Yuchi Customs

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Birth Customs

Fig. 36. Objects Deposited With Navel Cord
Fig. 36. Objects Deposited With Navel Cord

Before child-birth takes place the prospective mother retires to a secluded temporary camp always east of the usual dwelling. Here she is attended by one or two old women relatives and her mother.

In order to facilitate delivery a decoction is made by placing a bullet in a cup of water, and the woman is given this to drink. During delivery she lees flat on her back on the floor or on the ground. Sometimes the family

induces an old woman to come and help the woman in labor by sitting on her abdomen so that she can be held in her arms. As soon as the child is born it is washed, but no clothes are put on it until the fourth day, when it is named. The mother is allowed to partake of nourishment; the child, however, is not given suck until the fourth day. The taboos shortly to be described which devolve upon the father go into effect as soon as the child is born.

The fetal coverings are disposed of by inhumation. Care is taken to preserve the umbilical cord. In the case of a male child it is treated in the following manner: the father has prepared a small bow about eight inches long and strung with wound sinew, an imitation of the larger weapon. Four arrows, notched but unfeathered, with sharpened shafts, accompany the bow (Fig. 36, a). The arrows are then bound, together with the navel cord, at the center of the little bow, and the whole thing is thrown where the brush is very dense and where no one will see it. This is an invocation and prayer that the boy grow up to be a masterful handler of the bow both in hunting and in war.

In the case of a female child the cord is likewise presented. It is carried to the great log mortar which stands in the space before every Yuchi house, and tucked snugly away beneath it in the earth at the base. The father then carves a small model of a mortar and pestle together with two different sized pot-stirrers (Fig. 36, b, c, d). These objects are preserved somewhere about the house or camp and represent a prayer that the girl may grow up to be proficient in all the arts of good housekeeping. When the father is informed that his child is a boy he is pleased, and the birth of a female child brings joy to the mother.

The Yuchi do not, as far as has been observed, practice the custom of making-cradle boards for their infants as some of their neighbors do. On the contrary, a hammock of cloth or of strouding is constructed upon two ropes attached to trees, and separated by two cross pieces at head and foot to spread the opening at the top and admit air to the child, when the mother wishes to carry it, the infant is either slung in a shawl upon her back, or if strong enough, is made to straddle her hip with her arm about its waist for support. Some amulets are usually fastened about its neck to protect the child from sickness. While some of the southeastern tribes followed the custom of artificially flattening the frontal region of the skulls of infants,1 considerable inquiry among the older Yuchi people failed to bring out any definite information on this point, so it seems likely that if this was ever done by them it has long been forgotten.

Upon the birth of a child into the family certain very strict taboos fall upon the father. From the day that the child is born he may do no work, nor sleep in his customary place in the house for the space of one month. He usually establishes himself in a camp near by. A strict dietary taboo also prevents him from tasting salt, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, melons and musk melons for the same period. The stigma of religious uncleanness which attaches to the wife during the season of child-birth and eatamenia, is apparently shared by the husband. During the month of taboos he is not expected to mingle much with his companions in public places, and should he attempt to ignore his bounds, they would remind him of them by shunning him or casting blame and ridicule upon him.

The actions of the father are believed to exert some sort of influence upon the growth of the child during this tender period, before it is considered to have severed all the bonds which link it with the supernatural. The child is looked upon as the reincarnation of some ancestral spirit from the spirit world. Should the father violate the taboos not only he might suffer but the child itself would pay the penalty for his transgressions. As for the rest, the community at large thinks it best to have as little as possible to do with the couple who have thus come into communication with the supernatural, since no one can tell what evil consequences may follow. As surely as the father might suffer, if he transgressed, he would be the means of spreading abroad the contagion of evil. The religious significance of the taboo in this tribe will be treated more at length in the general discussion of religious beliefs.

To the father of a family fell the lot of instructing his boys in manly exercises and in the duties and privileges of whichever of the two societies he inherited prospective membership in. The mother on her part was responsible for the training up of her daughters in domestic duties.

