Tuscarora New Year's Festival
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. Note 24 There is no remnant of any white dog sacrifice. Note 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.
Moieties and moiety exogamy once existed among the Tuscaroras but have now fallen into disuse. Note 26 Clan exogamy, however, is still followed. The above custom may therefore relate to former moiety relationships.
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."