National Geographic : 1945 Jan
Indians of Our North Pacific Coast to restore him to life. Usually such cere monies lasted four days. Two descriptions made by travelers about the middle of the 19th century well illustrate the vividness of these displays. "During the song and dance, which at first seemed to present nothing peculiar, a well known slave (one, however, who was in a comparatively independent position, being em ployed as a sailor on board the steamer Thames), suddenly ceased dancing and fell down on the ground, apparently in a dying state, and having his face covered with blood. "He did not move or speak, his head fell on one side, his limbs were drawn up, and he certainly presented a ghastly spectacle. While the dance raged furiously around the fallen man, the doctor, with some others, seized and dragged him to the other side of the fire round which they were dancing, placing his naked feet very near the flames. "After this a pail of water was brought in, and the doctor, who supported the dying man on his arm, washed the blood from his face; the people beat drums, danced, and sang, and suddenly the patient sprang to his feet, none the worse for the apparently hopeless condi tion of the moment before. "While all this was going on, I asked the giver of the feast whether it was real blood upon the man's face, and if he were really wounded. He told me so seriously that it was, that I was at first inclined to believe him, until he began to explain that the blood which came from the nose and mouth was owing to the incantations of the medicine man, and that all the people would be very angry if he did not afterwards restore him. "I then recalled to mind that in the early part of the day, before the feast, I had seen the doctor and the slave holding very friendly conferences; and the former had used his influ ence to get a pass for the latter to be present at the entertainment, to which, probably, he hadnorighttocome. ..." * "On the morning of December 13, another strange ceremony began, by the king's firing a pistol, apparently without a moment's warn ing, close to the ear of Satsat, who dropped down instantly as if shot dead on the spot. "Upon this all the women set up a most terrible yelling, tearing out their hair by handfuls, and crying out that the prince was dead, when the men rushed in, armed with guns and daggers inquiring into the cause of the alarm, followed by two of the natives cov ered with wolfskins, with masks representing the wolf's head. These two came in on all fours, and taking up the prince on their back, carried him out, retiring as they had entered. "The celebration terminated with a shock ing and distressing show of deliberate self torment. "These men, each with two bayonets run through their sides, between the ribs, walked up and down in the room, singing war songs, and exulting in their firmness and triumph over pain. "The religious ceremonies (in another vil lage) were concluded by 20 men who entered the house, with arrows run through their sides and arms, having strings fastened to them, by which the spectators twisted, or pulled them back, as the men walked round the room, singing and boasting of their power to endure suffering." t The witnesses quoted did not understand the significance of what they had seen. Aleuts Lived in Communal Houses The inhabitants of the Aleutian Islands, when first encountered by the Russians in the 18th century, presented an interesting com bination of traits reflecting influences from the Eskimo, the eastern Siberian tribes, and the tribes of the northwest coast. In common with the Northwest Coast people, the Aleuts had a social class system, with slaves, and lived in large wooden com munal houses (Plate XIV). Some of these were as much as 240 feet long and accommo dated up to 40 families or 150 people. They were built underground. The roofs were made of driftwood poles or whalebone covered with a layer of dry grass, which in turn was covered with sod. The largest houses had five or six entrances, each of which was a small roof opening. The entrance stairway was a notched log. The houses were heated and lighted with stone lamps burning seal or whale oil. Modern Aleut houses have side doors and are much smaller. They are, however, still built partly underground and have sod roofs. Wealthy Aleuts were buried in boats sus pended from poles. Formerly they had painted ornamentation in their houses and on wooden tombs. They made carved wooden masks. They wore wooden hats decorated with painted scenes. Like the Nootka and the Makah, they were expert whalers. The stone blades of their whale lances were smeared with a powerful poison obtained from the roots of the monkshood, which grows abundantly in the islands. A whale struck by such a lance would die within two or three * Gilbert M. Sproat, Scenes and Studies of Savage Life, London, 1868. t The Captive of Nootka, or the Adventures of John R. Jewett [Jewitt], Philadelphia, 1841.