Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Buffalo and its symbolism to Native Americans

I thought that since I’ve explained fetishes a few days ago, now would be a great time to go ahead and dive into some of the specific animals. First I’ve choosen the Buffalo; a great symbol of the American Southwest, a centerpiece to the Native American culture and, more personally, an animal that holds great meaning for me since I connect the Buffalo with some of my journeys.

First, a little history on the Buffalo as an animal. The American buffalo "Buffalo," also called the American Bison, is only distantly related to either of the two "true buffaloes", the Asian buffalo and the African buffalo. The American Buffalo is more closely related to the Wisent or European Buffalo.

The Buffalo once inhabited the grasslands of North America in massive herds, ranging from the Great Slave Lake in Canada's far north, through the United States to Mexico in the south, and from eastern Oregon almost to the Atlantic Ocean. Its two subspecies are the Plains Bison, distinguished by its smaller size and more rounded hump, and the Wood Bison, distinguished by its larger size and taller square hump. Wood Bison are one of the largest species of cattle in the world. It is surpassed only by the Asian gaur and the Asian Water Buffalo. In the Americas the Wood Bison is the largest land animal alive today.

These majestic animals can grow to be 7 feet tall, 10 feet long and weigh over 2,000 lbs.

Until the 1800’s (19th century) the great Buffalo roamed the American plains in huge herds. It was not uncommon to have thousands of buffalo in a herd. Their migration patterns help to craft the Native American’s living habits as strongly as the great prairie fires that occurred during summer and fall seasons. During the late 1800’s the hunting of the Buffalo became a lucrative source of income for both Native Americans as well as the new people settling in the American Southwest. Buffalo hides brought in large sums of money, and by the turn of the century, the Buffalo were hunted close to complete extinction.

In the early 1900’s, Buffalo conservation began to turn around the almost inevitable disappearance of these animals. Several notable Americans began to raise and protect Buffalo on their own ranches instead of hunting them. Because of these efforts the Buffalo population is approximately 350,000 today in North America. Though a small fraction of the 60-100 Million estimated Buffalo that roamed the prairies in the mid 1800’s, the current population continues to grow.

The Buffalo was central to the way of life for almost all Native American peoples. From the tribes that lived and hunted those in the mid North American continent, to the tribes on the coasts that used buffalo hide traded from others, Buffalo were critical to the chain of life. Native Americans migrated with the Buffalo and depended on their meat as a food source. However, Native Americans also regarded the Buffalo as highly important animals to their cultural and spiritual lives.

This is where the connection of Buffalo as an animal to Buffalo as a fetish becomes important. Because of its sheer size, the Buffalo represents strength and perseverance. Unlike many other members of the animal world, the Buffalo never turns its back to wind, snow and rain - it will face the elements head on and never turns its back, always facing trouble. The Buffalo also represents home and community. This is because of the large herds that would live and migrate together in harmony.

People who find that the Buffalo is their sacred animal will typically have the following traits: strong willed, wise, be able to make and keep many friends, have good relations with family members, enjoy being challenged, equally enjoy completing or solving the challenge, get bored or tired in monotonous or repetitive routines, and will always look to improve their life and the lives those around them.

The Buffalo has many stories and tales told throughout the world. These wonderful stories detail how the Buffalo has shaped lives from centuries ago to modern times. A search on the internet can provide hours upon hours of wonderful information. I encourage everyone to find their own way through this information. After all, the search for knowledge is just as important as possessing the knowledge.

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