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Yuchi Indians Food
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In the preparation of food several kinds of wooden utensils are employed. The largest and perhaps the most important piece of household furniture of this sort was the mortar, dilá, and pestle, dicä lá. The mortar (PI. III, Fig. 10, a) which is simply a log several feet high with the bark removed having a cavity about eight inches deep, seems, moreover, to be an important domes-tic fetish. We find that it is connected in some way with the growing up and the future prospects of the children of the family. It occupies a permanent position in the door yard, or the space in front of the house. Only one mortar is owned by the family and there is a strong feeling, even today, against moving it about and particularly against selling it. We shall see later that the navel string of a female child is laid away underneath the mortar in the belief that the presiding spirit will guide the growing girl in the path of domestic efficiency.
The pestle that goes with this utensil is also of wood (PI. Ill, Fig. 10, b). Its length is usually about six feet. The lower end that goes into the cavity of the mortar and does the crushing is rounded off. The top of the pestle is left broad, to act as a weight and give force to its descent. Several forms of carving are to be observed in these clubbed pestle tops which are presumably ornamental, as shown in the cuts (Fig. 22).
Spoons, yáda ctiué, showing some variation in size and relative proportions, are found commonly in domestic service. They are all made of wood, said to be maple. The size of these varies from six or seven to fourteen inches. The bowl is usually rather deep and is widest and deepest near the handle. The latter is squared and straight with a crook near the end upon which an owner-ship mark consisting of a few scratches or incisions is frequently seen. Pl. VI, 3 shows common spoons used in eating soup or boiled vegetables. This type is said to represent, in the shape of the bowl, a wolf’s ear and to be patterned after it.
Wooden paddle-shaped pot stirrers, cadi’, are nearly always to be seen where cooking is going on. They vary greatly in size and pattern. Ordinarily the top is simply disk-shaped. The use of the stirrer comes in when soup and vegetables are being boiled, to keep the mess from sticking to the pot. (See models in Fig. 36, b.)
Gourds, tä’mbactu’ , of various shapes are made use of about the house in many different ways. They are easily obtained and require little or no labor to fit them for use. As drinking cups, general receptacles and dippers they come in very handy. A common drinking ladle is shown in Figure 23. Besides these utensils, of course, baskets, mats, and pots, which have been dealt with already, figure prominently in the household economy. Pots are used chiefly as cooking vessels and receptacles from which prepared food is eaten. Baskets are commonly used for storing things away, for carrying purposes and for the keeping of ornaments, trinkets, small utensils and other personal effects. The several specialized forms, the riddle, or basket sieve, and the fan, or fiat basket tray, are, as has been mentioned, used directly in the preparation of corn for food. The part they play will be described in more detail in another place.
Fire Making. In the preparation of most vegetable and animal products for consumption fire is an indispensable agent. It is also procured for ceremonial purposes. To obtain it the Yuchi claim that originally two pieces of stone were struck together, either two pieces of flint or a piece of flint and a piece of quartz or pyrites. In the annual tribal ceremony this method is presented yet; Two persons are ordinarily required in producing fire, one to do the striking, the other to hold the bed of fire material into which the spark is projected when obtained. A single individual might succeed very well, but two together obtain fire much more quickly. Even then the operation often takes fifteen minutes or more. It is likely, however, that the manipulators were already out of practice when the method passed out of common use. It is nowadays admitted that the town chief who strikes the spark at the annual ceremony is greatly worried at this time over the ultimate result of his efforts. It takes him about twenty minutes to secure a flame. The method, as observed on several ceremonial occasions, is as follows: the flint, yät?a dawoné, is held between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand with a small piece of punk material, tciñg?o’, alongside of it. This punk appears to be a very close-pored fungus. In his left hand he holds the striker. The helper stands by, holding a curved tray of hickory bark heaped up with decayed wood, sämbi, which has been dried and reduced to powder (Fig. 24). The chief operator then strikes the two stones together, and when several good sparks have been seen to fly, a moment is given to watching for evidence that one has been kept alive in the punk. If the spark smolders in this it is gently transferred to the tinder in the bark tray. From this moment the responsibility rests with the helper. He begins to sway the tinder very gradually from side to side and gauges his movements by the thin wisp of smoke that arises from the smoldering bed. After a few minutes, if things go well, the smoke increases and the helper becomes more energetic. The climax is reached when from the dried wood tinder-bed a little flame springs up. Small twigs are piled on and then larger ones until the blazing mass can be safely deposited beneath a pile of firewood. Nowadays at any rate, the fire-producing materials, flint and punk, are a part of the town chief’s sacred paraphernalia and he has the prerogative of manipulating them. A piece of steel is more often used as a sparker in the modem operation, as it is more effective.
The most convenient fireplace arrangement is to have a large, not too dry backlog with the fire maintained along one side according to the number of pots to be heated. When the backlog bums away in one place the fire is moved to another, or the log itself is pushed along.
