Character of the Indian Race

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Native American Records

Of the topics which may be employed to denote the mental character and capacities of the aborigines, the principles of their languages the style of their oratory the oral imaginative lodge lore which they possess and their mode of communicating ideas by the use of symbolic and representative devices, are the most prominent. The two latter have been selected on the present occasion. One reason for this choice is the little information we have heretofore had on the subjects. From a very early age, the Indian of North America has been observed to be a man possessing a flexible and imaginative mythology; to be prone to indulge in theories of cosmogony, in which the want of a true knowledge of the Deity, and a history of much pretensions to consistency, has often been ingeniously supplied by oral relations of the acts of spiritual beings, which constitute a new species of literary machinery, and who supply an outlet for the exhibition of wild poetic feelings, and fantastic theories of the acts and doings of spirits, giants, dwarfs, monsters and men. Another very striking mode of setting forth these beliefs, and exhibiting this miraculous agency, exists in the reflex influence of the curious devices which they have, from the discovery, been found to draw, in a rude way, on scrolls of bark, trees, rocks, and various substances, and which they denominate Ke-ké-win. Both the tales and the drawings illustrate their modes of thought on life, death, and a future state, and are eminently characteristic traits.

Indian Mythology and Oral Traditions.

In directing attention to the intellectual character, capacities, and idiosyncrasies of the aboriginal race a subject respecting which they have been perhaps severely judged, some few traits of their mythology, and an extended examination of their peculiar mode of symbolic writing, or pictography, are introduced.

It is known that the Indian allegory presents an attractive field of fictitious inquiry. Their oral traditions of gods and monsters, spirits and genii, make a prominent display in the winter arcanum of the wigwam. Some of their allegories are beautifully sustained. And where, as in their miscellaneous legends and traditions, there is much that is incongruous and ridiculous, there is still evidence of no little variety of intellectual invention.

MLA Source Citation:

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Archives of aboriginal knowledge. Containing all the original paper laid before Congress respecting the history, antiquities, language, ethnology, pictography, rites, superstitions, and mythology, of the Indian tribes of the United States. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1860. Web. 28 December 2014. - Last updated on Apr 2nd, 2013

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