Native American Art - Trail of the Death Spirit
Trail of the Death Spirit
The Indian buries his dead upon some high elevation, because it is a nearer approach to the spirit world. They bury on scaffolds and in trees that in some mute, sorrowful way they may still hold communion with their loved and their lost. At the grave they go to the four points of the compass and mourn, singing all the while a weird chant. They bury with their dead all of the belongings of the deceased, the playthings of the Indian child, for the Indian boy and girl have dolls and balls and baubles as does the white child: you may see them all pendent from the poles of the scaffold or the boughs of a tree. When the great Chief Spotted Tail died they killed his two ponies, placing the two heads toward the east, fastening the tails on the scaffold toward the west. The war-bonnets and war-shirts are folded away with the [pg 15]silent dead; then follow the desolate days of fasting and mourning. In some instances hired mourners are engaged, and for their compensation they exact oftentimes the entire possessions of the deceased. The habitation in which the death occurs is burned, and many times when death is approaching the sick one is carried out so that the lodge may be occupied after the loved one has been laid to rest. The grief of the sorrowing ones is real and most profound. They will allow no token of the departed to remain within sight or touch. In their paroxysms of sorrow the face and limbs are lacerated, and often the tips of fingers are severed. Until the days of mourning are over, which is for more than a year, they absent themselves from all public gatherings. The bereaved fold themselves in a white blanket, repair to some desolate hillside overlooking the valley, the camp and the distant weird scaffold, and sit, amid cloud, sunshine, and storm, with bowed head, in solemn silence. White blankets are worn by the mourners as they move through the camp, significant of the white trail of the stars whither the Indian feels his loved ones have gone.
The Indian has a sublime idea of creation. He loves the brown earth and calls it his mother, because it has creative power and because it nourishes. And thus we might gather in from the thirty-two points of the compass the forces operant in earth and sky, and each would become a herald of the Indian's life of faith.