|The Tuscarora New Year Festival is a blend of the old and the new. This article describes the ceremony and traces its evolution from ancient traditional origins to the present. Barbara Graymont is a member of the faculty of Nyack Missionary College, Nyack, New York.
Among the Iroquois Indians of today, there are two different ceremonies in observance of the New Year. The Midwinter Festival is the "old way" and is preserved by the followers of the traditional Iroquois religion. The Nu Yah, as it is called, is still another type of celebration, which is observed in its most highly developed form among the Tuscaroras of New York State.1
The Midwinter Festival, or "Most Excellent Faith," is the most sacred celebration of the Iroquois ritual calendar. It occurs at the end of January or the first part of February, depending on the appearance of the Pleiades and the first new moon after the winter solstice. It is a time of thanksgiving to the beneficent spirits for all the good things in creation and a focus for bringing mankind into closer unity with the good spirit forces in nature.2 Historically there were always ritual variations from one tribe to another and even from one village to another within a single tribe. Ceremonial differences are still apparent today among the different Longhouses, as the traditional Iroquois religious centers are called. There was, however, a basic pattern from tribe to tribe which included the following elements: community confession of sins prior to the opening of the Midwinter rites, the visitation of all the houses in the village, stirring the ashes upon the hearths, the dream guessing ceremony, sacrifice of the white dog to the Creator, burning of tobacco as an invocation to the Creator, medicine society rites for curing purposes, sacred and social dances, Adowa or personal thanksgiving chants, food collecting in the village for a feast, the feast itself and the bowl game. The latter is a gambling game played with wooden bowl and peach stones and in its ritual symbolizes the life of man. "The sacrifice, playing straight to win the reward, and the danger of losing---all teach the lesson of love, of sacrifice, and 'good' with the fun of a wholesome game."3 As one scholar has so aptly said of this whole festival, "It stands as an integration of practically all the separate elements of ritual . . . which are known to the religious leaders of the group."4
This Midwinter Festival is still observed by the traditionalists of five of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. At the Six Nations Reserve in Canada, only the Tuscaroras, who are mostly Baptists, generally hold aloof from the ceremonies at the four Longhouses. The traditionalist elements among the Mohawks, Oneidas, Cayugas, Senecas, and Onondagas observe the old festivals, while the Christians in these tribes usually do not. Even among some of the church Iroquois, however, the pull of the Longhouse is still strong. In New York State, there are Longhouses on the Onondaga and the three Seneca Reservations, and all the traditionalist ceremonies are carried on there. The New York Tuscaroras have no Longhouse on their reserve and the strongest religious affiliation among them is, again, Baptist.
The Tuscaroras long ago did away with their Longhouse and adopted Christianity. As a result, they do not have the traditional ceremonies that are characteristic of the other nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. With the exception of the raising of a chief, which is done in the old way, there are no more traditional ceremonies left. There is only one major festivity during the year that would seem to have any remnant of traditionalist elements, and that is the New Year celebration.
The events surrounding this winter festival begin three days before January 1, and the celebration itself ends on New Year's day, unless January 1 falls on a Sunday. In that case, the celebration is held the following day, January 2, as happened in 1967. Since Nu Yahing and the preparation of the feast both take place in the morning, the activities would abolish church attending if they were held on Sunday.
The festival as it is presently observed among the New York Tuscaroras includes the following events: a visit to each house on the reserve by collectors to obtain food for a feast, a hunt which is a competition between the young men and the old men of the community, a visitation of as many houses as possible on New Year's morning by people who are making the rounds and calling out, "Nu Yah!" at each stop, the presentation of these visitors with a cookie or piece of pie or cake or a piece of fruit at each house visited, the feast in the afternoon, and a meeting of the Tuscarora Temperance Society in the evening.
The question arises whether this festival evolved from the old Midwinter rite or was an innovation, devised perhaps to take the place of that ceremony. In reality, what we see in this observance is an important fusion of cultures, representing both traditional Tuscarora practices and adaptations from certain aspects of white culture as the Tuscaroras encountered it in Pennsylvania and New York.
