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Shawnee Traditions By C.C. Trowbridge

Posted on October 13, 2017 at 9:55 AM

Shownese Traditions. C. C. TROWBRIDGE, Edited by VERNON KLNIETZ and ERMINIE W. VOEGELIN. (Occasional Contributions from the Museum of Anthropology of the University of Michigan, No. 9, 71 pp. Ann Arbor, 1939.)


Excerpt:

This volume is the second to be published of the early nineteenth century manuscripts of C. C. Trowbridge on the ethnology of the tribes of the old Northwest.' Trowbridge as the secretary of Governor Lewis Cass, for whom he collected information on the manners and traditions of the natives of the Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley.

The accounts of the Shawnee are two in number, the originals having only recently been found in the possession of Trowbridge's Grandson, Mr Sydney Trowbridge Miller of Detroit. One account was taken down in July 1824 at an interview near Detroit with the notable Shawnee, the Prophet; the other and shorter account being written in 1825 at the Shawnee Reservation at Wapakoneta, Ohio, from the mouth of the aged chief, Black Hoof.

The text is a faithful verbatim copy of the manuscript. This publication contains a wealth of very valuable ethnological information and much historical data of importance. It is excellently edited, here being an appropriate introduction by Dr Erminie Voegelin, and the book is adequately annotated with illuminating footnotes, marked for their ethnological and historical accuracy. The authoritative weight of the book is augmented by the fact the Shawnee informants were among the best obtainable. The Prophet wa? the brother of the famous Shawnee leader, Tecumseh, and himself a shaman with the sanction of supernatural revelations, and the pre-eminent champion and exponent of cultural conservatism among the tribes of the then Northwest. Both belonged to the KiSpoko division of the Shawnee. The other informant, Black Hoof, then in his nineties, was a prominent Shawnee warrior and chief, probably belonging to the Oawikila division.

Brief mention should be made of some of the more salient features of the volume. Elderly matrons or “peace women” could appeal to the war chiefs to stop warfare and prevent the unnecessary effusion of blood (p. 12), a trait also found in more or less modified form among the Delaware, Iroquois and Penobscot. There is a most impressive complete list of the thirty-four patrilineal sibs or gentes of the Shawnee tribe (pp. 16-17), many of which were at that time extinct (1824). Nine of these are to be found in Lewis H. Morgan’s list of Shawnee gentes collected in 1860 in Kansas. The Shawnee can be viewed as an enclave of Central Algonkian patrilineal descent persisting in an area dominated by mother-right in the form of the southern and eastern tribes among whom they wandered and lived so long. Some specific functions of the gentes are mentioned. The war chief was always a member of the Panther gens; and warriors of the Panther gens always followed at the rear of the party in returning from the warpath, while warriors of the Wolf gens led at the head (p. 19). The guardians of the sacred fire were two men, one of the Panther gens and one of the Turtle gens, one belonging to the CalakaaOa (Chillicothe) and one to the Mekore division (p.56). The sacred fire complex is a Characteristic Southeastern cultural trait which the Shawnee probably adopted during their long period of southern residence. Pyrolatry reached its fullest development among the Creek, Natchez and Taensa, but undoubtedly extended to other groups in more or less attenuated form. A Shawnee version of the primeval deluge or Earth-diver tale is given (p. 60) in which the crawfish is the animal agent, which is in agreement with the Southeastern and Gulf tribes (Creek, Yuchi, etc.), in contrast to most Central Algonkian tribes who have the muskrat as the animal helper. Of considerable interest is the cannibal or anthropophagic society of the Shawnee which is found also among the Miami and Kickapoo. Male and female members of the society were admitted by hereditary descent, and all belonged to the Pekowi (Piqua) division of Shawnee. The heads of the society were four women who claimed all the prisoners of war they could seize, the unfortunates subsequently being burned alive and eaten by the society (pp. 53-4, p. 64). The Shawnee make offerings of tobacco to their grandfathers, the snakes, upon their appearance every spring (pp. 42,48)in contradistinction to the practice of other Algonkian tribes. The Penobscot, Delaware, Sauk and Fox, all make offerings to their grandfathers, the Thunderers, when a storm approaches by casting tobacco in the fire, the Thunderers being the traditional enemies of all serpents and water monsters.However, the Fox are on record for making offerings of tobacco to both serpents and Thunderers.

It is a matter of note that in tabulating the cultural elements of a society, negative findings are equally important. Some specific denials for the Shawnee are found in the absence of wampum commemorative and record belts (p. 9), the lack of an organized medicine society such as occurred among the Ojibwa and Iroquois (p. 38, and the absence of transvestism (p.65), which is reported to have been present among the Delaware, Miami, and Potawatomi, and is known in the Southwest among the Navaho, Zuni, etc. No doubt this book will serve to fill many lacunae when the final detailed portrayal of Shawnee ethnology is presented by Drs Charles and Erminie Voegelin. Criticism is uncalled for, beyond stating that an index would have enhanced the usefulness of the volume.


MERION, PENNSYLVANIA FRANK T, SIEBERT, JR

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