Friday, May 24, 2013

Burial Customs of the North Carolina - Cherokee Indians

Religion and the Burial Customs of the North Carolina -Cherokee Indian Tribe

The following is an interesting account from Lawson of the burial customs of the Indians formerly inhabiting the Carolinas:

     Among the Carolina  tribes religion, the burial of the dead was accompanied with special ceremonies, the expense and formality attendant upon the funeral according with the rank of the deceased. The corpse was first placed in a cane hurdle and deposited in an outhouse made for the purpose, where it was suffered to remain for a day and a night, guarded and mourned over by the nearest relatives with disheveled hair. Those who are to officiate at the funeral go into the town, and from the backs of the first young men they meet strip such blankets and mascots as they deem suitable for their purpose. In these the dead body is wrapped and then covered with two or three mats made of rushes or cane. The coffin is made of woven reeds or hollow canes tied fast at both ends. When everything is prepared for the interment, the corpse is carried from the house in which it has been lying into the orchard of peach-trees and is there deposited in another hurdle. Seated upon mats are there congregated the family and tribe of the deceased and invited guests. The medicine man, or conjurer, having enjoined silence, then pronounces a funeral oration, during which he recounts the exploits of the deceased, his valor, skill, love of country, property, and influence; alludes to the void caused by his death, and counsels those who remain to supply his place by following in his footsteps; pictures the happiness he will enjoy in the land of spirits to which he has gone, and concludes his address by an allusion to the prominent traditions of his tribe.

At last [says Mr. Lawson], the Corpse is brought away from that Hurdle to the Grave by four young Men, attended by the Relations, the King, old Men, and all the Nation. When they come to the Sepulcre, which is about six foot deep and eight foot long, having at each end (that is, at the Head and Foot) a Light-Wood or Pitch-Pine Fork driven close down the sides of the Grave firmly into the Ground (these two Forks are to contain a Ridge-Pole, as you shall understand presently), before they lay the Corps into the Grave, they cover the bottom two or three time over with the Bark of Trees; then they let down the Corps (with two Belts that the Indians carry their Burdens withal) very leisurely upon the said Barks; then they lay over a Pole of the same Wood in the two Forks, and having a great many Pieces of Pitch-Pine Logs about two Foot and a half long, they stick them in the sides of the Grave down each End and near the Top thereof, where the other Ends lie in the Ridge-Pole, so that they are declining like the Roof of a House. These being very thick plac’d, they cover them [many times double] with Bark; then they throw the Earth thereon that came out of the Grave and beat it down very firm. By this Means the dead Body lies in a Vault, nothing touching him.

After a time the body is taken up, the bones cleaned, and deposited in an ossuary called the Quiogozon.

Figure 1, after De Bry and Lafitau, represents what the early writers called the Quiogozon, or charnel-house, and allusions will be found to it in other parts of this volume. Discrepancies in these accounts impair greatly their value, for one author says that bones were deposited, another dried bodies.