When the Tuscaroras settled for a while in Pennsylvania during their eighteenth century migration northward after their disastrous wars in North Carolina, they found that their German neighbors would go visiting on Neu Jahr and receive little cakes or Festkuchen. They liked the custom and adopted it. The Tuscarora women later made their own adaptation of this German custom by baking cookies in the shape of their particular clan eponym. This practice has now fallen into abeyance and the clan cookies are no longer made.
With their settlement in Pennsylvania and contact with the Germans, the Tuscaroras thereafter had two New Year celebrations observed by the whole community: one on January 1, and one whose date was determined by the midwinter moon.
The Tuscaroras did at one time stir the ashes during their visitation rounds at Midwinter, but not at Nu Yah. Those who became Christians abandoned the traditional Midwinter rite, charging those who followed the old way with being pagans. The last Midwinter rite as such on the Tuscarora reservation was celebrated about 1852. Both Christians and non Christians, however, continued to observe the Nu Yah throughout this period.
In order to understand how and why this festival evolved and what needs it met, we must examine the religious pressures upon the Tuscaroras over the years, for in the nineteenth century there was a long and evidently bitter struggle between Christian and non-Christian elements on the reservation.
Though the pre-Revolutionary Tuscaroras, living in Oneida territory, had had some slight contact with Christianity as a result of French Catholic and Anglican missionaries among the Confederacy tribes, it was not until Samuel Kirkland
Samuel Kirkland. [Courtesy of Walter Pilkington,
came as a missionary to the Oneidas that the Tuscaroras had a fulltime Protestant missionary resident nearby.5 Kirkland's ministrations to the Tuscaroras were only sporadic, for his primary work was among the Oneidas, and he never mastered the Tuscarora language, but there was, nevertheless, a small Christian congregation among the Tuscaroras as a result of Kirkland's efforts.
Mission work among the Tuscaroras was largely disrupted as a result of the Revolution. After the war, the Tuscarora nation gradually moved westward to settle on the Niagara Frontier, where some of their pro-British brethren had moved earlier. This took them even farther from Christian ministrations. The Christian faith was maintained by a small group of Tuscaroras but there was no regular organized Christian church among them. In 1800 the New York Missionary Society sent Elkanah Holmes as a short-term missionary to the Tuscaroras and to the Senecas at Buffalo Creek. He returned after a few months and agreed to spend another short term of nine months among these Indians. In 1802 he agreed to a third trip and was appointed a permanent missionary to both tribes, charged not only with the religious oversight of these Indians, but also with the responsibility of supervising their educational needs.6 As a result of his work, a church was organized among the Tuscaroras in 1806 with approximately eleven members.7
After 1800, the religious pressures on the Tuscaroras became quite intense, for this was the period of the great revival of the traditionalist religion. In 1799 there was a revival of the white dog sacrifice at Oneida, after an absence of thirty years, as a result of the preaching of a prophet from the Six Nations Reserve in Canada.8 In a letter dated March 17, 1800, the noted Tuscarora leader Nicholas Cusick wrote to his friend Samuel Kirkland:
One thing is I feel oneasy to hear from my neibours the oniadah the[y] made feast of old heathen way[.] I fear some will draw away there minds from Religion which the[y] go hear.
