Their form of government was monarchical, acknowledging but one head, and the Puplem, or general council. This body served as a kind of check to the will of the captain, and without its sanction he could do nothing of importance. Before treating upon the obedience observed towards their ruler, and his advisers, I will first explain the forms and ceremonies adopted in their elevation to office. In the event of the decease of their captain, or his inability to govern, from extreme age,--or of his desire to elevate a son to the command, a general feast was prepared, and all the neighboring chiefs and friends were invited to attend. (I must note here, that each town or Rancheria, had its chief, or captain.) Upon their arrival, after all were collected together, the object of the invitation was made known to them, and the cause of the old chief's relinquishing the command to his son, was explained. If this were satisfactory, their consent was given, and a day specified for the event, which was generally the succeeding one. A crier was despatched to give notice of the election to the inhabitants, and they were invited to take part in the feast of the new captain.
Every thing being prepared, they placed the crown upon his head, and he was enrobed with the imperial vestments. Anciently, the diadem of kings and emperors consisted of a kind of bandage, wound around the head, as we may infer from the account of Alexander Magnus, who upon beholding a valiant soldier, wounded, took from his head the
diadem, to bind up the wound of his vassal. Of this class was the diadem used by the captain. His hair was tied close to the neck, plaited, or rather twisted, and instead of a bandage, he wore a species of cord made from the hair, which was passed three or four times around his head. A thin piece of wood, about half a yard in length, sometimes, of a shape similar to the blade of a sword, and often rounded like a wire, they secured to the cord, which they adorned with feathers of the hawk, the crow, and other birds. Lastly, they put upon him a kind of petticoat, formed also from the feathers of birds, reaching down almost to the knees, while the remainder of his body was painted black. This was called the dress of the "Capitaneja," and was the Tobet, so termed by Chinigchinich.
His toilet being concluded, as above described, be went into the Vanquech to dance before Chinigchinich, and the instruments, used upon such occasions, were not very musical, nor of any great variety; being composed mostly of the shells of turtles, with small stones inside, which they rattled continually, as an accompaniment to their voices. After dancing until he felt somewhat fatigued, the other captains entered, dressed with their several insignia, and placed him in their centre. After dancing around him a short time, the ceremony was concluded, and he was acknowledged as their captain.
The feast, generally, lasted three or four days and nights, and the old captain procured for the occasion, an abundance of their choicest kinds of food, which he presented to the guests, and to all the inhabitants of his dominion.
The new captain did not assume the reins of government, until his father died or resigned them to him, and then, the only ceremony necessary in taking the command, was, to make known the fact to the neighboring chiefs. In the right of succession to the command, having no male descendant, the females also participated; and were permitted to marry with whomsoever they pleased, even one not descended from the true line of captains. In such a case, the husband was not acknowledged as chief, nor was the wife allowed to govern; but always the nearest male relation assumed the power. The first male child, as soon as born, they proclaimed captain, and from that time he was known as such, although the relative governed during his minority. On the day of transferring the
government, all the neighboring chiefs were invited, and a grand feast given on the occasion. It was the custom among these Indians, in all their feasts, to carry presents to the person who gave the invitation, and he in return, was obliged when invited, to give one of equal value.
As it regards obedience and subjection to their captains, what I have been enabled to ascertain, is, that the conduct of the people was in no wise influenced by their authority, but that they lived a life of insubordination, without laws or government. The malefactor went unpunished, and the meritorious unrewarded. In fact, each one lived as he pleased, and no one interfered, do what be would. Notwithstanding this, the Indians say, that in the days of their gentilism, they had but very few quarrels and disturbances. The reason of this, I presume, was, the fact of their being nearly all related to each other, and the frequent exhortation of the fathers to their children, to be good. When one committed a fault against another, if the aggrieved could avenge himself, he did so; death, generally, was the result, and no one interfered or spoke of it.
Although the Captains did not exercise any power, whatever, in the administration of justice, or in any other way, still the people possessed great respect and veneration for their persons, particularly the youthful part of the community, who were early instructed to look upon them, as well as upon the Puplem and elders, with fear and trembling. This was, as before stated, their daily instruction, and on this account no one dared to treat them with disrespect, or to injure them by word or action, for death would have been the consequence, and its execution carried into effect as follows:--The case having been declared in the council, an elder was appointed to make public the crime, which he did by crying most bitterly throughout the rancheria, saying, that "so and so, has said or done this or that, to our captain,"--that "Chinigchinich is very angry, and wishes to chastise us, by sending upon us a plague, of which we may all die. Arm yourselves, then, both old and young, to kill the offender, so that by presenting him dead to Chinigchinich, he may be appeased, and not kill us." This was repeated several times throughout the town. As the Indians were easily influenced, they immediately went out, armed, in search of the delinquent, and when they fell in with him, they despatched him, and, together with the arrows with which they killed him, he was borne to the presence of Chinigchinich. The parents
of the deceased were permitted afterwards to take possession of the body, and perform the accustomed ceremony of burning it.
The captain was authorized to decide upon all differences, occurring between his rancheria and the neighboring towns, to declare war, to make peace, and to appoint the days on which they were to celebrate their feasts, as well as those for the bunting of game, and the collecting of grain. This was about the extent of his authority. In case of a declaration of war, he convoked the Puplem, and explained his intentions; a consultation was held, to decide whether they alone, could carry on the warfare, without the assistance of the neighboring tribes; but no reflection was made as to the justice or injustice of their intentions. Immediately a crier was sent forth, to order the preparation of arms and men. The women were compelled to make an abundance of pinole, and to get ready the provisions necessary; and on the day determined upon for their march, the crier called them together, and they set forward, headed by the captain, who acted as general-in-chief, every one strictly obeying his orders.
They had a pul, (a kind of astrologer), who knew by the moon's appearance, the time to celebrate the feasts, and from his information, the captain made them public; and this was generally done by sending round a crier, on the evenings previous to their celebration. In the same manner, was made known the time to collect grain, and to hunt: but he, who advised the captain, was the one originally endowed with the power of providing their game, herbs, &c., &c. On such occasions, all turned out in quest of food, both men and women, boys and girls; and on returning to their rancheria, the greater part was deposited with the captain, who took care of the same for the feast. In their ordinary excursions for game, &c., the captain was obliged to hunt for his own subsistence, and although he frequently received a portion, still it was not considered obligatory on the part of the giver.
Some of them had two or more wives, that they might be more plentifully supplied with seeds, and vegetables, and thus have it in their power to make provision for the poor and feeble.