صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

feature in the physical conformation of the Indians at the present day."

This singular sign afterwards became familiar to the traveller by its repeated recurrence on the many ancient ruins which he visited, and naturally excited considerable interest and curiosity. The following observations, afterwards communicated by Mr. Schoolcraft, an intelligent native of the United States, throw some little light on the subject. "The figure of the human hand is used by the North American Indians to denote supplication to the Deity or Great Spirit; and it stands in the system of picture-writing as the symbol for strength, power, or mastery, thus derived. In a great number of instances which I have met with of its being employed, both in the ceremonial observances of their dances and in their pictorial records, I do not recollect a single one in which this sacred character is not assigned to it. Their priests are usually drawn with outstretched and uplifted hands. Sometimes one hand and one arm, but more commonly both are uplifted. It is not uncommon for those among them who profess the arts of medicine, magic, and prophecy (the three are sometimes united and sometimes not) to draw or depict a series of representative or symbolical figures on bark, skins of animals, or even tabular pieces of wood, which are a kind of notation, and the characters are intended to aid the memory in singing the sacred songs and choruses. When the inscriptions are found to be on wood, as they often are in the region of Lake Superior and the sources of the Mississippi, they have been sometimes called music boards.' I induced a noted meta, or priest, to part with one of these figured boards, many years ago, and afterward obtained impressions from it in this city by passing it through Mr. Maverick's rolling press. It was covered with figures on both sides, one side containing forty principal figures; six embrace the symbol of the uplifted hand, four of which had also

the arm, but no other part of the body, attached. Their import, which the man also imparted to me, is given in the general remark above. On the reverse of this board, consisting of thirty-eight characters, nine embrace the uplifted hand, in one case from a headless trunk, but in the eight others connected with the whole frame.

"The design of the hand is uniformly the same with our tribes, whether it be used disjunctively or alone, or connected with the arm alone, or with the whole body. In the latter cases it is a compound symbol, and reveals some farther particular or associated idea of the action. The former is the most mysterious use of it, precisely because there are no accessories to help out the meaning, and it is, I think, in such isolated cases, to be regarded as a general sign of devotion.

"In the course of many years' residence on the frontiers, including various journeyings among the tribes, I have had frequent occasion to remark the use of the hand alone as a symbol, but it has generally been a symbol applied to the naked body after its preparation and decoration for sacred or festive dances. And the fact deserves farther consideration, from these preparations being generally made in the arcanum of the medicine, or secret lodge, or some other private place, and with all the skill of the priest's, the medicine man's, or the juggler's art. The mode of applying it in these cases is by smearing the hand of the operator with white or coloured clay, and impressing it on the breast, the shoulder, or other part of the body. The idea is thus conveyed, that a secret influence, a charm, a mystic power is given to the dancer, arising from his sanctity or his proficiency in the occult arts. This use of the hand is not confined to a single tribe or people. I have noticed it alike among the Dacotahs, the Winnebagoes, and other Western tribes, as among the numerous branches of the red race still located east of the Mississippi River, above the latitude of

forty-two degrees, who speak dialects of the Algonquin language."

These ideas Mr. Schoolcraft illustrates by other curious examples of the use made of this strange symbol by the Red Indian tribes. But its chief value to us is the evidence it affords of an affinity between the Red Indians of the north, and the ancient civilized races of the southern portions of the North American continent. Whether this be an affinity of customs, derived solely from imitation, and the traces of some partial intercourse at a late period in the history of the old races of Mexico and Yucatan, or whether it points to some community in the origin of the races, is still a point undetermined, though most circumstances incline the students of this subject to the belief that the two races spring from entirely different stocks. We have already referred to a very remarkable American work on the ancient monuments of the Mississippi valley. In it the archæological relics of the primitive occupants of that region,-their temples, their forts, their weapons, implements, and personal ornaments, are all minutely described and illustrated. The work is one of immense value in its influence on the future investigation of American primitive history. The following are some of the conclusions arrived at by its authors, in which it will be seen that a very close affinity is traced between the original population of the great valley, and the civilized race over whom Montezuma ruled. "With the facts presented to the reader he will be able to deduce his own conclusions as to the probable character and condition of the ancient population of the Mississippi valley. That it was numerous and widely spread, is evident from the number and magnitude of the ancient monuments, and the extensive range of their occurrence. That it was essentially homogeneous, in customs, habits, religion, and government, seems very well sustained by the great uniformity which the ancient remains display, not only as

regards position and form, but in respect also to those minor particulars, which, not less than more obvious and imposing features, assist us in arriving at correct conclusions. This opinion can be in no way affected, whether we assume that the ancient race was at one time diffused over the entire valley, or that it migrated slowly from one portion of it to the other, under the pressure of hostile neighbours, or the attractions of a more genial climate. The differences which have already been pointed out between the monuments of the several portions of the valley, of the northern, central, and southern divisions, are not sufficiently marked to authorize the belief that they were the works of separate nations. The features common to all are elementary, and identify them as appertaining to a single grand system, owing its origin to a family of men, moving in the same general direction, acting under common impulses, and influenced by similar causes.

"Without undertaking to point out the affinities, or to indicate the probable origin of the builders of the western monuments, and the cause of their final disappearance,inquiries of deep interest and vast importance in an archæological and ethnological point of view, and in which it is believed the foregoing chapters may greatly assist,— -we may venture to suggest that the facts thus far collected point to a connection more or less intimate between the race of the mounds and the semi-civilized nations which formerly had their seats among the sierras of Mexico, upon the plains of Central America and Peru, and who erected the imposing structures which, from their number, vastness, and mysterious significance, invest the central portions of the continent with an interest not less absorbing than that which attaches to the valley of the Nile. These nations alone, of all those found in possession of the continent by the European discoverers, were essentially stationary and agricultural in their habits,— conditions indispensable to large population, to fixedness

of institutions, and to any considerable advance in the economical or ennobling arts. That the mound-builders, although perhaps in a less degree, were also stationary and agricultural, clearly appears from a variety of facts and circumstances, most of which will no doubt recur to the mind of the reader, but which will bear recapitulation here.

"It may safely be claimed, and will be admitted without dispute, that a large local population can only exist under an agricultural system. Dense commercial and manufacturing communities, the apparent exceptions to the remark, are themselves the offspring of a large agricultural population, with which nearly or remotely they are connected, and upon which they are dependent. Now it is evident that works of art, so numerous and vast as we have seen those of the Mississippi valley to be, could only have been erected by a numerous people, and especially must we regard as numerous the population capable of constructing them, when we reflect how imperfect at the best must have been the artificial aids at their command, as compared with those of the present age. Implements of wood, stone, and copper, could hardly have proved very efficient auxiliaries to the builders, who must have depended mainly upon their own bare hands and weak powers of transportation, for excavating and collecting together the twenty millions of cubic feet of material which make up the solid contents of the great mound at Cahokia alone.

"The conclusion, that the ancient population was exceedingly dense, follows not less from the capability which · they possessed to erect, than from the circumstance that they required, works of the magnitude we have seen, to protect them in danger, or to indicate in a sufficiently imposing form their superstitious zeal, and their respect for the dead. As observed by an eminent archæologist, whose opinions upon this and collateral subjects are enti

« السابقةمتابعة »