A Further Contribution to the Study of the Mortuary Customs of the North American Indians eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 247 pages of information about A Further Contribution to the Study of the Mortuary Customs of the North American Indians.

Figure 30, after Catlin, is a representation of a mourning-cradle.  Figure 31 represents the sorrowing mother committing the body of her dead child to the mercy of the elements.


This is a term quaintly used by the learned M. Pierre Muret to express the devouring of the dead by birds and animals or the surviving friends and relatives.  Exposure of the dead to animals and birds has already been mentioned, but in the absence of any positive proof, it is not believed that the North American Indians followed the custom, although cannibalism may have prevailed to a limited extent.  It is true that a few accounts are given by authors, but these are considered apochryphal in character, and the one mentioned is only offered to show how credulous were the early writers on American natives.

That such a means of disposing of the dead was not in practice is somewhat remarkable when we take into consideration how many analogies been found in comparing old and new world funeral observances, and the statements made by Bruhier, Lafitau, Muret, and others, who give a number of examples of this peculiar mode of burial.

For instance, the Tartars sometimes ate their dead, and the Massagetics, Padaeans, Derbices, and Effedens did the same, having previously strangled the aged and mixed their flesh with mutton.  Horace and Tertulian both affirm that the Irish and ancient Britons devoured the dead, and Lafitau remarks that certain Indians of South America did the same, esteeming this mode of disposal more honorable and much to be preferred than to rot and be eaten by worms.

J.G.  Wood, in his work already quoted, states that the Fans of Africa devour their dead, but this disposition is followed only for the common people, the kings and chiefs being buried with much ceremony.

The following extract is from Lafitau:[85]

Dans l’Amerique Meridionale quelque Peuples decharnent les corps de leurs Guerriers et les mangent leurs chairs, ainsi que je viens de le dire, et apres les avoir consumees, ils conservent pendant quelque temps leurs cadavres avec respect dans leurs Cabanes, et il portent ces squeletes dans les combats en guise d’Etendard, pour ranimer leur courage par cette vue et inspirer de la terreur a leurs ennemis. * * *
Il est vrai qu’il y en a qui font festin des cadavres de leurs parens; mais il est faux qu’elles les mettent a mort dans leur vieillesse, pour avoir le plaisir de se nourrir de leur chair, et d’en faire un repas.  Quelques Nations de l’Amerique Meridionale, qui ont encore cette coutume de manger les corps morts de leurs parens, n’en usent ainsi que par piete, piete mal entendue a la verite, mais piete coloree neanmoins par quelque ombre de raison; car ils croyent leur donner une sepulture bien plus honorable.

To the credit of our savages, this barbarous and revolting practice is not believed to have been practiced by them.

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A Further Contribution to the Study of the Mortuary Customs of the North American Indians from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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