Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 36.djvu/820

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

element of man is directly stated; and in connection with this there is the following passage from the "Ethnography and Philology of the Hidatsa Indians"[1] by the same learned author:

"They" (the Hidatsa Indians) "worship everything in nature. Not man alone, but the sun, the moon, the stars, all the lower animals, all trees and plants, rivers and lakes, many bowlders and other separated rocks, even some small hills and buttes which stand alone—in short, everything not made by human hands, which has an independent being, or can be individualized, possesses a spirit, or, more properly, a shade.

"To these shades some respect or consideration is due, but not equally to all. For instance, the shade of the cottonwood, the greatest tree of the upper Missouri Valley, is supposed to possess an intelligence which may, if properly approached, assist them in certain undertakings; but the shades of shrubs and grasses are of little importance... . Formerly it was considered wrong to cut down one of these great trees, and, when large logs were needed, only such as were found fallen were used; and to-day some of the more credulous old men declare that many of the misfortunes of the people are the result of their modern disregard for the rights of the living cottonwood."

These views are exactly similar to those held by the negroes of the Gold and Slave Coasts. With them, as with the Hidatsa Indians, the shades, or third elements, of shrubs and grasses, which experience has proved to be innocuous, are of little importance; while, like the cottonwood, the Bombax, the giant of the West African forest, whose gray trunk frequently rises to a height of ninety feet before a single branch is thrown out, is reverenced. The Tshi-speaking peoples have indeed classed the indwelling spirits, or third elements, of these trees into a species called Srahmantin—monstrous beings, gray in color and with long hair, who hurl down the decayed trees upon passers-by. How did the Hidatsa Indians form the belief that "everything not made by human hands, which has an independent being, or can be individualized, possesses a spirit, or, more properly, a shade"? Do they, like the Navajos, believe that they possess a third element; and have they, like the negroes of the Gold and Slave Coasts, extended the belief to all nature, or has with them Nature-worship originated in some other way?

Among other instances reported from North America the following may be mentioned: The Algonquins are said to believe in two "souls," one of which goes out during sleep, and whose adventures during its absence are the occurrences dreamed of, while the other stays with the body. The same people are also said to believe that sickness is caused by the man's "shadow"

  1. Washington, Government Printing-Office, 1877, p. 48.