Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Little Taste Of History (38)

Topic: The North American Indian Pre: 1900 #4

Industries and Arts.

Aside from his food procuring occupations, the Indian had quite a number of industries and arts, both economic and aesthetic. Having only accidental knowledge of any metal but native copper, his tools were made of stone, bone, shell, or wood.

From stone he fashioned his knife, hammer, axe, spear-head, and arrow-point, as well as his pipe and gaming disk. Flint was the material commonly used for cutting tools in the East and obsidian in the West. Pipes were of great variety and sometimes of great beauty, being one of the most important adjuncts of ceremonial functions. The Navaho and Pueblos were expert in drilling turquoise for necklaces and ear-pendants. The black slate carving of the Haida and other north west coast tribes is probably not excelled by any primitive people. Pots, bowls, mortars, and pestles were also fashioned from stone. Arrowheads, knives, skin-dressers, sewing-awls, and fishing-hooks were frequently made from bone. Shells were also shaped into cutting tools, but were in more constant demand for gorgets and for the celebrated wampum beads, which were in universal use in the East for dress ornamentation and for weaving into record belts. The Eskimo and Aleut were expert carvers in walrus ivory, depicting whole hunting scenes upon a single tusk, with great beauty of execution. Mortars, Bowls, clubs, masks and sacred images for ceremonial occasions were made of wood.

The Pueblos carved wooden figurines to represent their traditional mythological characters, and distributed them to the children as dolls at their symbolic dances. Besides the immense carved totem-poles, the northwest coast tribes hewed great canoes from cedar-trunks, always painted and carved in characteristic style. The wooden dug-out canoe of the Atlantic tribes was a similar affair.

The Indian woman was a capable skin-dresser. Sinew was used for thread, and certain women were professionals in the work of cutting and fitting. Among the Pueblos and Navaho weaving had reached a high state of development, the material used having been originally a native cotton, and later wool. The art of feather-weaving was found with the Gulf tribes, while everywhere east of the Mississippi beautiful mats were woven from grass and rushes and stained in bright colors from native dyes. Basketry was found almost everywhere except upon the plains, where rawhide boses formed a substitute. The materials used were wood or cane splits, rushes, maguey fibre, and grass. The art reached its highest development in California, the Pomo baskets being unrivaled in any part of the world for closeness of weaving, intricacy of design, and beauty of shape and decoration. Akin to weaving and basketry was the art of decoration with beads and porcupine-quills the most beautiful specimens being the cradles and colored sashes, on some of which months of labor were expended. Pottery was made by all the sedentary and semi-sedentary tribes of the Eastern timber region and the Southwest, the coil process being everywhere used. In the East the vessel was usually decorated with stamped patterns. Among the Pueblos and adjacent tribes figures in various colors were painted upon the smooth exterior and afterwards fixed in the firing process. Almost without exception the potter, basket-maker, weaver, and skin-dresser was a woman. The only metal really in use north of Mexico at the time of the discovery appears to have been copper, which was obtained native in small quantities in the Southern Alleghanies and in greater quantities from mines along the shores of Lake Superior. It was not smelted, but hammered into a great variety of useful and ornamental objects which passed from tribe to tribe in regular trade. Mica was quarried in western North Carolina for use in mirrors and gorgets, and beads and other small objects hammered out from gold nuggets or meteoric iron have been found in some of the Southern mounds. In the Southwest the Navaho have learned the smelting and forging arts from the Mexicans, and have now many expert silver-workers and blacksmiths, making beads, buttons, wrist-guards, rings, and belts from silver coins which they melt and shape in forges and molds of their own construction. (14)

Sources Utilized to Document Information


No comments: