August 20, 2016

Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Funeral Customs


Juaneño Band of Mission Indians 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 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, 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 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.

The Immortality of the Soul

This chapter may cause some perplexity, from circumstance of its treating of that which is imperceptible to the senses; of a substance incorporeal and spiritual. Still, I can in a very few words make known the belief of these Indians, relative to the rational soul, and what they understood concerning its immortality. There are arguments pro and con, which are of particular interest, inasmuch as they involve the future destiny of man; I will be more explicit in my remarks here, than in the preceding chapter, and recount all that I have been enabled to acquire relative to the subject.

In their gentilism, they were undoubtedly materialists, for they believed that the soul was the “espiritu vital,” received from the air, which they breathed, and which they called “piuts,” signifying “to live.” They possessed no knowledge, nor did they believe in the existence of any other substance than the material body. On this account they said, (and many believe it at the present time,) that man was composed of bones, flesh and blood only; for “piuts,” which is the breath, is another thing, like wind, that goes and comes.

The body they called “petacan,” a term applied, to the brute creation as well as man, or rather, to all living or animated beings. To designate the soul belonging to the body from the “espiritu vital,” they possessed no term but “pusuni,” which is general in its meaning, and signifies a “substance within,” applied to things animate and inanimate, and to the heart, on account of its location, and particular importance to the body.

They penetrated no farther than was perceptible to the sense, for the reason that the spirituality of the soul was incomprehensible to them; they only understanding the materials of the body. Thus they were materialists, for they said that when the body died, and was burnt, naught remained, for all was consumed.

Death, they believed was an entity, real and invisible, who, when in anger with any one, took away by degrees his breath, until all was removed, and then the person died. I have observed, in a previous chapter, that the punishments they so much feared from Chinigchinich, were all corporeal, such as falling over stones, and upon the earth–the bite of the serpent, bears, &c.; and lastly, death–the termination, without reference to pain, punishment, or glory afterwards.

I think this sufficient to prove that they were materialists, but as they relate a thousand novel accounts, relative to the immortality of the soul, which have proceeded from dreams or delirium, I will recount some of them, as they were related to me.

Materialists, as I have supposed them, (without adding other convincing reasons, such as the great insensibility manifested at the hour of their death–the little inclination for divine things, and desire for the unholy, which go far to show plainly their want of knowledge of the rational soul, and consequently of its immortality;) still, the words or expressions, made use of in the tenth chapter relative to the moon, are of opposing force–viz., “that as the moon dieth and cometh to life again, so we, having to die, will again live.”

But, as I observed in the chapter cited, I can not comprehend how they understood it-nor can I think that their ancestors believed in the resurrection of the flesh. They may have had such belief many ages back, and the tradition may have been preserved in songs. Other verses are used in opposition, and are frequently sung at their festivals–viz., “Let us eat, for we shall die, and then all will be finished,”–words similar in sense to the passage in the Holy Scriptures, referring to the expressions of the foolish young men.

Let us refer now to some of the accounts respecting the soul’s immortality. It is affirmed by some, that “when an Indian died, he went to the abode of his God Chinigchinich, a sort of earthly paradise, called, ‘tolmec,’ applicable, more properly, to hell; for it implies a location below the earth, and since their conversion, the same word is made use of in the catechism, to denote the abode of Satan.

They believed that Chinigchinich “resided in that region–that there was plenty to eat and drink, and to wear-that there was constant dancing and festivity–that no one labored–no one was sorrowful; but on the contrary, all were contented and happy–every one did as they pleased, and selected the number of wives they wished.”

The reader will compare this belief with the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. It was taught by the moderns, undoubtedly, and since their conversion to Christianity; for the old men at the time of their gentilism, had no such idea; to confirm which, I will relate the following account, as it was given to me by a female, who had been many years a convert to Christianity.

In the year 1817, in the mission of St. Juan Capistrano, I visited this woman, who was recovering from a severe attack of malignant fever. When in the worst stage of the disease, and in a state of paroxysm, she said, that she died, and the Indians, her relatives, carried her to Chinigchinich, where she beheld a great number of men and women. Some were dancing, some playing, and others were bathing in a stream of pure, transparent water.

The “rancheria” was large and beautiful, and the houses were of different construction from those in modern use. Having arrived at the house of Chinigchinich, she was informed that she could not enter, to reside with them yet; that she must return to her home. Food was given to her, of delicious quality, such as she had never eaten before, soon after which, she returned without having beheld Chinigchinich; but she could not recollect if she came alone, or if she were accompanied by others.

It is evident that this account was the result of delirium, for I visited her during the paroxysm, when she partook of a glass of warm water, sweetened, that I administered myself, and of which she drank the whole. This water may have been the repast which she referred to, as having been given to her in the house of Chinigchinich; it caused her to perspire profusely, and broke the fever, so that in a few days she recovered.

