Yuchi Ceremonies

The ceremonies, which according to tradition originated in the other world and were taught to the first Indians by Sun. consist of various religious rites performed in public by all the men of the town once a year. The rites include dancing, fasting, the observance of certain taboos, the kindling of a new and sacred fire, the scarification of men, the taking of an emetic and the performance of the ball game. The ceremony as a whole was called, Yueahe’, ‘In the rainbow, ‘ or ‘In the big house.’ The time for these ceremonies is determined by the state of maturity of the corn crop. They are begun so as to coincide with its first ripening, usually about the middle or early part of July. It would seem from this that the importance of agriculture as a feature of life had determined the time for the town’s discharge of its religious obligations. As far as is possible the time is also arranged so as to fall upon nights when the moon is full. This matter rests entirely in the hands of the town chief. He distributes bundles of tally sticks, one to be thrown away each day (Fig. 37), to the heads of families.

Dances. – The special dances, cti, performed by the Yuchi are quite numerous. A fairly large number are primarily clan dances, having for their object the placation of clan totems. The dancers imitate the motions of the totemic animal with their bodies and arms. The steps, however, are not subject to much variation. The dancer inclines his body forward, gesticulating with his arms according to the occasion, and raises first one foot then the other slightly above the ground, bringing them down flat at each step with vigor. In this way the dancers in single file circle contra-clockwise about the fire in the center of the square. The whole is done in a sort of run, the acoustic effect being a regularly timed stamping sound. The dances are accompanied by singing on the part of all the men dancing, and by musical instruments of several different varieties, namely, terrapin shell rattles (PI. VII), drum (Fig. 32) and hand rattle (PI. VII). Both the music and the instruments have been briefly described before. A few other ceremonial paraphernalia used particularly in the dances will be described soon. As a rule all men may take part, in any dance. But in most of the dances only certain women are admitted from the beginning and they are provided with the bunch of terrapin shell rattles, tsontá, (PI. VII) which are fastened to their legs. During the last half of the dance, however, the exclusive feeling leaves, and women, children and even strangers may join in. It is understood, though, that when a certain dance is being performed, for instance the Tortoise dance, the members of that clan are in the position of hosts to the others, taking pride in having them dance the dance to their totem.

The dance songs consist chiefly in the repetition of meaningless syllables or groups of syllables. A great deal of magic potency is believed to rest in mere words and burdens. Sometimes, however, an intelligible stanza or sentence appears having some vague reference to the object of the dance, or simply naming it. The feeling of the dancers seems to be that they are for the time in the actual form of the totem, and they carry out in quite a realistic way the effect of the imitation entirely by their motions and behavior. No imitative costumes nor masks are used now, nor could it be ascertained whether they ever existed. They imitate very well, however, the cries of the animals which are being dramatized.

Besides those dances which are functionally clan dances, there are others which are addressed, as a form of worship and placation, to various animals which furnish their flesh or parts for the use of man. Then there are also others which are directed to the spirits of animals which have the power of inflicting sickness, trouble or death upon the people. These are imitative, similar in general appearance to those already described. The spirits dominating certain inanimate objects are invoked in others.

Lastly, we find a miscellaneous few which are claimed to be chiefly danced for pleasure. There has no doubt been considerable borrowing going on among the Indians and local interpretations may have been given to various dances different from their original ones.

Most of the dances are performed at night, thus filling in the time of the ceremonies with constant activity.

A list of these special dances, and the instruments used in them, is here given.

Dance. Musical Instrument.

Ba’la’ cti, Horse dance, Rattle, drum.

Wedinen cti, Cow dance, ?

Wedingá cti, Buffalo dance, Rattle, drum.

Ddioea’, Turtle dance, Rattle.

Cu cpá cti, Pike dance, Rattle, drum.

Cu djeá cti, Catfish dance, Rattle, drum.

Spänsi’ cti, Quail dance Rattle.

Wetea cti, Turkey dance, ?

Kyan’cti, Owl dance, Rattle.

Yanti’ cti, Buzzard dance, Rattle, drum.

Weic^d’ cti, Chicken dance, Rattle, drum.

Cane’ cti, Duck dance, Rattle, drum.

Seolan cti, Lizard dance, Rattle.

Wetsakou’An’ cti, Opossuni dance, ?

DjäitAn’Cti, Raccoon dance, Rattle, drum.

Yusan’ cti, Skunk dance, ?

Yuatea’cti Gun dance, Firearms.

Gocpi’ cti, Negro dance, ?

Ycuá, cti, Leaf dance, Rattle.

laká cti, Feather or Corn dance, Two rattles.

Tsebén bené cti, Crazy or Drunken dance ,Rattle.

Yoncta cti, Shawnee dance, Drum.

