Fig. 42. Amulet

Yuchi Medicinal Ceremonies

What has so far been said in regard to the treatment of disease deals only with what might properly be called shamanism. Besides the regular practice of curing disease, which is in the hands of especially qualified persons, there are various methods employed by individuals for themselves when attacked by sickness or threatened with it. The town itself celebrates a public ceremony when threatened with evil in the shape of sickness, or when actually suffering from some epidemic. When a man becomes sick and does not desire to employ a shaman to cure him but prefers to treat himself, he can resort to the sweat-bath and emetic. In some respects the sweat-bath of the Yuchi is similar to that of many other American tribes, but there are some differences. A tent-like shelter is erected conveniently near running water and made thoroughly weather-tight. The operator then provides himself with a vessel of water, in which is steeped one of the several roots which acted as emetics. Tobacco, red root, or button snake root (the latter two having been mentioned in the account of the annual ceremonies can he used for this. If tobacco be employed, only a palm full of the dried blossoms to a pail of water is necessary. Rocks are heated and piled in the center of the floor space in the tent, and when all is ready the patient enters naked, closes himself in and begins to drink as much of the emetic as he can. When two or three dipperfuls have been swallowed vomiting begins. The operator vomits upon the hot rocks and the liquid turns immediately into a cloud of steam. In this way the process of drinking and vomiting on the hot rocks is kept up until the man is thoroughly sweated and purged internally. Then he emerges and plunges into the river.

The sweat-bath is taken not only when sickness is felt but from time to time by different individuals to ward it off. It is done also to right one’s self with the Sun deity, and before serious undertakings like the hunt, the journey or the warpath. The town also has a general public ceremony, the object of which is to ward off not only sickness but evils of other sorts what-ever they might be. The ceremony embodies the ideas of physical purging, of purification in a religious sense and of propitiation to the various super-natural beings. It consists of dancing and vomiting.

The ceremony is called Tsoti’benen, ‘Medicine Drinking.’ When sickness, or trouble in general is abroad or threatens the town, the town chief called the families to the square-ground for the observance. At sundown they gather while a quantity of the emetic is prepared. Everyone is given to drink until he vomits. Then in the interval the proper persons prepare more of the draught, while the people spend the time in dancing various dances. When the medicine is ready again the gocone, the leader of the Warrior society, calls the people for another drink. This they take, allowing it to have its effect, then fall to dancing again. During the whole ceremony, which is carried on all night, no one is allowed to sleep or doze. The officers of the Warrior society have to see to it that on one breaks this rule. The dancing and drinking are continued until sunrise, at which time the ceremony is ended.

A few other individuals practices for curing sickness in children were observed. These are, so to speak, family methods quite generally known and practiced without any particular ceremony. For a sore mouth and irritation of the intestines the fresh blood of a chicken is thought to be effective. The living fowl is cut through the back of the neck, the bleeding stump thrust into the open mouth of the sufferer, and the blood swallowed as it flows. For whooping cough the sufferer drinks some warm water in which a crow was soaked whole. The analogy is said to be drawn between the coughing and crow’s cawing.

Incidentally it was learned that the Indians when suffering with toothache never try to extract the tooth but, if they do anything, just chew some strong herbs, sometimes tobacco.

I found a man with a piece of some small whitish root, which looked as though it might be ginseng, in his money bag. He said that it was good to keep away sickness. He also used an infusion of it to relieve his child of croup at night. He said that he always carried it when traveling.

Tobacco blossoms are employed as an ordinary physic and emetic. Three or four of the dried blossoms suffice when steeped in a medium sized pot of water.

The common method of treating nose-bleed is to pour cold water over the sufferer’s head.

