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Final Remarks

  Native American Nations | Burial Customs                   


Final Remarks

     We have thus briefly, though it is hoped judiciously and carefully, reviewed the subject of Indian burial, avoiding elaborate discussion, as foreign to the purpose of the work, simply pointing out from the carefully gleaned material at our disposal such examples and detached accounts as may serve as guides to those whose interest in the subject may lead them to contribute to the final volume. Before closing, however, it is necessary to again allude to the circular which has been forwarded to observers and call attention to some additional matters of importance connected with the queries, which are as follows: [Footnote: Advantage has been taken to incorporate with the queries certain modifications of those propounded by Schoolcraft in his well-known work on the Indian tribes of the United States, relating to the same subject.]

1st. Name of the Tribe, present appellation; former, if differing any; and that used by the Indians themselves.

2d. Locality, Present and Former, The response should give the range of the tribe and be full and geographically accurate.

3d. Deaths and Funeral Ceremonies; what are the important and characteristic facts connected with these subjects? How is the corpse prepared after death and disposed of? How long is it retained? Is it spoken to after death as if alive? when and where? What is the character of the addresses? What articles are deposited with it; and why? Is food put in the grave, or in or near it afterwards? Is this said to be an ancient custom? Are persons of the same gens buried together, and is the clan distinction obsolete, or did it ever prevail?

4th. Manner of Burial, Ancient and Modern; Structure and Position of Graves; Cremation, Are burials usually made in high and dry grounds? Have mounds or tumuli been erected in modern times over the dead? How is the grave prepared and finished? What position are bodies placed in? Give reasons there for if possible. If cremation is or was practiced, describe the process, disposal of the ashes, and origin of custom or traditions relating thereto. Are the dead ever eaten by the survivors? Are bodies deposited in springs or in any body of water? Are scaffolds or trees used as burial places; if so, describe construction of the former and how the corpse is prepared, and whether placed in skins or boxes. Are bodies placed in canoes? State whether they are suspended from trees, put on scaffolds or posts, allowed to float on the water or sunk beneath it, or buried in the ground. Can any reasons be given for the prevalence of any one or all of the methods? Are burial posts or slabs used, plain, or marked, with flags or other insignia of position of deceased. Describe embalmment, mummification, desiccation, or if antiseptic precautions are taken, and subsequent disposal of remains. Are bones collected and reinterred, describe ceremonies, if any, whether modern or ancient. If charnel houses exist or have been used, describe them.

5th. Mourning Observances--Is scarification practiced, or personal mutilation? What is the garb or sign of mourning? How are the dead lamented? Are periodical visits made to the grave? Do widows carry symbols of their deceased children or husbands, and for how long? Are sacrifices, human or otherwise, voluntary or involuntary, offered? Are fires kindled on graves, why, and at what time, and for how long?

6th. Burial Traditions and Superstitions--Give in full all that can be learned on these subjects, as they are full of interest and very important.

     In short, every fact bearing on the disposal of the dead, and correlative customs are needed, and details should be as succinct and full as possible.
     One of the most important matters upon which information is needed is the "why" and "wherefore" for every rite and custom, for, as a rule, observers are content to simply state a certain occurrence as a fact, but take very little trouble to inquire the reason for it.
     The writer would state that any material the result of careful observation will be most gratefully received and acknowledged in the final volume, and he would here confess the lasting obligation he is under to those who have already contributed in response to his call.
     Criticism and comments are earnestly invited from all those interested in the special subject of this paper and anthropology in general Contributions are also requested from persons acquainted with curious forms of burial prevailing among other tribes of savage men.
     In addition to the many references, etc, given by the various members of the Bureau of Ethnology, communications have been received from the following persons, although their accounts may not have been alluded to in this volume; should omissions of names have occurred it is hoped attention will be called to the fact.
     The writer acknowledges with pleasure the assistance he has received in reading the proof of this volume from Mr. J. C. Pilling, Dr. Thomas W. Wise and Mr. R. W. Hardy.

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Introduction to the Study of Mortuary Customs Among the North American Indians

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