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.
nearer relatives of the dead, or remain in possession of his family if he has one; such clothing, household utensils, and weapons as the deceased had in daily use are almost invariably enclosed in his coffin.  If there are many deaths about the same time, or an epidemic occurs, everything belonging to the dead is destroyed.  The house in which a death occurs is always deserted and usually destroyed.  In order to avoid this, it is not uncommon to take the sick person out of the house and put him in a tent to die.

     [Illustration:  Fig. 14.—­Ingalik grave.]

A woman’s coffin may be known by the kettles and other feminine utensils about it.  There is no distinction between the sexes in method of burial.  On the outside of the coffin, figures are usually drawn in red ochre.  Figures of fur animals usually indicate that the dead person was a good trapper; if seal or deer skin, his proficiency as a hunter; representation of parkies that he was wealthy; the manner of his death is also occasionally indicated.  For four days after a death the women in the village do no sewing; for five days the men do not cut wood with an axe.  The relatives of the dead must not seek birds’ eggs on the overhanging cliffs for a year, or their feet will slip from under them and they will be dashed to pieces.  No mourning is worn or indicated, except by cutting the hair.  Women sit and watch the body, chanting a mournful refrain until he is interred.  They seldom suspect that others have brought the death about by shamanism, as the Indians almost invariably do.
At the end of a year from the death, a festival is given, presents are made to those who assisted in making the coffin, and the period of mourning is over.  Their grief seldom seems deep but they indulge for a long time in wailing for the dead at intervals.  I have seen several women who refused to take a second husband, and had remained single in spite of repeated offers for many years.


As we drew near, we heard a low, wailing chant, and Mikala, one of my men, informed me that it was women lamenting for the dead.  On landing, I saw several Indians hewing out the box in which the dead are placed. * * * The body lay on its side on a deer skin, the heels were lashed to the small of the back, and the head bent forward on the chest so that his coffin needed to be only about four feet long.


We may now pass to what may be called aerial sepulture proper, the most common examples of which are tree and scaffold burial, quite extensively practiced even at the present time.  From what can be learned the choice of this mode depends greatly on the facilities present, where timber abounds, trees being used, if absent, scaffolds being employed.

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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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