Category Archives: North American Native Cultures


#37 Psychological Suicide
     (B. W. Aginsky, 1934-1935)

The Pomo Indians of Northern California cannot comprehend suicide as we know it….

Although suicide, as we are familiar with it, did not occur among the Pomo, this form of “psychological death” occurred frequently. It was a form of self-destruction on the basis of mental processes…. The varieties of anxieties which the Pomo indulged in were instrumental in bringing about psychotic states equivalent to what we call suicide. In our society we have cases of individuals “drinking themselves to death,” of individuals taking their own lives, that is, being the cause of their own death due to emotional upsets. No one would say that the Pomo pattern of self-death was the same as ours, but nevertheless it was self-death if no one interfered.

As we have seen, there were two important categories concerning death. In the first category, the individual, by being full of anxiety and apprehension, brought about a psychological condition in himself whereby he reacted to a fancied meeting with a malevolent supernatural which resulted in a state somewhat resembling catatonia, or had what we call an accident and fell out of a tree or fell down a mountain, etc. The illness resulted from the retaliation by the supernaturals for the negative or positive infringement of a taboo…. The illness resulting from impregnation by poison was the retaliation by a person for some real or fancied wrong…. [hexing?]

Enquiries concerning suicide as we know it brought forth responses showing that the Pomo not only could not conceive of such a thing, but that they explained it in other societies because the supernaturals or the doctors in the cultures discussed, had caused the individual to do the act. As for themselves, they had never heard of anyone in their history who had ever committed suicide.

[#37] B.W. Aginsky, “The Socio-Psychological Significance of Death Among the Pomo Indians” in American Imago (1940) vol. IC, pg. 1

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#36 The First Death: Matavilye, and Suicide in Childbirth, Weaning, and Twins

It is a basic Mohave tenet that all possible events in life, as well as all beliefs, customs, and rituals constituting culture, were established during the period of creation, usually by means of a mythical precedent.

The mythical origin of death. – The precedent for all deaths, from any cause whatsoever, was set by Matavilye. He decided that man had to be mortal, lest the earth should become so crowded that people would have to void their excreta on each other. He was in the primal house when he resolved to die, so as to set a precedent. He was ill at that time and felt the need to defecate. Rising from his bed, he headed toward the door and, according to the Yuma version, on passing near his daughter, he deliberately touched her genitals. According to the Yuma account, it was this act which exasperated his daughter, while according to the Mohave account she was offended because her father wished to void his stools. Be that as it may, the daughter, who was also the first witch, immediately dived into the ground, emerged exactly under her father, and, by swallowing his excreta, bewitched him. Shortly thereafter Matavilye died, as he intended to die, thereby bringing death into being….

If one examines this account, the following points help one to understand the place of suicide in Mohave culture:

  • The first death, which is the cause and prototype of all deaths on earth, was due to an act of will: Matavilye decided to die. Otherwise expressed, the prototypal death was a vicarious suicide….

… There exists a radical difference between murder and suicide on the one hand and death from natural causes, such as old age, on the other hand. This difference consists in the fact that it is possible to die of illness or of old age without either imagining or accepting the fact of death, whereas, at least in the human being, both murder and suicide presuppose the idea of death and its acceptance. It is suggested that this fact suffices to explain why intellectual explanations of the origin of death – even when they are heavily tainted with fantasy, as in myths concerning the origin of death – tend to favor theories, hypotheses, and mythical occurrences which include the psychic representation of death and the acceptance of the idea of death, and therefore view either suicide or murder, or some intermediate model, such as the Mohave myth of the death of Matavilye, which blends murder and suicide into a unified whole, as the basic prototype of death….

The Mohave apply the term suicide to the following occurrences:

(1) Certain stillbirths, with or without the simultaneous death of the mother, which are believed to be caused either by the spontaneous unwillingness of a future shaman to be born, or else by the fact that the bewitched nonshamanistic fetus was taught by a witch “the fatal trick” of killing both itself and its mother at birth.

(2) The death of a suckling who, because its mother is pregnant once more, has to be weaned suddenly and therefore allegedly makes itself sick from spite.

(3) The death of one or both twins either at birth or at any time before they get married.

(4) The symbolic or social pseudo-suicide of a man who, on marrying a kinswoman, consents to his own partial social death by allowing a horse to be killed at his wedding. The death of the horse (= bridegroom) supposedly dissolves the bonds of kinship between the future spouses, and enables a “new boy” to marry the “former” kinswoman.

(5) A bewitched person may actually wish to become the victim of the beloved witch and may therefore refuse to cooperate with his or her therapist.

(6) An aging witch may overtly or tacitly incite the relatives of his victims to kill him, so that he can join – and permanently retain his hold over – the beloved ghosts of his victims.

(7) A warrior, weary of life, may deliberately stray alone into enemy territory, in order to be killed.

