Saturday, May 26, 2012

About the Indian Custom of One Meal a Day


This was the usage among the Indian tribes in the Lower Status of barbarism. In the Middle Status 
there seems to have been more method and regularity of life, but no change in their customs with respect to food, so marked in character that we are forced to recognize a new plan of domestic life among them. The Iroquois had but one cooked meal each day. It was as much as their resources and organization for housekeeping could furnish, and was as much as they needed. It was prepared and served usually before the noon-day hour, ten or eleven o'clock, and may be called a dinner. At this time the principal cooking for the day was done. After its division at the kettle, among the members of the household, it was served warm to each person in earthen or wooden bowls. They had neither tables, nor chairs, nor plates, in our sense, nor any room in the nature of a kitchen or a dining room, but ate each by himself, sitting or standing, and where most convenient to the person. They also separated as to the time of eating, the men eating first and by themselves, and the women and children afterwards and by themselves. That which remained was reserved for any member of the household when hungry. Towards evening the women cooked hominy, the maize having been pounded into bits the size of a kernel of rice, which was boiled and put aside to be used cold as a lunch in the morning or evening, and for the entertainment of visitors. They had neither a formal breakfast nor a supper. Each person, when hungry, ate of whatever food the house contained. They were moderate eaters. This is a fair picture of Indian life in general in America, when discovered. After intercourse commenced with whites, the Iroquois gradually began to adopt our mode of life but very slowly. One of the difficulties was to change the old usage and accustom themselves to eat together. It came in by degrees, first with the breaking up of the old plan of living together in numbers in the old long-houses, and with the substitution of single houses for each family, which ended communism and living in the large household, and substituted the subsistence of a single family through individual effort. After many years came the use of the table and chairs among the more advanced families of the Iroquois tribes. There are still upon the Iroquois reservations in this State many log homes or cabins with but a single room on the ground floor and a loft above, with neither a table or chair in their scanty furniture. A portion of them still live very much in the old style, with perhaps two regular meals daily instead of one. That they have made this much of change in the course of two centuries must be accounted remarkable, for they have been compelled, so to speak, to jump one entire ethnical period, without the experience or training of so many intervening generations, and without the brain-growth such a change of the plan of domestic life implies, when reached through natural individual experience. There is a tradition still current among the Seneca-Iroquois, if the memory of so recent an occurrence may be called traditional, that when the proposition that man and wife should eat together, which was so contrary to immemorial usage, was first determined in the affirmative, it was formally agreed that man and wife should sit down together at the same dish and eat with the same ladle, the man eating first and then the woman, and so alternately until the meal was finished.
The testimony of such writers as have noticed the house-life of the Indian tribes is not uniform in respect to the number of meals a day. Thus Catlin remarks, "As I have before observed these men (the Mandans) generally eat but twice a day, and many times not more than once, and these meals are light and simple…. The North American Indians, taking them in the aggregate, even when they have an abundance to subsist on, eat less than any civilized population of equal numbers that I have ever traveled among." [Footnote: North American Indians, Philadelphia ed., 1857, i, 203.]
And Heckewelder, speaking of the Delawares and other tribes, says:
"They commonly make two meals every day, which they say is enough.
If any one should feel hungry between meal-times, there is generally
something in the house ready for him."
[Footnote: Indian Nations, 193.] Adair contents himself with stating of the Chocta and Cherokee tribes that "they have no stated meal time."
[Footnote: History of the American Indian, Lond. ed., 1775, p. 17.]
There was doubtless some variation in different localities, and even in the same household; but as a general rule, from what is known of their mode of life, one prepared meal each day expresses very nearly all the people in this condition of society can do for the sustenance of mankind.