The American Indian: General Information Prior to 1900 Part V
 

 
 
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Social Organization

Government was based upon the gentile or clan system everywhere excepting among certain tribes of the plains and the Pacific region, notably the Kiowa and Klamath. Under this system the tribe was organized into certain clans or gentes, the members of each clan being considered as so closely related to each other that intermarriage within the clan was forbidden.

Children usually belonged to the mother's clan and descent was in the female line. Chief ship and certain civil and religious functions inhered in particular clans. Captives or other aliens must be adopted into a family and clan in order to become members of the tribe. These clans were commonly known by the name of some class of animals, e.g. bear, beaver, wolf, etc.; more rarely by plant or other designations. In other words, the clan was distinguished by a totem, as it is now universally called, and the totemic practices were inseparably tied up with their religious rituals and social organization.

Among the plains tribes generally the clan system was either absent or quiescent, the unit being the band, each band having its own appointed place in the camping circle at the great tribal gatherings, as for instance the annual sun dance.

In exceptional cases tribes combined into confederacies sometimes accidental and temporary, at other times built up in steady pursuance of a definite policy, as among the Iroquois and Creeks.

Land was the common property of the clan, tribe, or confederacy, excepting in certain tribes of California and the northwest coast, where it is asserted that individual ownership existed. Game, timber, and other natural products were also free, and hospitality was so much a cardinal virtue that it might almost be said that everything which was not hedged in by some sacred taboo was common property within the tribe and might be had for the asking, or without it if there seemed need. While this system almost eliminated the individual pauper, it killed ambition and hindered advancement by making it impossible for any man to rise far above the general level. Accumulation was impossible, and even what property he might possess was usually destroyed at his death. The niggard was rated with the coward, and in some tribes a man rose to the highest rank of distinction by giving away all that he owned. Along the Lower Columbia and the northwest coast this public surrender of the savings of a lifetime was a recognized tribal custom known as the potlatch.

Slavery was a regular institution on the Pacific Coast from Alaska to California, the slaves being prisoners of war, their children and descendants, who thus constituted a permanent slave caste within the tribe, condemned to hard labor, harsh treatment, sale, or death at the will of their masters. Slavery of a milder type seems to have existed among the South Atlantic tribes. In more modern times the Southern Indians followed the example of the colonists, and became the owners of negro slaves.

Numerous societies existed for various purposes, military, religious, and social. The plains tribes had a custom by which two young men mutually agreed to become partners or "friends" through life the compact being sometimes ratified by a public exchange of names.

Woman, while subject to her husband in ordinary affairs and debarred from certain societies and ceremonies, had yet well-defined rights of her own. She was complete mistress in household affairs, and among the Eastern tribes had either a voice or a representation in councils. With the Iroquois all important questions must be passed upon by a council of the women, who alone had power to declare war. The right of adoption, which meant the decision of a captive's fate, rested also with the women. In general her position was highest in the agricultural tribes. In the division of labor most of the heavy work fell to her share, while the dangerous and arduous undertakings belonged to the man. Polygamy was recognized in most of the tribes excepting the Pueblos.

Language

The first attempt at classifying the North American languages was made by Albert Gallatin in 1836, the relationships being established chiefly by a comparison of word roots. The beginning of regular systematic research dates from the establishment of the Bureau, is 57, as given below, but it is probable that more extended study will reduce this number by disclosing affinities as yet undiscovered.

 
Algonquian
Athapascan
Attacapan
Beothukan
Caddoan
Chimakuan
Chimarikan
Chimmesyan
Chinookan
Chitimachan
Chumashan
Coahuiltecan
Copehan
Costanoan
Eskimauan
Esselenian
Iroquoian
Kalapooian
Karankawan
Keresan
Kiowan
Kitunahan
Koluschan
Kulanapan
Kusan
Lutuamian
Mariposan
Moquelumnan
Muskhogean
Natchesan
Palaihnihan
Piman
Pujunan
Quoratean
Salinan
Salishan
Sastean
Shahaptian
Shoshonean
Siouan
Skittagetan
Takilman
Tanoan
Timuquanan
Tonikan
Tonkawan
Uchean
Waiilatpuan
Wakashan
Washoan
Weitspekan
Wishoskan
Yakonan
Yanan
Yukian
Yuman
Zunian

The necessity for some common means of intercommunication was supplied by trade jargons, chief of which were the "Mobilian language, and the Chinook jargon, and by the sign language on the plains. Some tribes had made fairly successful attempts at recording their history and mythic traditions by means of pictographs. Of these the best-known are the Walam Olum of the Delaware, and the Kiowa calendars. Intertribal compacts were commemorated among the Eastern tribes by means of symbolic wampum belts. The Cherokee alone had a literature recorded in an alphabet of their own invention.

 

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: The American Indian: General Information Prior to 1900 Part V
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

BIBLIOGRAPHY: From my Collection of Books: The New International Encyclopedia; 1902-1905 Dodd, Mead and Company-New York Total of 21 Volumes
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