Yuchi Use of Amulets

Fig. 42. Amulet
Fig. 42. Amulet

Protective amulets were more commonly worn heretofore than now. One specimen was obtained from the neck of a child. Its particular function was to bring sleep and rest to the wearer. The thing consists of an insect larva sewed tightly in a buckskin covering decorated on one side with blue and white beads (Fig. 42). The fetish symbolizes a turtle, the similarity in form being carried out further by three little loops of white beads representing the hind legs and tail. A double potency was ascribed to this object since it embodies the influence of two creatures who spend much of their existence in a dormant state. In the figure white beads are represented by open spaces and dark blue beads by the filled-in spaces. The center row of lighter blue is shown by the shaded spaces.

Another charm to keep children from getting sick was composed of some small white bones wrapped up in buckskin or rag and tied to their necks or hammocks. Bones of this sort were also believed to prevent children from crying in the night and to protect them in general from the effects of all possible evil. It is also under-stood that men wore small, curiously formed objects, or trophies, which had some relation to events in their career, in the belief that the things would prove effectual in protecting and guiding them in some way.

Comparison of Yuchi Rites and Beliefs

In concluding this account of the ceremonies of the Yuchi a few words might be said in the way of comparison with the rites and beliefs of surrounding culture areas. The new fire rite, which was commonly found throughout the Southeast, has analogies in other regions. Nearly all occurrences of this kind, however, are found in the southern portion of the continent. A new fire rite was prominent in Mexico, 1 and among the Pueblo tribes of the Southwest. 2

The idea of the town shrine also strongly suggests the sacred altars of the Southwestern tribes and the shrines or altars concerned in the ceremonies of the tribes of the Plains. In all of these altar from the Southwest, across the Plains to the Southeast a common element is to be found in the symbolic painting or color representations on the ground.

As regards the ceremonies of scarification and the taking of the emetic we again find a specialization, in the Southeast, of these features which are, however, widely distributed westward and southward. The scratching operation regarded as a form of torture has distant analogies among nearly all the tribes of the Plains, where the Sun Dance was performed. The emetic ceremony, found prominently in nearly every southeastern tribe, is also traceable across the Plains to the Southwest. 3 A difference is to be noted in the character of the public communal ceremonies as we go from east to west. In the Southeast every male in the town is a participant in them and must undergo every rite. On the Plains certain individuals only undergo the torture and the priests of the ceremony take the emetic. Again in the Southwest the ceremonies are performed characteristically by the priests, who alone take the emetic. There are besides a number of similarities in detail between the rites of the Plains, the Southeast and Southwest. Considering the matter as a whole, we are led, provisionally, to the opinion that, as regards ceremonials, a great deal of similarity characterizes the Southern area of North America extending in a sort of zone from the Atlantic along the Gulf and thence westward and southward to what may have been their center of distribution.Citations:

  1. The Mexican new fire ceremony at the beginning of each cycle is given in Die Culturvölker Alt-Amerikas, Dr. Gustav Büihl, New York, Cincinnati, St. Louis, 1875-87, pp. 237, 412.[]
  2. Cf. Fewkes, in American Anthropologist, N. S.. Vol. 2, p. 138, for a discussion of the distribution of this rite.[]
  3. Cf . Dorsey, The Arapaho Sun Dance, Field Columbian Museum , Publication No. 7.5, Chicago, 1903; also The Cheyenne, same series. No. 103, p. 164, where dancers cause themselves to vomit near the end of the ceremony; also Dorsey, Mythology of the Wichita, Carnegie Institution, Wash., 1904, p. 16, where priests in ceremony take emetic. I was also informed that the Comanche cerebrated a rite before the season’s first corn was eaten in which, during the performance of a round dance, all the villagers took an emetic brewed from a certain plant. See also Stevenson, The Sia Indians, Eleventh Report Bureau American Ethnology, 1894, p. 87; Voth, Oraibi Summer Snake Ceremony, Field Columbian Museum, Pub. No. 83, p. 347; Dorsey and Voth, Mishongnovi Ceremonies, same series, No. 66, pp. 159-261; Fewkes, Tusayan Snake and Flute Ceremonies, Nineteenth Report Bureau American Ethnology, 1900, p. 976.[]

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