Death and the Spirit Bundle
described by First Boy - James Larpenteur Long, Fort Peck
Assiniboine-Sioux, in The Assiniboine: From Accounts of
the Old Ones Told to First Boy (James Larpenteur Long),
edited by Michael Stephen Kennedy , University of Oklahoma
Press, 1961, p 164-168 (originally published as Land of
the Nakoda by the Montana Writer Program in 1942)
the death of an Assiniboine, a messenger was sent to call
a prominent warrior who was a friend of the family. The
man entered the lodge, first telling of a war deed, then
cutting a liberal amount of hair from the temple of the
deceased, which he took home with him.
body was dressed in fine clothing or the ceremonial dress
owned by the deceased; then it was placed in a tanned
robe. The whole was next wrapped with an untanned hide,
secured with thongs. The body was laid on the branches
of a tree, where several crosspieces had been tied to
the limbs, and then tied fast with thongs.
of warriors and chiefs, if they had wished it, were some-times
buried in their lodges. Some were dressed and laid in
the back part of the lodges, while others were placed
in sitting positions against back rests, facing the entrance.
a lodge burial was made, all of the weapons, ceremonial
regalia, the sacred bundle, and other personal property
were placed in the lodge in the regular way, as though
the owner were living. The flap was closed, and long pieces
of wood were placed against it on the outside. Large rocks
were laid around the bottom of the lodge. All this was
done to keep animals from entering the lodge. After a
lodge burial, the people moved to another place.
effects were buried with the body at the request of relatives
or if the deceased had wished it. Otherwise, they were
of children and youths were always given to their playmates,
except a boy's horse, whose mane was clipped and tail
cut short as an act of mourning for its owner. The horse
was not ridden again until the father or brother rode
it in the parade at a celebration. Afterwards, many gifts
were given away. How-ever, a relative sometimes rode the
horse to join a war party before the mourning was ended.
bags, sacred bundles, and the large sacks containing the
herbs of medicine men and women or herb doctors were always
buried with them, unless the man or woman had trained
a son or daughter to carry on. Even then, many old medicine
things were placed in the burial place. The rattle used
by the medicine man or woman was always buried with the
relatives of the dead cut their hair short and gashed
-their arms and legs. Sometimes another person did it
for them. Then they dressed in very old clothing and retired
to the outer edge of the encampment to live in seclusion
in old six hide lodges, which were the smallest size made.
Distant relatives and friends loosened their hair and
wore it for a time unbraided. All of these things were
done as acts of mourning.
man who took the lock of hair also gathered goods and
sometimes, horses, if the deceased was from a well-to-do
family. The relatives did the same, but not jointly with
the man. The goods were kept separately.
a year later, a double lodge was erected and both collections
placed there in two piles. The people were all invited,
to attend. The mourners, dressed in new clothing, with
their hair braided and faces painted by the sponsors of
the feast, were seated inside. Then the warrior came,
bearing an ornamented bundle which contained the lock
of hair. He told of a war deed and then placed the bundle
in the arms of the father or the near-est relative of
the dead. At that stage, the mourners wept.
master of the ceremony, who was someone other than the
warrior with the lock of hair, stepped away from the crowd
a short distance and called aloud the name of the dead
person. ( The names of the dead were never spoken out
loud except at that ceremony). He invited the spirit of
the deceased to attend the feast prepared in its honor.
If the burial place was nearby', the man also went to
it with the invitation. The period of mourning was then
collections made by the mourners and the man were ex-changed.
The mourners received the goods and the large new lodge,
while the warrior became the possessor of their collection.
the crowd feasted on the food which had been prepared.
and the ceremony ended.
lock of fair of a deceased person was always kept in a
bundle hung on a tripod and placed in the back of the
lodge. A wide, ornamented piece of hide was attached to
the middle of the bundle, and sometimes wrapped completely
around it. If the lodge was to be used for a gathering,
the tripod was placed outside, close behind the lodge.
When the band traveled, the bundle was tied to a travois
or carried by women, just as they carried small children,
on their backs.
spirit bundle was respected, because it was believed to
represent the deceased person. No unnecessary noise was
permitted while it was inside the lodge. Children were
told not to play near it and not to touch it.
During the time of mourning, all new possessions were
first offered to the bundle and left on or near it for
several days be-fore being used by the family. Food was
offered to it, as a grace, before each meal.
the deceased was a young man, the father and mother were
particularly mindful of the bundle that contained their
son's hair. Indian families were never large and he may
have been an only son, so the father and mother, as they
advanced in years, delighted in things done in remembrance
of him. Sometimes the mother prepared food and invited
several young men who had been his friends. The old couple
called the young men their sons because they now took
the place of the departed one. Per-haps there was one
among them who had lost his mother, and he, too, found
comfort in the new relationship.
were evenings when the mother prepared a dish that had
been her son's favorite, and the old couple partook of
it together, alone. But they did not feel that they were
alone be-cause, before the meal, the father raised the
dish towards the bundle and invited the spirit saying,
"Come, my son, your mother has prepared this for
you. It is a dish you were always fond of."
the hallowed presence of the spirit of the youth, the
mother was silent, but the father carried on a conversation
filled with emotion. He found much comfort, as he told
of things that happened, speaking as though the young
man had only been; away and just returned.