I wish some Body would prevedet [prevent] this Ceremony.!9
Between 1811 and 1820 there was a long struggle between Christian and non-Christian Tuscaroras. The mission was destroyed as a result of the Tuscaroras' support of the Americans during the War of 1812. Toward the end of December 1813, their entire village was burned by invading forces from Canada. The missionary, Andrew Gray, did not return; and there was no mission work on the reserve from 1814 to 1817. The traditionalists, meanwhile, increased their strength, ridiculed the Christians, and, during a great traditionalist revival in 1820, sought to break up the mission work permanently by moving the tribe to Canada and leaving the missionary without a flock or any potential converts. Only seventy persons finally joined the emigration party to Canada. At this period, the church membership consisted of only sixteen persons.10
The church membership remained fairly steady at about fifteen persons throughout the 1820's, despite a gap in regular missionary oversight between 1823 and 1827.11 By 1833 the church had fifty-three members and a much larger number of attendees. The total number of Indians admitted to church membership between 1833 and the organization of the church in 1806 was seventy-four.12
The New York State Indian Census for 1845, taken by Henry Schoolcraft, listed 63 Christians on the Tuscarora Reservation and 247 traditionalists. Gilbert Rockwood stated that his charge, the Tuscarora Mission, which was then a Congregational church, had a membership of 53 and an average attendance of 70 persons. If the Census figures were accurate, then there were only 10 members of the Baptist church; however, there seems to be a serious discrepancy in the enumeration. The Baptist pastor James Cusick, in a letter to Schoolcraft dated August 4, 1845, claimed that his church had then "in good standing fifty members . . . ." In 1844 it had had 64 members. The Baptist church was actually in steady decline because of the plans of most of the members to emigrate to Kansas. Cusick was the leader of the emigration movement and was absent in Washington and elsewhere during all the winter of 1845-1846 arranging for the emigration. During his absence, no meetings were held at the Baptist church.13 The Christian potential on the reservation was actually greater than the Census implied. Schoolcraft's method of enumeration was very faulty. Children of church members and church attendees who had not as yet become members were automatically included in the Census under the traditionalist heading.14 Whatever the actual count may have been, the traditionalists were still a force to be reckoned with at mid-century.
In 1830 the Tuscarora Temperance Society was formed by Samuel Jacobs, a young Tuscarora who had had some sad experience with alcohol. As a result of his own misfortunes, he came to the conclusion that the Tuscaroras must adjust to the white man's way in order to survive. This society, therefore, stressed not only sobriety, but also honesty, industry, education, and moral reform. It was organized with about sixty members and found a receptive audience among both Christians and traditionalists. The Seneca religious leader Handsome Lake had preached abstinence from alcohol, and Protestant churches in America were in the midst of the temperance crusade at this time.15
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.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.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.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.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.
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."20 Then the old man pulled out his second piece of game and counted, "Nakti."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.]
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.
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:
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."
An earlier draft of this paper was presented at the 1967 Conference on Iroquois Research held at the Institute on Man and Science, Rensselaerville, New York, October 13-15, 1967.
1 The main informant for this article was Clinton Rickard of the Beaver Clan, the eldest member of the Tuscarora tribe living on the reservation in Niagara County, New York. He was born in 1882 and has lived his whole life on the reservation. He has become quite prominent because of his work over the years on behalf of Indian rights. He also wants the younger generation of Indians to be acquainted with the history. traditions, and folklore of their people. With this view in mind, he has worked extensively with me in recording numerous texts. Melvin Patterson, a Tonawanda pertinent material on the background and New Year Festival. He learned much of s from his grandfather, William Patterson, who was a prominant member of the tribe. The text material for this study was recorded in March, 1966. I personally witnessed the ceremony which was held from December 30, 1966 to January 2, 1967.
2 For descriptions of the Midwinter Festival, see: James E. Seaver, A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison (New York, 1961; originally published 1824), pp. 173-177; Lewis Henry Morgan, League of the Ho-De-No-Sau-Nee or Iroquois (2 vols.; New York, 1901; originally published 1851), I, 199-213; William N. Fenton, An Outline of Seneca Ceremonies at Cold Spring Longhouse, Yale University Publications in Anthropology, No. 9 (New Haven, 1936); Frank G. Speck, Midwinter Rites of the Cayuga Long House (Philadelphia, 1949).
3 This explanation of the bowl game was given Speck by the Cayuga sachem Deskaheh. Speck, p. 142.
4 Ibid., p. 49.
5 Samuel Kirkland served as missionary to the Oneidas 1766-1808. New England missionaries also served Onoquaga, or Oquaga, a mixed community of Oneidas, Tuscaroras, and Mohawks on the Susquehanna River near the New York-Pennsylvania border. Both Kirkland and the Onoquaga missionary Aaron Crosby reported an appalling lack of understanding of Christian beliefs and a great amount of syncretism at the latter settlement. Kirkland blamed the situation on lack of competent interpreters. Kirkland, Journal for 1773, pp. 6-7, Kirkland Papers, Hamilton College; Aaron Crosby to Samuel Kirkland, January 25, 1774, Kirkland Papers, Hamilton College.