(8) Funeral suicide.

(9) Real suicide.

…It is psychologically interesting that no language (so far as I know) has a special root-word denoting suicide. This suggests that, both historically and psychologically, the concept of self-killing is derived from the concept of killing someone else….

In Mohave, real suicide cannot be designated in less than two words, and vicarious suicide in less than three words….

… Generally speaking, the Mohave condemn suicide, and seek to prevent it by all means at their disposal. On the other hand, they do not disapprove to the same extent of all forms of suicide, the intensity of their disapproval being, to a large extent, determined by the actual or imputed causes of the suicidal act. Moreover, even though the Mohave disapprove wholeheartedly of suicide per se, they are quite capable of being lenient toward those individuals whose suicidal motivation seems more or less “adequate” and “reasonable” to them – i.e., toward those with whose despair they are able to empathize….

The suicide of stillborn children is deplored, since it interferes with the perpetuation of the tribe….

The suicide of forcibly weaned babies is viewed somewhat more critically. The sick baby suffering from a weaning trauma is admonished not to be jealous of its unborn sibling and not to begrudge another Mohave the chance to be born.

The suicide of twins elicits a rather ambivalent reaction. On the one hand, in accordance with the theory that twins are heavenly visitors, the Mohave blame those who have offended the twins. On the other hand, however, in accordance with the theory that twins are acquisitive ghosts who return to earth for additional funeral gifts and property, the Mohave blame twins for being overly sensitive and demanding and admonish them to be more tolerant and patient.

The symbolic social suicide of a man who marries his cousin is criticized not so much because it is a form of suicide, but because such a marriage disturbs the smooth functioning of the intratribal system of kin and gens exogamy and also because it jeopardizes the survival of the incestuous couple’s entire extended kin.

The willing victims of witches, who refuse to cooperate with their therapists, are blamed for their foolish compliance with the wishes of murderous witches.

The vicarious suicide of witches is viewed as the inevitable consequence of their personality makeup and of their nefarious activities. Hence, persons not related to a slain witch sometimes overtly express their satisfaction over the slaying of the witch…. In fact, whenever the guilt of the witch is generally accepted, his own relatives often refuse either to protect him or to avenge him. Thus, the Mohave Indians’ disapproval of such witches is not due primarily to their vicarious suicidal behavior; they are criticized for being witches. On the other hand, when the slain shaman is not believed to be a witch, he is sincerely pitied… and his killers are condemned. An unjustly accused shaman, who commits suicide is, likewise, pitied rather than blamed….

The suicidally motivated straying of senior warriors into enemy territory is viewed as behavior compatible with the character structure of braves, who know that they are not meant to reach old age….

Here, as in many other contexts, the “official” Mohave reaction seems to be: “It is their nature; they can’t help it.” Yet there are indications that this superficial tolerance masks quite a lot of resentment, since the lost warrior’s male relatives sometimes frustrate the attempts of a shaman to discover, with the help of a medium, his fate and whereabouts.

Funeral suicides elicit a rather complex reaction: while the attempt itself is, more or less, a minor custom, it is not one which has the unambivalent backing of Mohave society. The suicidal attempt of a widow… was ridiculed, because her subsequent marriage allegedly proved her gesture to have been hollow exhibitionism. A father who threw himself on the pyre of his son, whom his nagging had driven to suicide… was criticized more because of his cruelty toward his son than because of his suicidal gesture.

Finally, males attempting to commit funeral suicide are criticized more than females, since funeral suicide is viewed as a typically feminine gesture.

Real suicides are condemned more consistently than other types of suicide. This disapproving attitude is present – at least in theory – even where explicit cognizance is taken of the fact that the suicide has been seriously wronged. This, however, simply means that the Mohave criticize not only the suicide, but also those who have wronged him. The suicidal person is considered “weak” or “crazy” and is said to lack the Mohave Indian’s traditional strength of character and stoicism….

In addition to being called “weak and crazy,” the person who commits suicide is also blamed for being stubborn, since he refuses to listen to well-meaning persons who try to comfort him and to dissuade him from killing himself [… as are others …] for causing grief to their relatives and to the community.

Yet… the Mohave… is far from consistent in his attitude….

On the whole, no great significance should be attached to the Mohave view that suicides are objectionable simply because they are weak enough to experience extreme psychic distress. This attitude is nearly always voiced only in the form of general statements about suicide. Thus… whenever a concrete case was discussed [… every Mohave] nearly always added a word of regret, made a more or less lame attempt to justify the suicide, or tried at least to arouse compassion for the person who killed himself.

Finally, there is a marked difference in the Mohave Indian’s reaction to those who kill themselves because their feelings were hurt in some manner, and to those who kill themselves because they grieve over the death of a brother or relative. The latter are hardly ever described as “crazy” or “weak,” perhaps because the idea of following the dead to the land of ghosts pervades many aspects of Mohave culture….

