Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Chippewa Indian Death and Mourning Ritual

Chippewa Indian Death and Mourning Ritual



From I. L. Mahan, United States Indian agent for the Chippewas of Lake Superior, Red Cliff, Wisconsin, the following detailed account of mourning has been received:
There is probably no people that exhibit more sorrow and grief for their dead than they. The young widow mourns the loss of her husband; by day as by night she is heard silently sobbing; she is a constant visitor to the place of rest; with the greatest reluctance will she follow the raised camp. The friends and relatives of the young mourner will incessantly devise methods to distract her mind from the thought of her lost husband. She refuses nourishment, but as nature is exhausted she is prevailed upon to partake of food; the supply is scant, but on every occasion the best and largest proportion is deposited upon the grave of her husband. In the mean time the female relatives of the deceased have, according to custom, submitted to her charge a parcel made up of different cloths ornamented with bead-work and eagle’s feathers, which she is charged to keep by her side—the place made vacant by the demise of her husband—a reminder of her widowhood. She is therefore for a term of twelve moons not permitted to wear any finery, neither is she permitted to slicken up and comb her head; this to avoid attracting attention. Once in a while a female relative of deceased, commiserating with her grief and sorrow, will visit her and voluntarily proceed to comb out the long-neglected and matted hair. With a jealous eye a vigilant watch is kept over her conduct during the term of her widowhood, yet she is allowed the privilege to marry, any time during her widowhood, an unmarried brother or cousin, or a person of the same Dodem [

Thomas L. McKenney gives a description of the Chippewa widow which differs slightly from the one above:
I have noticed several women here carrying with them rolls of clothing. On inquiring what these imported, I learn that they are widows who carry them, and that these are badges of mourning. It is indispensable, when a woman of the Chippeway Nation loses her husband, for her to take of her best apparel—and the whole of it is not worth a dollar—and roll it up, and confine it by means of her husband’s sashes; and if he had ornaments, these are generally put on the top of the roll, and around it is wrapped a piece of cloth. This bundle is called her husband, and it is expected that she is 
185never to be seen without it. If she walks out she takes it with her; if she sits down in her lodge, she places it by her side. This badge of widowhood and of mourning the widow is compelled to carry with her until some of her late husband’s family shall call and take it away, which is done when they think she has mourned long enough, and which is generally at the expiration of a year. She is then, but not before, released from her mourning, and at liberty to marry again. She has the privilege to take this husband to the family of the deceased and leave it, but this is considered indecorous, and is seldom done. Sometimes a brother of the deceased takes the widow for his wife at the grave of her husband, which is done by a ceremony of walking her over it. And this he has a right to do; and when this is done she is not required to go into mourning; or, if she chooses, she has the right to go to him, and he is bound to support her.
I visited a lodge to-day, where I saw one of these badges. The size varies according to the quantity of clothing which the widow may happen to have. It is expected of her to put up her best and wear her worst. The “husband” I saw just now was 30 inches high and 18 inches in circumference.
I was told by the interpreter that he knew a woman who had been left to mourn after this fashion for years, none of her husband’s family calling for the badge or token of her grief. At a certain time it was told her that some of her husband’s family were passing, and she was advised to speak to them on the subject. She did so, and told them she had mourned long and was poor; that she had no means to buy clothes, and her’s being all in the mourning badge, and sacred, could not be touched. She expressed a hope that her request might not be interpreted into a wish to marry; it was only made that she might be placed in a situation to get some clothes. She got for answer, that “they were going to Mackinac, and would think of it.” They left her in this state of uncertainty, but on returning, and finding her faithful still, they took her “husband” and presented her with clothing of various kinds. Thus was she rewarded for her constancy and made comfortable.