Seneca Thanksgiving Rituals

Seneca Thanksgiving Rituals

Seneca Thanksgiving Rituals

Seneca Thanksgiving Rituals

Excerpt

Presented in this work are two ceremonial texts in the Seneca language with translations and grammatical commentary. Transcriptions of songs that are performed in conjunction with one of the texts are also given. The title of a work is rarely an adequate description of its contents, and all three words of the present title call for elaboration here.

The word 'Seneca' is at once too narrow and too broad. The longhouse or Handsome Lake religion which these texts represent is followed by Seneca and other Iroquois groups on half a dozen reservations in New York State and Ontario, so that general Iroquois ceremonialism is reflected here to a large degree. On the other hand, local differentiation has been recognized as a phenomenon of peculiar interest to students of contemporary Iroquois culture (Fenton, 1951, pp. 3 ff.), and from that point of view it is significant that the texts are from the Tonawanda Reservation Seneca, the principal source of Lewis Henry Morgan's material, whose present-day ceremonies are outlined in Fenton (1941).

The word 'thanksgiving' seems no worse a choice than any other and has been used by most previous writers. When confronted with the Seneca words involved, some speakers balk at any attempt to give an English equivalent. Others translate, to some extent according to context, as 'thank, be thankful or grateful to or for, rejoice in, bless, greet'. The trouble is that the Seneca concept is broader than that expressed by any simple English term, and covers not only the conventionalized amenities of both thanking and greeting, but also a more general feeling of happiness over the existence of something or someone. One result is that the English distinction between 'give thanks to' and 'give thanks for' has no relevance.

Finally, the word 'ritual' is used here as a technical term to mean (component of a ceremony'. If a Seneca ceremony is delimited as any formal gathering that includes activities aimed at communication with the supernatural, any ceremony can be said to consist of several . . .

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