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.

The Pi-Utes, of Oregon, bury in cairns; the Blackfeet do the same, as did also the Acaxers and Yaquis, of Mexico, and the Esquimaux; in fact, a number of examples might be quoted.  In foreign lands the custom prevailed among certain African tribes, and it is said that the ancient Balearic Islanders covered their dead with a heap of stones, but this ceremony was preceded by an operation which consisted in cutting the body in small pieces and collecting in a pot.


Next should be noted this mode of disposing of the dead, a common custom to a considerable extent among North American tribes, especially those living on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, although we have undoubted evidence that it was also practiced, among the more eastern ones.  This rite may be considered as peculiarly interesting from its great antiquity, for Tegg[47] informs us that it reached as far back as the Theban war, in the account of which mention is made of the burning of Menoeacus and Archemorus, who were contemporary with Jair, eighth judge of Israel.  It was common in the interior of Asia, and among the ancient Greeks and Romans, and has also prevailed among the Hindoos up to the present time.  In fact, it is now rapidly becoming a custom among civilized people.

While there is a certain degree of similarity between the performance of this rite among the people spoken of and the Indians of North America, yet, did space admit, a discussion might profitably be entered upon regarding the details of it among the ancients and the origin of the ceremony.  As it is, simple narrations of cremation in the country, with discursive notes and an account of its origin among the Nishinams of California, by Stephen Powers,[48] seem to be all that is required at this time: 

The moon and the coyote wrought together in creating all things that exist.  The moon was good, but the coyote was bad.  In making men and women, the moon wished to so fashion their souls that when they died they should return to the earth after two or three days as he himself does when he dies.  But the coyote was evil disposed and said this should not be; but that when men died their friends should burn their bodies and once a year make a great mourning for them and the coyote prevailed.  So, presently when deer died, they burned his body, as the coyote had decreed and after a year they made a great mourning for him.  But the moon created the rattlesnake and caused it to bite the coyote’s son, so that he died.  Now, though the coyote had been willing to burn the deer’s relations, he refused to burn his own son.  Then the moon said unto him, “This is your own rule.  You would have it so, and now your son shall be burned like the others.”  So he was burned, and after a year the coyote mourned for him.  Thus the law was established over the coyote also, and, as he had dominion over men, it prevailed
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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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