As to the origin of fire we find here the common American explanation. It is believed to have been stolen, by the mythical trickster Rabbit, from a people across the waters and brought by him to the Yuchi.
Foods. – Foodstuffs in which corn or maize is the principal ingredient should he mentioned first in this connection. In its various forms corn has always been the staple article of diet in the region inhabited by these Indians, while at certain times of the year game, fish and fruits have supplemented the daily menu. Pumpkins, potatoes, beans, melons and squashes rank next in the list of cultivated plant foods. The variety of corn best known seems to have been what is commonly called flint corn
The simplest way of preparing corn for use is to boil it or roast it in the ear and eat it directly from the cob. There is, however, only a certain time of the year in which this can be done and that is when the crop has matured, after the supernatural powers had been propitiated and the bodies of the people purified by ceremonies to be treated later under the subject of religion. One of the chief articles of diet is tso’ci, a kind of corn soup.1 To make this the grains of corn, when dry, are removed from the cob and pounded in the mortar until they are broken up. These grits and the corn powder are then scooped out of the mortar and boiled in a pot with water. Wood ashes from the fire are usually added to it to give a peculiar flavor much to the native taste. Even powdered hickory nuts, or marrow, or meat may be boiled with the soup to vary its taste. It is commonly believed, as regards the origin of this favorite dish, that a woman in the mythical ages cut a rent in the sky through which a peculiar liquid flowed which was found to be good to eat. The Sun then explained its preparation and use, from which fact it was called is tso’ci, inferably ‘sun fluid.’
A kind of corn flour, tsukhá, is made by pounding up dried corn in the mortar. At intervals the contents of the mortar are scooped up and emptied into the sieve basket. The operator holds a large basket tray in her lap and over it shakes and sifts the pounded corn until all the grits and the finer particles have fallen through. According to the desired fineness or coarseness of the flour she then jounces this tray until she has the meal as she wants it, all the chaff having blown away. The meal, being then ready to be mixed into dough, is stirred up with water in one of the pottery vessels. In the meantime a large clean flat stone has been tilted slantwise before the embers of a fire. When the dough is right it is poured out onto this stone and allowed to bake. These meal cakes constitute the native bread, kánlo. Berries are thought to improve the flavor and are often mixed in with the dough. Besides corn the Yuchi preserve the knowledge of a variety of foods some of which are still commonly used. Hickory nuts, ya‘, were commonly stored away for use in the following manner. They were pounded and then boiled in water until a milk-like fluid was obtained. This after being strained was used as a beverage or as a cooking ingredient.
Almost any bird, animal or fish that was large enough to bother with was used as food. The names and varieties of such have been already given. The flesh of game animals, birds, kändi’, and fish, cu, was roasted or broiled on a framework of green sticks resting on cross pieces which were supported oil forked uprights over the fire. The device was simply a stationary broiling frame. When large hauls of fish were made, by using vegetable poison in streams in the manner described, or more game was taken than was needed for immediate use, it is said that the surplus flesh was artificially dried over a slow smoky fire or in the sun, so that it could be laid away against the future. Crawfish, tcatsá, were very much liked and quantities of them were also treated for preservation in the above manner.
Wild fruits and nuts in their proper seasons added variety to the comparatively well supplied larder of the natives. Berries, yäba‘ , were gathered and dried to be mixed with flour or eaten alone. Wild grapes, cä, were abundant. The Indians are said to have preserved them for use out of season by drying them on frames over a bed of embers until they were like raisins, in condition to be stored away in baskets.
Salt, dábi, was used with food except during the annual tribal ceremony and for a short time before it, when it was tabooed in the same sense as corn or intercourse with women. It was obtained from riverbanks in certain places, but, on the whole, was rather a rare article with the Yuchi.
Meals were seldom eaten at regular times. Since food of some sort was nearly always over the fire or ready to eat, the different members of the family, or even outsiders, partook of what they wanted whenever they felt inclined. At least once a day, however, one good meal would usually be prepared for all.
The food supply of the Indians of the fertile Southeast, regulated by their forethought in preserving grain and flesh, seems to have been on the whole, fairly constant and abundant. Accordingly we do not expect to find them making use of matter that is not acceptable to the average human taste, such, for instance, as insects, larvae, and small reptiles. They did, however, and do today, find the raw entrails of the larger mammals and their contents to be much to their liking, esteeming the substance a delicacy.
A more extensive list of special vegetable foods could hardly be gotten from the Yuchi today as they are out of their original habitat, and have discontinued the use of wild plants for some time.
In connection with animal foods it should be remembered that there were numerous clans having particular animals for their totems, and that there existed for each clan the taboo of killing or eating the particular animal which bore the form of its totem.
The common name for this corn soup is sofki, the Creek term, which has come now to be widely used for the dish among both Indians and whites. ↩
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