Mohave Ethnopsychiatry and Suicide: The Psychiatric Knowledge and the Psychic Disturbances of An Indian Tribe

By George Devereux | Go to book overview
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PART 7. SUICIDE

GENERAL INTRODUCTION
It is a basic Mohave tenet that all possible events in life, as well as all beliefs, customs, and rituals constituting culture, were established during the period of creation, usually by means of a mythical precedent. It is therefore desirable that--as an introduction to the study of suicide in Mohave culture--we should first examine the Mohave myth concerning the origin of death, which is so lengthy that it can only be cited in an abridged form.The mythical origin of death. --The precedent for all deaths, from any cause whatsoever, was set by Matavilye. He decided that man had to be mortal, lest the earth should become so crowded that people would have to void their excreta on each other.37 He was in the primal house when he resolved to die, so as to set precedent. He was ill at that time and felt the need to defecate. Rising from his bed, he headed toward the door and, according to the Yuma version ( Harrington, 1908), on passing near his daughter, he deliberately touched her genitals.38 According to the Yuma account, it was this act which exasperated his daughter, while according to the Mohave account she was offended because her father wished to void his stools. Be that as it may, the daughter, who was also the first witch, immediately dived into the ground,39 emerged exactly under her father, and, by swallowing his excreta, bewitched him. Shortly thereafter Matavilye died, as he intended to die, thereby bringing death into being. When they cremated him, Coyote--leaping over Badger and Raccoon, the shortest persons present--grabbed his heart and ran away with it.40 Later on, as a punishment, Coyote became a foolish (=insane) tramp of the desert ( Kroeber, 1948).If one examines this account with special reference to self-destruction, the following points help one to understand the place of suicide in Mohave culture:
(1) The first death, which is the cause and prototype of all deaths on earth, was due to an act of will: Matavilye decided to die. Other
____________________
37
This specification is psychologically closely related to the way Matavilye died (cf. below).
38
Another example of this type of seductive contact occurs In the story of a runaway "Coyote" girl ( Devereux, 1948 h), who also resented it.
39
A typical action in Mohave myths ( Kroeber, 1948).
40
A Earlier accounts of this prototypal death were published by Bourke ( 1889), Kroeber ( 1925 a, 1948), and Devereux ( 1948 f). All accounts are similar, at least in their broad outlines.

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