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.
Among the Sioux and Western Chippawas, after the body had been wrapped in its best clothes and ornaments, it is then placed on a scaffold or in a tree until the flesh is entirely decayed, after which the bones are buried and grave-posts fixed.  At the head of the grave a tubular piece of cedar or other wood, called the adjedatig, is set.  This grave-board contains the symbolic or representative figure, which records, if it be a warrior, his totem, that is to say the symbol of his family, or surname, and such arithmetical or other devices as seem to denote how many times the deceased has been in war parties, and how many scalps he has taken from the enemy—­two facts from which his reputation is essentially to be derived.  It is seldom that more is attempted in the way of inscription.  Often, however, distinguished chiefs have their war flag, or, in modern days, a small ensign of American fabric, displayed on a standard at the head of their graves, which is left to fly over the deceased till it is wasted by the elements.  Scalps of their enemies, feathers of the bald or black eagle, the swallow-tailed falcon, or some carnivorous bird, are also placed, in such instances, on the adjedatig, or suspended, with offerings of various kinds, on a separate staff.  But the latter are superadditions of a religious character, and belong to the class of the Ke-ke-wa-o-win-an-tig (ante, No. 4).  The building of a funeral fire on recent graves is also a rite which belongs to the consideration of their religious faith.


It is extremely difficult to determine why the custom of building fires on or near graves was originated, some authors stating that the soul thereby underwent a certain process of purification, others that demons were driven away by them, and again that they were to afford light to the wandering soul setting out for the spirit land.  One writer states that—­

The Algonkins believed that the fire lighted nightly on the grave was to light the spirit on its journey.  By a coincidence to be explained by the universal sacredness of the number, both Algonkins and Mexicans maintained it for four nights consecutively.  The former related the tradition that one of their ancestors returned from the spirit land and informed their nation that the journey thither consumed just four days, and that collecting fuel every night added much to the toil and fatigue the soul encountered, all of which could be spared it.

So it would appear that the belief existed that the fire was also intended to assist the spirit in preparing its repast.

Stephen Powers[103] gives a tradition current among the Yurok of California as to the use of fires: 

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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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