Stages of Life
Indian people took great care in raising their infants. They even had special baby doctors. This was not true in every tribe but, in many, there were men and women who had visions, teaching them how to treat infants' diseases. Some even understood the language of what was termed babyland. Babyland was the explanation given to account for the helplessness and danger of the first year of life. Baby souls, it was thought, had a land of their own, where they lived and played without adults. When an infant came to earth, he/she was still talking the language of this land, though they forgot it in time. If they liked the life on earth, they stayed to grow up and become adults. Their soul grew, too; and when they died, it went to the regular land of the dead. If they did not like the life on earth, their soul went back to babyland; and if parents were truly sorry about their loss and wanted another child, it might come to them again. This time, however, they would receive a baby of the opposite sex.
It was important, therefore, to keep a baby happy and to learn what he/she liked and disliked. The duty of the "child specialist" was to interpret their wants. Sometimes the specialist told the parents that the infant did not like the name they had given them. Or he knew that some ceremony was being conducted incorrectly. The specialist also ordered, as modern doctors do, that the child must be kept away from others who were ill. A sick child might tell another in baby language: "I am not happy here. Let us go back to babyland." (It had been noticed that when one infant died, several others often died, too.) The child specialist told the parents the home must be kept happy, because quarreling and unkind thoughts could make a baby ill.
The baby spent the first year of his life on a cradleboard and/or blanket. In Pat Noel's Muckleshoot Indian History, she writes that for the first few months of life a child was carried
by the mother in a blanket or shawl tied around her back or front (similar to a sling) and that as more Yakima influence came to Muckleshoot, the cradleboard was introduced and used. The boards were of various shapes and some were made of basketry, some of wood. Indians of the Northwest preferred their favorite cedar wood. They used a section of slender trunk and hollowed it out like a canoe or a wooden serving dish. Then they filled it with shredded cedar bark. In this, the naked baby was bedded as carefully as a jewel. His feet were placed higher than his head, since this was good for digestion. There were pads under neck and knees and most important of all, a pad across his forehead.
The pad across his forehead was for beauty purposes. The baby was to grow up with a forehead that was broad and flat, rising to a peak at the top of the head. This was done by using a pad of soft cedarbark, with a board over it which was strapped across the forehead. If left there for the first few months, while the bones were soft, this slow pressure over a period of time set the fore head in the right shape with out hurting the child. Mothers did this as dutifully as modern mothers put braces on a child's teeth. Other wise the little one would have a head "like a rock". The broad forehead and the cone-shaped head were a mark of high class.
Every day the baby was taken out for bathing and massage. After the baby had been cleaned, he/she was rubbed with oil made from whale or dogfish or a kind of crane which they killed for oil. For baby powder, willow ash or red ochre was used. A mother massaged her baby's arms and legs so they would be straight and his ears so they would not stick out. She would even pinch its nose into the high narrow shape they preferred.
The cradleboard was a practical arrangement for a mother as she could take the baby with her when she went about doing her daily work. She could pick up the board quickly if she needed to without fear of hurting the child's delicate spine and lean it against a tree or rock while she worked. When moving about, she wore the board strapped across her shoulder by a long cord.
Toddler & Young Child
When the baby was ready to walk, he/she left the cradleboard, except at night and when napping. When children were this old they were left at home with their grandparents who delighted in taking care of them. Old people of the village played with the children for this was one of the pleasures of age. They sang songs which, gently or jokingly, relayed to the child what he/she wa4 supposed to do when they grew up. Life in these early years was all affection, for people felt that a child was not ready to understand much until he was five or six. When five or six, they left their grandparents and went around after their father or mother learning to do grown-up tasks. At this age the grandfather might make the boy a bow and arrow for shooting at small birds, and the grandmother proudly wove the little girl's first berry basket.
Similar to children of today, they would grow to adulthood, and they had to be prepared for life in the hard world. They were taught not to cry for food and to eat what was given them, even though the priority was on feeding elders. The best food was reserved for old people. Indian children were taught not to make noise in the house and not to interrupt older people. Children were told that those who did might lose their souls. They were also taught respect for their elders and to have pride in themselves. Discipline was carefully administered. When they disobeyed very badly, the child might be spanked using a switch; but the parents had a better means of discipline. Coastal children were told that there was a Cannibal Woman, carrying a basket on her back, who carried off bad children to be cooked and eaten. The Puyallups actually dressed up someone to represent her. When she came stomping around the village, parents pleaded with her for the naughty ones, promising that they would be sure to improve. Rarely was it necessary to physically punish a child. Primarily, many stories and legends, most of which had a moral, were used to teach children about their environment as well as lessons regarding appropriate moral behavior. Children were raised with love and the knowledge of what was expected of them and proper behavior was the usual result.
At about age six, children began a course of training that amounted to school. Its chief purpose was to prepare them for the spirit help that every boy and some girls, too, would need in later life. Without spirit help, no boy could hope to be a good woodworker, fisherman, hunter, whaler, medicine man, or even a gambler. To obtain spiritual guidance he must learn to go without food, to endure discomfort and cold, and to be clean.
