Jump to Navigation

Arapaho - Culture

The name Arapaho is derived from the Crow tribe’s name for the group meaning “People with Many Tattoos.” The Arapaho made circular tattoos using cactus needles and charcoal powder to make a blue hue.

Prior to the 1840s the Arapaho maintained a lifestyle hunting large game and gathering berries and roots on the prairies. Men would hunt or raid, and women would set-up and move camp, collect edible plants and firewood, make clothes and shelter, cook, and prepare animal hides. Despite the gendered division of labor, the work of both genders was valued because of its utility to the tribe.

An Arapaho family consisted of a man, his wife or wives, his children, and in some cases the man’s younger brother or a widowed parent of a spouse. The Arapaho were polygynous with a patriarchal social structure and patrilocal residence pattern. A family lived in its own tipi, furnished according to the economic status of the man in terms of the horses he possessed that allowed him to move more goods when camp was relocated. Men only married when they could prove their ability to support a family, which usually occurred around age 30. Women often married in their teens. Marriages were arranged by the male relatives, such as a father or older brother, of a women based on which man would be a strong provider or his relationship with the brother. 

The Arapaho recognized four stages or “hills of life,” consisting of childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age. Each Arapaho passed through the stages with the responsibilities and privileges of females and males transitioning at each stage. The “four hills” were viewed as being in harmony with the four seasons, the four cardinal directions, and solar movements. The Arapaho believed in reincarnation. A child born with a scar may have been seen as the reincarnation of an individual who was wounded in life. The Arapaho believed that thoughts had power and could manifest in the physical world. This belief led to such things as taboos on speaking about illness or pregnancy. To simply talk about certain things was believed to manifest them. Children’s dolls were sexless, wore non-descript buckskin, and could not represent infants, because, such pretend play might cause pregnancy.

Find more information about the Arapaho people

Entry: Arapaho - Culture

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: September 2015

Date Modified: December 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.