The Four Hills of Life

The Arapaho believed that humans were endowed by the Creator with the ability to think, and that thought itself could cause things to happen. All Arapaho traveled thru four stages, or "hills of life", childhood, youth, adulthood and old age. The duties, responsibilities, and privileges changed at each stage. The Arapaho equated the life stages with the movement of the sun, the four cardinal directions and the progress of the seasons.

The shape, quality, and phasing of life were constituted through ritual practices that activated social relations and interconnected meanings on different levels. This section will outline the life movement of the arapaho - from birth to death.


Social and Political Functions

Age Grade
Kit Foxes and Stars Servants for the other lodges
Clubboards and Spears Use of physical force
Crazy Men Rituals and medicine
Dogs Chiefship
Old Men Learning sacred knowledge
Seven Old Men Painting, guiding


Women's personhood and associated social functions were less precisely phased through age grading but nonetheless evolved with life movement along paths parallel to those of the men. Throughout a women's life, her roles, as expressed in ritual, stressed childbearing and child rearing, life transitions within kinship relations, the transformation of raw materials into cultural forms, the provision of items for exchange and cooperative work for the men's age grades and other lodges.


All the elements that make up a man and a women's life are brought together in a synthesis which is known as the four hills model.

The Four Hills and Men's and Women's Rituals

First Hill

Childhood rituals

Kit Foxes and Stars

Childhood rituals
Second Hill Clubboard and Spear Buffalo Lodge
Third Hill

Crazy Men


Fourth Hill

Old Men

Seven Old Men

Seven Old Women


For both genders and all ages, the ceremonies were not clear and distinct in elements and meanings. Ritualized life movement combined both continuities and transitions. Each ceremony expressed values, relations, and types of activities appropriate to its particular stage, but also repeated some others from previous stages and included others that were transitional or that anticipated subsequent stages.

Information from The Four Hills of Life by Jeffrey Anderson,
University of Nebraska Press, 2001.