Older relatives and neighbors could always take time to have a child underfoot. Little girls played in the berry patch and boys scrambled after their fathers through the woods. They were not told much about how things should be done but they watched others and tried to copy behavior for themselves. When they failed, they were not scolded; but when they succeeded, there was high praise. When a boy caught his first fish or a little girl first filled her basket with berries some tribes gave a feast for every "first." The food they brought in was proudly given to old people who could not work for themselves; because the child was told that if they were selfish and kept it, they might never catch anything again. This was indeed good training for generosity in later life. As the children grew, so did the amount of responsibility given to them. Young girls helped the women of the tribe gather and prepare food, tend the fire as well as play and help with the younger children; and boys also accompanied the men and helped them with their work. By the age of ten or so their efforts really counted. It was time for them to have a name.
Most Indian people had various names during the course of their life because it changed from time to time. A man was more likely to make a change if his family were rich and able to celebrate each occasion with a feast. Names were family property, either in the father's line or the mother's. Each was borne by only one person at a time and after his/her death it was not mentioned for some years. When naming time came there was a feast and gifts, but these were not for the child. These gifts were given to others in his honor while he learned that giving presents to others was the road to fame and fortune.
Suitors proposed to a girl's father, who carefully looked into their families and income. The boy's family was just as particular. They wanted to know if the proposed bride was their social equal, if she was well-behaved. and what gift of money would go with her when she married.
A daughter's wedding was a father's chance to make one of the great shows of his lifetime. No wonder he began to collect goods for it as soon as she was born. All through the girl's childhood he was giving feasts. His aim was to establish such a reputation that suitors would come from afar to offer for his daughter. Attracting potential suitors from outside the tribe was very important because marrying any close relative was forbidden and tribes were so small that most people in them were related. Also, girls marrying into other tribes prevented war.
Daughters sometimes eloped, but elopements were rare, for both of the young people knew how unhappy their future together might be, spending the rest of their lives in the same house with a disapproving family. Every girl, too, looked forward to the impressive wedding she would have.
The Coastal Wedding
Weddings were a time for feasting and gift giving, and in wealthy families the celebration never lasted less than three or four days. The groom's family came to the bride's village singing their inherited songs and bringing food and the last of the bride gifts that had been agreed upon prior to the marriage. They were escorted to the house where everyone feasted and the old men of both families made speeches, telling of the families' greatness while advising the bride and groom about proper behavior.
Sometimes feats of strength were held in which the bridegroom and his relatives showed how good they were. The Lummi had the bride sit on a pile of gifts while costumed dancers performed around her.
The departure of the bride was the high point of the marriage celebration. She was escorted to the beach by the men of her family, carrying gifts and singing. The groom and his family waited in their canoes. For a wealthy bride, the road to the beach was spread with fine furs so that her feet did not touch the ground. Then the furs were bundled up and put in the groom's canoe, and the groom and his family paddled away singing while the bride's parents stood weeping on the beach.
When the wedding party was gone, the bride gifts were distributed, with the bride's father keeping very little of the bride price for himself. The same thing occurred in the groom's family--of the wedding gifts exchanged, there was very little left for the young couple, but then they would not be setting up housekeeping alone.
The bride soon found herself living in another large house, much like the one she had left. During the. first year of her marriage, she spent her days with her husband's mother and sisters much as she had with the women of her own family. Still, there were privileges that went along with being a married woman. For example, she could now go out alone; and she could also speak to men. She ought to be a good basket maker; then if her husband were away often, she would have her work to keep her busy.
Soon- she would be faced with the strange rules that must be obeyed before having a child. Then after the first baby was born and safely tied into its cradleboard, there was the visit home in the canoes full of singing people, or else the welcoming of her family to her new village. The proud young mother could feel it was because of her that her family could establish this new friendship.
After the young couple had had a child or two, they moved out of the family compartment into one of their own. They were grown up. The young man might have his place in a whaling canoe or his section of the salmon weir, and his wife went on long food-gathering trips without her mother-in-law. The older woman was now at home, taking care of the grandchildren.
Old Age, Death and Funerals
Life slowly melded into old age, but the elder members of the community were never considered useless or rejected people. Elders were respected, contributing persons in their society. They were the school teachers of their village. Grandparents played an integral and important part in child rearing, and an old man was regularly appointed to train the youngsters. Elders told the stories and legends, remembered the relationships, advised in the proper conduct of ceremonies and, as their wisdom was well respected, they were often consulted on many various matters. When someone must be chosen to make a proposal of marriage or to plead with a quarreling couple, it was always an old man who had the time and experience for the task.
The old, both men and women, acted as caretakers of the little children. They played with them and sang to them by the hour, showing far more affection than they had had time for with their own babies. When the little grandson and granddaughters performed their first achievements, it was for the old to praise and encourage them. Nor were the elders left out of social occasions. In fact, they often sang and danced more than anyone.
As soon as a man ceased to work, he usually turned over his canoe or his hunting dogs to a son or other relative. Before death, he told his family what to do with his wealth not already distributed at feasts. His personal property, they knew, would go to the grave with him. Beyond the grave, he would become a different person and one whom they did not dare to remember. It was not that the dead were evil, but they thought that all adults went to the land of the dead which was a comfortable place, with plenty to eat.
The last rites were conducted in several different ways, and the relatives showed their grief openly. Silence was not their way of showing grief; they wailed and chanted sometimes for five days while the soul of the deceased was on its journey to the land of the dead. Widows and widowers usually mourned for a year.