Tuscarora New Year's Festival
In the evening, all the game shot during the day is brought to the gymnasium, which, since the burning of the council house several years ago, now serves as the community center. There the count is taken. A long table to receive the game is already spread out at one end of the room. The young men are seated along the wall on one side of the building facing the old men on the other side. The captains of the respective teams stand facing each other at either end of the table, with their bags of game beside them.
The count. (left to right around table): Morley Claus, Jr. (light jacket), Harry Patterson, Edison Mt. Pleasant, Elton Greene, Franklin Patterson, Jr. [Photo by Barbara Graymont.]
The spectators begin to assemble a half hour or so before the count, socializing and waiting for the big event. At this particular count there were more onlookers than usual, for the word had gone out that one of the old men had shot an albino pheasant. Anything unusual arouses more than ordinary interest and there was a good-sized crowd present.
When chief Harry Patterson called out, "Ten minutes!" the people stopped milling around and began to assemble in the center of the gym. The crowd had to stand about fifteen or twenty feet clear of the tables and everybody sought as advantageous a position as possible to view the proceedings.
"Nine o'clock!" called Chief Patterson, and the count began immediately.
The tradition requires that the count be made in the Tuscarora language. Since fewer and fewer of the Tuscaroras, especially the young people, can now speak Tuscarora, this necessitates some adjustment. Neither of the two captains in 1967 was a Tuscarora speaker. The old men's captain was in fact not a Tuscarora at all but a Mohawk married to a Tuscarora. A native speaker stood by each captain ready to give assistance, and assistance was frequent. The count ran very smoothly, however.
Since last year's losing team always leads off first, the old men's captain began the count. The rabbits and pheasants were pulled out of the bags one by one, held up for the people to see, counted, and laid in a pile on the table. The old man pulled out his first piece of game, held it up, and called out, "Enchi." The young man followed, "Enchi." Note 20 Then the old man pulled out his second piece of game and counted, "Nakti." Note 21 The young man repeated after him. And so on in regular order until the bags were empty. Some of the rarer game animals carry more weight in the count, however. A deer, for instance, counts as fifty points. None of these rarer game animals were presented at this particular count.
After the young men's team reached thirty-five pieces of game, the captain's bag was empty. The old men's captain then proceeded to count alone, pulling out altogether forty seven pieces of game. The last piece was the albino pheasant, which the captain held up for all to see.
"It's a chicken!" called out some one jokingly from the young men's side, and everyone laughed.
Occasionally at these counts, one side will try to spring a joke on the other side by sneaking some inedible creature such as an owl or a crow into the opponent's game bag. Whenever this happened, it was always cause for much levity; and the side which was unfortunate enough to present an inedible offering automatically lost the count.
Tales are still being told about the time some mischievous young people secretly brought a live owl into the hall and released it at an appropriate point during the count. As the bird fluttered around overhead, the counting came to a halt while the two sides hotly debated who was responsible for bringing that creature in and who, accordingly, should lose the count much to the glee of the onlookers.
Many years ago, a woman and her daughter happened to catch a rabbit in a hollow log a few days before the hunt. They chased the rabbit into a bag and took it home, where the woman gave it to her husband. He saved it until the day of the hunt and then killed it in order to present it at the count. The story had meanwhile gone around the reserve that the old men were so feeble that they had to send their women out to hunt for them.
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.]