The O-Kee-Pa Ceremony
One of the greatest rites of passage for a young Mandan male was the O-Kee-Pa ceremony. The ceremony involves ritual fasting and isolation, and culminates in the suspension of the young man by wooden slats in the flesh. This ceremony is an esoteric and unusual example of something that anthropologists see in every culture: expression. From the fine art produced during the Renaissance in Europe to simple woven baskets and even the peace sign originally intended for the British Nuclear Disarmament Movement we see the broad spectrum of human expression. The purpose of this paper is to detail the events of the O-Kee-Pa ceremony and the Mandan religious beliefs associated with this practice; and to explain the significance of this ceremony within the Mandan culture while maintaining a sense of cultural relativism.
“Since its inception, anthropology has brought the diversity of human expression to our attention. Human expressions- images, decorative arts, music, dance, storytelling, and the myriad other forms they may take- are cultural universals. Some forms of expression are found in all known human cultures.” (Lenkeit pg. 266) There are multiple ways to examine expression: technical analysis (to examine the structure and process of expression), the study of the function of expression in a society, and the attempt to understand expression in the way its creators and target audience experience them. The first two methods provide an etic view, while the last gives an emic view. (Lenkeit pg. 267) There are many different factors that motivate artists to create. The categories that are presented in the textbook are: art for art’s sake, imitative magic, art as a backdrop for ceremonies, and art as a symbol. (Lenkeit pgs. 271-73) The O-Kee-Pa ceremony best fits into the category of imitative magic, as its purpose is to bring a bountiful hunt for the next year.
The O-Kee-Pa ceremony was practiced by the Mandan people of North and South Dakota up...