Naming Amongst the Yuchi

The fourth day after its birth is the all important day for the newly born child. It is then no longer a half-spirit, but a real human being and belongs to earth. Upon this day it is first given suck, and a name having been chosen by both mother and father, preparations are made to bestow it upon the infant. In regard to the choice of names there is a significant rule that a child shall take the name of some maternal grandparent’s brother or sister according to sex. Thus names are transmitted in accordance to a maternal system of inheritance, and, although the clan of the individual is by no means illustrated in his name, as it is among the Creeks, Siouan, and Algonkian tribes, it is quite evident that the same names will descend through the same clan, occurring in alternate generations. Under this arrangement if all the names in a certain clan were a matter of general knowledge throughout the community, the custom would more nearly coincide with the above mentioned groups where personal names indicate clanship. It is not uncommon, however, for children to be named directly after the totem. Although the percentage of such names is not high, they are still to be found. For example, we find Sagee’ siné, ‘Little Bear,’ to be a member of the Bear clan. In some cases, I was informed, the ancestral name is not perpetuated in the child, but the parents may if they desire invent a new name connected with some peculiarity of the child or some incident attending its birth. The usual ceremony of naming on the fourth day after birth, consists in fastening a string of white beads about the infant’s neck in token of the occasion. These beads are worn continually until the child is able to walk about. In default of a string of beads a single white bead is often substituted.

The above facts regarding personal names are significant in another respect , and have something to do with the idea of reincarnation. When it is borne in mind that, in the journey of the departing soul, it requires four days to reach the land of the dead, there appears an evident connection between these four days and those that arc allowed to pass before the newly born child is given its name.

The Yuchi believe that in naming a child after the ancestor it will exhibit the qualities of that ancestor, and it is frequent to hear a father remark how much his son is getting to be like his great uncle, and then proceed to eulogize the latter. The child spoken of will bear his name, often with the diminutive particle if the name is of European origin, as John, Little John. Judging by conversations that I have had with the Yuchi upon the matter of reincarnation, it seems that belief in the connection between the body and temperament of the child, and those of its maternal ancestor in the second past generation, undoubtedly exists in their minds.

Ceremonial or political position is not indicated in the name of an individual, so when such ranks are mentioned they are apart from the name. It is not known that names have been changed or multiplied, there does not seem to be any reluctance in the matter of mentioning the names of dead persons. In common use personal names are not very much heard. In fact, some people seem to be rather ashamed of them, and when questioned on the subject will refer to a bystander or some friend. Not infrequently a man when giving his name will whisper it. Particularly at the ceremonies men are addressed by their society titles, as Bálen Chief, or Sdnbá, Warrior, Goconé, and so on. The characteristic features of names among the Yuchi are, in brief, that one name, supposedly indicating the reincarnation of a maternal antecedent two generations removed, is borne unvaried through life, and that nothing necessarily expressed in the name itself indicates clanship, or rank.

Following is a list of names with interpretations given by an interpreter, in some cases attainable by analysis, in others not. The interpretations lay no claim to accuracy, for many of the names themselves are regarded as archaisms.

Dascwi’, Comes crossing.
Katané, Meet hun.
Yalewi’, Come back.
GAtnbesi’ne, Little screw driver.
AgAngoné, Comes with someone (fem.).
Go’tá, Shake with something.
Ka’ká, White man.
Fagoeonwi’, Comes out of the thicket.
Ekilané, It has left me.
Gopetcayié, Man who jumps over something.
Kubá, Creek Indian (literally, ‘Looking up this way’)
Dastanangi’, For Creek, TastAnA’gi, warrior.
Kilewi’, Passing.
Goneea’, Big baby.
Gegogané, Sent back home.
Yástagolaué Goes toward the fire (fem.).
Gansiné, Little baby (fem.).
Gobadanc’, Sheep (literally, ‘fat leg’)-
Goea’, Big person (fem.).
Ya’täegonjé, Gone ahead with someone (fem.).
Yáda ponlé, Under the bucket
Gonlantctiné, Runs after him.
DjA nbo’, Crooked John.
Goyáeané, Cuts up sticks (with an axe).
Djadjisi’eAn’, Little George.
Seaté, Touches the ground.
Seagwatié, Takes him down.
Yuwagégonlan’
Sagee’ siné, Little Bear.

Marriage by the Yuchi

Marriage among the Yuchi is remarkably simple, being attended by no ceremony so far as could be learned. A young man having found a girl to his taste in various respects, decides to appropriate her. He meets her frequently and courts her. She leaves home at length of her own will and he builds a house for them. No exchange, so far as is known, is made, but it often happened that the man gave the girl’s family a pony. Sometimes the man goes to live with his wife’s parents until he is able to start for himself. The couple separates at will, but the children go with the mother. Should this occur, the man must never speak to her again under any circumstances, as it would lessen her chance with other men.

There is a restriction in regard to marriage, however, that is very strict. Each individual is a member of a certain totemic group, or clan, and marriage between members of the same clan is strictly tabooed as a form of incest. The clans, however, are all equal in this respect, as marriage may take place between any two.

As a rule, it may be added, married people, if such concubinage should be called marriage, are quite sympathetic with each other.

