Friday, March 4, 2016

Some General Facts About Indian Women


Some General Facts About Indian Women




     We all know about how the native Americans found here by the whites at their first arrival, came to be called Indians. Columbus did not realize the greatness of his discovery. He was seeking a route to Asia and supposed that he had found it. Believing that he had really reached the Indies, for which he was looking, it was natural that the people here should be called Indians.
    The American Indians are often classed as a single type. They are described as being of a coppery or reddish-brown color. They have abundant, long, straight, black hair, and each hair is found to be almost circular when cut across. They have high cheek-bones, unusually prominent, and wide faces. This description will perhaps fit most Indians pretty well, but it would be a great mistake to think that there are no differences between tribes: there are many. There are tribes of tall Indians and tribes of short ones; some that are almost white, and others that are nearly black. There are found among them all shades of brown, some of which are reddish, others yellowish. There are tribes where the eyes appear as oblique or slanting as in the Chinese, and others where they are as straight as among ourselves. Some tribes have heads that are long and narrow; the heads of others are relatively short and wide. A little before the World's Columbian Exposition thousands of Indians of many different tribes were carefully measured. Dr. Boas, on studying the figures, decided that there were at least four different types in the United States.
     There are now living many different tribes of Indians. Formerly the number of tribes was still greater. Each tribe has its own language, and several hundred different Indian languages were spoken. These languages sometimes so much resemble each other that they seem to have been derived from one single parent language. Thus, when what is now New York State was first settled, it was largely occupied by five tribes—the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas—called “the Five Nations.” While they were distinct and each had its own language, these were so much alike that all are believed to have grown from one. When languages are so similar that they may be believed to have come from one parent language, they are said to belong to the same language family or stock.
     The Indians of New England, the lower Hudson region, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Virginia,
formed many different tribes, but they all spoke languages of one family. These tribes are called Algonkins. Indians speaking languages belonging to one stock are generally related in blood. Besides the area already named, Algonkin tribes occupied New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, a part of Canada, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and other districts farther west. The Blackfeet, who were Algonkins, lived close to the Rocky Mountains. So you see that one linguistic family may occupy a great area. On the other hand, sometimes a single tribe, small in numbers and occupying only a little space, may have a language entirely peculiar. Such a tribe would stand quite alone and would be considered as unrelated to any other. Its language would have to be considered as a distinct family or stock.
       A few years ago Major Powell published a map of America north of Mexico, to show the distribution of the Indian language families at the time of the white settlement of this country. In it he represented the areas of fifty-eight different families or stocks. Some of these families, like the Algonquian and Athapascan, occupied great districts and contained many languages; others, like the Zuñian, took up only a few square miles of space and contained a single tribe. At the front of this book is a little map partly copied from that of Major Powell. The large areas are nearly as he gave them; many smaller areas of his map are omitted, as we shall not speak of them. 

   The Indians of the Pueblos speak languages of at least four stocks, which Major Powell indicates. We have covered the whole Pueblo district with one color patch. We have grouped the many Californian tribes into one: so, too, with the tribes of the Northwest Coast. There are many widely differing languages spoken in each of these two regions. This map will show you where the Indians of whom we shall speak lived.
      Many persons seem to think that the Indian was a perpetual rover,—always hunting, fishing, and making war,—with no settled villages. This is a great mistake: most tribes knew and practiced some agriculture. Most of them had settled villages, wherein they spent much of their time. Sad indeed would it have been for the early settlers of New England, if their Indian neighbors had not had supplies of food stored away—the result of their industry in the fields.
      The condition of the woman among Indians is usually described as a sad one. It is true that she was a worker—but so was the man. Each had his or her own work to do, and neither would have thought of doing that of the other; with us, men rarely care to do women's work. The man built the house, fortified the village, hunted, fished, fought, and conducted the religious ceremonials upon which the success and happiness of all depended. The woman worked in the field, gathered wood, tended the fire, cooked, dressed skins, and cared for the children. When they traveled, the woman carried the burdens, of course: the man had to be ready for the attack of enemies or for the killing of game in case any should be seen. Among us hunting, fishing, and dancing are sport. They were not so with the Indians. When a man had to provide food for a family by his hunting and fishing, it ceased to be amusement and was hard work. When Indian men danced, it was usually as part of a religious ceremony which was to benefit the whole tribe; it was often wearisome and difficult—not fun. Woman was much of the time doing what we consider work; man was often doing what we consider play; there was not, however, really much to choose between them.

     The woman was in most tribes the head of the house. She exerted great influence in public matters of the tribe. She frequently decided the question of peace and war. To her the children belonged. If she were dissatisfied with her husband, she would drive him from the house and bid him return to his mother. If a man were lazy or failed to bring in plenty of game and fish, he was quite sure to be cast off.
While he lived his own life, the Indian was always hospitable. The stranger who applied for shelter or food was never refused; nor was he expected to pay. Only after long contact with the white man, who always wanted pay for everything, did this hospitality disappear. In fact, among some tribes it has not yet entirely gone. One time, as we neared the pueblo of Santo Domingo, New Mexico, the old governor of the pueblo rode out to meet us and learn who we were and what we wanted. On explaining that we were strangers, who only wished to see the town, we were taken directly to his house, on the town square. His old wife hastened to put before us cakes and coffee. After we had eaten we were given full permission to look around.
We shall consider many things together. Some chapters will be general discussions of Indian life; others will discuss special tribes; others will treat of single incidents in customs or belief. Some of the things mentioned in connection with one particular tribe would be equally true of many others. Thus, the modes of hunting buffalo and conducting war, practiced by one Plains tribe, were much the same among Plains tribes generally. Some of the things in these lessons will seem foolish; others are terrible. But remember that foreigners who study us find that we have many customs which they think strange and even terrible. The life of the Indians was not, on the whole, either foolish or bad; in many ways it was wise and beautiful and good. But it will soon be gone. In this book we shall try to give a picture of it.