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Hence when the avenger of blood is implacable, the culprit is often led into his presence by a little child, prettily adorned, and taught to lisp a prayer for pardon; and a petition for mercy from such innocent lips, is rarely denied even by the sternest warrior. Pocahontas was only twelve years old when her in. tercession saved the life of captain Smith.
Both girls and boys are early taught to endure without a murmur the utmost rigors of climate, excess of labor, and the extremity of pain. It is common to try their fortitude by ordering them to hold their hands in the fire, till permission is given to withdraw them; and if even their countenances give indication of agony, it is deemed dishonorable. When taken captive in war they have need of their utmost powers of endurance; for their enemies exercise all their ingenuity in torture. Yet such is the force of education, that women, as well as men, will smile and utter jeering words, while their nails are pulled out by the roots, their feet crushed between stones, and their flesh torn with red-hot pincers.
It is an almost universal rule that women are more tender-bearted than men; but the North American Indians seem to furnish an exception. When a prisoner is tied to the stake, women are even more furious and active than men, in the work of cruelty. If any one of the tribe chooses to adopt the prisoner, his life is spared, and they cease to torment him. Parents, who have lost their own children in battle, often resort to this expedient, and bring up their adopted sons and daughters with great kindness.
The power of Indian husbands is absolute. If they detect a wife in unfaithfulness, they generally cut off her nose, or take off part of her scalp. In a sudden fit of anger they sometimes kill both her and her paramour; and this goes unpunished, though it is considered more proper to call a council of the elders to decide the matter. Those stern old men do not approve of very furious transports on such occasions; because they deem it undignified to make such a fuss about a woman, so long as the world contains plenty of individuals to supply her place.
Dancing was a common amusement with the Indians. Their war-dances were performed by men ; but there were others appropriated to women, or in which both sexes united. Captain Smith gives the following account of an “anticke" prepared by Pocahontas for his reception at her father's place of residence: “ Thirty young women came out of the woods, covered onely with a few greene leaues, their bodies all painted, some of one colour, some of another, but all differing. Their leader had a fayre payre of bucks hornes on her head, and an otterskinne at her girdle, and another at her arme, a quiver of arrowes at her backe, a bow and arrows in her hand. The next had in her hand a sword, and another a club, another a pot-sticke, all horned alike; the rest every one with their seuerall devises. These fiends, with most hellish shouts and cryes, rushing from among the trees, cast themselves in a ring about the fire, singing and dancing with most excel!ent ill varietie, oft falling into their infernall passions, and solemnly again to sing and daunce. Hav. ing spent neare an houre in this mascarado, as they entred, in like manner they departed.”
Captain Smith does not give a very gallant account of an entertainment intended as a particular compliment to his arrival. The dance, like most savage dances, was unquestionably a pantomime; and he probably did not understand what it was intended to represent.
The Indian women sometimes accompany the men on hunting excursions, for the purpose of bringing home the game; and in time of battle they often encourage and assist the warriors. In addition to the toilsome occupations already alluded to, they made garments of skins, sewed with sinews and thorns, wove neat mats and baskets, and embroidered very prettily with shells, feathers, and grass of various colors. When first visited by Europeans, they wore furs in winter, and mats tied about them in summer; but they soon learned to substitute blankets, and strips of cloth. Those that can afford it, have ears, neck, arms, and waist plentifully decorated with beads, pebbles, fishes' teeth, or shells. The Indians of California perforate the lobes of the ears, and insert pieces of wood five or six inches long, ornamented with feathers. On the North-West coast, the women make a horizontal incision in the lower lip, for the purpose of introducing a wooden plug, which makes the lip protrude in a hideous manner. In the neighborhood of Kotzebue's sound, they wear large beads suspended from the nose, and when they experience inconvenience from these ornaments, they stow them away in the nostrils. The Guiana females stick thorns, or pins, through the lower lip; the heads are inside, and the points rest upon the chin. They have likewise the habit of putting a band round the ankle and knee, when girls are ten or twelve years old ; as this is never removed, it produces an unnatural compression, and the calf of the leg swells to an unwieldy size. Indians of both sexes paint themselves in various colors and patterns, and are more or less addicted to tattooing; though it is by no means practised to the extent that it is among the South sea islanders.
Before America was visited by Europeans, the Indian tribes were universally temperate, healthy, and cleanly in their habits; but they have now acquired most of the evils of civilization, with few of its advantages. They have a reddish brown complexion, keen black eyes, regular white teeth, and sleek, shining black hair, which the women usually suffer to flow over the shoulders. Those who live near the sea never become bald, and their hair does not turn gray; perhaps this may be owing to the frequent habit of bathing in salt water, which always has a salutary effect on the hair.
The vigorous forms of their children may be attributed to active habits, and to the entire freedom of their limbs from all bands, ligatures, or clothing. Several tribes have the habit of fattening the forehead, by heavy pressure during infancy. To be childless is considered almost as great a misfortune as it was among the Jews. A man will never divorce a wife who has brought him sons, and though he may perchance marry several others, he always considers her as entitled to peculiar respect.
Indian women are usually well skilled in simple remedies, and are the physicians of their tribes. In some places, medicine is considered peculiarly efficacious if it is prepared and administered by the hand of a maiden. The healing art is intimately connected in their minds with magic, and medicines are seldom given without prayers and incantations, to avert the influence of evil spirits. There are in almost every tribe individuals who claim the gift of prophecy, and endeavor to foretel future events by conjurations and dreams. I am not aware that they consider women more frequently endowed with this supernatural power than men.
Some tribes bury their dead, others expose them on scaffolds suspended in high trees. The arms and horse of a warrior are buried with him for his use in another world; and a mortar, kettle, and other utensils of daily use accompany the corpse of a female. When a great chief dies, his wives, and many of his attendants, are sometimes obliged to follow him to the world of spirits. The tribe of Natchez is ruled by a chief called The Great Sun; and when any woman of the blood of the Suns dies, it becomes necessary that her husband and attendants should be sacrificed in honor of her decease. The widows of illustrious chiefs generally take pride in devoting themselves to death with stoical firmness. The wife