Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mummification and the Virginia Indians


A Virginia Indian Holds His Ancestors Mummified Remains
Following and in connection with cave burial, the subject of mummifying or embalming the dead may be taken up, as most specimens of the kind have generally been found in such repositories.
It might be both interesting and instructive to search out and discuss the causes which have led many nations or tribes to adopt certain processes with a view to prevent that return to dust which all flesh must sooner or later experience, but the necessarily limited scope of this work precludes more than a brief mention of certain theories advanced by writers of note, and which relate to the ancient Egyptians. Possibly at the time the Indians of America sought to preserve their dead from decomposition, some such ideas may have animated them, but on this point no definite information has been procured. In the final volume an effort will be made to trace out the origin of mummification among the Indians and aborigines of this continent.
The Egyptians embalmed, according to Cassien, because during the time of the annual inundation no interments could take place, but it is more than likely that this hypothesis is entirely fanciful. It is said by others they believed that so long as the body was preserved from corruption the soul remained in it. Herodotus states that it was to prevent bodies from becoming a prey to animal voracity. “They did not inter them,” says he, “for fear of their being eaten by worms; nor did they burn, considering fire as a ferocious beast, devouring everything which it touched.” According to Diodorus of Sicily, embalmment originated in filial piety and respect. De Maillet, however, in his tenth letter on Egypt, attributes it entirely to a religious belief, insisted upon by the wise men and priests, who taught their disciples that after a certain number of cycles, of perhaps thirty or forty thousand years, the entire universe became as it was at birth, and the souls of the dead returned into the same bodies in which they had lived, provided that the body remained free from corruption, and that sacrifices were freely offered as oblations to the manes of the deceased. Considering the great care taken to preserve the dead, and the ponderously solid nature of the Egyptian tombs, it is not surprising that this theory has obtained many believers. M. Gannal believes embalmment to have been suggested by the affectionate sentiments of our nature—a desire to preserve as long as possible the mortal remains of loved ones; but MM. Volney and Pariset think it was intended to obviate, in hot climates especially, danger from pestilence, being primarily a cheap and simple process, elegance and luxury coming later; and the Count de Caylus states the idea of embalmment was derived from the finding of desiccated bodies which the burning sands of Egypt had hardened and preserved. Many other suppositions have arisen, but it is thought the few given above are sufficient to serve as an introduction to embalmment in North America.
From the statements of the older writers on North American Indians, it appears that mummifying was resorted to, among certain tribes of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Florida, especially for people of distinction, the process in Virginia for the kings, according to Beverly, being as follows:
The Indians are religious in preserving the Corpses of their Kings and Rulers after Death, which they order in the following manner: First, they neatly flay off the Skin as entire as they can, slitting it only in the Back; then they pick all the Flesh off from the Bones as clean as possible, leaving the Sinews fastned to the Bones, that they may preserve the Joints together; then they dry the Bones in the Sun, and put them into the Skin again, which in the mean time has been kept from drying or shrinking; when the Bones are placed right in the Skin, they nicely fill up the Vacuities, with a very fine white Sand. After this they sew up the Skin again, and the Body looks as if the Flesh had not been removed. They take care to keep the Skin from shrinking, by the help of a little Oil or Grease, which saves it also from Corruption. The Skin being thus prepar’d, they lay it in an apartment for that purpose, upon a large Shelf rais’d above the Floor. This Shelf is spread with Mats, for the Corpse to rest easy on, and skreened with the same, to keep it from the Dust. The Flesh they lay upon Hurdles in the Sun to dry, and when it is thoroughly dried, it is sewed up in a Basket, and set at the Feet of the Corpse, to which it belongs. In this place also they set up a Quioccos, or Idol, which they believe will be a Guard to the Corpse. Here Night and Day one or the other of the Priests must give his Attendance, to take care of the dead Bodies. So great an Honour and Veneration have these ignorant and unpolisht People for their Princes even after they are dead.
It should be added that, in the writer’s opinion, this account and others like it are somewhat apocryphal, and it has been copied and recopied a score of times.
According to Pinkerton,30 who took the account from Smith’s Virginia, the Werowance of Virginia preserved their dead as follows:
In their Temples they have his [their chief God, the Devil’s] image euill favouredly carved, and then painted and adorned with chaines of copper, and beads, and covered with a skin, in such manner as the deformitie may well suit with such a God. By him is commonly the sepulchre of their Kings. Their bodies are first bowelled, then dried upon hurdles till they be very dry, and so about the most of their ioynts and necke they hang bracelets, or chaines of copper, pearle, and such like, as they use to wear. Their inwards they stuffe with copper beads, hatchets, and such trash. Then lappe they them very carefully in white skins, and so rowle them in mats for their winding-sheets. And in the Tombe, which is an arch made of mats, they lay them orderly. What remaineth of this kind of wealth their Kings have, they set at their feet in baskets. These temples and bodies are kept by their Priests.
For their ordinary burials, they dig a deepe hole in the earth with sharpe stakes, and the corpse being lapped in skins and mats with their Jewels they lay them upon stickes in the ground, and so cover them with earth. The buriale ended, the women being painted all their faces with blacke cole and oyle doe sit twenty-foure houres in the houses mourning and lamenting by turnes with such yelling and howling as may expresse their great passions. ***
Upon the top of certain red sandy hills in the woods there are three great houses filled with images of their Kings and devils and the tombes of their predecessors. Those houses are near sixty feet in length, built harbourwise after their building. This place they count so holey as that but the priests and Kings dare come into them; nor the savages dare not go up the river in boates by it, but that they solemnly cast 132some piece of copper, white beads or pocones into the river for feare their Okee should be offended and revenged of them.
They think that their Werowances and priests which they also esteeme quiyough-cosughs, when they are deade doe goe beyond the mountains towards the setting of the sun, and ever remain there in form of their Okee, with their bedes paynted rede with oyle and pocones, finely trimmed with feathers, and shall have beads, hatchets, copper, and tobacco, doing nothing but dance and sing with all their predecessors. But the common people they suppose shall not live after deth, but rot in their graves like dede dogges.