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.


Gymnastic exercises, dignified with this name, upon the occasion of a death or funeral, were common to many tribes.  It is thus described by Morgan:[98]

An occasional and very singular figure was called the “dance for the dead.”  It was known as the O-ke-wa. It was danced by the women alone.  The music was entirely vocal, a select band of singers being stationed in the center of the room.  To the songs for the dead which they sang the dancers joined in chorus.  It was plaintive and mournful music.  This dance was usually separate from all councils and the only dance of the occasion.  It was commenced at dusk or soon after and continued until towards morning, when the shades of the dead who were believed to be present and participate in the dance were supposed to disappear.  The dance was had whenever a family which had lost a member called for it, which was usually a year after the event.  In the spring and fall it was often given for all the dead indiscriminately, who were believed then to revisit the earth and join in the dance.

The interesting account which now follows is by Stephen Powers[99] and relates to the Yo-kai-a of California, containing other matters of importance pertaining to burial: 

I paid a visit to their camp four miles below Ukiah, and finding there a unique kind of assembly-house, desired to enter and examine it, but was not allowed to do so until I had gained the confidence of the old sexton by a few friendly words and the tender of a silver half dollar.  The pit of it was about 50 feet in diameter and 4 or 5 feet deep, and it was so heavily roofed with earth that the interior was damp and somber as a tomb.  It looked like a low tumulus, and was provided with a tunnel-like entrance about 10 feet long and 4 feet high, and leading down to a level with the floor of the pit.  The mouth of the tunnel was closed with brush, and the venerable sexton would not remove it until he had slowly and devoutly paced several times to and fro before the entrance.
Passing in I found the massive roof supported by a number of peeled poles painted white and ringed with black and ornamented with rude devices.  The floor was covered thick and green with sprouting wheat, which had been scattered to feed the spirit of the captain of the tribe, lately deceased.  Not long afterwards a deputation of the Senel come up to condole with the Yo-kai-a on the loss of their chief, and a dance or series of dances was held which lasted three days.  During this time of course the Senel were the guests of the Yo-kai-a, and the latter were subjected to a considerable expense.  I was prevented by other engagements from being present, and shall be obliged to depend on the description of an eye-witness, Mr. John Tenney, whose account is here given with a few changes: 
There are four officials connected
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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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