« ZurückWeiter »
visions of the globe. The most elevated point of the Andes in I' South America, according to Don Ulloa, is twenty thousand two hundred and eighty feet, above the level of the sea; which is at least two thousand one hundred and two feet, above the peak of Teneriffe, which is the highest known mountain in the ancient I continent. *** #120
From the lofty and extensive mountains of America descends rivers, with which the streams of Europe, Asia, or Africa, are not to be compared, either for length, or for the vast bodies of i water, which they pour into the ocean. The Danube, the Indus, the Ganges, or the Nile, are not of equal magnitude, with the St. Lawrence, the Missouri, or the Mississippi, in North America; or with the Maragnon, the Orinoco, or the La Plata, in South America.
The lakes of the New World are not less conspicuous for grandeur than its mountains and rivers. There is nothing in the other parts of the globe which resembles the prodigious chain of lakes in North America; they might with propriety, be termed inland › seas of fresh water; even those of the second or third class, in magnitude, are of larger circuit (the Caspian sea excepted) than the greatest lake of the ancient continent.
Various causes have been assigned for the remarkable difference between the climate of the New continent and the Old. The opinion of the celebrated Dr. Robertson, on this subject, claims our attention. "Though the utmost extent of America towards “the north, be not yet discovered, we know that it advances near"er the pole than either Europe or Asia. The latter have large "seas to the north, which are open during part of the year; and 66* even when covered with ice, the wind that blows over them "is less intensely cold, than that which blows over land in the "same latitudes. But in America, the land stretches from the "river St. Lawrence towards the pole, and spreads out immense. "ly to the west, A chain of enormous mountains, covered with "snow and ice, runs through all this dreary region. The wind "passing over such an extent of high and frozen land, becomes* * "so impregnated with cold, that it acquires a piercing keenness, wr "which it retains in its progress through warmer climates; and “is not entirely mitigated, until it reaches the gulf of Mexico. "Over all the continent of North America, a north-westerly wind," " and excessive cold, are terms synonimous. Even in the most "Sultry weather, the moment that the wind veers to that quarter, " its penetrating influence is felt in a transition from heat to cold, "no less violent, than sudden. To this powerful cause we may "ascribe the extraordinary dominion of cold, and its violent inroads into the southern provinces in that part of the globe." Of the manners and customs of the North Americans, the following is the most consistent account that can be collected from the best informed, and most impartial writers.
When the Europeans first arrived in America, they found the Indians quite naked, except those parts which the most uncultiVOL. II. P
vated savages usually conceal. Since that time, however, they generally use a coarse blanket, which they obtain of the neighbouring planters, in exchange for furs and other articles. Their huts or cabins are made of stakes of wood, driven into the ground, and covered with branches of trees or reeds. They lie on the floor, either on mats, or the skins of wild beasts. Their dishes are of wood, and their spoons of the sculls of wild oxen, and some. times of laurel, a hardy wood, very suitable for the purpose; their knives and hatchets are made of flint or other stone. A kettle, and a large plate, constitute almost the whole utensils of the fa mily. Their diet consists chiefly on what they procure by hunting; and sagamite, or pottage, is likewise one of the most common kinds of food. The most honourable furniture amongst them is a collection of the scalps of their enemies: with these they ornament their huts, which are esteemed in proportion to the number of this horrid sort of spoils.
The character of the Indians, is only to be known by their circumstances and way of passing through life. Constantly employed in procuring a precarious subsistence, by hunting wild animals, and often engaged in war, it cannot be expected, that they enjoy much gaiety of temper, or a high flow of spirits. They are there. fore generally grave, approaching to sadness: they have none of that giddy vivacity, peculiar to some nations of Europe, but despise it. Their behaviour to those about them is regular, modest, and respectful. They seldom speak but when they have something important to observe; and all their actions, words, and even looks, are attended with some meaning. Their subsistence de pends entirely on what they procure with their hands; and their lives, their honour, and every thing dear to them, may be lost by the smallest inattention, to the designs of their enemies. As no particular object has power to attach them to one place, more than another, they go wherever the necessaries of life can be procured in the greatest abundance. The different tribes, or nations, when compared with civilized societies, are extremely small. These tribes often live at an immense distance; they are sepa rated by a desert frontier, and hid in the bosom of impenetrable Woods, and almost, boundless forests.
