#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.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Americas, Indigenous Cultures, North American Native Cultures

Leave a Reply