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Interior View of the Medicine Lodge, Mandan O-kee-pa Ceremony

1832 George Catlin Born: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 1796 Died: Jersey City, New Jersey 1872 oil on canvas 23 x 27 3/4 in. (58.4 x 70.5 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr. 1985.66.504 Not currently on view


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The centerpiece of the Mandan religious calendar was the annual enactment of the O-kee-pa, a four-day ceremony that included the painful initiation of the most promising young men of the tribe. Their ordeal began with a four-day fast, strictly supervised by a priest in the medicine lodge. George Catlin witnessed the ceremony on his travels of the Upper Missouri in 1832. “I seized my sketch-book, and all hands of us were in an instant in front of the medicine-lodge, ready to see and hear all that was to take place . . . There were on this occasion about fifty young men who entered the lists, and as they went into the sacred lodge, each one's body was chiefly naked, and covered with clay of different colours; some were red, others were yellow, and some were covered with white clay, giving them the appearance of white men . . . When all had entered the lodge, they placed themselves in reclining postures around its sides, and each one had suspended over his head his respective weapons and medicine, presenting altogether, one of the most wild and picturesque scenes imaginable . . . the medicine or mystery-man . . . was left sole conductor and keeper; and according to those injunctions, it was his duty to lie by a small fire in the centre of the lodge, with his medicine-pipe in his hand, crying to the Great Spirit incessantly, watching the young men, and preventing entirely their escape from the lodge, and all communication whatever with people outside, for the space of four days and nights, during which time they were not allowed to eat, to drink, or to sleep, preparatory to the excruciating self-tortures which they were to endure on the fourth day.” (Catlin, Letters and Notes, vol. 1, no. 22, 1841; reprint 1973)

Keywords

Architecture Interior - domestic - teepee

Ceremony - Indian - O Kee Pa Ceremony

Ethnic - Indian - Mandan

Figure group - male

Western

painting

paint - oil

fabric - canvas

metal - aluminum - support added