Native American Culture | Music, Agriculture, Languages, Religion, Technology, Anthropological and genetic aspects

Native American Culture

Native American Culture Aspects

The culture of the indigenous people of America varies enormously. The language, dress and customs vary greatly from one culture to another. This is due to the extensive distribution of Americans and adaptations to different regions of America. For example, due to the semi-desert region, the Chichimecas of Aridoamérica never formed a civilization like those of Mesoamerica, its neighbors to the south. As a consequence of this, the Chichimecas formed a culture based on the practice of nomadism. Although the Native American culture like Aztecs and Incas formed extensive and rich civilizations, the clothing of both depended greatly on the climate of their lands. In Mesoamerica, where the climate is warmer, they used to wear less clothing than the inhabitants of the Andes. Still, there are some cultural characteristics that most Native Americans practiced.

October 10: International Day of Solidarity with Native American Peoples

The International Day of Solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas was declared in 1977 by Amerindian organizations gathered at the UN. It is therefore not strictly speaking a Day decreed by the United Nations.


The breaths and the percussions were the instruments most used by the indigenous or Native American culture. In most of the United States and Canada, music was accompanied by monophonic percussion. It is believed that in central Mexico and Central America the music was made from pentaphonic scales. It is often considered that before the arrival of the Spaniards, music was inseparable from religious festivals, festivities that included a great variety of wind and percussion instruments such as drums, flutes, snail shells (used as trumpet) and rain pipes.. As for the stringed instruments, some groups came to use them using natural elements (hollowed fruits and trunks) and even the oral cavity as a resonance box; Usually only two or three strings were used, stretched over an arch, which were plucked, with or without plectrum, without forming what in the West is known as harmony.

After the entry of the Spaniards, the process of spiritual conquest was favored, among other things, by the liturgical musical service to which the natives, whose musical gifts came to surprise the missionaries, were integrated. The musical gifts of the natives were of such magnitude that they soon learned the rules of counterpoint and polyphony and even the virtuous handling of instruments, this helped to ensure that more musicians brought from Spain were not requested, which significantly annoyed the clergy.

The solution that was proposed was not to employ but a certain number of indigenous people in the musical service, not to teach them counterpoint, not to allow them to play certain instruments ( brass breaths, for example, in Oaxaca , Mexico) and, finally, not to import more instruments so that the indigenous people would not have access to them. The latter was not an obstacle to the musical enjoyment of the natives, who experienced the construction of instruments, particularly rubbed strings ( violins and double basses ) or plucked ( third ), it is there where we can find the origin of what is now called traditional music whose instruments They have their own tuning and a typical western structure.

Regarding the fusion of musical traditions, in Mexico two small sacred works by Don Hernando Franco are preserved , Dios itla tonantzin and In ilhuicac , which combine the western contrapuntal method , with the Nahuatl language and a not very common rhythm that introduces what some contrapuntal errors seem that more than accidents are caused.

Agriculture aspects on Native American Culture

In the course of a thousand years, a large number of plant species were domesticated, created and cultivated on the American continent. It is estimated that more than half of the world’s crop production comes from plants initially developed by the indigenous peoples of America. In many cases, indigenous people created entirely new species from some of the wild ones that already existed, as in the case of maize created from the wild teosinte of the valleys of northern Guatemala. A large number of these agricultural products still maintain their names adapted from the Nahuatl or Quechua word .

Among the agricultural techniques developed by the American Indians are the association of crops such as the Mesoamerican milpa or the Andean farm , cultivation on platforms and various kinds of irrigation systems . The Amazonian black soil is a very fertile soil created by human action, but it is disputed whether its formation was intentional.

Food treatment techniques include nixtamalization , which increases the nutrient availability of corn, and the production of chuño ( freeze-dried potatoes ).

A partial list of crops of American origin includes:

Major crops in North America (also known as the four sisters):
  • corn (Zea mays)
  • pumpkin or squash (Cucurbita)
  • beans (Phaseolus vulgaris)
  • tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)
Other world-known crops are:
  • potato (Solanum tuberosum)
  • sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas)
  • avocado (Persea americana)
  • groundnut( Arachis hypogaea)
  • cacao (Theobroma cacao)
  • vanilla
  • pineapple (Ananas comosus)
  • cassava (Manihot esculenta)
  • chili or pepper (Capsicum)
  • allspice (Pimenta dioica)
Grown regionally:
  • goose (Oxalis tuberosa)
  • olluco (Ullucus tuberosus)
  • nopal or prickly pear (Opuntia)
  • jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus)
  • papaya or mamón (Carica papaya)
  • guava (Psidium)
  • amaranth (Amaranthus)
  • quinoa or quinoa or quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa)
  • custard apple (Annona cherimola)
  • sapote (Pouteria sapota)
  • mamey (Mammea americana)
  • pitaya (Stenocereus queretaroensis)
  • verbena (Verbena (plant))
  • Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus); also called sunroot, sunchoke, wild sunflower, topinambur, or earth apple, is a species of sunflower native to central North America
  • stevia
  • yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis)
  • pitanga or ñangapiry (Eugenia uniflora)
  • tomato or green tomato (Physalis ixocarpa)
Amerindian protein sources:
  • sunflower or marigold (Helianthus annuus)
  • pecan (Carya illinoinensis)
  • araucaria or pehuén pine nut (Araucaria araucana)
Ceremonial uses in Native American Culture:
  • tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum , Nicotiana rustica)
  • coca (Erythroxylum coca)
  • peyote (Lophophora williamsii)
  • ayahuasca (decoction of Banisteriopsis caapi with Psychotria viridis or Diplopterys cabrerana , among other plants)
  • yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis)
  • willka, cebil, cohoba, yopo (Anadenanthera colubrina , Anadenanthera peregrina)
Other crops:
  • rubber (Hevea brasiliensis)
  • chewing gum (Manilkara zapota)
  • cotton (Gossypium), the cultivation of which began independently in America and India.
  • cinchona (Cinchona officinalis)
  • achiote (Bixa orellana)


The limited distribution of pack animals available for domestication is undoubtedly one of the factors that made transportation difficult in pre-Hispanic America. In addition, the configuration of the continent oriented along the north-south axis made it difficult for certain crops to spread as the climate varied greatly with latitude. Note that Eurasia has a predominantly east-west orientation, which allowed the diffusion of certain technologies and crops along strips where latitude varied little.

When the Europeans arrived in America, metallurgy was of limited use and had little diffusion. Virtually all American societies in pre-Columbian times used stone tools.

In some particular respects, American civilizations achieved important successes. In Mesoamerica , the knowledge of the calendar and astronomy had reached remarkable levels of development.

Regarding agriculture, the Mexica used intensive agriculture systems based on chinampas with total food productions per hectare probably much higher than in other places on the planet, while the Incas used a system of terraces in order to take advantage of the land. rugged in which they developed, irrigating the soil in a better way, and obtaining a large food production, which allowed population growth in the area ofThe Andes . Even some of the American crops were especially productive, corn when it was brought to China for example largely solved problems of hunger and was a co-factor responsible for the population explosion of that geographical area towards the 18th century.


Distribution areas of some of the most widely spoken Amerindian languages ​​in Latin America at the beginning of the 21st century:

  • Nahuatl
  • Mayan languages
  • Quechua languages
  • Aymara
  • Guarani
  • Mapudungún

The American continent is one of the most diverse areas in terms of number of languages ​​and number of language families. There is documentation of about 900 different indigenous languages, although the original number would have been greater and a number of languages ​​disappeared without being documented. Today about 500 languages ​​still have speakers, most of them with only a few thousand speakers.

The phylogenetic classification of the indigenous languages ​​of America groups them into some 80 well-established phylogenetic units, in addition to more than a hundred unclassified languages. The longest-range comparisons that attempt to prove the kinship between these linguistic families is controversial since it frequently resorts to techniques that are not as demanding as the strict comparative method.

Among the classifications long range, probably the most controversial and also one of the most influential is the Amerind hypothesis due to Joseph Greenberg (1987) suggesting that ultimately indigenous languages American can be grouped into three phylogenetic units:

  • The Amerindian languages themselves, which would encompass the vast majority of American languages.
  • The Eskimo-Aleutian languages, which would be part of a supposed Eurasian macro-family.
  • The Na-Dené languages, which would be part of the hypothetical Dené-Caucasian macro-family.

Greenberg also proposes a division into groups of Amerindian languages ​​on linguistic evidence. However, most Americanists consider the evidence on which Greenberg relies to be insufficient for his result to be reliable and in fact, other specialists such as Campbell consider Greenberg’s proposal to be not only inconclusive, but also highly speculative.


The ethnic religions of America were based for the most part on the idea of ​​an all-soulfulness of natural phenomena (animism). In the advanced civilizations there was a priestly rule (theocracy), which manifested itself in huge structures between Mississippi and the Andes. Priest schools were also established here, while the elderly were trained to be medicine men, but also in secret societies that passed their knowledge on to their members.

To a large extent, this was based on a close relationship to the natural environment, so that the focus was on weather, plants and animals, earth and sky, but also stars and the calculation of events over the course of the year.

Creation myths and the collective memory of a common ancestor who often came from the animal kingdom were common, as was the belief in a creator god (who, however, mostly no longer had any influence on humans). Some tribes revered an impersonal life energy that was expressed in the sun, as the fertility of the earth, as wisdom or strength, which was expressed in bears, wolves, ravens, snakes or the Quetzalcoatl.