6 The first schoolmaster to serve among the Tuscaroras on the Niagara Frontier was a Moheconnuck, or Stockbridge, Indian named John Wautuchquaut. Minutes of the Directors, New York Missionary Society (2 vols.; 1796-1821), I, October 9, 1801, ABC.23.3, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
7 The church was organized in July 1806 by Dr. John McKnight, who had been sent by the New York Missionary Society specifically for this purpose, over the opposition of the pastor, Elkanah Holmes, whose Baptist principles on matters of infant baptism and church organization caused conflict between him and the Missionary Society. McKnight gave a list of eight persons who had been previously baptized and were in full communion at either of the places where the Tuscaroras had formerly received mission services-Oneida and New Stockbridge. These eight were Nicholas Cusick and his wife, Paulus [Apollas?], Peter, Jacob, Christian, Molly, and Margaret. He also baptized four others: Sacharissa [Sagwari'thraeh, or "Spear Trailer," a Turtle Clan sachem] and his wife, Captain William Printup, and George. The church then elected and McKnight ordained Cusick, Sacharissa, and Paulus as ruling elders. John Elliot, who came.to the Tuscaroras as schoolmaster in 1827 and was later licensed as a minister, gave a slightly different list of the original members in his 1828 report to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which had taken over charge of the church. His list included: Sacharissa and his wife, Nicholas Cusick and his wife Elizabeth, Apollas, Mary Pembleton, William Henry, and Catherine. Report of Dr. McKnight, August 4, 1806, ibid.; John Elliot to David Green, July 29, 1828, ABC.18.3.1, Vol. 6, Box 2, No. 87, Houghton Library, Harvard.
8 Kirkland, Journal for November 30, 1799-February 28, 1800, pp. 198-207, Kirkland Papers, Hamilton College; Elisabeth Tooker, "The Iroquois White Dog Sacrifice in the Latter Part of the Eighteenth Century," Ethnohistory XII 2 (1965), 132-134.
9 Cusick was one of the faithful members of Kirkland's congregation. He had served as a lieutenant on the American side during the Revolutionary War and had been bodyguard to General Lafayette. He was interpreter for the church on the Niagara Reservation from 1800-1828, but did not remove permanently from Oneida territory to the Tuscarora tract near Niagara until 1806. Nicholas Cusick to Samuel Kirkland, March 17, 1800, Kirkland Papers, Hamilton College.
10 J. N. B. Hewitt, "Tuscarora," in F. W. Hodge (ed.), Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, Bureau of American Ethnology BuIletin No. 30 (2 vols.; Washington, 1907-1910), II, 849; Annual Report for 1820, Minutes of the Directors, New York Missionary Society, II, ABC.23.4, Houghton Library, Harvard.
11 John Elliot to David Green, July 29, 1828, op. cit.
12 Annual Report, American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 1833 (Boston, 1833), p. 131.
13 James Cusick was a son of Nicholas Cusick. The emigration party which he led to Kansas in the spring of 1846 consisted of forty Tuscaroras, most of whom were members of the Baptist church. This caused the entire disintegration of Baptist work on the reservation. The Mission gained only slightly as a result of the break-up of the Baptist church. Henry R. Schoolcraft, New York State Indian Census, 1845, New York State Library; Henry R. Schoolcraft, Notes on the Iroquois (New York, 1846), pp. 238, 250; Proceedings of the Twenty-third Anniversary of the Baptist Missionary Convention of the State of New York, 1844 (Utica, 1844), p. 20; Gilbert Rockwood, Report for 1845-1846, ABC.18.6.3, Vol. 2, Box 1, No. 1, Houghton Library, Harvard; Gilbert Rockwood to David Greene, May 8, 1846, ABC.18.6.3, Vol. 3, No. 140, ibid.; Elias Johnson, Legends, Traditions and Laws, of the Iroquois, or Six Nations, and History of the Tuscarora Indians (Lockport, N.Y., 1881), p. 120.
