Geronimo and the Apache culture of his youth
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Geronimo and the Apache culture of his youth
As explained by Geronimo in his life history.
Author: Rhea M. Coleman
He was named Goyahkla (or Goyathlay). Some said it should be translated as: One who yawns, however, with a slightly different accent it meant: intelligent, shrewd, clever. The second translation better fits this boy's character.
As happened to every Apache Indian child, at birth, he was rolled in the earth toward the east, the north, the west and the south.
Each time in his roving when he returned to his birth site he performed the same ritual: no matter his age, he rolled on the earth toward each of the four directions. Even in danger he preformed this obligatory ritual.
On the fourth day of his life a second ritual was performed. On this day, under the supervision of a medicine man and elders, he was placed in his tosch.
After his spine and neck strengthened he would stay in the tosch (cradle) day and night; but, for the first month it was not constant. The tosch was built with great ceremony for each child.
Medicine men or midwives fashioned the cradle with prayer and rituals. Amulets were hung in the tosch to protect Goyahkla. Then medicine man carefully placed him in his tosch; the family and friends held a great feast.
As an Apache child he spent most of his time in the tosch until he was strong enough to crawl around the camp.
When he could walk another ceremony was held. Again, the medicine man supervised while friends and family gathered to participate.
Each time a child received this ritual, known as the ceremony for the putting on of his first moccasions, the entire tribe made it a joyous time, celebrating with singing, praying, dancing and feasting.
The tribe knew the following spring would bring at least one more ritual for the young boy. It was the ceremonial cutting of his hair.
Goyathlay had all these ceremonies, and as the grandson of Chief Mahko of the Bedonkohe Apache tribe everyone honored him.
From his birth his mother sang songs of the glorious history of his people. She taught him about Usen—Life Giver. A "super god".
She taught him how to pray to Usen. She taught him never to pray against another person. She said Usen expected earth people to take care of themselves—even giving vengeance if needed. She explained that Usen did not care for the petty quarrels of men.
She taught him that his people did not eat snakes, frogs nor fish. All Apaches knew that Usen did not intend them to be eaten.
His mother taught him that the Apaches refused to eat bear, because the bear was an ancestor of theirs.
The mother's time of teaching ended between the fifth and sixth year when the fathers took over the training of the boys.
The boys learned to care for horses, developed their skills with the bow and arrow, and learned to make weapons and tools.
The fathers required rigorous physical training. These little boys got up before sunrise and bathed in the creek—even when ice had formed on the surface.
Then the boys were required to race up the side of the mountain carrying water in their mouth. They were to spit out the water on their return to the base of the mountain.
This proved that they had breathed properly through their nose.
The boys shot small game as soon as they could handle their weapons. By the time the boys were fourteen they hunted with the men.
The fathers constantly trained the boys for war. They became accomplished in shooting, dodging, hiding, tracking. They learned to map the terrain and find their way back to camp.
Even their recreation was further training. There were contests for arrow shooting, racing, wrestling and games of chance. (Apaches loved to gamble.)
One game they played, called hoop-and-pole was sacred, their history told how this game was handed down from the animals before the emergence of the human race.
Goyathlay excelled in all these and he was admitted to the Council of Warriors at age seventeen.
As an apprentice warrior conformed to the ceremonies, he became known as Child of the Water.
Apprentices performed all the work about the camp: 1) caring for the horses; 2) getting the water; 3) gathering the wood; 4) doing the cooking; 5) serving on guard duty.
He learned that war is a solemn religious matter.
After four successful expeditions he was accepted as a warrior—a man among men. He had reached his majority. He was allowed to choose a wife and marry.
It is said that Goyathlay didn't wait for his father to do the negotiations. He went directly to Alope's father and asked about the marriage. The father asked many ponies for her. Goyathlay left in silence.
Several days later he returned with the required number of ponies. No one has ever said where he got them. However, he had enough horses to meet the bride price and he married his beautiful love Alope from the Nednai tribe.
They lived in peace and love and had three children.
One day the peace was broken when the Mexican came to raid and steal slaves. An ambush surprised the village that was mostly empty of warriors, and Alope, their three children and Goyathlay's mother were killed.
When the return battle was fought Goyathlay was fierce. He was so fiendish the Spanish began to shout "Cuidado! Geronimo!"
In the beginning no one realized what fear that name would evoke. It matters not if the Spanish really were calling St. Jerome, the Apaches took the name to be Geronimo and it became one to be remembered.
About the Author:
Rhea M. Coleman is the author of Gutsy's Luck, mother of four, Semi-world traveller (Argentina & Israel) and part of the Voices of Youth Project.
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