« ZurückWeiter »
V. THE MEXICAN QUESTION .
NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
ART. I. - Mémoire sur les Maurs, Coustumes et Relligion des
Saurages de l'Amérique Septentrionale. Par Nicolas PERROT. Publié pour la première fois par le R. P. J. TAILHAN, de la Compagnie de Jésus. Leipzig and Paris. 1864.
The religious belief of the North American Indians seems at a first view anomalous and contradictory. It certainly is so, if we adopt the popular impression. Romance, Poetry, and Rhetoric point, on the one hand, to the august conception of a one all-ruling deity, a Great Spirit, omniscient and omnipresent, and we are told to admire the untutored intellect which could conceive a thought too vast for Socrates and Plato. On the other hand, we find a chaos of degrading, ridiculous, and incoherent superstitions. A closer examination will show that the contradiction is more apparent than real. We will begin with the lowest forms of Indian belief, and thence trace it upward to the highest conceptions which the unassisted mind of the savage attained.
To the Indian, the material world is sentient and intelligent. Birds, beasts, and reptiles have cars for human prayers, and are endowed with influence on human destiny. A mysterious and inexplicable power resides in inanimate things. They, too, can listen to the voice of man, and influence his life for evil or for good. Lakes, rivers, and waterfalls are sometimes the dwelling-place of spirits, but more frequently they are themselves living beings, to be propitiated by prayers and offerings. VOL. CIII. — NO. 212.
The lake has a soul, and so have the river and the cataract. Each can hear the words of men, and each can be pleased or offended. In the silence of a forest, the gloom of a deep ravine, resides a living mystery, indefinite but redoubtable. Through all the works of Nature or of man, nothing exists, however seemingly trivial, that may not be endued with a secret power for blessing or for bane.
Men and animals are closely akin. Each species of animal has its great archetype, its progenitor or king, who is supposed somewhere to exist, prodigious in size, though in shape and nature like his subjects. A belief prevails, vague, but perfectly apparent, that men themselves owe their first parentage to beasts, birds, or reptiles, as bears, wolves, tortoises, or cranes; and the names of the totemic clans, borrowed in nearly every case from animals, are the reflection of this idea.*
An Indian hunter was always anxious to propitiate the animals he sought to kill. He lias often been known to address a wounded bear in a long harangue of apology.f The bones of the beaver were treated with especial tenderness, and carefully kept from the dogs, lest the spirit of the dead beaver, or his surviving brethren, should take offence. $ This solicitude extended not alone to animals, but also to inanimate things. A remarkable example occurred among the Hurons, a people comparatively advanced, who, to propitiate their fishing-nets, and persuade them to do their office with effect, married them
* This belief occasionally takes a perfectly definite shape. There was a tradition among Northern and Western tribes that men were created from the carcasses of beasts, birds, and fishes, by Manabozho, a mythical personage to be described hereafter. The Amikouas, or People of the Beaver, an Algonquin tribe of Lake Huron, claimed descent from the carcass of the great original beaver, or father of the beavers. They believed that the rapids and cataracts on the French River and the Upper Ottawa were caused by dams made by their amphibious ancestor. See the tradition in Perrot, Mlémoire sur les Maurs, Coustumes et Relligion des Srurages de l'Amérique Septentrionale, p. 20. Charlevoix tells the same story. Each Indian was supposed to inherit something of the nature of the animal whence he sprung.
† McKinney, Tour to the Lakes, p. 284, mentions the discomposure of a party of Indians when shown a stuffed moose. Thinking that its spirit would be offended at the indignity shown to its remains, they surrounded it, making apologetic speeches and blowing tobacco-smoke at it as a propitiatory offering.
This superstition was very prevalent, and numerous instances of it occur in old and recent writers, from Father Le Jeune to Captain Carver.
every year to two young girls of the tribe, with a ceremony far more formal than in the case of merely human wedlock.* The fish, too, no less than the nets, must be propitiated; and to this end they were addressed every evening from the fishing camp by one of the party chosen for that function, who exhorted them to take courage and be caught, assuring them that the utmost respect should be shown to their bones. The harangue, which took place after the evening meal, was made in solemn form, and while it lasted, the whole party, except the speaker, were required to lie on their backs, silent and motionless, around their fire.