Polygamy was practiced in the past quite generally. A man could have as many wives as he could get and keep. His residence in such a case was his own, but each wife had her own property, the children she bore belonging to her and her clan. Unfaithful wives were punished by having their ears cut off.

Boy’s Initiation into Manhood

Each boy at the time when he reaches the age of puberty is set off from his companions by certain rules of conduct. His period of initiation is brought to a culmination at the next annual ceremony performed by the tribe in the town square. During this event he. with other boys who are being initiated, has certain ceremonial offices to perform. When the ceremony is over his period of initiation is likewise over, and he is regarded as an adult, although a callow and inexperienced one. He is then in the right position to take a wife, have a voice in the town square, and receive appointment to some higher ceremonial office. Thereafter the people watch him to find some manifestation of ability in industrial, civil or military matters according to his bent. Henceforth the young man is under the guidance and protection of his clan totem, the initiation rites and adoption into the town having at the same time secured this for him. Initiation was, in brief, the formal ad-mission of youths into the privileges of their hereditary society, and into the rank of responsible manhood in their clan and town.

Further mention will be made of the boys undergoing the last stages of their initiation term in the account of the annual ceremony, and again in the description of the public offices in the town, where they are known as yatcigi’.

Girls Menstruation Customs

During the menstrual periods, the Yuchi woman is obliged to leave the common domicile, the company of her husband and family. Going away by herself she makes a shelter some distance from the camp, usually to the east of it. Here she remains for four days, having no part in the preparation of food for the household and taking no part in any household duties whatever. She may not even touch common property, striving to be seen as little as possible by friends or relatives. A very stringent taboo was that she should sleep apart from her husband. In fact, during this whole period of about four days an atmosphere of seclusion surrounds the near relatives, while the husband refrains from joining hunting parties or social gatherings with his friends, since it is understood that his company is not desired for the time. The reason given for this is that the woman is considered to be unclean and that objects or persons coming in touch with her acquire the same quality. The uncleanness referred to is a magic not a physical quality. It is thought that she becomes a mere involuntary agent of evil magic at this time.

While the woman is thus secluded food is brought to her by her mother in four small dishes, yadadané (Pl. Ill, Fig. 1), of unbaked clay, one being for sofkee, one for meat and the others for bread and coffee. These foods are left under a tree near at hand by the woman’s mother, within easy reach. Before returning to her home the woman must wash herself and all garments concerned with her. The small dishes are destroyed. This is done to obliterate all possible channels through which the power of harm might flow from the unclean to clean objects.

Yuchi Burial Customs

Beliefs.- The individual, according to Yuchi religious philosophy, possesses four spirits, nAngea’, one of which at death remains in the spot where disembodiment took place, while two others hover in the vicinity of the tribes folk and relatives. The information in regard to these two, however, is rather vague. The fourth starts upon a four days’ journey along the rainbow trail eastward to yubahé’, ‘far overhead,’ the haven of souls. At the point where earth and sky meet, a great cloud is constantly rising and falling. Under this cloud all souls must pass and, should the passage be made in safety, yubahé’ is subsequently attained. But many souls are crushed and lost forever, while some are obliged to return to earth again in failing, through fear, to pass the obstacle. Those spirits which remain on earth may be propitious or otherwise, but are generally held in fear. A general belief that the reincarnation of ancestors in the maternal line takes place in the birth of children has already been mentioned.

Rites. – Upon the death of an individual the observances practiced have a twofold function: they not only manifest the grief of the survivors but they are destined to prepare the soul elements for the last journey, the trial at the end of the earth, and future existence.

The mortuary customs of the Yuchi have undergone a change within the last two decades, a change from burial beneath the house floor to outdoor burial. The same may be said of their neighbors the Creeks. In former times the rites were as follows: as soon as death had been ascertained, public announcement of it was made by the assistant of the town chief, or second chief. Six shots were, and are today, fired from a rifle to apprise both the living and the dead of the event. In the winter of 1904 when Katána, Charles Big Pond, died ten shots were fired as an especial tribute, but this was not often rendered to ordinary men. The number fired for Chiefs and Warriors is the same. The body of the man is then washed by near relatives and laid on its back upon the floor. He is dressed in good clothes and his face is painted with the Chief or Warrior design according to his society. By this time the camp is informed and general lamentation follows. Anciently it was customary for men to assemble on the ensuing morning and dig a grave directly in the center of the earth floor of the house. Both then and now boards were placed, or slabs of bark, at the bottom and around the sides of the pit, since no dirt must come in contact with the body. A package of tobacco and some money were inhumed at the same time. When burial was beneath the floor neither horse nor dog was slain over the spot, and the occupation of the house was not interrupted.