14 The Census, for instance, listed Pastor Cusick's six children, who were evidently not yet church members, as followers of the traditionalist religion. For Schoolcraft's explanation of his method, see his Notes on the Iroquois, p. 287.
15 The Tuscaroras' minister, John Elliot, reported to the American Board early in February 1830 telling of his attempts to form a temperance society but doubting of his success because Indians were always reluctant to commit themselves. In writing on March 30, he noted that a temperance society had been formed. There is no mention in either of his letters, or in any other of his reports, of Samuel Jacobs or any role the latter might have played in the establishing of that organization. The Tuscaroras have traditionally, however, given Jacobs the credit for founding the society. Undoubtedly both Elliot and Jacobs played a part in bringing the Temperance Society into being. The various ministers had been preaching temperance for years prior to 1830, but Jacobs' influence and leadership ability may have been the deciding factor in organizing the society. There was yet another candidate for the honors. Writing to Schoolcraft on August 4, 1845, James Cusick, the Baptist minister, claimed that he organized the Temperance Society. Referring to himself, Cusick said "he established a temperance society in 1830 of more than 100 members." John Elliot to Jeremiah Evarts, February 3, 1830, ABC.18.3.1, Vol, 6, Box 2, No. 92, Houghton Library, Harvard; Elliot to Evarts, March 30, 1830, ibid., No. 93; Schoolcraft, Notes on the Iroquois, p. 238; Johnson, Legends, p. 153.
16 Rockwood to Schoolcraft, August 1, 1845, in, Schoolcraft, Notes on the Iroquois, p. 250.
17 The Baptist church was revived in 1860 with a membership of twenty, which increased to seventy in the following year. At the end of 1860, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions withdrew its support from the Tuscarora Mission. The Mission thereupon applied in 1861 to come under the care of the Niagara Presbytery and was accepted. Fifty Fourth Annual Report of the Baptist Missionary Convention of the State of New York (Ballston, N. Y., 1861), pp. 14-17; Johnson, Legends, p. 136-137.
18 Early descriptions of the festival are in: Annual Report, American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 1844 (Boston, 1844), p. 226; Gilbert Rockwood to Selah B. Treat, January 6, 1853, ABC.18.6.3, Vol. 3, No. 168, Houghton Library, Harvard.
19 Indian corn is still braided into strings in the ancient manner. The husks are drawn back from the ear and braided together to form a string of five or six feet long.
20 The Tuscarora word for the cardinal numeral "One."
22 Phonetically it is nu 'ya:. A higher pitch on the first syllable falls to normal pitch on the second syllable.
23 Floyd G. Lounsbury and Annemarie Shimony have pointed out to me certain parallels among the Wisconsin Oneida and the Grand River Cayuga. On the Oneida reservation in Wisconsin, the children go about from house to house on New Year's Day, January 1, collecting doughnuts. The Cayuga children on the Six Nations Reserve on the Grand River in Ontario go to the homes of their fathers' relatives (not necessarily clansmen) on New Year's Day and collect doughnuts or gingerbread men. It is believed that this custom among the Cayugas fell into abeyance about fifteen years ago.
Mohawk informants from Six Nations Reserve indicate that the custom is practiced among other tribes as well as the Cayuga. The children up to ages twelve or fourteen go about visiting and receive candies, cookies, pennies, or the doll. This seems still to be practiced, at least among the Mohawks. In distinction to the Tuscaroras, only the children on these reserves go visiting.
Photo by [Rick and Mary Jane Rickard]
Photo by [Rick and Mary Jane Rickard]
24 There is some indication that the Midwinter Festival may have originally been no longer than three days and that the additional ceremonies were added later. See, for instance, Reuben Gold Thwaites (ed.), The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents (New York, 1959), XLII, 155-169.
25 The white dog sacrifice was probably not originally associated with the Midwinter rite. Harold Blau, "The Iroquois White Dog Sacrifice: Its Evolution and Symbolism," Ethnohistory, XI 2 (1964), 97-119; Tooker, "The Iroquois White Dog Sacrifice," pp. 129-140.
26 Hewitt, "Tuscarora," p. 849.
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