There is in each society, a certain kind of government which with very little deviation, prevails over the whole continent; their manners and way of life, are nearly similar and uniform. An Indian has no method by which he can render himself con siderable, among his companions, but by his personal accomplish. ments, either of body or mind; but, as nature has not been very lavish in these distinctions, where all enjoy the same education, all are pretty much upon an equality, and will desire to remain so. Liberty is therefore the prevailing passion of the American Indians; and their government under the influence of this sentiment, is perhaps better secured, than by the wisest political regulations. They are very far, however, from despising all sort of authority: they are attentive to the voice of wisdom, which ex
perience has confirmed on the aged, and they inlist under the banners of the chief, in whose valour and military address, they have learned to repose a just and merited confidence.
Among those tribes which are most engaged in war, the power of the chief is naturally predominant; because the idea of having a military leader was the first source of his superiority; and the continued exigencies of the state requiring such a leader, will enhance it. His power however, is rather persuasive than coercive, he is reverenced as a father, rather than feared as a monarch. He has no guards, no prisons, no officers of justice; and, one act of illjudged violence, would pull him from his humble throne.
The elders in the other form of government, which may be considered as a mild and nominal aristocracy, have no more power. Age alone is sufficient for acquiring respect, influence, and authority; experience alone, is the only source of knowledge among a savage people.
Among the Indians, business is conducted with the utmost simplicity, and recalls to those who are acquainted with antiquity, a lively representation of the early ages. The heads of families meet together in a house or cabin, appointed for the purpose: here the business is discussed: and here those of the nation distinguished for their eloquence or wisdom, have an opportunity of displaying their talents. Their orators, like those of Homer, express themselves in a bold, figurative style, more strong than refined, with gestures violent, but natural and expressive. When the business is over, and they happen to be well provided with food, they appoint a feast upon the occasion, of which almost the whole nation partake; the feast is accompanied with a song, in which the exploits of their forefathers are celebrated. They have dances too, but chiefly of the military kind, like the Greeks and Romans, which inspire the younger with a martial spirit.
To assist their memory, they have belts of small shells (wamhum) or beads, of different colours, each representing a different object, which is marked by their colour or arrangement. At the conclusion of every subject on which they discourse, when they treat with a foreign state, they deliver one of those belts; for, if this ceremony should be omitted, all that they have said passes for nothing. These belts are carefully deposited in each town, as the public records of the nation; and to them they occasionally have recourse, when any public contest happens with a neighbouring tribe. Of late, as the materials of which those belts are made have become scarce, they often give some skin in the place of the wampum; and receive in return, presents of a more valuable kind, from the commissioners appointed to treat with them; for they never consider a treaty of any weight, unless every article in it be ratified by some gratification.
It sometimes happens, that those different tribes or nations, scattered as they are, at an immense distance from one another, meet in their excursions whilst hunting. If there subsists no animosity between them, they behave in the most friendly and cour
teous manner; but, if they happen to be in a state of war, or, if there has been no previous intercourse between them, all who are not friends are deemed enemies, and they fight with the most savage-fury.
War, hunting, and fishing, are the principal employments of the men; almost every other concern is consigned to the
The most prevailing motive with the Indians for entering into a war, if it does not arise from an accidental rencounter, is either to revenge themselves for the death of some lost friends, or to acquire prisoners, who may assist them in their hunting, and whom they adopt into their society. These wars are either undertaken by some private adventurers, or by the whole community. In the latter case, all the young men who desire to go out to battle (for no one is compelled contrary to his inclination) give a piece of wood to the chief, as a token of their design to accompany him. The chief who is to conduct the enterprize, fasts several days, and carefully observes his dreams during that time; which the presumption natural to savages mostly renders as favourable as he could desire. A variety of other superstitious ceremonies are observed.