Fasting and Taboos. – Fasting and the observance of certain taboos are special features of the annual ceremonies. From the beginning of the event no salt is to be used by anyone. Sexual communication is also tabooed. A general fast must be kept by all the men for twelve hours before taking the emetic, that their systems may be the more receptive to purging. During the second day of the ceremony the men may not leave the town square, nor are they permitted to sleep or lean their backs against any support when tired. For the purpose of enforcing this the four young initiates are provided with poles to strike offenders with. On the second day also no women, dogs or strangers may step over the edge into the square, the women and dogs under pain of being struck by the initiates and strangers under pain of being staked out naked in its middle. The thoughts of the people, too, are expected to be turned toward supernatural things in order to please the various spirits.

New Fire Rite. – The new fire rite performed at sunrise of the second day, is symbolic of a new period of life for the tribe. As far as could be learned, the fires of the various household hearths are not extinguished as among the Creeks, since the kindling of the new fire by the town chief is symbolical of this and suffices for all. The ceremonial method of starting this fire was explained before, so it need not be repeated. The logs in the center of the square-ground were ignited from the fire started in the punk and kept burning until the ceremony is over, by the proper official. The fire making implements were kept in a bag which hung during the ceremony, along with the rattles when not in use, on the middle post at the front of the town chief’s lodge, just over where he sat.

Scarification. – The next rite to be performed in public after the kindling of the fire is the scarification of the males. Every male in the town is expected to come before two pots of steeped medicinal plants, the, ƒeâde, button snake root, and to tcalá, red root, and be scratched by a certain official on the arm or breast, allowing the blood to flow and drop upon the square-ground. There is an analogy between this earthly human ceremony and that enacted by the beings of the sky world. In the same way that Sun was taken to the rainbow and scratched till his blood fell upon the ground, do the Yuchi bring themselves and their male children to have their blood drawn. It seems to be regarded as a form of torture and induration to pain. The falling of their blood upon the square-ground is symbolical of the falling of the mother-of-Sun’s blood upon the ground, from which the first Yuchi was created. There is another side to this scratching ceremony. It is also a purgative. The instrument used in it consists of a quill fastened to a piece of the leaf of ƒeâde’, one of the sacred plants, set with six pins, or, as was formerly done, With gar-fish teeth (Fig. 40). This scratcher is dipped in a pot containing a brew of the sacred plants before each male is scratched. Thus he is inoculated with the sacred plant juices and his blood is purified by them against sickness.

The Emetic. – The next and perhaps the most important rite of the occasion is the taking of an emetic by all the males of the town. This practice was also instituted by Sun. He gave the people two plants, ƒeâde’ and to tcalá, as is recorded in the myth, and showed them how to steep them in water. He instructed them to drink the concoction to purify their bodies against sickness during the ensuing interceremonial year. It is thought, in particular, that to eat the first corn of the season without having taken the emetic would certainly result in sickness inflicted by the unappeased deities. The town chief has charge of the preparation of the emetic, aided by the four boy initiates. The pots containing the concoction are of a special form with a decoration on the rim representing the sun (Fig. 31, No. 21). These pots stand during the ceremony, east of the fire near the center of the square (see diagram, Fig. 38). When the sun is about at the zenith those who are highest in rank came forward, facing the east, and drink quantities of the medicine. They are followed by the rest lower in rank and so on. Four at a time are allowed to drink. Then all await the effects quietly in their proper places in the lodges. The proper moment arriving, they proceed to a space near the square and allow the emetic to have its full effect. The rite is repeated several times. After this all the townsmen go to water, wash off their paint and return to their places about the square.

The ceremony of the emetic is concluded with a feast of the first corn and smoking. After this the ball game is played with betting. This event has been described under the heading of games. Dancing again fills in the intervening time until another round of the medicine drinking was performed. The ceremonies were then concluded.

Possibly the main object of the annual festival is the placation of every possible animus. Obedience to the commands of Sun was also highly considered as a matter of importance. Other objects of the ceremonies are, as explained, to turn the public attention to spiritual affairs for a time, away from everyday pursuits. All the potentially malicious spirits and animal, fish and vegetable spirits are propitiated or thanked as the case might be. And all personal grievances among townsmen are declared cancelled after the emetic had been taken. They furthermore state that the scratching and the emetic teach the men to inure themselves to pain and discomfort. Both rites were practiced before going to war.

Captives were, it is said, sometimes burnt to death as sacrifices to the supernatural brings during the ceremonies. In recent times a stake was erected in the southeast corner of the square at the beginning of the event, to represent the place where captives were thus treated. After the emetic is over this stake is thrown down.

The foregoing account is a very general one. A more detailed account of the ceremonial performances as witnessed by me several times will now be given. They were performed at the Sand Creek settlement, where there is a square-ground, in July 1904, and July 1905. The photographs were made during the 1905 celebration. There is some difference in detail between the ceremonies of Sand Creek town and Polecat town. The one here recorded is entirely that of Sand Creek town, which has since discontinued its celebration on account of disorder and violence among the young men, due to intoxication. 1 A few features of the Polecat celebration which are based on description, will also be given as they seem to have been left off by the other settlement. It may frequently be necessary to repeat something that has already been mentioned, but this is done intentionally in order to give the details of the particular case and make the account of the actual occurrences more uniform.Citations:

  1. In 1908, on my last visit, I learned that the chiefs had decided to continue the ceremonies as usual.[]


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