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Annual report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution

by Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American Ethnology

Excerpt:

In connection with other researches, and with administrative duties in the office as Ethnologist in Charge, Mr W J MeGee has made inquiries from delegations of Indians visiting Washington concerning the symbolic use of feathers, especially in connection with headdresses. It is well known to students that the use of feathers, which at first sight would seem to be decorative merely, is essentially symbolic; but the meanings of the symbols have not been ascertained hitherto, save casually and among a few tribes. During the year the feather symbolism of the Pouka and Ojibwa tribes has been discovered and recorded with tolerable completeness.

Work In Technology

Arts and industries are correlative factors in human progress, and the lines of conceptual development traced through the study of art motives elucidate the growth of industrial devices. Accordingly the work of the collaborators in connection with art motives has contributed both directly and indirectly to aboriginal technology. During the year special attention was given to lines of technical development, as indicated in previous reports, and to the acquisition of material for study and preservation in the Museum. Especially valuable is the Steiner collection, from the mounds of Etowah valley, Georgia. It comprises 3,215 specimens of stone implements, earthenware, and symbolic and decorative objects of copper, shell, and stone. The Indians of this district, builders of the great Etowah mound and other monuments, were peculiarly fertile in artistic and industrial devices. In this region the progressive tribes of the Siouan stock, the vigorous Cherokee, one or more of the wide-ranging- Algonquian tribes, the little-known Yuchi, and some of the Muskhogean tribes came in frequent contact, while the influence of the arts and industries of the key-dwellers of Florida was constantly felt. Here, as elsewhere, ideas and ideals were stimulated by contact, whether peaceful or not; and the devices representing the rapidly growing concepts are especially significant and useful in tracing the course of industrial development among the aboriginal tribes. Another noteworthy acquisition is the Moms collection from Arkansas, comprising 181 pieces of pottery, together with a number of stone implements and other objects. The collection is especially valuable as an illustration of types of pottery hitherto rare or unknown. The most important acquisition of archaeologie objects procured during the year is comprised in the collections made by Dr J. Walter Fewkes from the ruins of Kintiel, Pinedale, Fourmile, Solomonville, and other ancient sites in eastern and southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, an elaborate report on which is now being prepared. Like the collections obtained at Sikvatki, Awatobi, and other Tusayan rains, these include fictile and textile products, stone, bone, and wooden implements, and objects of shell and stone used for personal adornment. In symbolic decorative features the mortuary food and water vessels, as well as many of the utensils recovered from the houses, are exceedingly rich. The collections have been deposited in the National Museum.

The process of culture in all the five departments is by invention and acculturation. The invention is at first individual, but when an invention is accepted and used by others it is accultural, and the invention of the individual may be added to the invention of others, so that it may be the invention of many men. Objects may be used without designed modification, or they may be designedly modified for a purpose; the use of objects without designed modification, like the Seri stone implements, has been studied by Mr McGee, and he calls such unmodified implements protolithic, while the modified .stone implements he calls technolithic. The two phases are widely distinct, not only in type of object, but even more in the mental operations exemplified by the objects; for the protolithic objects represent undesigned adaptation and modification, as of cobbles picked up at random, while the others represent designed shaping in accordance with preconceived ideals, as of chipped arrowpoints. The coexistence of these incongruous types among the Seri seemed puzzling at the outset, but was provisionally ascribed to the difference in occupation between the sexes, the women using the protolithic implements, and the warriors making and using the teclmolithic weapons. Further study showed that -the objects of chipped stone imitate in every essential respect the aboriginal weapons of the hereditary enemies of the Seri, including the Papago and Yaki, and this fact, coupled with the mysticism thrown around the stone arrowpoints by the Seri shamans (most of whom are aged matrons), indicated that the idea of the technolithic weapon was acquired through warfare. Examination of other characteristics of the Seri in the light of this interpretation served to explain various puzzling features and at the same time established the validity of the interpretation. The Seri have been at war with alien tribes almost constantly since the time of Columbus, and indeed long before, as is indicated by archaeologic evidence. Most of their arts and industries are exceedingly primitive; yet here and there features imitating those characteristic of neighboring tribes, or even of white men, are found. Thus they substitute cast-off rags and fabrics obtained by plunder for their own fabrics, wrought with great labor from inferior fibers; since the adjacent waters have been navigated, they have learned to collect flotsam and use tattered sailcloth in lieu of pelican-skin blankets, cask staves in lieu of shells as paddles for their balsas, hoop iron in lieu of charred hardwood as arrowpoints for hunting, and iron spikes in lieu of bone harpoons for taking turtles; and almost without exception these modifications in custom have arisen without amicable relation, and despite—indeed, largely by reason of—deep-seated enmity against the alien peoples.

