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Atsugewi

Worldview

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As with everything else in Atsugewi life, the concept of industriousness and the pursuit of wealth was a driving factor in their relationship with the spiritual world. They believed it was essential to enlist the aid of the supernatural to assist them in hard work and to obtain wealth. This quest began at a very young age; children barely out of infancy undertook a "moon-power quest". At each new moon the children would run to a stump located in the east and address the moon hoping to attract a guardian spirit. "Grandfather, see how tall I am. I am going to be big and tall. I am going to be tough" (Garth, Industriousness 346). From about age eight until puberty, boys underwent regular whippings and dove into icy pools to make them tough and vigorous.

At puberty, girls underwent ceremonies, and boys undertook their first power quest. The girl's puberty rite(s) were repeated until she acquired a guardian spirit. At the time of a girl's first menses she was sent to the hills; when she returned in the evening she had to dance all night while facing east. Becoming tired and sleepy was a sign of laziness for which she would be despised. She would then spend the day digging roots, which she gave to the women who sang during her ceremony. During the winter months, she would be sequestered in the menstrual hut. In either case, she slept little and observed a taboo against eating meat. Once she had acquired her guardian spirit and proved herself to be industrious, her ears were punched and she was sent one last time to the hills (Garth, Industriousness 347). The girl's puberty dance was the only ceremony held by the Atsugewi (Garth, Atsugewi 237-238).

Boys undertook their first power quest at puberty. The trial began with twigs being inserted into his earlobes and then being whipped on the legs with a "coyote tail or bowstring." He would then go into the hills for several days where he would fast, drink only sips of water, sleep little, and in general keep busy. "Much depended on his active behavior during the quest. He threw rocks in all directions and if lucky he heard a fawn bawl, which meant that he now had hunting power, or he heard the groan of an old man, which meant he was to be a shaman" (Garth, Industriousness 348).

Shaman (doctors) acquired their power "pains" during frenzied dancing and shouting. Once obtained, the pains lived in a special headdress called a qaqu. Shaman could shoot their pains as well as other objects into people. Shaman were called upon to cure illness, which they did by singing and "sucking" the pains from the afflicted person. Illness was considered to be the result of "pains, soul loss, and having bad blood" (Garth, Atsugewi 242).

The dead were buried in a flexed position in their finest clothing and wrapped in a blanket. The poor were buried away from the village, but the chiefs and wealthy men were buried under the floor of their lodges along with some of their most prized possessions, after which the lodge was then burned. Mourning was accompanied by the cutting of the hair and wearing pitch, soot and chalk on the survivors' heads (Garth, Atsugewi 241).

 

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