Friday, May 24, 2013

Ancient and Modern Funeral Practices of the Sac and Fox Native Americans

Ancient and Modern Funeral Practices of the Sac and Fox Native Americans

It will be seen from the following account, furnished by M. B. Kent, relating to the Sacs and Foxes (Oh-sak-ke-uck) of the Nehema Agency, Nebraska, that these Indians were careful in burying their dead to prevent the earth coming in contact with the body, and this custom has been followed by a number of different tribes, as will be seen by examples given further on.

Ancient burial.—The body was buried in a grave made about 2½ feet deep, and was laid always with the head towards the east, the burial taking place as soon after death as possible. The grave was prepared by putting bark in the bottom of it before the corpse 5as deposited, a plank covering made and secured some distance above the body. The plank was made by splitting trees, until intercourse with the whites enabled them to obtain sawed lumber. The corpse was always enveloped in a blanket, and prepared as for a long journey in life, no coffin being used.

Modern burial.—This tribe now usually bury in coffins, rude ones constructed by themselves, still depositing the body in the grave with the head towards the east.

Ancient funeral ceremonies.—Every relative of the deceased had to throw some article in the grave, either food, clothing, or other material. There was no rule stating the nature of what was to be added to the collection, simply a requirement that something must be deposited, if it were only a piece of soiled and faded calico. After the corpse was lowered into the grave some brave addressed the dead, instructing him to walk directly westward, that he would soon discover moccasin tracks, which he must follow until he came to a great river, which is the river of death; when there he would find a pole across the river, which, if he has been honest, upright, and good, will be straight, upon which he could readily cross to the other side; but if his life had been one of wickedness and sin, the pole would be very crooked, and in the attempt to cross upon it he would be precipitated into the turbulent stream and lost forever. The brave also told him if he crossed the river in safety the Great Father would receive him, take out his old brains, give him new ones, and then he would have reached the happy hunting grounds, always be happy and have eternal life. After burial a feast was always called, and a portion of the food of which each and every relative was partaking was burned to furnish subsistence to the spirit upon its journey.

funeral ceremonies.—Provisions are rarely put into the grave, and no portion of what is prepared for the feast subsequent to burial is burned, although the feast is continued. All the address delivered by the brave over the corpse after being deposited in the grave is omitted. A prominent feature of all ceremonies, either funeral or religious, consists of feasting accompanied with music and dancing.
Ancient mourning observances.—The female relations allowed their hair to hang entirely unrestrained, clothed themselves in the most unpresentable attire, the latter of which the males also do. Men blacked the whole face for a period of ten days after a death in the family, while the women blacked only the cheeks; the faces of the children were blacked for three months; they were also required to fast for the same length of time, the fasting to consist of eating but one meal per day, to be made entirely of hominy, and partaken of about sunset. It was believed that this fasting would enable the child to dream of coming events and prophesy what was to happen in the future. The extent and correctness of prophetic vision depended upon how faithfully the ordeal of fasting had been observed.

Modern mourning observances.—Many of those of the past are continued, such as wearing the hair unrestrained, wearing uncouth apparel, blacking faces, and fasting of children, and they are adhered to with as much tenacity as many of the professing Christians belonging to the evangelical churches adhere to their practices, which constitute mere forms, the intrinsic value of which can very reasonably be called in question.