Sacred Texts  Native American  Iroquois  Index  Previous  Next 


This society is perhaps the best organized of all the Seneca folk-societies. It holds four meetings each year, but only on three occasions is the night song, Ganoda, chanted. To describe adequately

p. 117

the rites of this society would require a small volume. For the purposes of this paper, since the society has been described at greater length elsewhere, only a few notes can be given.

The company is organized to perform the rites thought necessary to preserve the potency of the "secret medicine," niganêga?'a`, known as the "little-water powder." The meetings, moreover, are social gatherings of the members in which they can renew friendship and smoke away mutual wrongs, if any have been committed. It is contrary to the rules to admit members having a quarrel unless they are willing to forgive and forget. Both men and women are members. Its officers, in order of their importance, are: the song-holder, the chief matron, the watcher of the medicine, the feast-makers, invoker, flute-holder, and announcers and sentinels. There are two altars, the Altar of the Fire and the Altar of the Mystery. The ritual consists of three sets of songs describing the various adventures of the founder, known as the Good Hunter. At the close of each section the feast-makers pass bowls of berry juice, giving each singer a draft from a ladle. In some lodges a pipe is passed. An intermission then follows, during which the members, men and women alike, smoke the native home-grown tobacco. The singing is accompanied by the shaking of gourd rattles, and each member shakes one while he sings. Only purified members are supposed to enter. Unclean men or women, even though members, are debarred. The society has no public ceremony and no dances. Only members are supposed to know the precise time and place of meeting. The songs must never be sung outside of the lodge-room, but special meetings are sometimes called for the purpose of instructing novices. The office of song-holder by the Cattaraugus Seneca is hereditary to the name O`dän'kot, Sunshine. The present song-holder of the Ganun'dase: lodge, the pagan lodge at Newtown, Cattaraugus reservation, is a youth who is learning the song, George Pierce, the former O`dän'kot, having recently died. Visitors may listen to the songs in an outer room, but are debarred from viewing the "mysteries." Each member, on entering, deposits his medicine packet on the Altar of the Mystery and places his contribution of tobacco in the corn-husk basket. The tobacco is thrown into the fire by the invoker as he chants his prayer to the Creator, the Thunder Spirit, and to the Great Darkness. The

p. 118

flute-song is played during the second and third sections. At the close of the ceremony a pig's head is passed and pieces of the boiled meat are torn from the head with the teeth, the members cawing in imitation of crows. In early times a bear's head was eaten. The food is then distributed, and the meeting or "sitting" is concluded. The ceremony commences at about 11 o'clock p.m. and is adjourned at daybreak. The sun "must not see the rites." The business of the society is all conducted before the ceremony commences: reports of the officers are given and the treasurer's report read. The paraphernalia of this society consist of the medicine bundles, the flute, gourd rattles for each singer, the sacred tobacco basket and a bark dipper. The necessary furnishings are a table and a fireplace, these being the "altars," and a lamp. The "medicine" is not used in the ceremonies; it is simply "sung for." Its power is conserved for use by the medicine people in healing ceremonies. The singing of the ritual is conducted in total darkness, the lights being brought in only during the intermissions.

Next: Pygmy Society, The Dark Dance Ceremony