The religious content was site and family specific and had no universal claim to validity . The focus was on the sanctity of places, rituals, knowledge and stories, dances and music and people. The advanced civilizations developed complex public rituals in which thousands of people participated.

Initiation and training were often the task of the elders, with necromancers and medicine people this was often done through spontaneous visions. Even as children, some tribal groups – such as the coastal Salish – selected and taught the “historians” of the families and tribes. In the written cultures of the Maya and Aztecs, rituals were recorded in writing and the religious content was symbolically recorded.

In Latin America, the orders and the crown pushed for proselytizing, a task that the conquerors only superficially undertook (Conquistador Proclamation), often in order to be able to subordinate or kill those pagans who did not speak Latin and were therefore incomprehensible and reluctant to do so.

At the same time, the Spanish state had largely detached the ecclesiastical organization from Rome and converted it into a state church, which with the Inquisition had a dreaded weapon at its disposal. Accordingly, the crown promoted the mission in all of Latin America and at the same time used the church to help to be kept under control and to prevent the Reformation forces from penetrating the colonies.

This also strengthened the orders further north, where they, especially the Jesuits, were also active for France. The religions of the Latin American Indians and, to a lesser extent, of New France were confronted with Catholic rituals, often relocations and reunions were carried out, which encouraged a strong mixing of the previously separated groups, as was the case with the Guaranì in Paraguay. In doing so, missionaries often allied themselves with the caciks, the respective elites, and the Jesuits even gave them military leadership tasks.

Initially, the conversion of the Indians was mostly unsuccessful, as the people usually saw no reason to give up their “tried and tested” faith. Moreover, the striving for conversion was completely alien and incomprehensible to them. Christianity was therefore mostly only accepted as a form of spiritual healing in the north after devastating epidemics or cultural uprooting.

Indian blessed and saints like Kateri Tekakwitha then served as role models. The Jesuits initially played a major role in missionary work, and in the 19th century the Oblates. Few Protestant groups like Methodists and Baptistsmissionaries in the English-speaking part of America, plus Russian Orthodox missionaries in Alaska. Therefore, the Indians are predominantly Catholic today, but form a denominational patchwork quilt in the northwest.

There, as in Latin America, eclectic forms developed, such as the Indian Shaker Church , or, as in Peru, groups that kept the memory of the Incas alive. Syncretistic “mixed religions” often emerged; the largest in North America is the Native American Church , also known as peyotism due to the worship of an intoxicant.

Syncretistic forms of religion formed the basis for the asA speaking cross denoted the oracle that Jose María Barrera called on October 15, 1850 to continue the caste war against the Mexican government. The cross grew on the roots of a kapok tree, the sacred tree of life, which in turn grew out of a cave that represented a sacred place, which was located at a cenote (Ts’ono’ot), a place of the rain gods Cháak . Crescencio Poot (1875–1885) or María Uicab († 1872), the “Queen of Tulum”, were the keepers of the cross and thus important insurgent leaders .

Numerous features of pre-European spirituality have been preserved or have been revived and further developed. Many rituals are still only practiced within limited groups or by secret societies. This applies, for example, to the sun dance of the prairie cultures or the medicine leagues of the Iroquois . In the north, the term “ medicine ” plays an important role. To record complex processes or historical events, secret societies of the Algonquin tribes have often been using birch bark since at least the 16th century, on which spiritually significant knowledge was carved in encrypted form. The speaking cross is still venerated today, but only among Mayans.

In view of the contradicting role that mission and church have played towards the Indians, it is not surprising that the Brazilian indigenous peoples heard the testimony of Pope Benedict XVI in May 2007 . rejected that the Catholic Church had redeemed the Indians in Latin America. Even his predecessor, John Paul II , had admitted mistakes in evangelization in 1992 .

Anthropological and genetic aspects

The Amerindians as a whole represent one of the human populations where blood group O is most frequent within the ABO system. In no other continent does the native population have such a high percentage of this blood group.

19 DNA analysis in its three different fields (autosomal, mitochondrial and Y chromosome genetics ) shows that there is an evident closeness between all the native peoples of America. Thus, we find high genetic uniformity throughout the continent, greater than in any other.

At the same time, these analyzes confirm the theories of the settlement of America from the Siberian region towards the end of the Ice Age.

Native American Heritage : culture, ritual and ceremony, belief, custom and symbol

Sources: PinterPandai, Britannica, Running Strong for American Indian Youth, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Partnership with Native Americans (PWNA)

Photo credit: GabrieldeLoreto / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Photo description: Indigenous peoples of the Americas: Eskimos • Ojibwa • Iroquois • Sioux • Cherokee • Navajo • Creek • Apaches • Mexica • Mayans • Wayuus • Kariñas • Chibchas • Quechuas • Aymara • Guaraníes • Charruas • Mapuches

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