The war kettle is set on the fire, as an emblem that they are going out to devour their enemies; which among these nations, it is probable, was formerly the case; since they still continue to express it in clear terms, and use an emblem significant of the anci ent usage. Then they despatch a cup or large shell to their allies; inviting them to join in the destruction of their enemies, and drink their blood; for like the ancient Greeks, they think, that those in their alliance, must not only adopt their quarrels, but that they must also have their resentments wound up to the same high pitch with themselves.
There are no people who carry their friendships or resentments so far as they do; this naturally results from their peculiar circumstances. The Americans live in small societies, accustomed to see but few objects and few persons: to be deprived of these objects to which they are so closely attached, renders them miserable. Their ideas are too confined to enable them to entertain just sentiments of humanity, or universal benevolence. But this very circumstance, while it makes them cruel and savage to an incredible degree, towards those with whom they are at war, adds a new force to their particular friendships, and to the cominon tie which unites the members of the same tribe, or those in alliance with them.
Without attending to this reflection, some facts which immedi ately follow would excite our wonder, without informing our reason; and we would be bewildered in a number of particulars, seemingly opposite to one another, without being sensible of the general cause from which they proceed.
Having finished all the ceremonies previous to the war, and the ap pointed day for setting out on their expedition has arrived, they take leave of their friends, and exchange their clothes, or whatever
moveables they have, in token of mutual friendship; after which they proceed from the town, their wives and female relations walking before, and attending them to some distance. The warriors march dressed in all their finery, and most showy apparel, without any order. The chief walks slowly before them, singing the war song: while the rest observe the most profound silence, When they come up to their women, they deliver to them all their ornaments, and putting on their worst clothes, proceed on their expedition.
Every nation has its peculiar ensign or standard, which is generally a representation of some beast, bird, or fish. Those among the Five Nations, are the bear, otter, wolf, tortoise, and eagle, and by those names the tribes are usually distinguished. They have the figures of those animals pricked and painted on several parts of their bodies: and when they march through the woods, they commonly, at every encampment, cut the representation of their ensign on trees, especially after a successful campaign marking at the same time, the number of scalps and prisoners they have taken.
Their military dress is very singular: they cut off, or pull out, all their hair, except a spot about the breadth of two crownpieces, near the top of their heads, and entirely destroy their eye brows: the lock left upon their heads, they divide into several parcels: each of which is stiffened and adorned with wampum, beads, and feathers of various kinds; the whole twisted into a form resembling the modern pompoon. Their heads are painted red down to the eyes, and sprinkled over with white down. The gristles of their ears are split almost around, and distended with wires or splinters, so as to meet and tie together at the nape of the neck; these are also hung with some ornaments, and generally bear the representation of some bird or beast. Their noses are likewise bored, and hung with trinkets of beads, and their faces painted with various colours, so as to make an awful appearance. Their breasts are adorned with a gorget, or medal of brass, copper, or some other metal; and the scalping knife hangs by a string from the neck.
The most approved qualities among Indians in war are vigilance and attention, to execute and avoid surprise; and indeed, in these arts they are superior to all other nations in the world. Accustomed to a continual wandering in the forests, their conceptions sharpened by keen necessity, and living in every respect according to nature, their external senses have a degree of acuteness which at first view appears incredible. They can trace out their enemies at an immense distance, by the smoke of their fires, which they smell, and by the tracks of their feet upon the ground, imperceptible to an European eye, but which they can count with facility. It is said they can even distinguish the dif ferent nations to which they belong, and determine the precise time in which they passed; when an European with the aid of glasses could not discover the least trace of a foot-step. These