Through most of North America the structure of the clan formed the basis of their societies. This passage is about Native American clan structure.
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In Central New York, stretching east and west from the Hudson to the Genesee, lay that redoubted people who have lent their name to the tribal family of the Iroquois, and stamped it indelibly on the early pages of American history. Among all the barbarous nations of the continent, the Iroquois of New York stand paramount. Elements which among other tribes were crude, confused, and embryotic, were among them systematized and concreted into an established polity. The Iroquois was the Indian of Indians. A thorough savage, yet a finished and developed savage, he is perhaps an example of the highest elevation which man can reach without emerging from his primitive condition of the hunter. A geographical position, commanding on one hand the portal of the Great Lakes, and on the other the sources of the streams flowing both to the Atlantic and the Mississippi, gave the ambitious and aggressive confederates advantages which they perfectly understood, and by which they profited to the utmost. Patient and politic as they were ferocious, they were not only conquerors of their own race, but the powerful allies and the dreaded foes of the French and English colonies, flattered and caressed by both, yet too sagacious to give themselves without reserve to either. Their organization and their history evince their intrinsic superiority. Even their traditional lore, amid its wild puerilities, shows at times the stamp of an energy and force in striking contrast with the flimsy creations of Algonquin fancy. That the Iroquois, left under their institutions to work out their destiny undisturbed, would ever have developed a civilization of their own, I do not believe. These institutions, however, are sufficiently characteristic and curious, and we shall soon have occasion to observe them.
[The name Iroquois is French. Charlevoix says: “Il a été formé du terme Hiro, ou Hero, qui signifie J’ai dit, et par lequel ces sauvages finissent tous leur discours, comme les Latins faisoient autrefois par leur Dixi; et de Koué, qui est un cri tantôt de tristesse, lorsqu’on le prononce en traînant, et tantôt de joye, quand on le prononce plus court.” — Hist. de la N. F., I. 271. — Their true name is Hodenosaunee, or People of the Long House, because their confederacy of five distinct nations, ranged in a line along Central New York, was likened to one of the long bark houses already described, with five fires and five families. The name Agonnonsionni, or Aquanuscioni, ascribed to them by Lafitau and Charlevoix, who translated it “House-Makers,” Faiseurs de Cabannes, may be a conversion of the true name with an erroneous rendering. The following are the true names of the five nations severally, with their French and English synonymes. For other synonymes, see “History of the Conspiracy of Pontiac,” 8, note.
English. French. Ganeagaono, Mohawk, Agnier. Onayotekaono, Oneida, Onneyut. Onundagaono, Onondaga, Onnontagué. Gweugwehono, Cayuga, Goyogouin. Nundawaono, Seneca, Tsonnontouans.
The Iroquois termination in ono — or onon, as the French write it — simply means people.]
In Indian social organization, a problem at once suggests itself. In these communities, comparatively populous, how could spirits so fierce, and in many respects so ungoverned, live together in peace, without law and without enforced authority? Yet there were towns where savages lived together in thousands with a harmony which civilization might envy. This was in good measure due to peculiarities of Indian character and habits. This intractable race were, in certain external respects, the most pliant and complaisant of mankind. The early missionaries were charmed by the docile acquiescence with which their dogmas were received; but they soon discovered that their facile auditors neither believed nor understood that to which they had so promptly assented. They assented from a kind of courtesy, which, while it vexed the priests, tended greatly to keep the Indians in mutual accord. That well-known self- control, which, originating in a form of pride, covered the savage nature of the man with a veil, opaque, though thin, contributed not a little to the same end. Though vain, arrogant, boastful, and vindictive, the Indian bore abuse and sarcasm with an astonishing patience. Though greedy and grasping, he was lavish without stint, and would give away his all to soothe the manes of a departed relative, gain influence and applause, or ingratiate himself with his neighbors. In his dread of public opinion, he rivalled some of his civilized successors.
All Indians, and especially these populous and stationary tribes, had their code of courtesy, whose requirements were rigid and exact; nor might any infringe it without the ban of public censure. Indian nature, inflexible and unmalleable, was peculiarly under the control of custom. Established usage took the place of law, — was, in fact, a sort of common law, with no tribunal to expound or enforce it. In these wild democracies, — democracies in spirit, though not in form, — a respect for native superiority, and a willingness to yield to it, were always conspicuous. All were prompt to aid each other in distress, and a neighborly spirit was often exhibited among them. When a young woman was permanently married, the other women of the village supplied her with firewood for the year, each contributing an armful. When one or more families were without shelter, the men of the village joined in building them a house. In return, the recipients of the favor gave a feast, if they could; if not, their thanks were sufficient. [The following testimony concerning Indian charity and hospitality is from Ragueneau: “As often as we have seen tribes broken up, towns destroyed, and their people driven to flight, we have seen them, to the number of seven or eight hundred persons, received with open arms by charitable hosts, who gladly gave them aid, and even distributed among them a part of the lands already planted, that they might have the means of living.” — Relation, 1650, 28.] Among the Iroquois and Hurons — and doubtless among the kindred tribes — there were marked distinctions of noble and base, prosperous and poor; yet, while there was food in the village, the meanest and the poorest need not suffer want. He had but to enter the nearest house, and seat himself by the fire, when, without a word on either side, food was placed before him by the women.