…The Mohave view of the white suicide is quite uncharitable and therefore clearly reflects the intensity of his basic condemnation of suicide, even if one makes allowances for the fact that, in Mohave opinion, nearly everything a white does is necessarily bad.

The chief difference between the Mohave Indian’s evaluation of the suicide of a white person, and of that of a Mohave is that, in his opinion, the Mohave suicide regrettably failed to live up to both ideal and (supposedly) real Mohave standards, whereas the white who killed himself acted in a manner which is (supposedly) precisely what one can expect from members of a characterologically and ethically defective group, which consistently fails to live up even to the most basic standards of human ( = Mohave) dignity. …In brief, whereas the Mohave suicide is viewed as a maladjusted member of an ethical society, the white suicide is held to be a fully adjusted member of an unethical society.

[#36] Mojave: “The First Death: Matavilye, and Suicide in Childbirth, Weaning, and Twins,” from George Devereux, Mohave Ethnopsychiatry and Suicide: The Psychiatric Knowledge and the Psychic Disturbances of an Indian Tribe. Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 175, Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1961, pp. 286-289, 291, 308-312, 331-333, 336-341, 344-345, 348-354.


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#35 Apache War Customs
     (M.E. Opler, 1936)

There are a number of other war customs which deserve mention. When older male captives were taken, they were tied to posts and slain by women with lances. Usually these were women who had lost relatives in battle and were taking this means of retaliation. If we are to believe numerous tales and descriptions, the Plains Indians and Jicarilla tried to infuriate each other by the capture or mutilation of children. Jicarilla war songs threatened that the enemy’s children should be captives. Jicarilla mothers were specifically ordered to cut the throats of their children rather than allow them to fall into enemy hands. Jicarilla chiefs, when they faced the line of the enemy before conflict, would taunt and be taunted in turn about the impending captivity of their children. Though the Jicarilla took only scalps of enemy men and women, they also took the thumbs and ears of slain enemy children. When very young children were taken captive, however, they were treated quite decently. Their lot, in terms of manual labor, was sometimes more difficult than that of others, but ordinarily they were accepted into Apache life. If they married within the tribe, there was no discrimination whatever against their offspring.

If an enemy woman were taken captive, she could not be molested until she had been brought back and a ceremony had been performed over her. Captive women were not considered fit wives; they were sexually used and sent from camp to camp to do the heavy work. Their children by Apache men, however, were recognized as Jicarilla.

If a Jicarilla had been made captive by the enemy, though only for a day, he was considered unclean, and at his escape or recapture, a ceremony had to be performed over him to “bring him back” to his people. When scalps of slain Jicarilla were recovered, they were brought back to the encampments and there were wailed over.

When a warrior, because of grief or desperation, resolved to sacrifice his life, he divested himself of all clothing, tearing off even his loin-cloth, to signify that he had broken completely with all the ordinary conventions of life. He then threw himself into the thick of the fight and exposed himself until he received a fatal wound.

[#35] Jicarilla Apache: “Apache War Customs” from M. E. Opler, “A Summary of Jicarilla Apache Culture,” American Anthropologist 38 (1936), p. 213.

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#34 Ritual Revenge
     (Ruth Benedict, 1934)

The Appollonian attitude of the Pueblos toward death cannot outlaw the death of relatives nor the killing of enemies; it can at its best only make them sources of blessing and provide means of getting past them with the least violence. Homicide, the taking of life within the group, occurs so seldom that there are hardly even tales remembered of it, but if it occurs, it is settled without ado by payment arranged between the kin groups. The taking of one’s own life, however, is entirely outlawed. Suicide is too violent an act, even in its most casual forms, for the Pueblos to contemplate. They have no idea what it could be. Pressed to match stories, the Zuñi tell of a man who had been heard to say that he would like to die with a beautiful woman. One day he was called to cure a sick woman, and his medicine involved the chewing of one of their wild medicinal plants. In the morning he was found dead. It is as close as they can come to the idea of the act, and it does not occur to them that he could have taken his life. Their story is only of a man whose death occurred in the form he had been heard to wish for.

The situation that to us parallels our practice of suicide occurs only in folktales. A deserted wife in the tales occasionally asks the Apache to come in four days to destroy the pueblo and hence her spouse and his paramour. She herself cleanses herself ritually and puts on her best clothing. On the appointed morning she goes out to meet the enemy and be the first to fall before them. This, of course, falls within our category of suicide, though they think only of the ritual revenge. ‘Of course we would not do that now,’ they say; ‘she was mean.’ They do not get beyond the fact of her vengefulness. She was destroying her fellow villagers’ possibilities of happiness, from which she felt herself shut out. In particular she was spoiling her husband’s newfound pleasure. The rest of the tale is not really imagined in Zuñi; it is beyond their experience, like the supernatural messenger she gets to carry her message to the Apaches. The more particularly you illustrate the practice of suicide to a Zuñi audience, the more politely and smilingly incredulous they become. It is very strange, the things that white people do. But this is most laughable of all.

