When, at the close of the eventful meeting of the council at which the accusation against Shotaye and Say Koitza had fallen like a thunderbolt upon the minds of all present, the principal shamans warned the members of that council to keep strict silence and to fast or pray, that reminder was not to be understood as imposing on them the obligation of rigid penitence. Secrecy alone was obligatory; it remained optional with each how far he would carry his contrition. The three caciques, however, and the chief medicine-men had to retire and begin rigorous penitential ceremonies. Therefore the Hishtanyi Chayan had said that he was going to speak to the leading penitents at once.
Some of the fathers of the tribe, however, took the matter so much to heart that they obeyed the injunction of the great medicine-men literally, and took to sackcloth and ashes as soon as they reached home. Their motives were extremely laudable, but their action was by no means wise. They lost sight of what the shaman had strongly insisted upon; namely, that none of them should, by displaying particular sadness or by dropping mysterious hints, attract attention, and thus lead the people to surmise or suspect something of grave import. The shaman knew the human heart well, at least the hearts of his tribe; but with all his well-intended shrewdness he overlooked the fact that the very recommendations he gave had fallen on too fertile ground, and consequently worked more harm than good. For the majority of the councilmen were so horror-stricken by the disclosures of Tyope and of the Koshare Naua, that they went to do penance with a zeal that could not fail to draw the attention of everybody around them. Thus Kauaitshe, the delegate of the Water clan, and Tyame, he of the Eagles, and several others considered it their duty to fast. Not a word concerning the meeting passed their lips; but when on the following morning each one of them retired to a secluded chamber or sat down in a corner of his room, his arms folded around his knees, speechless, motionless; when he refused to partake of the food which his wife or daughter presented to him,—when he persisted in this attitude quietly and solemnly, it could not fail to attract attention. The father, brother, or husband fasted! Whenever the Indian does penance it is because he has something heavy on his mind. In the present instance, as it happened immediately after the council, it necessarily led to the inference that at that council momentous questions must have been discussed, and also that these questions had not been solved. Otherwise, why should the councilmen fast?
Penitence, with the Indian, is akin to sacrifice; the body is tormented because the soul is beyond human reach. The fasting is done in order to render the body more accessible to the influence of the mind. Often, too, one fasts in order to weaken the body, in order to free the soul from its thralls and bring it into a closer relation with the powers regarded as supernatural. At all events, fasting and purifications were a sure sign that serious affairs were in process of development, and such proceedings on the part of some of the nashtio could not fail to produce results the opposite of what the shaman had intended.