Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

the compact was merely the acceptance of a gift of wampum made by the suitor to the object of his desire or his whim. These gifts were never returned on the dissolution of the connection; and as an attractive and enterprising damsel might, and often did, make twenty such marriages before her final establishment, she thus collected a wealth of wampum with which to adorn herself for the village dances.1 This provisional matrimony was no bar to a license boundless and apparently universal, unattended with loss of reputation on either side. Every instinct of native delicacy quickly vanished under the influence of Huron domestic life; eight or ten families, and often more, crowded into one undivided house, where privacy was impossible, and where strangers were free to enter at all hours of the day or night. Once a mother, and married with a reasonable permanency, the Huron woman from a wanton became a drudge. In March and April she gathered the year's supply of firewood. Then came sowing, till

1 "II s'en trouue telle qui passe ainsi sa ieunesse, qui aura eu plus de vingt maris, lesquels vingt maris ne sont pas seuls en la jouyssance de la beste, quelques mariez qu'ils soient: car la nuict venue, les ieunes femmes courent d'une cabane en une autre, come font les ieunes hommes de leur coste', qui en prennent par ou bon leur semble, toutesfois sans violence aucune, et n'en recoiuent aucune infamie, ny injure, la coustume du pays estant telle." — Champlain (1627), 90. Compare Sagard, Voyage des Hurons, 176. Both were personal observers. The ceremony, even of the most serious marriage, consisted merely in the bride's bringing a dish of boiled maize to the bridegroom, together with an armful of fuel. There was often a feast of the relatives, or of the whole village. HURON TRAFFIC.

23

ing, and harvesting, smoking fish, dressing skins, making cordage and clothing, preparing food. On the march it was she who bore the burden; for, in the words of Champlain, "their women were their mules." The natural effect followed. In every Huron town were shrivelled hags, hideous and despised, who in vindictiveness, ferocity, and cruelty far exceeded the men. To the men fell the task of building the houses, and making weapons, pipes, and canoes. For the rest, their home-life was a life of leisure and amusement. The summer and autumn were their seasons of serious employment, —of war, hunting, fishing, and trade. There was an established system of traffic between the Hurons and the Algonquins of the Ottawa and Lake Nipissing: the Hurons exchanging wampum, fishing-nets, and corn for fish and furs.1 From various relics found in their graves, it may be inferred that they also traded with tribes of the Upper Lakes, as well as with tribes far southward, towards the Gulf of Mexico. Each branch of traffic was the monopoly of the family or clan by whom it was opened. They might, if they could, punish interlopers, by stripping them of all they possessed, unless the latter had succeeded in reaching home with the fruits of their trade, —in which case the outraged monopolists had no further right of redress, and could not attempt it without a breaking of the public peace, and exposure to the authorized ven« l Champlain (1627), 84.

geance of the other party.1 Their fisheries, too, were regulated by customs having the force of laws. These pursuits, with their hunting, —in which they were aided by a wolfish breed of dogs unable to bark, — consumed the autumn and early winter; but before the new year the greater part of the men were gathered in their villages. Now followed their festal season; for it was the season of idleness for the men, and of leisure for the women. Feasts, gambling, smoking, and dancing filled the vacant hours. Like other Indians, the Hurons were desperate gamblers, staking their all, — ornaments, clothing, canoes, pipes, weapons, and wives. One of their principal games was played with plum-stones, or wooden lozenges, black on one side and white on the other. These were tossed up in a wooden bowl, by striking it sharply upon the ground, and the players betted on the black or white. Sometimes a village challenged a neighboring village. The game was played in one of the houses. Strong poles were extended from side to side, and on these sat or perched the company, party facing party, while two players struck the bowl on the ground between. Bets ran high; and Bre"beuf relates that once in midwinter, with the snow nearly three feet deep, the men of his village returned from a gambling visit bereft of their leggins, and barefoot, yet in excellent humor.2 Ludicrous as it may appear, these games 1 Brébeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1030, 150 (Cramoisy).

a Brébeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1636,113. This gmxie is still a HURON FESTIVITIES. 25 were often medical prescriptions, and designed as a cure of the sick. Their feasts and dances were of various character, social, medical, and mystical or religious. Some of their feasts were on a scale of extravagant profusion. A vain or ambitious host threw all his substance into one entertainment, inviting the whole village, and perhaps several neighboring villages also. In the winter of 1635 there was a feast at the village of Contarrea, where thirty kettles were on the fires, and twenty deer and four bears were served up.1 The invitation was simple. The messenger addressed the desired guest with the concise summons, "Come and eat;" and to refuse was a grave offence. He took his dish and spoon, and repaired to the scene of festivity. Each, as he entered, greeted his host with the guttural ejaculation, Ho! and ranged himself with the rest, squatted on the earthen floor or on the platform along the sides of the house. The kettles were slung over the fires in the midst. First, there was a long prelude of lugubrious singing. Then the host, who took no share in the feast, proclaimed in a loud voice the contents of each kettle in turn, and at each announcement the company responded in unison, Ho! The attendant squaws filled with their ladles the bowls of all the favorite among the Iroquois, some of whom hold to the belief that they will play it after death in the realms of bliss. In all their important games of chance, they employed charms, incantations »nd all the resources of their magical art, to gain good luck. 1 Brébeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1630, 111.

guests. There was talking, laughing, jesting, singing, and smoking; and at times the entertainment was protracted through the day. When the feast had a medical or mystic character, it was indispensable that each guest should devour the whole of the portion given him, however enormous. Should he fail, the host would be outraged, the community shocked, and the spirits roused to vengeance. Disaster would befall the nation, —death, perhaps, the individual. In some cases, the imagined efficacy of the feast was proportioned to the rapidity with which the viands were despatched. Prizes of tobacco were offered to the most rapid feeder; and the spectacle then became truly porcine.1 These festins a manger tout were much dreaded by many of the Hurons, who, however, were never known to decline them. Invitation to a dance was no less concise than to a feast. Sometimes a crier proclaimed the approaching festivity through the village. The house was crowded. Old men, old women, and children thronged the platforms, or clung to the poles which supported the sides and roof. Fires were raked out, and the earthen floor cleared. Two chiefs sang at the top of their voices, keeping time to their song 1 This superstition was not confined to the Hurons, but extended to many other tribes, including, probably, all the Algonquins, with some of which it holds in full force to this day. A feaster, unable to do his full part, might, if he could, hire another to aid him; otherwise, he must remain in his place till the work was done.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »