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[039] Dakota Beliefs and Customs

Dakota Beliefs and Customs

Dakota Beliefs and Customs


The Dakotas have names for the natural divisions of time. Their years they count by winters. A man is so many winters old, or so many winters have passed since such an event. When one goes on a journey, he says he will be back in so many sleeps. They have no division of time into weeks, and their months are literally by moons.

The Dakotas believe that when the moon is full, a great number of small mice begin to nibble on one side. They nibble until they eat up the entire moon. So when the new moon begins to grow, it is to them really a new moon; the old one has been eaten up.

The Dakota mother loves her baby as well as the white woman does hers. When the spirit takes its flight a wild howl goes up from the tent. The baby form is wrapped in the best buffalo calfskin, or the best red blanket, and laid away on a scaffold or on the branch of some tree. There the mother goes with disheveled hair and oldest clothes, the best ones having been given away, and wails out her sorrow in the twilight, wailing often until far into the cold night. The nice kettle of hominy is prepared, and carried to the scaffold where the spirit hovers for several days. When the kettle has remained there long enough for the _wanagi_, the spirit, to inhale the food, the little children of the village are invited to eat up the rest.

When a hunter dies, the last act of the medicine man is to sing a song to conduct the spirit over the _wanagi tacanku_, the spirit's road, as the Milky Way is called. The friends give away their good clothes. They wear ragged clothes, with bare feet, and ashes on their hands. Both within and without the lodge there is a great wailing. "_Micinski, micinski, my son, my son,_" is the lamentation in Dakota land as it was in Israel.

The dead hunter is wrapped in the most beautifully painted buffalo robe, or in the newest red and blue blanket. Young men are called and feasted, and their duty it is to carry the body away and place it on a scaffold, for the dead remain not long in the tepee. In more recent times they bury it. The custom of burial immediately after death, however, was not a Dakota custom. The spirit did not bid farewell to the body for several days after death, and so the body was laid on a high scaffold or in some tree crotch where it would have a good view of the surrounding country, and also be safe from wolves.

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