets were spread across the bed and pillows were made and stuffed from deer, elk, and buffalo hair. During the day, the beds were converted into couches.
During the winter months, the Arapaho women would construct windbreaks around the tipi to keep out the cold, snow and wind. These consisted of small trees that were tied together and leaned against the tipi and stood about ten or twelve feet high.
Arapaho women were in charge of making the clothing for their families out of animal skin. They used everything from deer to elk to buffalo. First they would have to scrape all of the flesh off of the hides, then they would strech the skins on to pegs to dry stiff. This was called rawhide. The Arapaho women then took this rawhide and tanned it, turning it into soft buckskin. Finally, they cut the buckskin into smaller pieces and sewed them into clothes using sinew thread.
When the Arapaho lived primarily on the plains, the Arapaho women wore moccasins, knee-length leggings, and a dress. The dress would be ankle-length, fringed with buckskin. For ornamentation, they used porcupine-quills, paint, elk-teeth, and beads. Their knee-length leggings laced in the front and were often decorated with yellow ochre and bands of quillwork.
Arapaho men wore a breechcloth, sometimes a shirt, hip-length leggings of deerskin, a robe and moccasins. The breechcloth, or breechblout, consisted of a rectangular piece of buckskin that was drawn between the legs and then tied around the waist. When the Arapaho men did wear the hip-length leggings, they had bands of quillwork and long fringes on the sides. The shirts were also poncho style, just like the women's, and were fringed with buckskin. In the 1800's, the Arapaho men began wearing breastplates made out of hairpipe beads. Warriors often wore necklaces. They were symbolic designs that they based from their dreams.
Both the men and women moccasins were made out of rawhide soles and buckskin tops. The Arapaho’s clothing had no pockets so they had to carry all of their belongings in pouches that they then tied to belts or thongs on their clothing. They also wore earrings made out of shell, bone, or of feathers. In fact, the Arapaho were given the nicknames, “Big Bead,” or “Blue Bead Indians” because of their adoration of big blue beads. It is not known but they could have been made out of turquoise that they obtained through trade. Designs on the clothing often depicted spiritual beings. These would include geometric patterns of diamonds, triangles, arrows, and stripes.
During the winter months, the Arapaho kept warm by wearing buggalo-skin robes that they draped over their shoulders and then tied together in the front with thongs. These too were decorated on the tanned side. The designs would either be painted or made with quillwork. To help them walk through snow, the Arapaho made snowshoes with wooden frames that were laced with strips of rawhide.
The Arapaho believed that humans were given the ability to think by their Creator, and that thought itself could cause things to happen. All Arapaho traveled through four stages, or "hills of life", childhood, youth, adulthood and old age. The duties, responsibilities, and privileges changed at each stage. The Arapaho equated the life stages with the movement of the sun, the four cardinal directions and the progress of the seasons.
The shape, quality, and phasing of life were constituted through ritual practices that activated social relations and interconnected meanings on different levels.
Originally the Arapahos used dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. Once Europeans introduced horses to North America, the Arapahos found that they could travel quicker and further with their help. Newly able to keep up with the buffalo herds, the Arapahos became a primarily migratory people (meaning they moved from place to place).
*The Arapaho became great traders and often sold furs to other tribes and non-Indians. While nobody knows for sure, many think the name 'Arapaho' might have come from the Pawnee word for 'traders.'
*The children played many games, including one involving a netted hoop and a pole where they would try to throw their pole through the center of the net. It was much like the game of darts.
*Arapaho hunters and warriors used bows and arrows, spears, and hide shields.
*Arapaho mothers, like many Native Americans, traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs