Sunday, May 26, 2013

Burial Ceremony of a Sioux Indian Warrior

Burial Ceremony of the Dakota Sioux

Sioux Indian Warrior Burial—After death they paint a warrior red across the mouth, or they paint a hand in black color, with the thumb on one side of the mouth and the fingers separated on the other cheek, the rest of the face being painted red. (This latter is only done as a mark of respect to a specially brave man.) Spears, clubs, and the medicine-bag of the deceased when alive are buried with the body, the medicine-bag being placed on the bare skin over the region of the heart. There is not now, nor has there been, among these Indians any special preparation of the grave. The body of a warrior is generally wrapped in a blanket or piece of cloth (and frequently in addition is placed in a box) and buried in the grave prepared for the purpose, always, as the majority of these Indians inform me, with the head towards the south. (I have, however, seen many graves in which the head of the occupant had been placed to the east. It may be that these graves were those of Indians who belonged to the church; and a few Indians inform me that the head is sometimes placed towards the west, according to the occupant’s belief when alive as to the direction from which his guiding medicine came, and I am personally inclined to give credence to this latter as sometimes occurring.) In all burials, when the person has died a natural death, or had not been murdered, and whether man, woman, or child, the body is placed in the grave with the face up. In cases, however, when a man or woman has been murdered by one of their own tribe, the body was, and is always, placed in the grave with the face down, head to the south, and a piece of fat (bacon or pork) placed in the mouth. This piece of fat is placed in the mouth, as these Indians say, to prevent the spirit of the murdered person driving or scaring the game from that section of country. Those Indians who state that their dead are always buried with the head towards the south say they do so in order that the spirit of the deceased may go to the south, the land from which these Indians believe they originally came.

Women and children.—Before death the face of the person expected to die is often painted in a red color. When this is not done before death it is done afterwards; the 108body being then buried in a grave prepared for its reception, and in the manner described for a warrior, cooking-utensils taking the place of the warrior’s weapons. In cases of boys and girls a kettle of cooked food is sometimes placed at the head of the grave after the body is covered. Now, if the dead body be that of a boy, all the boys of about his age go up and eat of the food, and in cases of girls all the girls do likewise. This, however, has never obtained as a custom, but is sometimes done in cases of warriors and women also.

Cremation has never been practiced by these Indians. It is now, and always has been, a custom among them to remove a lock of hair from the top or scalp lock of a warrior, or from the left side of the head of a woman, which is carefully preserved by some near relative of the deceased, wrapped in pieces of calico and muslin, and hung in the lodge of the deceased and is considered the ghost of the dead person. To the bundle is attached a tin cup or other vessel, and in this is placed some food for the spirit of the dead person. Whenever a stranger happens in at meal time, this food, however, is not allowed to go to waste; if not consumed by the stranger to whom it is offered, some of the occupants of the lodge eat it. They seem to take some pains to please the ghost of the deceased, thinking thereby they will have good luck in their family so long as they continue to do so. It is a custom with the men when they smoke to offer the pipe to the ghost, at the same time asking it to confer some favor on them, or aid them in their work or in hunting, &c.

There is a feast held over this bundle containing the ghost of the deceased, given by the friends of the dead man. This feast may be at any time, and is not at any particular time, occurring, however, generally as often as once a year, unless, at the time of the first feast, the friends designate a particular time, such, for instance, as when the leaves fall, or when the grass comes again. This bundle is never permitted to leave the lodge of the friends of the dead person, except to be buried in the grave of one of them. Much of the property of the deceased person is buried with the body, a portion being placed under the body and a portion over it. Horses are sometimes killed on the grave of a warrior, but this custom is gradually ceasing, in consequence of the value of their ponies. These animals are therefore now generally given away by the person before death, or after death disposed of by the near relatives. Many years ago it was customary to kill one or more ponies at the grave. In cases of more than ordinary wealth for an Indian, much of his personal property is now, and has ever been, reserved from burial with the body, and forms the basis for a gambling party, which will be described hereafter. No food is ever buried in the grave, but some is occasionally placed at the head of it; in which case it is consumed by the friends of the dead person. Such is the method that was in vogue with these Indians twenty years ago, and which is still adhered to, with more or less exactness, by the majority of them, the exceptions being those who are strict church members and those very few families who adhere to their ancient customs.