Death and Burial

Mails provides us with an outsider perspective on the traditional Western Apache death and burial practices.

[excerpted from Mails, 1974, p. 179-80]

When the Apache buried the dead in 1902, they clothed them in the best attire the family could afford, usually the best that the camp was able to furnish. Then they wrapped the deceased in a blanket and carried the body to the hills, where it was either thrown into a crevice in the rocks or placed in a shallow grave. Ashes and pollen were sprinkled in a circle around the grave, beginning at its southwest corner; this act was considered to be a prayer that the soul would safely enter O'zho, heaven. Then the grave was filled with earth and stone. A corpse might be pushed into a cavity left by a shifting rock or the fallen stump of a tree, the body being crammed into the smallest space possible. The rock or stump was then moved back into its former position and a number of stones were placed around the base to keep the coyotes out. When an infant died it was often tied in its cradleboard and hung up in a tree, and a tus of water was tied near to it so that the child might drink at will. In 1902, after a burial the Apache still burned the house of the deceased and everything in it; they also killed a man's stock. Mourning continued for a month; at morning, noon, and night in particular, at intervals dismal coyotelike lamentations were uttered.

The Apache of 1902 still believed that after the dead were buried, owls came and called for them and took their spirits away. Apparently, views had not changed much from Bandelier's time in 1883, when an Apache told him that after death "the soul goes into the air."