The ancients said, that when an Indian died, though the body was burnt, still the heart did not consume–(which must be the spirit or soul, for the heart of flesh, of course, would perish with the body)–that it went to a place destined by Chinigchinich. If a chief, or one of the puplem, it went to dwell among the stars, and like them throw its light upon the earth. For this reason, they said that the planets, and most luminous bodies, were their hearts, or in other words, they were themselves, in reality.

In the year 1821, there appeared in the N.E. a comet. The Indians believed, with undoubted faith, that it was a chief of a rancheria, who had died; and who, previous to his departure, had told them, that he should in time behold them again from the heavens. This idea they received from their ancient traditions, because, according to Seutonio, the gentiles believed, that at the hour of the death of any illustrious personage (as was seen at the death of Julius Caesar), there appeared in the heavens some notable meteor, which was translated to the stars, and arranged among the Gods.

The reason given why the chiefs and puplem, alone, went to the heaven of stars, and that the other people did not, is this: because “Tacue,” “the eater of human flesh,” had eaten of them previous to their being burnt; and if it happened that he did not eat of them, in consequence of their dying in the power of their enemies, or on account of their being drowned, then they did not go to the stars, but to another place, to which they were destined by Chinigchinich.

Others, who were not of noble rank, were doomed to the borders of the sea, or to the hills, mountains, valleys, or forests; and there they remained an indefinite time, while Chinigchinich held them doing penance for the faults they had committed, in not obeying his precepts, but after the performance of said penance, whether they returned to their former shape, or removed to any other location, they could not tell.

The Indians, when they saw any strange thing, or imagined that they beheld any extraordinary figure, said, that it was a ghost, and considered it a bad omen–the forerunner of misfortune. They believed, that if the dead appeared to any one, it was for the purpose of injury, and particularly so, if appearing to females, whom, weak and timid as they were, it required but little to terrify. On this account, there were villains, who personated such figures to effect their brutal purposes. This custom was not confined to the Indians in their heathen state, but prevailed also among those who had become christianized. I will relate an occurrence of the kind, which took place in this neighborhood.

On a certain occasion, two females, mother and daughter-in-law, went out in search of wild fruits, which they called “naut.” When in the vicinity of a grove, they heard loud groans and lamentations–a breaking of the shrubbery, and limbs of trees–then followed a voice, calling upon the daughter, by her proper name, to come to the place, or she would be murdered.

The poor girl, filled with terror, and believing it an apparition, went into the grove, where she beheld one, who appeared, dressed in feathers from head to foot, with his face covered. She was told that he was such a one, who died at such a time, and that Chinigchinich confined him there. He told her to inform his widow, that she must resort to a certain place at night.

On her return home’ she gave the message to the woman, who immediately went to the spot directed, to behold her departed husband, and to ascertain his wishes. At first, she could find no one; but in a little while, she heard a voice, which said to her that she must remain until night. Supposing that in reality it was the voice of her deceased husband, she rejoiced greatly, for, they had loved each other much in their youth. She remained with him three nights–during which time, he spoke to her but very little, and then in a low and disguised voice.

She went about in the daytime in search of fruits, and he, on return of evening, would bring her meat, that she might eat. On the third day, in the morning, after separating, she went out upon a hill, and beheld the same person in conversation with another; she knew them both, and returned immediately to the Mission, where she gave information, and many of her friends went out to the place, and discovered them in a cave with three hostile Indians.

Others remained about the houses of widows, and the houses of their relatives, terrifying them and doing them injury; and on this account, it was the custom whenever the deceased were burnt, to burn also the houses, and rebuild in another direction, so that when the husbands returned in search of them, there would be nothing remaining to denote their existence, and thus they would escape their persecutions. The converted Indians of the present day, have the same idea.

There is another case which I witnessed in the Mission of St. Luis Rey, in the year 1813–a Christian died, and the Indians said that he was poisoned or bewitched, by another Christian of the same mission–that his death was the result of witchcraft.

The deceased in his lifetime possessed a small garden, where he was accustomed to sow yearly, certain grain and seeds. This he left to a relative at a time when the plants were in blossom; but immediately everything dried up and was destroyed, so that nothing was harvested of either grain or fruit.

The plants whilst young were fresh and fruitful, like the plants in the surrounding gardens, but the moment the blossoms appeared as if ready to produce seed, they died; so that, in the course of one night, nearly all were destroyed as if consumed by fire. The Indians said that the deceased was seen moving about at night in every direction of the garden, and that whatever he touched, perished.

This was revealed to them by an old woman who owned the adjoining garden, and who related the story to me, also, so that I was induced to go to the place in order to witness the same, and found, as she had stated, the greater part of the plants dead, or in a perishing state; some, however, were still flourishing. These I took particular notice of, and on the following day I returned, and found seven of them, consisting of corn, pumpkins, and watermelons, dried up, and consumed to their roots. In this way the whole was destroyed.

