Some Account Of The Natives Of Louisiana
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
When the French entered this fine country, they found it inhabited by a great number of different nations. I will only mention the most considerable, which are, the Pascagoulas, the Oumas, the Tonicas, the Natchez, the Tchatcas, the Chicachas, the Tinsas, the Natsitoches, the Adiais, the Assinais, the Alkanas, the Cadodaquious, the Yazous, and the Tchetimactchas. The Oumas and Tonicas, being in the neighbourhood of New Orleans, are reduced to a very few families by the immoderate use of brandy, which they found means to pro-cure in spite of all the precautions the governor could take. The Tonicas have always been so attached to the French, that the king hath decorated their chief with a blue wreath, with a medal pen-dent from it, presented him with a gold-headed cane, and made him brigadier of the Red Armies, i.e., the auxiliary troops of the natives. The Natsitoches are seated upon the Red River ; the Adiais to the west of them, and the Assinais further west ; and to the north of them lie the Cadodaquious. The Alkanzas and Yazous are seated upon the rivers of those names. The Chicachas, our declared enemies, are retired into the country to the east of the river of St. Louis, thither the Natchez too retired in the last war we had with them. The Tinsas, Tchatcas, and Tchetimactchas are branches of the Natchez.
These various nations, besides the language peculiar to each, have one common language, by means whereof they can converse together, and is of the same utility as the Lingua Franca of the Levant. Their manners and customs are pretty much the same. The character, therefore, of the Natchez, who are a great people, with whom I lived seven years and am best acquainted, may serve for that of all the rest.
The Natchez, as well as all the other natives of Louisiana, have very regular features, and are strong and well made, and in general tall. They live to a very advanced age, and in their old age are not very infirm. To this the plainness of their diet, their sobriety, their exercise, the salubrity of the air, and the wisdom of their physicians, who content themselves with purging the sick, and never bleed, do not a little contribute. Their women differ in this from the Europeans, that they have double breasts, i.e., in the midst of each breast there rises another small one, about four inches broad, with a very long nipple.
The Natchez are of a very mild and humane disposition, when one gives them no cause of distrust or discontent. They love instruction, and it is more the fault of the Europeans than theirs that they are not better civilized. They are grave and prudent, enemies to lying, faithful in their promises, of few words, never the first to do injuries to others, and never forgetting the injuries done to them. Their language is not copious, their style, or manner of expressing them-selves, is very figurative, and like that of the Orientals.
The men build the cottages, hunt, go to war, make their bows and arrows, and prepare the ground for the seed; all other work and business whatever falls to the lot of the women. The women sow the seed and get in the harvest ; they make baskets, mats, and all other household furniture; they prepare food for the family ; they make all pieces of stuffs and ornaments used by way of apparel. When the men fell trees, they leave them, and send the women to fetch them home ; nay, they will not so much as bring home the beasts they kill in hunting ; they only cut out the tongue and flea off the skin, and send the women for the carcase.
The pre-eminence and superiority of the male to the female sex, and the paternal authority, are looked upon amongst them as the most inviolable laws of nature, and are strictly observed and rigidly maintained. The youngest boys take place of, and are preferred on all occasions to, the oldest women ; and in their entertainments and ordinary repasts, are served before them. And let the descendants of an old man be ever so numerous, they all live together and are subject to him ; his power over them is absolute, and all his commands reverenced and punctually obey'd.
The men seldom marry till they have attained the age of twenty-five ; nor are any marriages celebrated without the consent and concurrence of the old men, who are the heads of the respective families; the bridegroom, instead of receiving a portion with the bride, always makes a present to her father.
As soon as a child is born,both the mother and child are washed in river or spring water; a few days after, the child is rubbed with bear's oil : this unction, together with their continual exposure to the heat of the sun (for both sexes go quite naked till they are twelve years old) gives a red colour to their skin, which is as white as ours when they are born, that no time can efface. Their cradles are very light, and made of reeds, and, instead of rocking them as we do, they slide them backwards and, forwards upon two large canes, whereon they are placed.
The nation of the Natchez consists of nobles and common people. The highest rank of the nobles are called "Suns;" they are a different race, and do not mix with the rest of the people. When one of these Suns dies, not only his wives, but also a considerable number of the common people are strangled and buried along with him.
They have a temple wherein is kept what they call " The sacred and eternal Fire." This fire was originally kindled by the rays of the sun, and is fed with wood stripped of the bark. The Suns alone are permitted to enter this temple. All their religious worship seems to consist in preserving and keeping up this fire, and nine officers are appointed for that purpose. If by neglect or any accident this fire is extinguished, it is looked upon as a sign of some great impending calamity, nor can they rekindle it till after a long time and with much difficulty. I ingratiated myself greatly with the chiefs of the nation, and received considerable presents from them, for giving them and showing them the use of a convex lens, by means whereof they would always have it in their power, immediately and easily, to renew the sacred fire. Nothing could equal their joy and surprise upon seeing the effect of the glass.
The men do not all go to war. The warriors are a particular class, properly educated. They are not brave, but act against their enemies chiefly by stratagem and surprise, and seldom engage fairly. The principal warriors and women of distinction mark their skins with the figures of animals. This they do by pricking out the designed figure upon their skins, with a sharp-pointed instrument, and then rubbing coal-dust into the punctures; by this means the fine coal-dust enters the skin, and the figure can never be effaced.