The Plains Indians, on the other hand, did far more with the idea of suicide than we do. In many of the tribes a man who saw nothing ahead that looked more attractive to him could take a year’s suicide pledge. He assumed a peculiar badge, a buckskin stole some eight feet long. At the end where it dragged behind upon the ground it had a long slit, and the pledger as he took his pledged place in the forefront of their guerilla warfare was staked to his position through the slit in his insignia. He could not retreat. He could advance, for the staking did not, of course, hamper his movement. But if his companions fell back, he must stay in his foremost position. If he died, he at least died in the midst of the engagements in which he delighted. If he survived the year, he had won by his courting of death all the kinds of recognition that the Plains held dear. To the end of his life, when great men publicly recounted their exploits in the constant, recognized boasting contests, he could name his exploits and the year of his pledge. He could use the counts he acquired in joining societies and in becoming a chief. Even a person who did not despair of his life at all might be so tempted by the honours that were attainable in this fashion that he would take the pledge. Or a society might try to pledge an unwilling member. The warrior’s pledge was by no means the only way in which suicide was recognized on the plains. It was not a common act among them as it is in some primitive regions, but tales of suicide for love often recur. They could well understand the violent gesture of flinging away one’s life.

[#34] Pueblo: “Ritual Revenge,” from Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture, Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1934, pp. 117-118.

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#33 Suicides as Cloud Beings
     (Elsie Clews Parsons, 1939)


“They act like Shiwanna,” Cloud people, Keres say of the society chiefs performing their winter solstice ceremony…

When Hümi dies, he will join Cloud. The Rain society chiefs of Zuni probably are thought of as joining the Uwanami, the water spirits whose houses are the cumulus clouds. War chiefs become Lightnings, most potent of rain spirits. When Giwire died, the Shikani-Kurena shaman of Laguna, a thunderstorm was raging. “The Shiwanna, the storm spirits, have taken him,” said his glad people.2 Similarly at Cochiti if it rain after a death people will say of the deceased, “He is already a Shiwanna; he brings us rain.”3 At Taos “those who always believe,” the upright and good chiefs, men who perish in the mountains, * and suicides become Lightnings or Cloud beings.

A special class of deceased rain-makers are the enemy dead who through scalp ceremonial are taken into the tribe and by prayer converted into rain-makers (Zuni). “Though in his life the enemy [Navaho] was a worthless lot, now through the Corn priests’ [Rain chiefs’] rain prayers and seed prayers, he has become a rain person.”4

But the dead at large may be associated with the Cloud beings. The Hopi say in haranguing the dead, “You are no longer a Hopi, you are Cloud. When you get yonder you will tell the chiefs to hasten the rain clouds hither.”5

[#33] Pueblo: Elsie Clews Parsons, Pueblo Indian ReligionChicago: University of Chicago, 1939, pg. 171.

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#32 Postmenopausal Women
     (John Wesley Powell, 1867-1880)

They have a belief that a woman who lives much beyond the period of bearing children will turn into a U-nu-pits, or witch, and will be doomed to live in a snake skin. It is believed better to die than to meet with such a fate. This is not only the general sentiment prevailing among the people, but great pains are taken to inculcate this belief, and it is quite common for old women to commit suicide, which they do by voluntary starving. I once saw three old women around a fire in a deserted camp. The other members had left sometime before and these had remained behind for the purpose of dying by starvation. When I rode up to the camp they paid no attention to me but sat gazing into the fire for some time and then each one supporting herself by a staff rose to her feet and they joined in a dance which was a shuffling movement, circling around the fire. This dance was accompanied by a chant as follows:…..

…Alas, alas, alas
Alas, alas, alas
Here long enough have I walked the earth
Here long enough have I walked the earth
Enough, enough
Let me die, let me die.

I did not know what it meant at the time, yet it made a deep impression upon my mind, for the song itself and the circumstances, and whole manner of the women was wild and weird in the extreme. When they had chanted for perhaps half and hour in this way they sat down again, mumbling something which I could not understand, and gazing in the fire. They rose again and danced, and again sat down. At last I rode on, and coming a few days afterwards to where the tribe was encamped, I made inquiry and learned that these women had remained behind for the purpose of dying by starvation and that it was considered by the rest of the tribe as being very meritorious.

[#32] Ute: “Postmenopausal Women,” from J. W. Powell, Anthropology of the Numa. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1971, pp. 61A, 61B.

