Slike strani
PDF
ePub

the meal gave to the soothsayer the clue to the future of which he was in quest. While the Greek priest scattered meal upon the sacred victims, it goes without argument that he prayed, and up to this point the resemblance is perfect; beyond this it would be rash to say that any parallelism exists. The Moquis do not attempt to foretell the future by this means, or at least if they do, my researches have been misleading.

"After a snake had been properly sprinkled, it was picked up, generally by one of the eaglewand bearers, but never by a woman, and carried up to the Indians of the first division, which, as was remarked, had preserved its alignment near the sacred lodge. Most of the snakes were transferred to the infant grasp of the little boys who had come in with the first division. One five-year-old youngster, in the fearlessness of infancy, stoutly and bravely upheld the five-foot monster which, earlier in the day, had so nearly scared me out of my senses.

“This part of the ceremony lasted scarcely a moment; the serpents were at once taken away from the boys and handed to the first old man whom we have learned to regard and designate as the head priest; and by him, with half-audible ejaculations, consigned to the sanctuary of the sacred lodge.

“From this the reptiles made no attempt to escape, the hairy coating of the buffalo skin which lined it keeping them from crawling upward or outward. As fast as the members of the second division had dropped the first invoice of snakes they returned with more, repeating

precisely the same ceremony following their first entrance, the only discrepancy being that in their subsequent appearances every man carried a sinuous, clammy reptile between his teeth; one of the performers, ambitious to excel his fellows, carried two; while another struggled with a huge serpent too large to be pressed between his teeth, which could seize and retain a small fragment of the skin only, the reptile meanwhile flopping lazily, but not more than half-contentedly in the air.

“The devotion of the bystanders was roused to the highest pitch; maidens and matrons redoubled their energy, sprinkling meal not only upon the serpents wriggling at their feet, but throwing handfuls into the faces of the men carrying them. The air was misty with flour, and the space in front of the squaws white as driven

snow.

“Again and again the weird procession circled around the sacred rock. Other dancers, determined to surpass the ambitious young men whose achievements have just been chronicled, inserted two snakes in their mouths, instead of one, the reptiles in these cases being, of course, of small size. I must repeat that no steps had been taken to render these snakes innocuous, either by the extraction of their fangs or by drugs, and that if they were quiescent while between the teeth of the dancers, it was as much because their attention was distracted by the feather wands plied so skillfully by the attendants, as from any 'medicine' with which they had been bathed or fed; that as soon as they

struck the ground, most of them began to wriggle actively and coil up, to the great consternation of the spectators in closest proximity, and that when so moving, the attendants first sprinkled them with cornmeal and then began to tickle them with the eagle wands to make them squirm out at full length, when they would pounce upon them behind the head, and carry them, held in this secure manner, to the little boys, who, grasping them in the same way, seemed to have no apprehensions of danger.

“Once or twice snakes of unusual activity had coiled themselves up in attitudes of hostility, from which they were driven, not by the ordinary eagle wand-bearing attendants, but by older and more dextrous manipulators, whom, it is fair to assume, were expert charmers. This impression, or assumption, will be strengthened by instances to be recorded later on in the drama.

“Two or three serpents struck viciously at all who approached them; one quickly wriggled his way in among the men packed on the outer line of the rectangle, at the crest of the precipice, and another one darted like lightning into the midst of a group of women corn-throwers, raising, especially in the latter case, a fearful hubbub, and creating a stampede, checked only by the prompt action of the charmers, who, without delay, secured the rebellious fugitives and bore them off in triumph, to be deposited in the buffalo skin sanctuary. After the snakes had all been carried in the mouths of dancers, dropped on the ground, sprinkled with sacred cornmeal, picked up, held by the small boys, passed to the chief priest, and by him been

prayed over and deposited in the buffalo lodge or sanctuary, a circle was formed on the ground in front of the sacred rock by tracing with cornmeal a periphery of twenty feet diameter.

“The snakes were rapidly passed out from the sanctuary and placed within this circle, where they were completely covered up with sacred meal, and allowed to remain, while the chief priest recited in a low voice a brief prayer.

“The Indians of the second division then grasped them convulsively in great handfuls, and ran with might and main to the eastern crest of the precipice, and then darted like frightened hares down the trails leading to the foot, where they released the reptiles to the four quarters of the globe.

“While they were running away with the snakes, the first division moved twice around the sacred rock and buffalo lodge, the old man armed with the sling, twirling it vigorously, causing it to emit the same peculiar sound of rain driven by the wind which had been heard on their approach. In passing in front of the sacred rock the second time each stamped the ground with his right foot.

“The whole dance did not occupy more than one-half or three-quarters of an hour. The number of snakes used was more than one hundred; the dancers ran backwards and forwards so confusedly that it was not possible to determine certainly how many times the whole division had changed snakes, but it must have been not less than four, and more, probably as many as five times.

“The opinions of the American bystanders varied as to whether or not any of the dancers were bitten. None was so reported by the Indians, and the proper view to take of this matter must be that while all, or nearly all, the snakes used were venomous, the knowledge and prudence of those handling them averted all danger.

Williams and Webber said that while the dancers were gathering up the snakes to convey them from the sanctuary or buffalo lodge to the circle of cornmeal in the last act, one man held ten and another seven.

“After freeing the reptiles at the foot of the mesa the men of the second division ran back, breathless and agitated, to their homes.

“This was the Snake-Dance of the Moquis, a tribe of people living within our own boundaries, less than seventy miles from the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (now the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway), in the year of our Lord

1881."

« PrejšnjaNaprej »