Wednesday, 30 April 2014
Surprising Facts About Savages
Surprising Facts About Savages
by A. Hyatt Verrill
Condensed from the book Strange Customs, Manners, and Beliefs*
From Science Digest magazine, January 1946. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, April, 2014.
*Published by L. C. Page & Co.,
$3.75. This book will not appear until January, 1946. Copyright 1946 by L. C.
Page & Co.
Settlers Beat Indians at Scalping
AMERICAN settlers took more Indian scalps, all told, than the Indians ever lifted from heads of the whites, for the white men were determined and allowed by law to exterminate the whole Indian race.
Although histories seldom mention the fact, scalp-hunting was a regular and quite remunerative industry of the early American settlers, especially in
As one white man put it: “Injun scalps is wuth more’n prime beaver and a sight easier to get. So what’s the sense in trappin’ beaver when they’s Injuns to be killed?”
authorities placed a bounty of seventy-five dollars upon every Indian scalp. A
little later the reward was raised to four hundred dollars. The governing body
was not at all particular whether the scalps were those of Indians or of
Frenchmen. Under date of August 22, 1722, Jeremiah Bustead of Boston
recorded: “This day twenty-eight Indian scalps brought to Boston, one of which was Friar Rasle’s.”
Whether the scalps were those of men, women, or children made no difference, either, except a warrior’s scalp brought a slightly higher price.
Popular heroes like Daniel Boone, Dave Crockett, and other pioneers invariably scalped the Indians whom they killed.
Moreover, it was the white man who started the custom of scalping among many of the Eastern Indians of
North America. Before the palefaces
arrived, the only North American tribes that took scalps were the Iroquois,
Choctaws, Creeks, Chickasaws, and Muskohegans.
Neither the Eastern Woodland Indians nor the Western Plains Indians of North America took scalps of their foes before the white man began to inflict this particular practice upon them.
Primitive Drums That Really Talk
NUMEROUS truth worthy and reliable travelers have declared that the Kaffirs and other African tribes have drums that talk in more than code. When beaten by their owners, they emit clearly pronounced and recognizable words.
Of course only certain words are possible. The sentences or messages to be communicated are made up of a limited number of syllables and sounds, adapted to the possibilities of the drums. Also the words of many primitive races are especially well suited for reproduction by a drumbeat.
Hence it is not difficult to understand that by the selection of words having resonant, guttural sounds, and by constant practice and by endless experiments with drums of various types, a savage may be able to make his drum really talk.
Even North American Indians succeed in doing this to a certain extent. Several tribes, including the Sioux, have water drums. These drums are made of wood, pottery, or metal, which are partly filled with water. They emit notes startlingly like the human voice.
The Sioux Indians use threelegged iron pots for their water drums, and by using several of different sizes and containing varying quantities of water, they imitate the calls of wild animals and produce words and sentences in their own tongue.
During some of their most secret and sacred ceremonies, especially the Peyote ceremony, these talking drums play a very important part, the “spirit” of the Indian supposedly talking or chanting through the medium of his drum.
Redskins Play Rough
I KNOW a lumberman whose hands, arms, and face are covered with scars from knife cuts, bludgeons, and other weapons. When asked if he received the wounds in war, he replied, “Shucks, no, I just got them a-playing in
Georgia, when I was a kid.”
Then, as an afterthought, he added, “Them doggone
Georgia boys sure play rough.”
The same might truthfully be said of most savages—they sure play rough. Football and hockey combined do not equal the hazards in the game of lacrosse when it comes to rough play, and lacrosse is an Indian game.
A still rougher Indian play in some respects is the stick dance of the Guaymi tribes of
most essential requirements are stuffed animal skins and stout sticks about six
to seven feet in length, two to three inches in diameter, and with one pointed
end. The stuffed skins are worn on the men’s backs to protect their spines from
Lots are drawn, and those who are to be the first victims begin to dance about to the beating of drums and the shrilling of reed flutes. As they dance, with arms akimbo and looking back over their shoulders, the throwers hurl their clubs at the dancers, the object being to bowl them over. If a dancer succeeds in dodging the sticks for a time, it is his turn to throw; and the thrower who missed must take the other’s place.
Sticks thud on stuffed skins, crack against shins, or plunge harmlessly into the earth. Dancers stumble and fall, some writhe in pain and struggle vainly to rise. When three or four hundred Indians are all at it at once and sticks are flying thick and fast, it seems incredible that any players should survive without broken bones. Yet fatal injuries are rare.
The most remarkable feature of the game is the amazing skill of the participants in dodging the flying clubs. Although to an observer every thrower appears to be striving to kill or cripple his oponent, an experienced Indian never attempts to strike a dancer’s body directly with his stick. The trick is to throw the staff in such a way that the pointed tip strikes the ground and the pole swings in an arc, knocking the dancer’s legs from under him.
