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.
is seated the body of the dead warrior with the face toward the rising sun.  The legs are crossed and the arms kept extended by means of sticks.  The fat is then removed, and after being mixed with red ochre is rubbed over the body, which has previously been carefully denuded of hair, as is done in the ceremony of initiation.  The legs and arms are covered with zebra-like stripes of red, white, and yellow, and the weapons of the dead man are laid across his lap.
The body being thus arranged, fires are lighted under the platform, and kept up for ten days or more, during the whole of which time the friends and mourners remain by the body, and are not permitted to speak.  Sentinels relieve each other at appointed intervals, their duty being to see that the fires are not suffered to go out, and to keep the flies away by waving leafy boughs or bunches of emu feathers.  When a body has been treated in this manner it becomes hard and mummy-like, and the strongest point is that the wild dogs will not touch it after it has been so long smoked.  It remains sitting on the platform for two months or so, and is then taken down and buried, with the exception of the skull, which is made into a drinking-cup for the nearest relative. * * *

This mode of mummifying resembles somewhat that already described as the process by which the Virginia kings were preserved from decomposition.

Figs. 21 and 22 represent the Australian burials described, and are after the original engravings in Wood’s work.  The one representing scaffold-burial resembles greatly the scaffolds of our own Indians.

With regard to the use of scaffolds as places of deposit for the dead, the following theories by Dr. W. Gardner, United States Army, are given: 

If we come to inquire why the American aborigines placed the dead bodies of their relatives and friends in trees, or upon scaffolds resembling trees, instead of burying them in the ground, or burning them and preserving their ashes in urns, I think we can answer the inquiry by recollecting that most if not all the tribes of American Indians, as well as other nations of a higher civilization, believed that the human soul, spirit, or immortal part was of the form and nature of a bird, and as these are essentially arboreal in their habits, it is quite in keeping to suppose that the soul-bird would have readier access to its former home or dwelling-place if it was placed upon a tree or scaffold than if it was buried in the earth; moreover, from this lofty eyrie the souls of the dead could rest secure from the attacks of wolves or other profane beasts, and guard like sentinels the homes and hunting-grounds of their loved ones.

This statement is given because of a corroborative note in the writer’s possession, but he is not prepared to admit it as correct without farther investigation.


Project Gutenberg
A Further Contribution to the Study of the Mortuary Customs of the North American Indians from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
Follow Us on Facebook