Besides ascribing life and intelligence to the material world, animate and inanimate, the Indian believes in supernatural esistences, known among the Algonquins as Manitous, and among the Iroquois and Hurons as Okies. These words comprehend all forms of supernatural being, from the highest to the lowest, with the exception, possibly, of certain diminutive fairies or hobgoblins, and certain giants and anomalous monsters, which appear under various forms, grotesque and horrible, , in their fireside legends. There are local manitous of streams, rocks, mountains, cataracts, and forests. The conception of these beings betrays, for the most part, a striking poverty of imagination. In nearly every case, when they reveal themselves to mortal sight, they bear the semblance of beasts, reptiles, or
There are frequent allusions to this ceremony in the early writers. The Algonquins of the Ottawa practised it, as well as the Hurons. Lalemant, in his chapter " Da Regne de Satan en ces Contrées” (Relation des Elurons, 1639), says that it took place yearly at the middle of March. As it was indispensable that the brides should he virgins, mere children were chosen. The net was held between them, and its spirit, or Oki, was harangued by one of the chiefs, who exhorted him to do his part in furnishing the tribe with food. Lalemant was told that the spirit of the net had once appeared in human form to the Algonquins, complaining that he had lost bis wife, and warning them that, unless they could find him another equally immaculate, they would catch no more fish.
† Sagard, Le Grand Voyage du Pays des Hurons, p. 257. Other old writers make a similar statement.
Many tribes have tales of diminutive beings which, in the absence of a better word, may be called fairies. In the Travels of Lewis and Clark there is mention of a hill on the Missouri supposed to be haunted by them. These Western fairies correspond with the Puck Wudj Ininee of Ojibwa tradition. As an example of the monsters alluded to, see the Saginaw story of the Weendigoes, in Schoolcraft, Algic Researches, II. 105.
birds, in shapes unusual or distorted.* There are other mani
* tous without local habitation, some good, some evil, countless in number and indefinite in attributes. They fill the world and control the destinies of men, that is to say, of Indians; for the primitive Indian holds that the white man lives under a spiritual rule distinct from that which governs his own fate. These beings, also, appear for the most part in the shape of animals. Sometimes, however, they assume human proportions; but more frequently they take the form of stones, which, being broken, are found full of living blood and flesh.
Each primitive Indian has his guardian manitou, to whom he looks for counsel, guidance, and protection. These spiritual allies are acquired by the following process. At the age of fourteen or fifteen, the Indian boy smears his face with black, retires to some solitary place, and remains for days without food. Superstitious expectancy and the exhaustion of famine rarely fail of their results. His sleep is haunted by visions, and the form which first or most often appears is that of his guardian manitou, – a beast, a bird, a fish, a serpent, or some other object, animate or inanimate. An eagle or a bear is the vision of a destined warrior; a wolf, of a successful hunter; while a serpent foreshadows the future medicine-man, or, according to others, portends disaster.f The young Indian thenceforth wears about his person the object revealed in his dream, or some portion of it, -as a bone, a feather, a snakeskin, or a tuft of hair. This, in the modern language of the forest and prairie, is known as his “medicine." The Indian yields to it a sort of worship, propitiates it with offerings of
* The figure of a large bird is perhaps the most common; as, for example, the good spirit of Rock Island : “He was white, with wings like a swan, but ten times larger." — Autobiography of Blackhawk, p. 70.
| Compare Cass, in North American Review, XIII. 100. A turkey-buzzard, according to him, is the vision of a medicinc-man. The writer once knew an old Dahcotah chief who was greatly respected, but had never been to war, though belonging to a family of peculiarly warlike propensities. The reason was, that, in his initiatory fast, he had dreamed of an antelope, — the peace-spirit of his people.
Women fast as well as men, - always at the time of transition from childhood to maturity. In the Narrative of John Tanner, there is an account of an old woman who had fasted, in her youth, for ten days, and throughout her life placed the firmest faith in the visions which had appeared to her at that time. Among the Northern Algonquins, the practice, down to a recent day, was almost universal.