Earliest Printing—On Human Skin
TATTOOING is indelible; it cannot be changed at the whim of the wearer or to suit various ceremonies and conditions. Painting, however, can be put on and taken off again. Among many primitive races only the eldest members are ornamented with tattooed designs, the others contenting themselves with painting.
Since it is rather difficult to copy these over and over again by painting, many races conceived the idea of duplicating designs by means of stamping.
The ancient Mayas, Aztecs, Incans, pre-Incans and other early tribes as well as some that are living today made stamps out of pottery clay. Sometimes these were designed to be pressed against the skin, in the same way as a modern rubber stamp would be.
Others were made in the form of engraved cylinders which could be rolled over the skin. In fact, these were the original cylinder printing presses.
Indian War Paint Was Camouflage
ALTHOUGH most persons think that Indians donned war paint in order to make themselves hideous and to terrify their foes, that was not at all its original purpose. War paint, as used by the majority of North American Indians, was a form of camouflage.
A warrior who was painted with stripes and spots in various colors easily blended with the lights and shadows of brush, weeds, and trees. A painted torso was far less conspicuous than a naked bronze body. The Indians followed the example set by Nature when she gave the tiger its stripes, the leopard its spots, and the fawn a white-spotted coat.
Moneyless Race Was Rich
WE THINK that money is an absolute necessity, and there is not a civilized race upon the earth which does not have money of some sort. Yet the citizens of one vast empire, a civilized, highly cultured race of more than twenty million people, never heard of money and did not know that such a thing existed.
These people never had or used money, and they did not even have a word for money in their language.
They were the Inca Indians of Peru.
Yet the Incas possessed vast quantities of silver and gold, and the Incan Empire was the richest community in the whole world at the time of the Spanish conquest of the
Strangest of all, the riches in gold stolen from the Incas by the Spaniards enabled
institute the gold standard, which since has been followed by nearly all
Proud to be Crippled
BRACELETS worn by the leaders among the Suka men of Africa on the Abyssinian border, are purposely made so tight that they almost stop the circulation of the blood, and the hands of some of the men become atrophied, shrunken, and almost useless.
Incredible as it may seem, these high-ranking fellows are very proud of their withered, useless hands, and the more useless they are, the greater the pride of the owner.
The custom of wearing very tight arm bands or leg bands is quite common in various parts of the world among numerous races, although no other race carries the practice to the same extreme as do the Suk tribes.
When a man’s hands become so useless that he cannot even feed himself, he feels that he really is somebody, and lords it over his fellows who are only partially crippled. Naturally, with such hands it is impossible for the men to do any work, so that all labor falls upon the women who do not wear tight bracelets and have normally capable hands.
The women are as proud of the useless hands of their men as are the men themselves.
What’s the Price—In Beavers?
AMERICANS have used many objects other than minted coins and printed bank notes for money. Wooden money has been used in many parts of the
United States, and in the early
days an almost endless number of things were used as standard currency in place
When New England and
were first settled the common money in use was wampum, or Indian beads.
White men learned how to make wampum by machinery far faster than the Indians could make it by hand.
Then beaver skins became the standard of exchange. They were the most highly prized of the
New England furs and could not be produced artificially.
The skins were exchanged for goods at the trading posts and were eventually
shipped to Europe. In a short time nearly
every New England commodity was priced at “so
many beaver skins.”
But it was not at all convenient for a person to carry a supply of beaver pelts when going on a shopping trip. The traders solved this problem by issuing roughly stamped metal disks bearing the name of the trader on one side and the crude figure of a beaver on the other. These tokens were called “beavers,” and each had the trade or currency value of a beaver skin.
The beaver tokens were still in use for many years after live beavers had become almost extinct in
New England. Many a time when I was
a small boy in Maine
my grandmother gave me a copper “beaver” with which to buy candy at the village
store. Of course, by that time they were not worth the price of a beaver skin;
but they were still accepted by shopkeepers as real money.
Connecticut, when beaver
skins finally became too scarce to be used as currency, the colonists had what
they called “country money.” This consisted of numerous products which were
standardized and had fixed trade values.
According to the old schedule of standards, one pound of buckskin was worth one and one half pounds of oxhide. One pound of oxhide equalled two pounds of old iron. Four pounds of iron were equal to one pound of brass. One bushel of wheat was equal to two buckskins. One thousand bricks were equal to one ox, and so on.
For many years tobacco was the legal tender of several of the Southern Colonies of the
The Virginia Assembly even passed a law declaring that taxes should be paid in
At one period in
Connecticut’s history onions were legal
tender in the ports of the West Indies and South America.
Connecticut River vessels sailing on trading
voyages to these tropical lands carried onion money in the form of strings of
the vegetables. These were of various lengths, each size having its standard
Imagine a chin-whiskered Yankee skipper dickering with the swarthy tradesmen of some South American port, and when the bargain was made, paying for sugar, spices, dyewoods, and indigo with long strings of
Connecticut onions and making change with smaller strings!
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.