[The Jesuit Brébeuf, than whom no one knew the Hurons better, is very emphatic in praise of their harmony and social spirit. Speaking of one of the four nations of which the Hurons were composed, he says: “Ils ont vne douceur et vne affabilité quasi incroyable pour des Sauuages; ils ne se picquent pas aisément. . . . Ils se maintiennent dans cette si parfaite intelligence par les frequentes visites, les secours qu’ils se donnent mutuellement dans leurs maladies, par les festins et les alliances. . . . Ils sont moins en leurs Cabanes que chez leurs amis. . . S’ils ont vn bon morceau, ils en font festin ŕ leurs amis, et ne le mangent quasi iamais en leur particulier,” etc. — Relation des Hurons, 1636, 118.]
Contrary to the received opinion, these Indians, like others of their race, when living in communities, were of a very social disposition. Besides their incessant dances and feasts, great and small, they were continually visiting, spending most of their time in their neighbors’ houses, chatting, joking, bantering one another with witticisms, sharp, broad, and in no sense delicate, yet always taken in good part. Every village had its adepts in these wordy tournaments, while the shrill laugh of young squaws, untaught to blush, echoed each hardy jest or rough sarcasm.
In the organization of the savage communities of the continent, one feature, more or less conspicuous, continually appears. Each nation or tribe — to adopt the names by which these communities are usually known — is subdivided into several clans. These clans are not locally separate, but are mingled throughout the nation. All the members of each clan are, or are assumed to be, intimately joined in consanguinity. Hence it is held an abomination for two persons of the same clan to intermarry; and hence, again, it follows that every family must contain members of at least two clans. Each clan has its name, as the clan of the Hawk, of the Wolf, or of the Tortoise; and each has for its emblem the figure of the beast, bird, reptile, plant, or other object, from which its name is derived. This emblem, called totem by the Algonquins, is often tattooed on the clansman’s body, or rudely painted over the entrance of his lodge.
The child belongs, in most cases, to the clan, not of the father, but of the mother. In other words, descent, not of the totem alone, but of all rank, titles, and possessions, is through the female. The son of a chief can never be a chief by hereditary title, though he may become so by force of personal influence or achievement. Neither can he inherit from his father so much as a tobacco-pipe. All possessions alike pass of right to the brothers of the chief, or to the sons of his sisters, since these are all sprung from a common mother. This rule of descent was noticed by Champlain among the Hurons in 1615. That excellent observer refers it to an origin which is doubtless its true one. The child may not be the son of his reputed father, but must be the son of his mother, — a consideration of more than ordinary force in an Indian community.
[“Les enfans ne succedent iamais aux biens et dignitez de leurs peres, doubtant comme i’ay dit de leur geniteur, mais bien font-ils leurs successeurs et heritiers, les enfans de leurs sœurs, et desquels ils sont asseurez d’estre yssus et sortis.” — Champlain (1627), 91.
Captain John Smith had observed the same, several years before, among the tribes of Virginia: “For the Crowne, their heyres inherite not, but the first heyres of the Sisters.” — True Relation, 43 (ed. Deane).]
This system of clanship, with the rule of descent usually belonging to it, was of very wide prevalence. Indeed, it is more than probable that close observation would have detected it in every tribe east of the Mississippi; while there is positive evidence of its existence in by far the greater number. It is found also among the Dahcotah and other tribes west of the Mississippi; and there is reason to believe it universally prevalent as far as the Rocky Mountains, and even beyond them. The fact that with most of these hordes there is little property worth transmission, and that the most influential becomes chief, with little regard to inheritance, has blinded casual observers to the existence of this curious system.
It was found in full development among the Creeks, Choctaws, Cherokees, and other Southern tribes, including that remarkable people, the Natchez, who, judged by their religious and political institutions, seem a detached offshoot of the Toltec family. It is no less conspicuous among the roving Algonquins of the extreme North, where the number of totems is almost countless. Everywhere it formed the foundation of the polity of all the tribes, where a polity could be said to exist.
The Franciscans and Jesuits, close students of the languages and superstitions of the Indians, were by no means so zealous to analyze their organization and government. In the middle of the seventeenth century the Hurons as a nation had ceased to exist, and their political portraiture, as handed down to us, is careless and unfinished. Yet some decisive features are plainly shown.
– The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, Introduction by Francis Parkman
This was Native American clan structure.
The below is from Francis Parkman’s Introduction.
If, at times, it may seem that range has been allowed to fancy, it is so in appearance only; since the minutest details of narrative or description rest on authentic documents or on personal observation.
Faithfulness to the truth of history involves far more than a research, however patient and scrupulous, into special facts. Such facts may be detailed with the most minute exactness, and yet the narrative, taken as a whole, may be unmeaning or untrue. The narrator must seek to imbue himself with the life and spirit of the time. He must study events in their bearings near and remote; in the character, habits, and manners of those who took part in them, he must himself be, as it were, a sharer or a spectator of the action he describes.
With respect to that special research which, if inadequate, is still in the most emphatic sense indispensable, it has been the writer’s aim to exhaust the existing material of every subject treated. While it would be folly to claim success in such an attempt, he has reason to hope that, so far at least as relates to the present volume, nothing of much importance has escaped him. With respect to the general preparation just alluded to, he has long been too fond of his theme to neglect any means within his reach of making his conception of it distinct and true.
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