Introduction to the Mortuary Customs of American Indians HTML version

self- mutilations, and other penances, and the ceremonies with
which these are accompanied. In all of these cases the reason
assigned by the Indians for their doings, their superstitions, and
explanations are of prime importance.
5. It is desirable to obtain from the Indians their explanation of
human life, their theory of spirits and of the life to come.
A complete account of these customs in any tribe will necessitate
the witnessing of many funeral rites, as the custom will differ at
the death of different persons, depending upon age, sex, and social
standing. To obtain their explanations and superstitions, it will be
necessary to interrogate the Indians themselves. This is not an easy
task, for the Indians do not talk with freedom about their dead. The
awe with which they are inspired, their reverence and love for the
departed, and their fear that knowledge which may be
communicated may be used to the injury of those whom they have
loved, or of themselves, lead them to excessive reticence on these
subjects. Their feelings should not be rudely wounded. The better
and more thoughtful members of the tribe will at last converse
freely on these subjects with those in whom they have learned to
place confidence. The stories of ignorant white men and camp
attaches should be wholly discarded, and all accounts should be
composed of things actually observed, and of relations made by
Indians of probity.
This preliminary volume by Dr. H. C Yarrow has been the subject
of careful research and of much observation, and will serve in
many ways as a hint to the student. The literature of the subject is
vast, but to a large extent worthless, from the fact that writers have
been hasty travelers or subjective speculators on the matter. It is
strange how much of accepted history must be rejected when the
statements are carefully criticised and compared with known facts.
It has frequently been stated of this or that tribe that mutilations, as
the cutting off of fingers and toes, of ears and nose, the pulling out