Folk-Lore/Volume 23/The "Dreamers" of the Mohave-Apache Tribe (Abstract)

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Folk-Lore, Volume 23
Number 2 (June); The "Dreamers" of the Mohave-Apache Tribe (Abstract) by Barbara Freire-Marreco



(Read at Meeting, April 17th, 1912.)

[The following abstract is made by permission of the Ethnologist-in-charge of the Bureau of American Ethnology, to whom a report on the Mohave-Apache will shortly be submitted.]

The Mohave-Apache, or Yavapai, are a small disorganised tribe of Yuman speech, of whom a certain number (less than two hundred) are settled on the M'Dowell Reservation. Their social organisation is slight; they live in camps of one, two, or three families, each camp ruled by one of the married men. There is no council; the war chieftainship is obsolete; one or two men, heads of large camps, are influential in an informal way. The people are much preoccupied with questions of health and disease. Agriculture is little developed, and their wars have come to an end, so that they have few common interests except health. Consumption is prevalent. The most important persons are the "doctors," kithié.

Certain of these are "little doctors," kithié kádye, who own songs to treat special cases; one has a song for snakebite, another a war-song to confer invulnerability, and another has a song for fractures and also keeps a stock of splints to set them; another man supplies the rarer medicinal roots. The kithié practise cupping on the forehead (by cutting and sucking) for headache, but they do not as a rule prescribe or give medicines. The "sucking cure" is known, but discredited. The regular method of cure is by singing and shaking a rattle over the sick person.

The kithié par excellence are the sumajc, "dreamers." Four of these are recognised on the Reservation at present. They sing to cure, not one sort only, but all sorts of diseases. They also foretell pestilence and war, and prescribe public dances at which they "send a word up to heaven" on behalf of the people. The sumajc are qualified by having passed through a series of individual experiences, usually beginning in boyhood, by which they are brought into communication with a Person who makes them sumajc and tells them to cure the sick. This Person is spoken of sometimes as the Sun ("the person that passes over the sky"); sometimes as askátaga-ámaje (a myth-personage), or as "God" under the influence of recent Christian teaching; sometimes as "sumajc" or "the maker of sumajc," or the "head of all the sumajc." In any case he is referred to as a "man" or "person" (pa), and Dr. Corbusier's description of him in animistic language as "the wise and truthful spirit Semache" seems to rest on a misapprehension. The Mohave-Apache have also the idea of the dead man, miye, as a terrifying and dangerous apparition by night or in lonely places, and of dead people seen in dreams; but this has nothing to do with the sumajc's inspiration. Neither does the sumajc profess to expel "spirits" from the sick.

The sumajc's experiences are spoken of as his "dreams," but it is said that they are quite different from ordinary dreams. They include several Soul-journey and Interview types, apparitions, lights, voices, and a sensation of "seeing all the world," all this being sometimes embodied in a prolonged experience of resistance, final yielding, and illumination not unlike conversion.

When a man has had these experiences, he recounts them to the public at a dance, seeking acceptance and recognition. He is not really established as a sumaje until people begin to call him to sing over the sick. The status of a sumaje can be lost through failures to cure, especially at the outset of his career.

The sumaje are paid for their services. Some of them teach their sons or take apprentices, but though they can give them their songs they cannot guarantee public recognition and acceptance, which depend on the experiences which the candidate is able to recount.

Some women are sumaje.