Published on June 24, 2011 by Amy
The Seminole Indians originated from groups of Native Americans forced southward as the mid-Atlantic states were colonized by European settlers. Two main groups remain today, one in Oklahoma and one in Florida. Tribal customs are still passed from one generation to the next, although younger members of the tribe have opted for more modern lifestyles. Storytelling and stomp dances remain part of Seminole rituals and ceremonies to the present day, and Seminole women still wear traditional patchwork skirts and multiple strands of beads for special occasions.
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One of the most enduring customs of the Seminoles is also one of the most visible: the wearing of many bead necklaces by Seminole women. Seminole women traditionally had their own income, earned through selling produce or items they had made. The women often spent the money on colorful strings of beads to be worn as necklaces. At night they removed the many necklaces and stored them in a special basket. Each morning they reversed the process, tying necklaces on one at a time. They sometimes wore dozens at once, adding as much as ten pounds of weight to be borne as they carried out their daily activities.
Many Native American tribes shared tribal history and lore through storytelling. The Seminole were skilled practitioners of this art. The origins and beliefs of the Seminole tribe were passed from generation to generation by expert storytellers who learned their skill from their elders. Tribal leaders placed great emphasis on capturing and retelling the traditional stories as accurately as possible. Because the tribe’s history was not captured in other media, the storytellers assumed significant responsibility for keeping the tribe’s stories alive; and expert storytellers remain highly esteemed.
A more recent custom among the Seminoles developed in the early 1900s, when women began adorning their clothing with colorful strips of stitched patchwork and symbols. They used both manual sewing and hand-cranked sewing machines to make the fabric designs and completed garments. The women made most of the items for personal use, but sold some to visitors or in open markets to generate income. The patchwork pieces were primarily decorative, but some included symbols, animals and other figures important in Seminole legends.
The Green Corn Dance originally was performed by many Southeastern Native American tribes as the centerpiece of purification ceremonies. Known as a busk, the dance ceremony also symbolized renewal and forgiveness. The busk typically took place over a three- to five-day period in early June, tied to the early corn harvest. It included hours of intense rhythmic dancing, known as stomp dancing. Participants shared a bitter black tea and participated in commitment rituals. It was customary at Seminole corn dances to select young men as future leaders or shamans. The Seminoles still perform the dance today, occasionally for tourists, but primarily in private as a way to maintain Seminole traditions.