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#31 Girls Going Qovisti
     (Mischa Titiev, 1932-1940)

There is a current belief among the Hopi that boys have more tractable dispositions and better tempers than girls. When a boy has a fight with someone he “doesn’t mean it” and soon gets over his anger, but when a girl quarrels she nurses her resentment for a long time afterwards. In fact, it is said that an angry girl may, out of self pity or to spite her parents, decide to die. In such an event she turns her face to the west and refuses to heed the good advice of parents, uncles or medicine men. After a time, even fear and late repentance are of no avail and, despite all efforts to save her, the girl withers away and dies. This type of wilful suicide is called qövisti and is carefully distinguished from other self inflicted deaths. Instances of girls dying qövisti are freely cited.

Not all girls are said to be endowed with the capacity to become qövisti and some readily admit that they have tried it and failed, while others are pointed out as having latent tendencies in that direction. The symptoms are moodiness, sullen silence, and stubbornness. Men are by nature incapable of going qövisti as they want to live as long as possible. A native theorist told me that girls were subject to this phenomenon, because they put too high a value on themselves. As prospective mothers on whom the perpetuation of the clan depends, they become so vain (qwivi) that they disregard the instructions of their brothers and maternal uncles. Men and women alike are ever ready to admit the temperamental differences between the sexes, and a young woman once told me naïvely that one of the men in the village was “as mean as a girl.”


[#9] Hopi: “Girls Going Qövisti,” from Mischa Titiev, Old Oraibi: A study of the Hopi Indians of the Third Mesa, 1944 (field dates 1932-1944).   New York: Kraus Reprint Co., 1971, 1972.


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#30 How the Hopi Marked the Boundary Line
     (Edmund Nequatewa, 1936)

Now with all this fighting and the Navajo coming in around them, the Hopi were always thinking of their boundary lines and of how they should be marked in some way. But how? What sort of a mark could they put that would be respected by other peoples? It must be something that both the Hopis and the Navajos would remember.

So just at this time there were two men at Walpi who were rivals over a woman named Wupo-wuti. Now both these men were looking for a chance to show this woman how brave and strong they were. Finally they thought of this boundary line and the “theory” of the their people that it should be marked in such a way that everyone would always remember. So these two men thought that this was a chance for them to prove themselves and to really do something for their people at the same time. They thought they would plan a fight with the Navajos as near the boundary line as they could get and there they would sacrifice themselves32 and leave their skulls to mark the line. In this way they thought that they would prove that they were brave and good fighters and they would really be doing something for their people, and so it was agreed upon.

Then Masale (feathers crossed) said they would go to Fort Defiance. So they both made an agreement that they would go early in the fall. Tawupu (rabbit skin blanket) thought they were going alone, but later he found out that there was going to be a party going over. He thought they were sacrificing too many lives, but, of course, he had made the promise to this other man so that he could not tell on him or give him away at that time. The crier made an announcement that whoever wanted to go to Fort Defiance with this party was welcome, and that they must prepare themselves and be ready to go soon. Masale has a son named Hani and he loved him, so he thought that he would take him along. He figured that if he should be killed it might be best for the boy to die also. Of course, this being a time of war, everyone was asked to take his bows and arrows along. Masale asked his boy to come along and to be sure to make some new arrows. The boy, of course, being ignorant of his father’s plans, was glad to go with them.

By this time the people had found out that the two rivals were going together to Fort Defiance, and they figured out that there was something going to happen – that they were going out to give themselves away, or sacrifice their lives.

The morning of the day they were starting out, one of the relatives of this boy, Hani, asked him if he was going along with his father and he said he was. This man said to the boy that it would be better for him not to go with them. But Hani said he was all ready and the man, being his father, he was going along with him.

“Well,” this relative said, “if you are, I will warn you right now. Wherever you camp you want to be sure where you lay your weapons or your bows and arrows, for your will be in danger.” He told him never to lay his bow and arrows under his head, but that he must lay them at his feet. “Because,” this man said, “if you are lying on your back with your bows and arrows at your feet and you are waked up suddenly you will jump up forward. Having your weapons there at your feet you will lay your hands on them every time.” He also told him that he must try not to sleep too soundly; that he must remember he was in danger all the time.

Hani, after getting his warning, started out and was the last on to leave. At that time the trail was through Keams Canyon. When he was quite a ways through the canyon, an eagle flew over his head and it was flying low. He thought that if the eagle settled down somewhere on a rock he would kill it and take the feathers along in case he wanted to make some more arrows on the way, so he kind of hid himself in the brush. Finally the eagle landed on top of a rock and Hani crawled toward him and took a shot at him. He did get him and the bird fell from the rock. Hani ran over to the place and found that his eagle was a buzzard. This seemed kind of strange, for he really had seen an eagle. That made him sort of suspicious. He thought it might be a warning or witchcraft, but as he was on his way already, he couldn’t very well turn back. Well, finally he came up with the party, in the late afternoon.

