Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Chapter 5: Canadian Onondaga Accounts

Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Chapter 5: Canadian Onondaga Accounts

Article excerpt

Converse's account of 1888, presented earlier, is the last known description of the WDS among the Onondaga within the United States. The earliest record of a WDS in Canada is an extensive description from among the Onondaga at the Six Nations Reserve in Canada. This description appeared in a newspaper account based on C. A. Hirschfelder's 1884 observations (Anonymous 1884b). There is no dateline to the anonymous version in THE MAIL, but the observer mentioned was almost certainly Charles A. Hirschfelder of Toronto. The article begins with a list of eight captions that serve as section headings:

Gl-YE-WA-NO-US-QUA-GO-WA. Solemn and Impressive Ceremony of the Iroquois Indians. Sacrifice of the White Dog. Annual New Year's Jubilee Lasting Seven Days. Thanks Offered to the Great Spirit. Song of Lamentation and Prayers for the Dead. Petition for the Fruits of the Earth. War Dance in Honor of a Pale-Face Visitor.

Hirschfelder, who had provided his notes for the 1884 anonymous article, subsequently published a serialized account under his own name in "The Indian" (Hirschfelder 1886a). That piece is nearly identical to the anonymous report of 1884. Also in 1884, this American donated a huge collection of artifacts to the Canadian museums. The full text of his account incorporates a great deal of ethnographic information. For the most part, both texts are identical except for an occasional word and some punctuation. Where the differences are of note, we have included the variation within parentheses. The latter part of this report derives from the 1886 publication, a copy of which can be found with ease.

Mr. Hirschfelder, the well-known archaeologist, received a letter from Chief Johnson, interpreter for the Six Nations or Iroquois Indians on their reserve on the Grand river, inviting him to go up and witness the ceremony of the sacrifice of the white dog .... A reporter of THE MAIL called upon Mr. Hirschfelder, who kindly gave his copious notes and account of the festival to be published, [one of their six principal annual feasts], ... the Christianized Indians take no part now in the events which, what we now denominate, the pagan Indians celebrate yy... the sixth and last event celebrated {in their annual feast cycle) was the New Years festival, the great jubilee of the Iroquois, at which the sacrifice of the white dog takes place.

There are regularly appointed officers who take charge of the various festivals. They are elected and occupy the position for life,. . .[but] have no power except during the celebration of their various events, . . .[and] no particular costume . . .

. .. The Indian name for this {Midwinter} festival is Gi-ye-wa-no-usqua-go-wa, which literally means "the most excellent Faith," or "The supreme belief." [The dog] must be a spotless white, as that colour is the emblem of purity among them; . . .

The ceremonies in connection with the festival lasted seven days, [describes wooden blade, Ga-ger-we-sa, for stirring the ashes] In ancient days the killing of the white dog took place upon the first day of the ceremony, but they do not kill it now until the day of the sacrifice, which is the fifth day of the festival. . . .

The fifth day, the sacrifice of the white dog took place {before dawn?}, and it was the principal day of the festival. The proceedings on this day commenced by all assembling in the council-house, which is situated as in ancient days in the Onondaga section. When I arrived the council-house was filled with men, women and children, of all sizes, ages, and appearances. Some faces were exceedingly pleasant while others had that peculiar look of the Indian which gives them an awe-inspiring expression. The dresses of the women were very striking, they, of course, having all the colours of the rainbow represented. [But bright scarlet predominated.] The women took their places at one end of the council house and the men at the other. About eleven a.m. a chief arose and addressing the keepers of the faith said that the time had now arrived for the day's proceedings to commence, and he trusted that the people would behave themselves, as became proper on such an important occasion. …

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