Monday, August 1, 2011

Native American Burials and Graves Illustrated

Native American Burials and Graves Illustrated

Almost all savage and barbarous peoples look upon death as due to bad spirits, to witchcraft, or to violence. They cannot realize that men should die of old age. Disease is generally thought to be due to bad spirits or to the influence of some medicine man.
After a man dies there are many ways of treating the body. Usually the face is painted almost as if the person were preparing for a feast or a dance. The Otoes and many other tribes dress out the body in its choicest clothing and finest ornaments.
Probable burial in the ground is the commonest way of disposing of the dead body. The exact method varies. The grave may be deep, or it may be so shallow as hardly to be a grave at all. The body may be laid in extended to its full length, or it may be bent and folded together

into the smallest possible space, and tied securely in this way. Great attention is frequently given to the direction toward which the face or the body is turned. Among some tribes it makes no difference whether the earth touches the body; in others the greatest care is taken to prevent this.

The Sacs and Foxes in Iowa have their graveyards on the side of a hill, high above the surrounding country. The graves are shallow; the body, wrapped in blankets, is laid out at full length; little, if any, earth is thrown directly upon the body, but a little arched covering made of poles laid side by side, lengthwise of the body, is built over it, and a little earth may be thrown upon it. A pole is set at the head of the grave to the top of which is hung a bit of rag or a little cloth, the flapping of which, perhaps, keeps off bad spirits. Various objects are laid upon the grave: for men, bottles, and perhaps knives; for women, buckets and pans, such as are used in their daily work; for little children, the baby-boards on which they used to lie, and the little toys of which they were fond.
Sometimes grave-boxes were made of slabs of stone. Such are known in various parts of the United States, but are most common in Tennessee, where ancient cemeteries, with hundreds of such graves, are known. (See XV. Mounds and their Builders.) Sometimes the bodies of those lately dead were buried in these, but sometimes there were placed in them the dry bones of people

long dead, who had been buried elsewhere, or whose bodies had been exposed for a time on scaffolds or in dead-houses. Among several northeastern tribes it was the custom to place the bodies for some time in dead-houses, or temporary graves, and at certain times to collect together all the bones, and bury them at once in some great trench or hole.
Most tribes buried objects with the dead. With a man were buried his bow and arrows, war-club, and choicest treasures. The woman was accompanied by her ornaments, tools, and utensils. Even the child had with it its little toys and cradle, as we have seen in connection with the Sacs and Foxes. The Indians believed that people have souls which live somewhere after the men die. These souls hereafter delight to do the same things the men did here. There they hunt, and fish, and war, work and play, eat and drink. So weapons and tools, food and drink, were placed with the body in the grave.

They knew perfectly well that the things do not go away; they believed, however, that things have souls, as men do, and that it is the soul of the things that goes with the soul of the man into the land of spirits. Among tribes that are great horsemen, like the Comanches, a man's ponies are killed at his death. His favorite horse, decked out in all his trappings, is killed at the grave, so that the master may go properly mounted. When a little child among the Sacs and Foxes dies, a
]little dog is killed at the grave to accompany the child soul, and help the poor little one to find its way to the spirit world. Such destruction or burial of property may be very nice for the dead man's soul, but it is not nice for the man's survivors, who are sometimes quite beggared by it.

Sometimes the objects put into or upon a grave are broken, pierced, or bent. The purpose in thus making the objects “dead” has sometimes been said to be to set free the soul of the object; far more frequently, it is likely that it is to prevent bad persons robbing the grave for its treasures.
Cremation or burning the dead body was found among a number of Indian tribes, particularly upon the Pacific Coast. The Senel in California and some Oregon tribes are among these. So are the Tlingit of Alaska and their near neighbors and kin, the Haida of Queen Charlotte Islands. Among the last two tribes all but the Shamans were usually burned. The Shamans were buried in boxes raised on tall posts. After a Tlingit or Haida body was burned the ashes were usually gathered and placed in a little box-like cavity excavated in an upright post near its base; at the top of this post was a cross-board on which was carved or painted the totem or crest of the dead man.
Where there were great caves (as in Kentucky), and where the people dwelt in caverns (as at one time in the Southwest), the dead were often laid away in some corner of the cave. In almost all such cases the body was folded into the smallest space, with the knees drawn up against the chin; it was then wrapped up in blankets and robes and corded. Such bodies were generally not buried, but simply stowed away. These dried bodies are sometimes called “mummies,” but that name should only be used when something has been done to the body with the definite purpose of preserving it.

Scaffold Burial. 

Mention has already been made of box burial in connection with the Tlingit and Haida Shamans. Many Eskimos bury their dead in boxes supported on posts. The weapons, tools, and utensils of the dead are usually stuck upon the posts or hung over the boxes. The Ponkas also bury in  raised boxes, and at their present reservation in Oklahoma there are two extensive cemeteries of this kind.

Among some tribes in the extreme northwestern part of the United States canoes are used instead of boxes. They are supported above ground by posts. Usually two canoes are used; the body is placed in the lower, larger one; the smaller one is turned upside down over the corpse and fits within the larger. In the Mississippi and Missouri valley region many Siouan tribes placed their dead upon scaffolds, supported by poles at a height of six or eight feet in the air. Extensive cemeteries of this kind used to occupy high points overlooking the rivers; they could be seen—dreary sights—a long way across the country. Some tribes in wooded districts placed the dead in trees. Often scaffold and tree burial were only temporary, the body being later taken elsewhere for permanent burial. One time, visiting a winter camp of the Sacs and Foxes, far from their permanent village, we saw a strange bundle in a tree. It was the blanketed corpse of an old woman who had died a few days before; the party took it with them when they returned home in the spring.

We should find some of the mourning customs interesting. The friends of the dead wail and scream fearfully; they cut off their hair; they gash their bodies; they sometimes even chop off their finger tips or whole joints. They watch by 
]the grave—this is particularly true of women. Food and drink are often carried to the grave for some time after the burial. Fires are kindled to supply light or heat to the soul on its long journey.

Ojibwa Gravepost. (From Schoolcraft.)

Ojibwa Photo Gallery
Not many tribes have special posts or marks at the grave. A few do. The Ojibwa made such with much care. Usually they bore pictures or marks telling about the dead man. His totem animal was often represented, usually upside down to indicate that the bearer of the emblem was dead.