Said Indian died of dysentery, and not by witchcraft, nor poison as believed. They were superstitious in their belief that whoever died in this way, died of poison, and this accounts for the tradition of the death of their grand captain Ouiot.

We have seen that the story of the garden was given by an old woman, and for this reason is entitled to but little credit, but that which has caused me some difficulty to explain is, why the plants were thus decayed. It was not from want of care, or from disease received from insects, or animals either, because, if so, there would have appeared spots about them, and they would not have been diseased to their very roots.

This may excite wonder in the reader, and I have used every diligence possible, to ascertain the cause, but without success. What I conjecture is this–that the Devil did all this, that but few should escape from his hands, and the motive, I have for believing so is, that at this time, there were many gentiles in the mission, principally sorcerers, (some were catechumens, and others not) who night after night performed their heathen ceremonies.

What has been said, I think is sufficient to prove, that these accounts and stories relative to the immortality of the soul, are mere fables, frauds and inventions to deceive the simple: that the first, and original settlers in this region, had a knowledge of the spirituality of the soul, and, consequently, of its immortality; that by tradition, they have preserved the same without believing it, and perhaps ages before, they had a totally different account.

We often perceive that a history, by numerous editions and revisals, loses much of its originality; how much more liable to corruption, tradition must be, among an ignorant race like the Indians. But little respect is attached to their belief of the spiritual substance with which we are adorned, not only by the rule, and ignorant of the present day, but, by the wisest, and best instructed in our Holy Religion.

To remove all doubt from the reader, that he may not think my ideas extravagant, I will relate two events which happened in places where I have resided.

In the year 1808, I was a missionary in the mission of “La Purissima,” when a young man of the establishment became seriously indisposed. His age was 23 years, he had been reared from infancy by the fathers, and was instructed in every thing appertaining to religion; often serving as interpreter for them, and was almost always with them.

When first attacked, he refused to take medicine, nor could he be persuaded to do so, by any advice of the fathers; but he went off in search of one of the quack physicians, who practised upon him all his diabolical art.

The fathers, seeing that he became worse, daily exhorted him to confess, and prepare for death like a Christian; but he declined, with the excuse that he was weak, he required examination, and (as was the opinion of the quack,) he did not think he should die. But, alas! he was deceived; for when the doctor saw that his chicanery and witchcraft, had no effect for the better, he forsook him, saying, “that as he had always believed the teachings of the priests, his God, (or more properly his devil), was angered and sent him death as a punishment.”

Hearing this, the poor invalid concluded to confess–he did so, but not with that satisfaction to the fathers which they had desired, and very soon after, death followed.

In the year 1817, in the mission of St. Juan Capistrano, an Indian 35 years of age, who, like the one just mentioned, was well instructed, became afflicted with a dangerous disease, and died. No persuasion on the part of his friends, or exhortations of the priests, could prevail upon him to confess, and partake of the holy sacrament; at the bare proposal, he became frantic, and uttered expressions, which were contemptuous and blasphemous.

A short time previous to his death, I called to see him, to give him that consolation, which the promises of our holy religion impart to the penitent soul, and I urged him, since he could do no more, to receive the extreme unction, to ask pardon for his sins, for God was infinite in his mercy to the repentant sinner. But all in vain! my words were ineffectual, and they were spurned with disgust.

His limbs were extended–the froth came from his mouth–his eyes rolled back into his head, presenting a true picture of the appearance of one condemned to the torments of hell; and three persons were insufficient to confine him. These demonstrations seemed to me, the effects of the violence of the malady, but after a while his tranquillity returned, and some one exclaimed, “Why do you not confess?” “Because I will not,” he replied, with anger.

“If I have been deceived whilst living, I do not wish to die in the delusion!” These were his last words; for soon after, he expired, and there remained a corpse, truly horrible and revolting to the sight. Consider, what must have been my feelings! Such a spectacle before me, revealing to the letter the words of David, “Pecator videbit et irascetur, dentibus suis fremet et tabescet, desiderium peccatorum peribit.”

I presume there may be some persons who will say, notwithstanding these accounts, that they are not satisfactory evidences of a total want of faith and belief; for rare occurrences happen every where, and God has permitted them to take place for his own inexplicable purposes, and for advantages resulting to others.

To this I concede, but exceptions are few. These accounts generally conform to each other in substance, and he, who has perused them with attention, or is familiar with the character of these Indians, knowing that when they appear the most intelligent, and entitled to the greatest confidence, they are the least to be trusted; he will, I say, agree with me, generally, regarding their belief; as all their operations are accompanied by stratagems and dissimulation, they easily gain our confidence, and at every pass we are deluded.

Native American Burial and Funeral Customs
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