Tuscarora New Year's Festival
By 1832 interest in the Temperance Society seemed to have waned considerably. In order to revive interest and give the Society a direct role in community life, Jacobs conceived the plan of having the temperance people sponsor a feast on New Year's Day, even as the Longhouse people did at Midwinter. Jacobs was a church member and later a deacon and lay preacher, but he was also, in many respects, a bridge between two religions and between two cultures. He saw much of value in some of the traditionalist practices and sought to preserve, at least in modified form, what he believed was of benefit from the old observances. The Temperance Society became a permanent and significant part of the life of the community and grew in influence over the years. The 1845 Census listed 231 Tuscaroras as being pledged to temperance principles. Gilbert Rockwood, pastor of the Mission, wrote:
It is within the memory of many now living among them, when drunkenness was almost universal; now, comparatively few are intemperate. A majority of the chiefs are decidedly temperance men, and exert a salutary influence. They have a temperance society, and hold frequent meetings. They utterly forbid the traffic in intoxicating drinks on their own soil. Note 16
This number of 231 need not necessarily be taken as the total active membership of the Temperance Society, but it does indicate the growth of temperance sentiment among both traditionalists and Christians. Indeed, it is quite possible, even considering the limited accuracy of the Census figures, that the Longhouse members of the Temperance Society outnumbered the Christians. With the growth of the Mission and a newly established Baptist church after 1860, however, the better organized Christian element soon came to dominate the Temperance Society. Note 17
A high point in the hostilities between the Christian and non-Christian factions came when the church people burned down the Longhouse. It was never rebuilt. Clinton Rickard, who is the eldest member of the tribe, remembers that the foundation to the destroyed Longhouse was still visible when he was a boy, and children used to play in the field around it. With the destruction of their place of worship and the growth of the Christian churches, the Longhouse religion began to wane, even though there were sporadic attempts to revive it. The Temperance Society in later years had become a bulwark of Christianity in opposition to traditionalist beliefs and ceremonies.
More recently, the Temperance Society has abandoned its older emphasis on honesty, retaining only the four other principles of temperance, industry, education, and moral reform. This was done in order to make a sharper break with the Longhouse and attach the Temperance Society more firmly to the church-much to the distress of the Longhouse people, who felt that they were being pushed out. Honesty and keeping one's word had been so prominently associated with Longhouse teaching that the Christians, rather ironically, decided to undermine Longhouse influence in the Temperance Society by deleting this principle in the 1870's. Handsome Lake, who had revived the old religion, was also known as the temperance preacher among the Iroquois.The Christians could not very well drop this teaching, however, without disrupting the whole movement. Also, the fact that many of the Protestant churches in the United States had traditionally been strong propagators of the temperance principle meant that there would be adequate Christian precedent for such an emphasis. This dispute is a striking example of the often bitter struggle between the two religions for the allegiance of the Tuscarora people.
It was as a result both of their contact with their white neighbors and the retention of certain practices from their own traditional ways that the Tuscaroras developed the New Year festival. Through their association with the whites and consequent adoption of certain aspects of white culture had caused numerous tensions and disruptions within their community, it had also provided them with a means of meeting and resolving some of these tensions. Christianity and the temperance organization provided their own rewards and inner satisfactions for their followers. The New Year observance preserved desirable elements of both cultures and served as a unifying force in their society. It is a festivity which is still celebrated today and which promises to endure as long as the Tuscarora community endures.
The form of the New Year celebration is much the same today as it was in the early years. With the dissolution of the Temperance Band, there is no longer a parade and musical entertainment on New Year's Day; otherwise, the festival is observed in the same manner as it ever was. Note 18 A description of one of the recent celebrations will reveal the deep significance it has for the Tuscarora community.
On December 30, 1966-three days before the feast-the collectors went from house to house gathering food donations for the feast. The Tuscarora Temperance Society appoints these collectors at one of its regular meetings prior to the celebration. One collector is designated for each road on the reservation. The people donate any type of food they wish, or, occasionally, money. The latter will be used toward any additional expenses connected with the feast. (A husband and wife team stopped at Clinton Rickard's place and were given two strings of Indian corn. ) Note 19
The hunt is usually held three days before Nu Yah. On this particular occasion, it took place on December 31, 1966. The feast was to be held on January 2, rather than January 1, 1967, since the latter date fell on a Sunday. The Temperance Society appoints the two captains for the hunt well ahead of time. Since the game the men bring in has to be counted in the Tuscarora language, the two men have plenty of time before the hunt to learn to count "in Indian," if they do not already know how. One captain is designated for the old men's side and another for the young men's side.
The men may start hunting any time after midnight on the day appointed for the hunt and continue until 9:00 p.m. that evening. Some of the more enthusiastic get up in the late evening of the night before and wait for midnight so they can get an early start. It is not at all unusual for men to hunt all night long, for rivalry between the two sides is keen.
Age is not the major factor in separating the young men from the old. A young man is one who has no children. He may be "a hundred years old," as my informant explained, but if he has no children, he is still classified as a young man. An old man is one who is married and has a child, no matter how youthful he may be. This achievement of old age by means of having offspring indicates the respect that the Tuscaroras accord the family status.