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"A Pedigree Partly Indian, Partly Batavian"

    First Americans

A Description of New Netherlands

Adriaen van der Donck - 1649


Manner of burying their Dead. --Lamentations and Mourning.

Whenever an Indian departs this life, all the residents of the place assemble at the funeral. To a distant stranger, who has not a friend or relative in the place, they pay the like respect. They are equally careful to commit the body to the earth, without neglecting any of the usual ceremonies, according to the standing of the deceased. In deadly, diseases, they are faithful to sustain and take care of each other. Whenever a soul has departed, the nearest relatives extend the limbs and close the eyes of the dead; and after the body has been watched and wept over several clays, and nights, they bring it to the grave, wherein they do not lay it down, but place it in a sitting posture, upon a stone or a block of wood, as if the body were sitting upon a stool; then they place a pot, kettle, platter, spoon, with, some provision and money, near the body in the grave - this they say is necessary for the Journey to the other world. Then they place as much wood around the body as will keep the, earth from it. Above the grave they place a large pile of wood, stone or earth, and around and above the same they place palisades resembling a small dwelling. All their burial places are secluded and preserved with religious veneration and care, and, they consider it wicked and infamous to disturb or injure their burial places.

The nearest relatives of the deceased, particularly the women, (the men seldom exhibit much excitement,) have their periods of lamentations, when they make dreadful and wonderful wailing, naming the dead, smiting upon their breasts, scratching and disfiguring their faces, and showing all possible signs of grief. But where a mother has lost a child, her expressions of grief exceed all bounds, for she calls and wails whole nights over her infant, as if she really were in a state of madness. If the deceased are young persons, or persons slain in war, then their lamentations are of a particular kind, and the women shave off their hair, which they keep the customary time, and then they burn the hair upon the graves of the deceased or slain, in the presence of the relations.

In short they possess strong passions, and exhibit the same with much, feeling when mourning over their dead relatives and friends. For the purpose of removing the existing causes of grief, and not to excite sorrow in the mind of the bereaved, and as far as possible to promote forgetfulness of the friends lost, the name of the deceased is never mentioned in the presence of the relations; or when the name is mentioned, it is received as if designed to produce mortification, and as an act of unkindness. The use of tokens of mourning is common, which usually are black signs upon their bodies; when a woman loses her husband, she shaves off her hair, and paints her whole countenance black as pitch and men do the same when their wives die, and they also wear a buckskin vest next to their skin, and mourn a whole year, even if they have not been long married, or if the connection had not been happy--still they observe the ceremonies religiously, without marrying again until the season of mourning, is over.


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