Houses and House-Life of the American Aborigines/Preface

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The following work substantially formed the Fifth Part of the original manuscript of "Ancient Society," under the title "Growth of the Idea of House Architecture." As the manuscript exceeded the limits of a single volume, this portion (Part V) was removed; and having then no intention to publish it separately, the greater part of it found its way into print in detached articles. A summary was given to Johnson's New Universal Cyclopedia in the article on the "Architecture of the American Aborigines." The chapter on the "Houses of the Aztecs" formed the basis of the article entitled "Montezuma's Dinner," published in the North American Review, in April, 1876. Another chapter, that on the "Houses of the Mound Builders," was published in the same Review in July, 1876. Finally, the present year, at the request of the executive committee of the "Archæological Institute of America," at Cambridge, I prepared from the same materials an article entitled "A Study of the Houses and House Life of the Indian Tribes," with a scheme for the exploration of the ruins in New Mexico, Arizona, the San Juan region, Yucatan, and Central America.

With some additions and reductions the facts are now presented in their original form; and as they will now have a wider distribution than the articles named have had, they will be new to most of my readers. The facts and suggestions made will also have the advantage of being presented in their proper connection. Thus additional strength is given to the argument as a whole. All the forms of this architecture sprang from a common mind, and exhibit, as a consequence, different stages of development of the same conceptions, operating upon similar necessities. They also represent these several conditions of Indian life with reasonable completeness. Their houses will be seen to form one system of works, from the Long House of the Iroquois to the Joint Tenement houses of adobe and of stone in New Mexico, Yucatan, Chiapas, and Guatemala, with such diversities as the different degrees of advancement of these several tribes would naturally produce. Studied as one system, springing from a common experience, and similar wants, and under institutions of the same general character, they are seen to indicate a plan of life at once novel, original, and distinctive.

The principal fact, which all these structures alike show, from the smallest to the greatest, is that the family through these stages of progress was too weak an organization to face alone the struggle of life, and sought a shelter for itself in large households composed of several families. The house for a single family was exceptional throughout aboriginal America, while the house large enough to accommodate several families was the rule. Moreover, they were occupied as joint tenement houses. There was also a tendency to form these households on the principle of gentile kin, the mothers with their children being of the same gens or clan.

If we enter upon the great problem of Indian life with a determination to make it intelligible, their house life and domestic institutions must furnish the key to its explanation. These pages are designed as a commencement of that work. It is a fruitful, and, at present, but partially explored field. We have been singularly inattentive to the plan of domestic life revealed by the houses of the aboriginal period. Time and the influences of civilization have told heavily upon their mode of life until it has become so far modified, and in many cases entirely overthrown, that it must be taken up as a new investigation upon the general facts which remain. At the epoch of European discovery it was in full vitality in North and South America; but the opportunities of studying its principles and its results were neglected. As a scheme of life under established institutions, it was a remarkable display of the condition of mankind in two well marked ethnical periods; namely, the Older Period and the Middle Period of barbarism; the first being represented by the Iroquois and the second by the Aztecs, or ancient Mexicans. In no part of the earth were these two conditions of human progress so well represented as by the American Indian tribes. A knowledge of the culture and of the state of the arts of life in these periods is indispensable to a definite conception of the stages of human progress. From the laws which govern this progress, from the uniformity of their operation, and from the necessary limitations of the principle of intelligence, we may conclude that our own remote ancestors passed through a similar experience and possessed very similar institutions. In studying the condition of the Indian tribes in these periods we may recover some portion of the lost history of our own race. This consideration lends incentive to the investigation.

The first chapter is a condensation of four in "Ancient Society," namely, those on the gens, phratry, tribe, and confederacy of tribes. As they formed a necessary part of that work, they become equally necessary to this. A knowledge of these organizations is indispensable to an understanding of the house life of the aborigines. These organizations form the basis of American ethnology. Although the discussion falls short of a complete explanation of their character and of their prevalence, it will give the reader a general idea of the organization of society among them.

We are too apt to look upon the condition of savage and of barbarous tribes as standing on the same plane with respect to advancement. They should be carefully distinguished as dissimilar conditions of progress. Moreover, savagery shows stages of culture and of progress, and the same is true of barbarism. It will greatly facilitate the study of the facts relating to these two conditions, through which mankind have passed in their progress to civilization, to discriminate between ethnical periods, or stages of culture both in savagery and in barbarism. The progress of mankind from their primitive condition to civilization has been marked and eventful. Each great stage of progress is connected, more or less directly, with some important invention or discovery which materially influenced human progress, and inaugurated an improved condition. For these reasons the period of savagery has been divided into three subperiods, and that of barbarism also into three; the latter of which are chiefly important in their relation to the condition of the Indian tribes. The Older Period of barbarism, which commences with the introduction of the art of pottery, and the Middle Period, which commences with the use of adobe brick in the construction of houses, and with the cultivation of maize and plants by irrigation, mark