That night when they made their first camp he had the warnings in his mind and he couldn’t sleep. Anyway, he must have fallen asleep for a while and when he opened his eyes he was wide awake. He heard two men talking but he didn’t make any noise and pretended he was sound asleep. He recognized his father’s voice and also the voice of the other man, Tawupu. He overheard Tawupu asking his father why he had brought his boy along and his father said he couldn’t very well leave him behind because he loved him so dearly. He said that if his boy should refuse to come along with him he would back out too, and he said it would be better for both of them if they got killed. When the boy began to move the two men rushed back and crawled into their beds. Now, after Hani had overheard what the two men had said, he couldn’t sleep.

From then on the boy was rather uneasy every night when they made camp. After they lay down to sleep he’d keep awake quite a while because he knew, then, what the two men were up to. All the rest of the party didn’t seem to know anything about it. They were ignorant of the plans of the two men.

After several days on the road, they finally reached the place – Fort Defiance. There they were welcomed by the white man and were asked to stay several days with them. There were twelve or fifteen men in the party. Four being sacred number of the Hopi, they decided to stay four days. On the fourth day, when they were getting ready to go back home, the Bahana gave them flour and sugar and coffee and different kinds of cloth, besides yarns.

So the next morning when they were ready to leave, every burro they had with them was pretty well packed. Before they left they were asked if they would like to have a guard to go along with them. In case they were in any danger, they would have someone to show that they were the friends of the white man and they were not to be harmed, but since they didn’t see any signs of danger when they were coming over they refused to take a guard along. Having been granted all their wishes for things that they had wanted for so long, they were very happy when they left there.

They were two days on the road before they reached Ganado, and the night before they reached Ganado this boy, Hani, overheard the two men talking with some other man. This time there were three men sitting around the camp fire quietly smoking. The boy could not really understand just what they were saying because it was all in a whisper. Then, of course, he couldn’t help but move and when he did, one man rushed off and the other two men went to bed. One man was an outsider, a Navajo. The next morning the boy was more suspicious than ever, but still he could not ask his father what this night meeting was about.

So that day they traveled all day (on the other side of Ganado). On this day camp was made rather early and they said they wanted to get settled before dark. So they got everything ready before the sun went down, which was northwest of Ganado in the red hills. They said that they would have a good supper that night, so they cooked a great deal of their food that they had gotten at Fort Defiance – with bacon and some beef that they had brought along. Having an early supper, they said they would go to bed soon and would get up early in the morning, for they figured on reaching home the next night.

This man, Masale, the boy’s father, seemed very happy that night. Before going to bed they cut a lot of branches off the cedars and brush that was around and put them clear around the camp, as a windbreak, you might say. Against this they put their saddles and all the packs that they had. That night Hani kept awake quite a long time, but he could not stand it very long so he finally fell asleep.

During the night sometime, Hani thought that he was dreaming and that there was a heavy hail storm coming up for he thought that he heard the hail dropping. First he heard it dropping slowly and then faster. When he was wide awake he knew what was going on. They were being attacked and when he did come to, all the men were up. About this time his father spoke at the top of his voice in Apache, then in Navajo and then in Zuni. He was asking who it was that was attacking them. The boy did not forget where to have his bow and arrows every night, so when he did jump up he had his hands right on his bow. By this time arrows were coming from every direction. When Hani was well on his feet all the enemy rushed into the camp, and as this was during the night he did not know who was who. Anyway, he started on a run and they chased after him. It happened that some Navajo had a corn patch near there and in the corn patch he had some squash with very long vines. Hani thought the whole country was full of enemies, so he hid under the vines, breathless and excited. He heard his father make his last groan and he was very angry. Dead or alive, he decided to go back, but found himself with only a few arrows, two or three left. So he ran back to the camp and when he got there he found his father dead, with many arrows sticking in his body. His scalp was gone. He thought that before doing anything else he must find his arrows and he found them rolled up in his blanket. This little blanket was only half the size of a double saddle blanket. Now the enemy thought that he was one of their party so he was not shot at until he had shot at them. As the enemy followed him he ran backward, holding the little blanket in front of him to stop the arrows. The moon was just going down below the horizon and it was getting quite dark.

At first he did not realize that he had been shot, for being a good runner the enemy could not keep up with him, but when he got up to the hills they were rather too steep for him to climb, because he realized then that he was shot, one arrow in his stomach, one in his hip and one between his shoulders. He pulled out two, the one from his hip and the one from his stomach, but he couldn’t reach the one in his back. Well, anyway, he thought himself dead when he started to crawl up the hill. When he was halfway up the hill he cried for his dear life and prayed to his gods that if he should die, some day his skull would be found there. He didn’t know how many of the party were killed or saved; he didn’t know whether they were all dead or not. When he said his prayers, he cried some more, but he couldn’t cry very loud, for he’d rather die in peace than have the enemy find him and use a club on him.

