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.
with light.  They were agile and graceful as they bounded about in the sinuous course of the dance.
The five men were assisted by a semicircle of twenty women, who only marked time by stepping up and down with short step.  They always took their places first and disappeared first, the men making their exit gracefully one by one.  The dresses of the women were suitable for the occasion.  They were white dresses, trimmed heavily with black velvet.  The stripes were about three inches wide, some plain and others edged like saw teeth.  This was an indication of their mourning for the dead chief, in whose honor they had prepared that style of dancing.  Strings of haliotis and pachydesma shell beads encircled their necks, and around their waists were belts heavily loaded with the same material.  Their head-dresses were more showy than those of the men.  The head was encircled with a bandeau of otters’ or beavers’ fur, to which were attached short wires standing out in all directions, with glass or shell beads strung on them, and at the tips little feather flags and quail plumes.  Surmounting all was a pyramidal plume of feathers, black, gray, and scarlet, the top generally being a bright scarlet bunch, waving and tossing very beautifully.  All these combined gave their heads a very brilliant and spangled appearance.
The first day the dance was slow and funereal, in honor of the Yo-kai-a chief who died a short time before.  The music was mournful and simple, being a monotonous chant in which only two tones were used, accompanied with a rattling of split sticks and stamping on a hollow slab.  The second day the dance was more lively on the part of the men, the music was better, employing airs which had a greater range of tune, and the women generally joined in the chorus.  The dress of the women was not so beautiful, as they appeared in ordinary calico.  The third day, if observed in accordance with Indian custom, the dancing was still more lively and the proceedings more gay, just as the coming home from a Christian funeral is apt to be much more jolly than the going out.
A Yo-kai-a widow’s style of mourning is peculiar.  In addition to the usual evidences of grief, she mingles the ashes of her dead husband with pitch, making a white tar or unguent, with which she smears a band about two inches wide all around the edge of the hair (which is previously cut off close to the head), so that at a little distance she appears to be wearing a white chaplet.
It is their custom to “feed the spirits of the dead” for the space of one year by going daily to places which they were accustomed to frequent while living, where they sprinkle pinole upon the ground.  A Yo-kai-a mother who has lost her babe goes every day for a year to some place where her little one played when alive, or to the spot where the body was burned, and milks her breasts into the air.  This is accompanied by plaintive mourning and weeping and piteous calling upon her little one to return, and sometimes she sings a hoarse and melancholy chant, and dances with a wild static swaying of the body.


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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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