In most respects the same details in rite are followed out in the present day as in the past, but the modern rite differs in some particulars. A common burring ground is usually to be found near each point of settlement, so when a dead man has been properly attired and decorated he is carried thither and buried in the manner described before. The head is always placed to the west, causing the face to be directed toward the east, the direction in which the departing spirit journeys. Once, according to a last request, an old man was interred facing the west because, as he said, being a progressive man, disgusted with old conditions, he did not wish to travel the path of his ancestors.

A fire is built at the head of the pit and maintained for four days and nights to light up the path of the spirit. It probably has some symbolic reference to the sun also. Bread, meat, boiled corn and a bundle of clothes are laid beside the body, the food stuffs usually in an earthen bowl. The horse, or dog, or both, of the deceased were sometimes slain over the grave to serve their master, but this practice is obsolete.

When internment has been completed a volley of four rifles is discharged over the grave, as a final salute, and to clear the path for the soul, the shooters facing east. A structure composed of notched logs, or boards, in the form of a roof is erected over the spot, assumedly as a protection to the remains.

To rid the premises of the household from the possible presence of the wandering spirits, which are held in fear, a bucket is filled with cedar leaves and smudged about the house, on all sides and in the garden patch. This is done but once and considered effectual. On the morning of the fourth day, a shaman prepares a feast in the house of the dead. Its doors are thrown open and all comers are made welcome at the spread. This feast celebrates the supposed safe arrival of the spirit in the upper world.

Sickness, in the shape of rheumatic pains, is believed to fall upon any person who becomes soiled with dirt from a newly dug grave. The vicinity of a burying ground is commonly avoided as the wandering spirits are thought to abound there. Names of dead persons are not tabooed. Graves, nowadays, are not visited much or kept in repair. Lastly, there is said to be a slight difference between the mortuary rites practiced for the Chief society and those practiced for the Warrior society. The Yuchi do not seem to have special clan rites at death.

Miscellaneous Customs

Smoking. – Tobacco, ï, has always been raised quite extensively by each family for smoking and for ceremonial use.

For ordinary use it has been customary to mix sumac leaves with the tobacco in varying proportions. Both men and women smoke for pleasure. It should be recalled2 that a somewhat irregular polish was given to pipe bowls by rubbing them when wet with a piece of smooth stone. The pipe forms sometimes resemble frogs. These symbolize the frog which a supernatural being named Wind used as a pipe bowl in the mythical age. The pipe stems also symbolize a snake, which he used as his pipe stem, his tobacco being snake dung. The myth referred to will be given at the end of this paper.

Smoking is called ‘tobacco drink. ‘ Men, women and even small children practice it, though they are not by any means incessant smokers. When they do smoke, however, it is done rather vigorously with much inhaling. People smoke more in winter than in summer. Formerly, each man carried his smoking articles with him in a pouch hanging at his side.

Ceremonial smoking used to be a common observance. It added a tone of sincerity to any communications between people. Strangers were welcomed with a quiet, friendly smoke, and any matters which required deliberation, whether private or public, Were thought over for a time while all were engaged in smoking. In the town square, when meetings took place, each member of the town who was present produced his pipe and tobacco while an official of the Chief society passed around among the lodges furnishing everyone with a light. Sometimes the official lighted a pipe and passed it around for each man to take a puff from it. It was believed that if one smoked while deliberating in secret over a question and, at the same time, entertained malice or insincerity toward it in his mind he would die. In the same way it was thought that anyone suspected of mischief or evil intentions could be detected by a challenge to smoke with the accuser. In fact it was evidently regarded as an oath and an ordeal to test veracity or guilt. The following, mentioned in one of the myths, shows the power of tobacco smoke in a case of Tong-doing.

“Now the owner of the house was an evil man. He was Iron Man. Wind knew all about that and he even knew that Iron Man had killed his four sons. Then Wind decided to kill hun. “when he smoked he drew in a great deal of smoke and blew it oh Iron Man. And that is the way he killed him.”

The Yuchi take their rest at night in a very irregular way, getting up at all hours for the purpose of talking, singing, gambling, or inspecting their horses, when in camp. Nightly debauchery, is common; when intoxicants abound undisturbed rest is unknown in the camps. No one attempts to remedy these faults by means of persuasion or force, except the wife of the disturber. Women have a good deal of power of this sort and, although seemingly very submissive and passive, their advice is often asked in matters of decision, while the men are patient in listening to rebukes from them. In public, women must remain in the background when their men are present. They never engage in conversation with other men in the presence of their husbands who must be spokesmen when outside communication is necessary.

