A Description of New Netherlands
Adriaen van der Donck - 1649
OF THE MANNERS AND PECULIAR CUSTOMS OF, THE NATIVES OF THE NEW-NETHERLANDS
Of their Feast Days and Particular Assemblies.
Feasts and great assemblages are not common among the Indians, yet they occur sometimes, and on special occasions, as on the subjects of peace, war, alliances, treaties and devotions ; or to counsel the devil on some approaching event, or in relation to the fruitfulness of the seasons, or to celebrate some successful occurrence by frolicking and dancing, as at the conclusion of peace, or to make war with some neighbouring people. They do not resolve and decide hastily and by a small number, but on all important matters, all the chiefs and persons of any distinctionn in the nation assemble in their councils, when each of them express their opinions freely on the subject before the council, as briefly or as extendedly as they please without any molestation. If the speaker even digresses from the matter in hand, or opposes others, he is heard with attention; if they approve of what has been said, at the conclusion they shout and cheer the orator.
Their councils assemble in the morning while the sun is ascending, and if the business is not done before noon they adjourn until the next morning. When they wish to hunt, or drive the devil (as they do by spooking and deception), then they assemble in the afternoon towards evening, and then some of them do, most singularly indeed, endeavour to enchant and charm the devil and carry on witchcraft, wherein the common people believe. They begin with jumping, crying, and grinning, as if they were possessed and mad. They kindle large fires, and dance around and over the same, lengthwise and across; they roll, tumble overhead, and bend themselves, and continue their. Violent exercises until the sweat pours out and streams down to their feet. By their distortions and hideous acts, they appear like devils themselves; their awful conduct will astonish those who are not accustomed to see them. During those operations, all their devil-drivers join in the rolling and howling, when they altogether appear to be crazy. When their charming has continued some time, then the devil, as they say, appears to them in the form of a beast. If the beast be a ravenous animal, it is a bad omen; if it be a harmless creature, the sign is better; the animal gives them strange answers to their inquiries, but seldom so clear and distinct that they can comprehend or interpret the same, which, however, they strike at, as a blind man does at an egg. If they interpret the answers incorrectly, the fault is theirs-sometimes they utter things beyond the devil's texts.
If there be any Christians present on those occasions, who observe all their doings, then their devil will not appear. Their devildrivers sometimes bewitch some of their common people, and cause them to appear possessed or besotted, which otherwise is not seen, when they cast themselves into glowing fires without feeling it. When the person who has been afflicted for some time, and one of the charmers whisper in, his ear, he again becomes as gentle as a lamb. When they assemble to rejoice or dance, they meet at mid-day. On those occasions, an orator first delivers an address on the occasion and cause of their meeting, after which they entertain themselves by eating and feasting; this they also do sometimes at their councils. The eat lustily on such occasions, and every one devours as much food as would serve each of them for three days, as no thing may be left at their frolics; what is not eaten by them or by their dogs must be carried back. When they have stuffed themselves like cattle and can scarcely move, then the old and middle-aged conclude with smoking, and the young with a kintecaw, singing and dancing, which frequently is continued until morning.
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