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Article: Death and the Spirit Bundle

As 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)

Upon 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.

The 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.

Bodies 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.

When 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.

Personal effects were buried with the body at the request of relatives or if the deceased had wished it. Otherwise, they were given away.

Belongings 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.

Medicine 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 body.

Close 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.

The 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.

About 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.

The 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 over.

The 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.

Then the crowd feasted on the food which had been prepared. and the ceremony ended.

The 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.

The 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.

If 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.

There 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."

In 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.