SHAMEN, MUSIC, SONGS AND DANCES (Alaska Historic Information)
A Paderewski musical, symphony orchestra, colonial hall, jig, buck and wing dance, quadrille, opera or some other classical or otherwise of ours, would to an untutored, unsaved savage seem as strange, vulgar, inharmonious as his potlatch, funeral, marriage, war or other dance, his battle-chants, death-wails or other songs and his rude skin drum or other music would the first time to one of our race. Our civilized, calcimined maidens at a formal evening or colonial ball can outstrip in more ways than one the most comely Siwash belle at a chief's potlatch dance.
The Indian has his songs of war and peace; of death and birth; of this life and the next. The following is a portion of one translated by Dall, as sung by a squaw while in hunger she waited for the return of her husband singing to the pappoose.
"The wind blows over the Yukon:
My husband hunts the deer on the Koyukum Mountains. Ahmi! Ahmi! Sleep little one. There is no wood for the fire.
The stone ax is broken, my husband carries the other.
Where is the sun-warmth? Hid in the dam of the beaver, waiting spring time.
Ahmi! Ahmi! Sleep little one, wake not."
Numerous songs with the music may be found in the valuable collection by Franz Boas.
Medicine dances, except those given for entertainment, are rarely seen now, but I quote from Karr as an eye witness to a real one:
"Presently he stripped himself and opened his box of charmes, took out a wooden figure of a crane, with a frog clinging to its back, with a lot of sea-otter teeth and carved walrus tusks. The latter he placed on the stomach of the dieing man. Meantime the drums and sticks kept up the monotinous noise, and the heat and stench were increased by the fire. He grew more and more excited, his contortions and jerks more active, crouching, gesticulating. * * * At a sign his hair was uncoiled by an assistant magican, its length was at least five feet * * every minute or two white eagle down was blown over and stuck fast to his head and bare body, giving hair and skin a hoary and ancient look." The patient soon died. The hideous masks, rattles, and dress of the shaman, his wierd songs and yells, his howls and groans, his writhing aggonizing contortions, and his exhaustion and collapse, continues until the pay runs out, the patient recovers or dies.
The shaman is more feared than the chief, and in some ways has more power, at least over the devil. He is too sacred and lazy to work or risk his life in grave peril. Ever since the coast Indians have been known, the medicine man, shaman, or witch doctor, has been losing power and influence.
At the present time the Indian (unlike his cousin in the states) has no government or native doctor.
The pulmonary and rheumatic diseases kill or maim a large percent of the natives. A disease known among them as "Hip Joint Disease" is very common even where they are most sanitary, as in Sitka. I saw young and old, men and women, swinging themselves on crutches or dragging their helpless lower extremities as a result of this disease. Possibly it is a sort of rheumatism.