As he was going up, it began to show that it was dawn. He could see the daylight over the horizon and he wished that he would not die. If the sun did com up in time, he believed that it would give him strength. Of course, he couldn’t help from groaning as he crawled up, and then he heard someone speak to him from the top of the hill, which scared him nearly to death and he thought some enemy had headed him off, so he did not answer. The voice came again and it was in plain Hopi. It said, “Are you hurt badly?” And he said, “Yes.” And then the other said, “Will you be able to make it up here?” But he said, “No.” So this other man came down and helped him up. When they got up he recognized this man and it was a man by the name of Mai-yaro. Well, this man said to the wounded boy that they would try to travel on together, as he was not wounded. He had been in the party, but had got away safely.

Hani told him to go on and leave him alone for he was done for and was ready to die, but this other man refused to leave him. He said that if the enemy should head them off and follow them, he would be willing to die with him. So they went on walking slowly, and while they were going along, another man named Tochi (Moccasin) joined them. He was hiding too. Hani asked them both again to leave him and run on home but they both refused. They asked him which of his wounds hurt him most and he said the arrow in his back hurt him the worst. So they thought they would pull this arrow out, but it was stuck fast in the bone. They tried it, but the shaft came off from the point. Then it was even harder to pull out. So they both tried their teeth on it and finally they pulled it out. One of these men was asked to scout ahead and the other to scout behind. So each man was supposed to be about one-fourth mile from the wounded man.

They were going very slowly. Finally they went down into another valley. It was about sunrise. As they were going along Hani saw a rabbit, a little cottontail on the side of the trail, and he wanted to shoot this rabbit because he said he was hungry and needed something to eat. Well, the other man said not to kill the rabbit. He said, “You belong to the Rabbit Clan and you can’t kill that rabbit. It might bring you luck if left alive. It might bring us both luck.” So he said, “Let the rabbit live.”

They thought of a spring around the point, for they were both tired and thirsty. Instead of scouting ahead, the third man, Tochi, had run home. When they got to the spring Mai-yaro would not let the wounded boy have a big drink, thinking that his stomach was injured. When they got kind of cooled off, Mai-yaro thought he would look back over the hill and see if the enemy was following. Before he left, he told the wounded man not to drink any more, for if his stomach was injured badly it would not hold water. But just as soon as he left Hani took a big drink and he felt much better.

Well, Mai-yaro went over the hill and as he looked down on the trail he saw a Navajo walking back and forth over the trail. He watched this Navajo for quite a while and he saw that he was very much discouraged. Well, finally, the Navajo turned back, so Mai-yaro went back to the spring and when he got there Hani told him he had had a big drink and felt better and he asked to have some more.

Then they both started back for the trail. This man, Mai-yaro, said he would go back to the trail and see what the Navajo was doing. When he got where they had seen the rabbit he found that the rabbit was gone. So he investigated there and found that the rabbit had gone over their tracks three times. So the rabbit had disappointed the Navajo who thought the men had passed him in the night long before daylight.

It was about the middle of the day, and it was hot, so they got in among some rocks. Hani was pretty well tired out and he said he would like to lie down for awhile and cool himself off. So he did lie down under one of the rocks and fell right asleep and the other man kept awake. Well, this man on the watch would close his eyes every little while and as he was doing this, he saw the shadow of a little bird on top of a rock. It was a little rock sparrow and it was very much excited about something. The man thought this was a warning to them, so they got right up and started on.

As they were going along it began to show signs that it was going to rain. Clouds were coming up. When it did cloud up they felt very much better, for they were cooled off. Then it started to rain. They thought they would not stop for shelter, but kept right on going while it rained. Finally, it poured down on them and there was a regular cloudburst. It rained so hard on them that it washed all the blood off Hani. He said that he felt much better, so Mai-yaro asked him to try himself out on a trot.

The man asked him if he felt his wounds hurting him and he said, “No.” Then he asked him to go a little faster, and then he asked him again how he felt. Hani said that he felt all right, so Mai-yaro asked him to run as fast as he could. Then he asked him again if the wounds hurt him. Hani said, “No,” and thought that he was well, so Mai-yaro said, “Let’s go then.”

Now when Tochi reached Walpi and told the people what had happened, Hani’s mother heard that he had been wounded badly and might die, so she wrapped up some piki and some sweet corn meal and she started out to look for him, all by herself. Now this was a very brave thing for a Hopi woman to do. She thought that she might find him dead somewhere and if she did she would roll his body under a ledge of rock or a bank of earth and cover him up with heavy stones and she would leave the piki and the sweet corn meal there for him.