Work In Sociology

In sociology Mr McGee has observed some interesting facts which shed light on that form of development of institutions among the tribes of America which he calls piratical acculturation—spreading from one unfriendly tribe to another.1 The Apache and Papago tribes have been bitterly inimical from time immemorial, the oldest creation legends of the Papago describing the separation of the peoples in the beginning; yet there is hardly a custom among the latter which has not been shaped partially or completely by the inimical tribe. The habitat of the Papago in the hard desert is that to which they have been forced by the predatory Apache; the industries of the Papago are shaped by the conditions of the habitat and by the perpetual anticipation of attack. The traditions recounted by the old men are chiefly of battle against the Apache; even the ceremonies and beliefs are connected with that eternal vigilance which they have found the price of safety, and with the wiles and devices of the ever-present enemy. Perhaps the most important element in the acculturation is that connected with belief; for to the primitive mind the efficiency of a weapon is not mechanical but mystical (an expression of superphysical potency), and each enemy strives constantly to coax or suborn the beast-gods and potencies of the other; so the Papago warrior went confidently to battle against the Apache • when • protected by a charm or fetish including an Apache arrowpoint taken in conflict, and felt assured of victory if his war club was made in imitation of that of the enemy and potentialized by a plume or inscription appealing to the Apache deity. Even later in the scale of development, after the piratical acculturation has become measurably amicable, this factor remains strong, as among the clans of the Kwakiutl and some other tribes in which the aim of marriage settlement is the acquisition, not of property or kindred perse, but of deities and traditions concerning them.

The general law of piratical acculturation finds innumerable examples among the more primitive peoples of the world, and phases of it have been recognized in the proposition that conquering tribes take the language of the conquered. Other phases have been perceived, e. g., in the hypothesis of primitive "marriage by capture." Various earlier students have noted that actual or ceremonial capture of the bride is a part of marriage among certain tribes, and have assumed that this was the initial form of mating among primitive peoples: later researches have shown that, in the lowest of the four great culture stages, mating is regulated by the females and their male consanguineal kindred, so that marriage by capture of brides can not occur; yet there is a step early in the stage of paternal organization in which a certain form of marriage by capture has arisen in America, and may easily have become prominent on other continents. When tribes are in that unstable condition of amity resulting in peaceful interludes between periods of strife—a stage characteristic of savagery and much of barbarism—the intertribal association frequently results in irregular matches between members of the alien tribes; commonly such mating is punished by one or both tribes, though among many peoples there are special regulations under which the offense may be condoned—e. g., the groom may be subjected to fine, to running the gauntlet, to ostracism until children are born, etc. Yet while both bride and groom incur displeasure and even risk of life through such matches, there is a chance of attendant advantage which may counterbalance the risk; for it frequently happens that the groom, especially if of the weaker tribe, eventually gains the amity and support of his wife's kinsmen, while in some cases the eldermen and elderwomen of one or both tribes recognize the desirability of a coalition which can tend only to unite the deities of both, and so benefit each in greater or lesser measure. Researches among the American aborigines have already shown that, so far as this continent is concerned, exogamy and endogamy are correlative, the former referring to the clan and the latter to the tribe or other group; they have also shown that the limitations of exogamy and the extension of endogamv are ingenious devices for promoting peace; and it is now becoming clear that intertribal marriage, whether by mutually arranged elopement or by capture of the bride, may be a means of extending endogamy and uniting aliens, and thereby of raising acculturation from the piratical plane to that of amicable interchange. The applications of the law of piratical acculturation are innumerable.' In the light of the law it becomes easy to understand how inimical tribes are gradually brought to use similar weapons and implements, to adopt similar modes of thinking and working, to worship similar deities, and thus to be brought from complete dissonance to potential harmony whensoever the exigency of primitive life mav serve: and thus the course of that convergent development, which is the most important lesson the American aborigines have given to the world, is made clear. Some idea may be formed, also, of the history of piratical acculturation.


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