History From America's Most Famous Valleys
The Indian In His Wigwam
Characteristics of The Red Race of America
From Original Notes and Manuscripts
By Henry R. Schoolcraft
Dewitt & Davenport
This is a lengthy book and covers many of the Red Race who
are not native to New York State. Pertinent parts of the book will be posted.
Thanks to Pamela Wozniak and David Collins for loaning this book for the purpose of using it on our website.
CORN-PLANTING, AND ITS INCIDENTS.
THE zea, mais, originally furnished, the principal article of subsistence among all the tribes of this race, north and south. It laid at the foundation of the Mexican and Peruvian types of civilization, as well as the incipient gleamings of it, among the more warlike tribes of the Iroquois, Natchez, Lenapees, and others, of northern latitudes. They esteem it so important and divine a grain, that their story-tellers invented, various tales, in which this idea is symbolized under the form of a special gift from the Great Spirit. The Odjibwa-Algonquins, who call it Mon-da-min, that is, the Spirit's grain or berry, have a pretty story of this kind, in which the stalk in full tassel, is represented as descending from the sky, under the guise of a handsome youth, in answer to the prayers of a young man at his fast of virility, or coming to manhood.
It is well known that corn-planting, and corn-gathering, at least among all the still uncolonised tribes, are left entirely to the ferries and children, and a few superannuated old men. It is not generally known, perhaps, that this labour is not compulsory, and that it is assumed by the females as a just equivalent, in their view, for the onerous and continuous labour of the other sex, in providing meats, and skins for clothing, by the chase, and in defending their villages against their enemies, and keeping intruders off their territories. A good Indian housewife deems this a part of her prerogative, and prides herself to have a store of corn to exercise her hospitality, or duly honour her husband's hospitality, in the entertainment of the lodge guests.
The area of ground planted is not, comparitively, large. This matter is essentially regulated by the number of the family, and other circumstances. Spring is a leisure season with them, and by its genial and reviving influence, invites to labour. An Indian female has no cows to milk, no flax to spin, no yarn to reel. Even those labours, which, at other seasons fall to her share, are now intermitted. She has apukwas to gather to make mats. Sugar-making has ended. She has no skins to dress, for the hunt has ended, the animals being out of season. It is at this time that the pelt grows had, the hair becomes loose and falls off, and nature itself teaches the hunter, that the species must have repose, and be allowed a listle time to replenish. Under these circumstances the mistress of the lodge and her train, sally out of the lodge into the corn-field, and with the light pemidge-ag akwut, or small hoe, open up the soft ground and deposit their treasured mondamin.
The Indian is emphatically a superstitious being, believing in all sorts of magical, andand secret, and wonderful influences. Woman, herself, comes in for no small share of these supposed influences. I shrewdly suspect that one half of the credit we have been in the habit of giving the warrior, on the score of virtue, in his treatment of captives, is due alone to his superstitions. He is afraid, at all times, to spoil his luck, cross his fate, and do some untoward act, by which he might, perchance, fall under a bad spiritual influence.
To the wewun, or wife-the equa, or woman, to the guh or mother,- to the eqnazas, or girl, and to the danis, or daughter, and shema, or sister, he looks, as wielding, in their several capacities, whether kindred or not, these mystic influences over his luck. In consequence of this, the female never walks in the path before him. It is an unpropitious sign. If she cross his track, when he is about to set out on-a hunting, or war excursion, his luck is gone. If she is ill, from natural causes, she cannot even stay in the same wigwam. She cannot use a cup or a bowl without rendering it, in his view, unclean.
A singular proof of this belief, in both sexes, of the mysterious influence of the steps of a woman on the vegetable and insect creation, is found in an ancient custom, which was related to me, respecting corn-planting. It was the practice of the hunter's wife, when the field of corn had been planted, to choose the first dark or overclouded evening, to perform a secret circuit, sans habilement, around the field. For this purpose she slipt out of the lodge in the evening, unobserved, to some obscure nook, where she completely disrobed. Then taking her matchecota, or principal garment in one hand, she dragged it around the field. This was thought to ensure a prolific crop, and to preyent the assaults of insects and worms upon the grain. It was supposed they could not creep over the charmed line.
But if corn-planting be done in a lively and satisfied, and not a slavish spirit, corn-gathering and husking is a season of decided thankfulness and merriment. At these gatherings, the chiefs and old men are mere spectators, although they are pleased spectators, the young only sharing in the sport. Who has not seen, the sedate ogema in such a vicinage, smoking a dignified pipe with senatorial ease. On the other hand, turning to the group of nature's red daughters and their young cohorts, it may be safely affirmed that laughter and garrulity constitute no part of the characteristics of civilization. Whatever else custom has bound fast, in the domestic female circle of forest life, the tongue is left loose. Nor does it require, our observation leads us to think, one tenth part of the wit or drollery of ancient Athens, to set their risible faculties in motion.
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