But near the head of Jeddito Canyon she saw two men coming and then she recognized them for it was her boy Hani and Mai-yaro with him. And when they met they could not help but cry for joy. They hurried on home from there and when they came to the edge of the mesa south of Walpi, they saw clouds of dust in the valley coming toward them. They wondered what it was and thought it was an attack on the mesa. So they said to themselves, if there was an attack they would go on and meet the Navajo. So they went on and were met halfway and they found that this was a war party sent out to help them. When they met the whole party hurried back to the mesa and there at the foot of the mesa the whole village was crying for they found that only six men were saved out of the party that went to Fort Defiance.

Hani chose his godfather at the foot of the mesa, and of course it was Mai-yaro who was the first one to find him wounded, so instead of going to his own house he went with this man to be washed up and cared for the next day. When this was done he fasted four days. On the fourth day he was given his new name, “Hani.” From then on he always had in mind to get even with the Navajos in that part of the country, and so he did, for later he led war parties to that country often and brought back a scalp every time. He was considered one of the greatest and bravest men of the Walpi villages.

[#30] Hopi: Edmund Nequatewa, “How the Hopi Marked the Boundary Line,” from The Truth of a Hopi and Other Clan Stories of Shung-opovi. Flagstaff, Arizona: Northern Arizona Society of Science & Art, 1936, endnote 33.


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#29 Making Arrangements for Suicide
     (Edmund Nequatewa, 1936)

The Hopi idea of committing suicide, or “sacrificing themselves” is difficult for a white man to understand, for it is very Oriental.

If a Hopi has enemies, or there is someone who is causing him great misery, he becomes so unhappy that he wishes to destroy himself. But he cannot do away with himself without “losing face” as the Chinese say, or in other words, losing his reputation as a brave man. Therefore, he looks about for someone, or some other tribe, who may be bribed to make a sham attack upon him or upon his village during which he will be killed. It is arranged with the enemy that he will be the first to rush out against them and as soon as he is killed the enemy will promptly retreat. Of course, a few innocent people may suffer in the melee, but this seems to be regarded only as a regrettable necessity.

A man desiring to make arrangements for his suicide will meet secretly with the “enemy,” taking him gifts and between them all the details of the affair will be arranged. It is agreed upon at this time that the victim shall wear all his valuables, such as strings of turquoise, etc., so that the hired assassins may thus receive the remainder of their pay from the body of the “victim.” And so it is that the Hopi suicide makes a glorious end!

I am told that many of the Navaho and Ute raids upon the Hopi villages were just such pre-arranged affairs.

[#7] Hopi: Edmund Nequatewa, “Making Arrangements for Suicide,” from The Truth of a Hopi and Other Clan Stories of Shung-opovi. 
Flagstaff, Arizona: Northern Arizona Society of Science & Art, 1936, endnote 32.

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#28 Crazy Violence
     (B. Kaplan and D. Johnson, 1964)

He spent most of his time at his family’s sheep camp and had little contact with anyone other than his brothers, sister, and mother, who occasionally brought things to him. Shortly before our arrival in the field in 1961, he shot at his mother and brother and then shot himself. His mother described the incident:

On Saturday evening we were over with A. At six o’clock his brothers came around from working to eat with us. I didn’t know anyone had been drinking. The boys decided to take me and A to a Squaw dance. I didn’t want to go so I didn’t. A was drinking, but I didn’t know it.  He didn’t say anything all this time. At nine o’clock he asked me for the keys to the Hogan, and I asked what was wrong. He just said, “What’s the matter with you?” He got an axe and tried to knock the door down, and he did. I asked one of my boys, “What’s the matter with your brother?” I was shaking blankets behind the wagon – the car was by the wagon – I heard the shot. It went right through the trunk of the car. The girl and I ran off. We heard four more shots. I don’t know any reason why he should get mad. He shot himself in the head, and he’s in the hospital. (p. 217)

In the crazy violence pattern there is a “heroic” element of honesty and willingness to take the consequences, an element more than slightly reminiscent of some of Dostoevsky’s more violent characters. The person is violent and almost inhuman in his brutality, but he knows what he is doing. He is deliberately reckless, and he acts in spite of the consequences to come. He does not avoid pain, suffering, and trouble for himself any more than for his victim. Although his victim suffers, he is ready to suffer also. Evidence for this readiness can be found in the relatively large number of suicides that terminate these violent outbursts. Perhaps the key to this violent transformation from Navaho normality is the suicidal needs that are part of this pattern. The recklessness expresses a willingness to die and to be hurt.

[#28] Navajo: “The social meaning of Navaho psychopathology and psychotherapy,” from Bert Kaplan and Dale Johnson in Ari Kiev’s Magic, Faith, and Healing: Studies in Primitive Psychiatry TodayNew York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1964, pg. 217.

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