These are some of the amusing incidents which are remembered and repeated long afterwards, and which make the affair so much fun for the entire community.
After the count was over, everyone crowded around the table to look at the two piles of game and discuss the hunt, the albino pheasant being the main attraction.
Up to a few years ago, the winning side used to go outside after the count and celebrate by shooting off their guns and cheering. Now this custom seems to have fallen into disuse.
At the conclusion of the count, the game is cleaned right on the same tables. The cleaned game is placed in large pans and then given to the cooks, who are busy preparing for the feast at least three days ahead of time. The children were particularly interested in the cleaning operation for they were able to confiscate some of the colorful pheasant feathers.
Cleaning the game. (left to right): Victor Johnson, Edison Mt. Pleasant, Jr., Ruth Mt. Pleasant, Harry Patterson. [Photo by Barbara Graymont.]
A few days ahead of January 1, the people make other preparations for the Nu Yah. They bake cookies, doughnuts, or other sweet foods in anticipation of the visits they will receive from the people who are out Nu Yahing on the morning of January 1. Doughnuts, cookies, little cakes, or fruit are the general Nu Yah gifts. Some people buy these sweets at the store, but those who bake their own are always proud of the fact.
People get up early and go from house to house. In the old days it was by horse and sleigh. Clinton Rickard had an ox team which he used to hitch up to his sleigh to make the rounds. Today, the visiting is done mostly by automobile. Some of those who start out walking are usually picked up by some one in a car or truck. A number of men own trucks and will carry a gang of neighborhood children around for Nu Yahing.
Occasionally the householder will meet the visitors at the door and hand out the bowl of food to them. Usually, however, the visitors go right into a house without knocking and call out, "Nu Yah! Nu Yah!" 22 The table containing the food is just inside the door, and each visitor takes a piece. There may be a few pleasantries exchanged, but the stay is only brief. There are many houses to visit. 23
Nu Yahing. [Photo by Barbara Graymont.]
If the house contains a member of the father's clan, the visitor calls out, "Nu Yah, uwiirae'!" This word, uwiirae', means literally, "baby," or figuratively, "relative." It is the same word that is used in the expression, "She has a baby." The caller is then entitled to the symbolic baby doll, which is a gingerbread man. A piece of pie may also be given in place of the baby doll to the person claiming uwiirae'. Sometimes a favored individual in this category receives a whole pie.
Years ago, when the Tuscaroras were a lot more strict about clan intermarriage than they are today, when a child whose parents had married too closely came to the door and claimed uwiirae', he received a doll with the head broken off. It was then left to the child's parents to explain the meaning of these decapitated dolls when the child came home. The expression: "They have their heads cut off," is still in use. A male child from such a union is not supposed to be eligible for chieftainship.
At noon, the Nu Yahing is over. People return home, get into their good clothes and go to the feast, which is served around 12:30 or 1:00. This feast is sponsored by the Temperance Society. Everyone is welcome. No one is turned away. No one is required to pay. "That day everyone is equal. Rich or poor-all eat the same," Clinton Rickard commented.
Photo Courtesy of [Rick and Mary Jane Rickard]
Photo by [Rick and Mary Jane Rickard]
The meal is opened with grace, then the diners are seated according to numbered tickets which they have secured ahead of time. For some while after the council house burned, the feast was served in the basement of the Baptist church. The area was very small compared to the gym, and no tickets were given out. This resulted in much crowding and confusion. As a result, a more orderly method was instituted, and tickets were used. Diners were seated when their ticket numbers were called out and not before. With the use of this method at the gymnasium, accommodations are provided for a little more than 100 at a sitting; and over 400 persons are generally served at each feast. The meal consists of both white and Indian style foods. The most popular foods are those that are the most authentically Indian, such as the game pie and the boiled Indian corn bread.
Chester Bomberry (left) and Sherman Green make cornbread for the Nu Yah feast. [Photo by Barbara Graymont.]
The feast is not complete without some of each. Years ago, the meal was completely free. Now donations are requested to help pay for the food which must be bought, such as ham and coffee. Also, if insufficient food is donated ahead of time, more must be bought. A plate used to be left at the end of each table for contributions. Now a small dish is sent around each table for donations. No one, however, is turned away from the meal, whether he pays or not.