Children in crawling often rest on the hands and on the soles of their feet, instead of their knees. In climbing, the men press the soles of the feet to the bark and hug the tree with the arms, raising both feet for a new grip. Boys of five or six years and upward are allowed to smoke tobacco as much as they choose. Women carry children astride the hip. Children spend much time in building mounds of dirt and playing with sticks and stones in sand or mud. Little girls have dolls of rags and deerskin which they play with.

Both men and women are, for Indians, decidedly cleanly in personal habits. Their clothes are kept carefully clean and neat. They frequently wash. To keep the teeth clean a piece of willow stick is chewed on the end until it is shredded and pulpy. This is chewed and rubbed across the teeth to remove accretions, while the sap forms a kind of suds.

Children are seldom punished for and mischief that they do. They are never whipped. If, however, it is thought necessary to give them a reminder in the shape of chastisement, a vessel of water is thrown over them.

It was not very common in the past for a girl to grow up and not be married, so there were few unmarried women. Such women, however, usually lived with different men merely as concubines, staying for a while with one, then going to live with another.

As far back as can be remembered, it was the custom for men when they met to shake hands and to offer each other some tobacco.

Old people were not ill treated. On the contrary, they were respected and served by their children. It is understood that old men are to be cared for by their sons the same today as formerly.

In regard to the temperament of the Yuchi, it seems that they were, and are today, inclined to be mild and quiet mannered. They prefer to avoid quarrels, only when they become suspicious showing a tendency to grow sullen. I think, on the whole, if there is any value in such a statement at all, that anyone accustomed to the appearance of Indians in general, would find in the Yuchi a noticeably open, pleasant, and kind expression of the face.

The Yuchi, like most Indians, are by no means apathetic in temperament. They exhibit a lively interest in their surroundings, are fairly quick in grasping ideas, and in learning new things. They show an interest, too, in the customs of their neighbors, commenting not a little on what they observe. Like good gossips, they take good care of their own and their neighbors’ private affairs.

The telling of myths and tales is a favorite idle hour pastime in the camps. There do not seem to be any restrictions as to place or time of year, for I have heard them narrating myths both in summer and winter, day and night. Good narrators of stories are generally respected and looked up to by the people. They have a few peculiar mannerisms, making frequent use of pantomimic and descriptive gestures. Mention of the sun is invariably accompanied by pointing upward with the index finger. At the beginning of narratives, stereotyped phrases are commonly used, such as, “In the olden (mythical) times ….”, “The old people tell it . . . . , ” “It is said that . . . . ” and others similar . Often the tale starts in abruptly with the mention of the two chief characters, while the first few sentences point out what is to follow, like a preface. The narrative is liberally punctuated with the phrase “so they said ” which takes the place of the quotative and also serves as a rhetorical pause period. The narrator always closes his account with “This is the end,” “Now (then),” “Here it ends,” “This is enough” or similar concluding phrases. Some short statement entirely irrelevant to the tale itself, but spoken in the same tone and without much of a break, may be appended, such as, ” My name is Joseph,” “I am your friend,” “I am only a young man in wisdom, but I have told what I heard,” “Give me some tobacco,” “It is late,” “The day is a bad one.” The Yuchi audience is a quiet one, usually waiting until the end of a story before expressing comment. They often interrupt, however, with laughter or with “ho ho!”, as a sign of assent.

These Indians have a few exclamatory expressions which are used in various circumstances. An expression of sudden anger, known also among the neighboring Creeks, is áyilá!! The men give vent to disbelief or contempt of what another is saying by exclaiming gu! gu’!!; the women, by exclaiming in a high voice, hihAn’! A surd sound, tck tck tck,’K a signal to frighten small children when they are up to mischief. Dogs know this signal too. It stands for “stop!” Another explosive expression, ci!! is commonly used to frighten dogs, but is not for persons. A signal of warning or caution, also common, is given by hissing between the tongue-tip and the base of the teeth. This means “be on your guard,” “look out,” “watch your chance,” etc. Dogs are called by a few sharp inspiratory whistles.

The numeral system in Yuchi is a decimal one. The numbers up to ten do not yield to analysis. From ten to twenty, however, the expression is, “ten, one coming on,” “ten, two coming on,” etc. Twenty is literally “man (or leg) two; ” thirty, “man (or leg) three,” etc. One hundred is “fingernail one,” and one thousand is nowadays rendered as “fingernail long one,” or “one hundred long.”

Footnotes

  1. Cf. American Anthropologist (N. S.) vol. 9, No. 2, p. 294 (1907). 

  2. See page 30. 



MLA Source Citation:

Add after new site opens. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 23 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/yuchi-customs.htm - Last updated on Jun 23rd, 2014


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