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Chapter XIII

Their Funeral Ceremonies

Before treating upon the subject of their manner of interment, I will just refer to the remedies used for their diseases. They possessed some knowledge of the virtues of certain medicinal herbs, and the external application of them to cutaneous disorders; but for internal diseases, such as fevers, &c., they always resorted to cold baths. For pains in the head, immediate application of cold water was the remedy. For external diseases, such as tumors, swellings, sores and rheumatic pains, they made use of various herbs, known to us, and called sage, rosemary, and nettle-plant--which were applied in a plaster. They made use of a kind of black rosin also, which was very oily, and manufactured from certain seeds. When attacked with pain in the stomach they inhaled the smoke of these plants, and if afflicted with any ordinary pain, a whipping, with nettles, was applied to the part affected, and frequently large ants.

For disease of the liver, fevers, and all malignant complaints, I have not discovered that they made use of any remedies but the cold water baths, before mentioned. Sometimes the patient, entirely exposed, was laid upon a quantity of dry ashes or sand, and at his feet blazed a scorching fire, without regard to the season. At his head stood a small vessel of water, and sometimes gruel, that he might partake of them, if he chose, but no persuasions were ever used on the part of his friends to induce him to do so, if he did not feel inclined. He was never left alone, being

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attended by many of his friends, both day and night; and thus he remained until either nature, or the disease, conquered.

As soon as any one fell ill, they immediately sent for the physician, who was one of the puplem, or soothsayers before spoken of. It must be understood that not all of the puplem possessed the necessary qualifications, but only those who received them by succession. When they appeared before the patient, it was always with an air of great mystery. A strict examination into the state of the patient, was the commencement of their performances, and divers infirmities were explained, and their causes--all originating from the introduction of certain particles into the body of the patient, such as the hairs of various animals, bones, stones, briers, sticks, &c., which produced the pain or infirmity. Before prescribing anything, they made use of many superstitious ceremonies. In the first place, the patient was examined from head to foot, and no part of his body remained untouched. Then the painful parts became the topic of discussion, and were represented as having within them something of a hard substance, such as a stone, splinter, or bone, and of course, their success in removing the disease was ever a matter of great uncertainty; but still, they would use all their skill, and endeavor to restore him to health. They placed feathers upon his head, and encircled him entirely with these, and other articles, such as horse-hair, grass, beads, and hairs of the head; blowing at the same time with their mouths towards the four cardinal points, and muttering to themselves certain low sounds--certain mysterious words--accompanied with antic gesticulations, of which no one knew the meaning. After this, one of them applied his lips to the part affected, and pretended to draw from it, by suction, the particles, which they had stated as being within, and exposed them to all present. The spectators, as well as the patient, placed strict confidence in the fact, and were satisfied, whether he recovered or died. When the patient did not recover from his disease, the puplem would say, it was because Chinigchinich had sent him the infirmity, as a chastisement for some act of disobedience, and that he must reconcile himself to death.

There were many of these impostors spread about the country, who, after being well fed and paid for their services, made all manner of ridicule of their too credulous companions. Wonderful as it may appear,

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oftentimes they performed cures, when the patients were apparently fast verging into eternity, and in the space of twenty-four hours, by their extravagances and witchcraft, they have enabled them to rise from a bed of sickness, and unite with their companions in their domestic employments. I will relate a case which happened in the mission of "La Purissima," A.D. 1809, which will serve to confirm the truth of the preceding statement. A young woman of eighteen years of age, had been sick for nearly a year, suffering from the effects of dysentery and fever, so that she had wasted away almost to a skeleton, and was to all appearances dying; having received the holy sacrament preparatory to her supposed departure. One morning, whilst walking in the garden of the mission, I saw her sitting with other females performing the task of clearing the grass; surprised at beholding her there, when I supposed her dying, I asked her how she felt? Her mother, who was at her side, replied to the question, and said that she was well, because such a one (naming one of the sorcerers) had taken from her some bear's hairs, which were the cause of her illness, and, immediately, she was restored. I inquired how they were introduced into her stomach, and how long she had had them? She replied, that when in childhood, and about eight or nine years old, one night, whilst asleep with other children in a room by themselves, a bear came and placed some of his hairs on her stomach. How he came there, or how the hairs got into her stomach, she could not explain; for all that she knew about it, had been stated to her by the sorcerer. This was all deception, of course, but still it happened from that day, that the girl improved in health, and, in a short time, was as robust and hearty as any one!

When the patient died under the attendance of these physicians, then preparations were made for his sepulture, or the burning of his body, according to a custom observed here, in commemoration of the last ceremonies rendered to the remains of their grand chieftain Ouiot. They did not put into immediate execution the solemn duties and funeral performances, but suffered several hours to elapse, that they might be assured of his death. In the meantime the pile was prepared, and the person summoned, who officiated on such occasions in applying the torch; for it was usual, in this neighborhood, to employ certain characters, who made their livelihood by it, and who, generally, were confined

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to particular families. As soon as every thing was prepared, and the time had arrived for the ceremony, they bore the corpse to the place of sacrifice, where it was laid upon the faggots. Then the friends of the deceased retired, and the burner (so called) set fire to the pile, and remained near the spot until all was consumed to ashes. The ceremony being concluded on his part, he was paid for his services, and withdrew. Every thing of use, belonging to the deceased, such as his bow and arrows, feathers, be-ads, skins, &c., were consumed with him, whilst his relatives and friends added, also, other articles of value to the sacrifice, but during the scene of burning they did not observe any particular ceremony, nor had they any; for as soon as the burner gave notice that he had performed his task, they all retired outside of the town to mourn the decease of their friend. The puplem sang songs, while the relatives wept; and the substance of their canticles was merely a relation of the cause of the infirmity--the location of the disease--when it first commenced, and its course throughout the body, until it attacked the heart, when he died, thus naming over all the parts of the human frame. These songs were generally repeated over and over for three days and nights, and then they returned to their homes.

The mode of testifying their grief by outward appearance, was by shortening the hair of their heads; and in conformity to the kin of the deceased, so they regulated the custom. For the loss of a parent, wife or child, the head was completely shorn; for a distant relative, they cut off merely one half of the length, and for a friend, only the extremity; but in all cases, however, they were governed entirely by the love and attachment for the deceased. The same custom is now in use, and not only applied to deaths, but to their disappointments and adversities in life, thus making public demonstration of their sorrow.

Next: Chapter XIV. The Immortality of the Soul