The conclusion of the ceremony is held that evening with a meeting of the Temperance Society. The regular program is followed, including talks on the major aims which the Society wishes to inculcate; temperance, industry, education, and morality. In addition to the regular business, the festivities just past are discussed. A high point in the program is an amusing debate between the advocate of the young men's side and the advocate of the old men's side over who really won the hunt.
So ends the Tuscarora Nu Yah.
This ceremony is the Tuscarora equivalent of the Midwinter rite. The differences from the Longhouse Midwinter ceremony are readily apparent, however. The Tuscarora New Year is held according to the European calendar, on January 1, rather than according to the phases of the moon and the position of the Pleiades as with the Longhouse festival. It lasts only three days. 24 There is no remnant of any white dog sacrifice. 25 There is no burning of tobacco or other religious ceremony. There are no curing rites. The whole thing seems to be quite secular, with the exception of the prayer before the feast.
There are in the Tuscarora festival, however, some decided similarities to the Longhouse Midwinter rite:
- First of all there is the hunt to provide food for the feast. Among the Tuscaroras, this hunt is a high point of the festival. This would accord with the practice of the pre-twentieth century Iroquois when the hunt preceding the Midwinter ceremonial was of greater significance than it is today.
- The appointing of collectors to gather food for the feast.
- The visitation of the houses-the Nu Yahing-resembles the visitation of all homes during the Midwinter ceremony to stir the ashes. One is also reminded of the visits of the Laughing Beggars, the masked boys who went from house to house begging, and stealing food articles for a feast from householders who refused their demands. With the Tuscaroras, however, there is no masking and no stirring of ashes during these visitations, which take place on the morning of New Year's Day and are over by noon. Everyone is free to make the rounds; though, now it is primarily the children and older young people who go. The food given out is for the individual, however, and not for the feast in general.
- A further important resemblance to the Longhouse Midwinter Festival is the feast itself which concludes the whole ceremonial.
- As for the custom of calling out, "uwiirae'" and getting a token from the household of a member of one's father's clan, this bears some similarity to the activities on the first day of the Longhouse dream guessing or dream fulfillment when the guesser of the dream, who was usually a member of the father's clan, gave the dreamer a symbolic token. The context, indeed, is different, since the Tuscaroras do not receive their symbolic gift in response to a dream but as a matter of course by claiming it from the father's clansmen. It is obviously a traditional Tuscarora practice. It may be a transformation and modification of the Longhouse dream guessing rite, or it may be a continuance of a separate Tuscarora custom.
The large part played by the Temperance Society in the festivities is also significant. The Tuscarora Temperance Society appoints the captains of the hunt, appoints the collectors, and gives the feast. In this respect, we can say that the members of the Temperance Society are acting out a role similar to the Faith Keepers of the Longhouse, who have the same function in relation to the Midwinter Festival. They have, in fact, made themselves the Faith Keepers of the Tuscaroras, even though there is nothing at first glance specifically religious about this festival. It is the only surviving Tuscarora ceremonial, however, and the tribal members are quite proud of it. In addition, it serves as a very cohesive factor in the community.
In spite of all the struggles and acrimony throughout the nineteenth century, there was one time of the year when Church and Longhouse people could join together in a popular and deeply meaningful community function and in so doing, experience wholeness again. The fragmented community was again united as the old Indian virtues of hospitality, generosity, cooperation, and skill in hunting were brought to the fore. A rivalry between young and old, which received a ritualized outlet at this point, always resulted in much good-natured joking, enjoyed by participants and spectators alike. The New Year event was a relief from the tensions of the year just past. It was an occasion which people looked forward to and remembered long after.
The adoption of the ceremony and its subsequent development reveal an adaptability on the part of the Tuscaroras and an ability to meet new needs. The old custom of visiting, borrowed from the Germans in the eighteenth century, had very early been modified to include a recognition of traditional clan relationships. Later, a feast with the preliminary hunt and community food collection similar to the Longhouse practice were added by the Temperance Society, an organization that arose to meet and overcome the social degeneration of the Tuscaroras as a result of their contact with white society. When the Temperance Society became an organization not only for rebuilding the community but also for furthering religious rivalries, the ceremony which it had helped to bring into being remained a means of solidifying a society otherwise subjected to longstanding dissention. The New Year was for everybody. It was a festival in which Christian and non-Christian alike could participate without compromising the faith of either. As such, it was a celebration which held the nation together rather than tearing it apart. As one Tuscarora aptly commented when searching for the origin of this ceremony: "Maybe the Great Spirit guided us."
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