The Delight Makers eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 455 pages of information about The Delight Makers.

Now one of them stumbles and falls, and as he rises he notices that the object over which he has tripped is still clinging to his foot.  He cannot see what it is, but grasping it, discovers a round war-sandal, over which he has stumbled, whose thongs have remained between his toes.  This discovery he communicates to his companion.  With fresh vigour they resume their dismal march.  It is dark, so dark that nothing more can be seen; nothing more is heard save distant thunder and the discordant voices of the night in the forest.  Slowly and silently they proceed homeward with their gory but precious burden.

CHAPTER XVI.

Lamentations over a dead body are everywhere a sad and sickening performance to witness and to hear.  Among the aborigines of New Mexico—­among the sedentary tribes at least—­the official death-wail is carried on for four days.  The number four plays a conspicuous role in the lives of those people.  And it is natural that it should.  Four are the cardinal points, four the seasons, four times five digits depend from hands and feet.  The Queres has not even a distinct term for finger or for toe.  He designates the former as one above the hand, the latter as one above the foot.  Four days the redman fasts or does penance; four days he mourns, for that is the time required by the soul to travel from the place where it has been liberated from the thralls of earthly life to the place of eternal felicity.  At the time of which we are speaking, the body was still cremated, and with it everything that made up the personal effects of the deceased.[11] If a man, his clothes, his weapons, his loom, in case he had practised the art of weaving, were burned; if a woman, the cooking utensils were “killed;” that is, either perforated at the bottom or broken over the funeral pyre and afterward consumed.  In this manner the deceased was accompanied by his worldly goods, in the shape of smoke and steam, through that air in which the soul travelled toward Shipapu, in the far-distant mythical North.  The road must be long to Shipapu, else it would not require four entire days to reach it; and there are neither eating-places nor half-way houses on the way, where the dead may stop for refreshments.  Therefore the survivors placed on the spot where the body had rested for the last time an effigy of the dead, a wooden carving, and covered it with a piece of cloth; while by the side of this effigy they deposited food and water, in order that neither cold, hunger, nor thirst might cause the travelling spirit to suffer.  But the road is not only long, it is also dangerous; evil spirits lie in wait for the deceased to capture him if possible, and hamper his ultimate felicity.  To protect himself against them a small war-club is added to the other necessaries, and to render the journey safe beyond a doubt a magic circle is drawn, encompassing the statuette with a circle of cruciform marks, imitating the footprints of the shashka, or road-runner.  As these crosses point in all four directions, it is supposed that evil spirits will become bewildered and unable to pursue the soul in its transit.  At the end of the fourth day, with many prayers and ceremonies, the circle is obliterated, and the other objects, including the effigy, are taken away by the shamans to be disposed of in a manner known to them alone.

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The Delight Makers from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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