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Impearls: HIC 2.14: Rich and poor

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

Rich and poor   by A. L. Kroeber

The Yurok are well aware of the difference in manners and character between rich and poor in their society.  A well-brought-up man asked to step into a house sits with folded arms, they say, and talks little, chiefly in answers.  If he is given food, he becomes conversational, to show that he is not famished, and eats very slowly.  Should he gobble his meal and arise to go, his host would laugh and say to his children:  “That is how I constantly tell you not to behave.”  If an obscure person commits a breach of etiquette, a well-to-do man passes the error with the remark that he comes from poor people and can not know how to conduct himself.  Such a wealthy man exhorts his sons to accost visitors in a quiet and friendly manner and invite them to their house; thus they will have friends.  A poor man, on the other hand, instructs his son not in policy but in means to acquire strength.  He tells him where to bathe at night; then a being will draw him under the water and speak to him, and he will come away with powerful physique and courage.

Life was evidently so regulated that there was little opportunity for any one to improve his wealth and station in society materially.

The poor, therefore, accepted more or less gracefully the patronage of a man of means, or attempted to win for themselves a position of some kind not dependent on property.  A savage temper, and physical prowess to support it, were perhaps the only avenue open in this direction; shamans were women, and priests those who had inherited knowledge of formulas.

The rich man is called si'atleu, or simply pegerk, “man.”  Similarly, a wealthy or “real” woman is a wentsauks or “woman.”  A poor person is wa'asoi.  A slave is called uka'atl.  A bastard is called either kamuks, or negenits, “mouse,” because of his parasitic habits.  Uwohpewek means “he is married”; winohpewek, “he is half-married.”

Even a small village group was known as pegarhkes, “manly,” if its members were determined, resentful, and wealthy enough to afford to take revenge.

The following Yurok statement is characteristic:  “The beautiful skins or headdresses or obsidians displayed at a dance by one rich man excite the interest and envy of visitors of wealth, whereas poor men take notice but are not stirred.  Such wealthy spectators return home determined to exhibit an even greater value of property the next year.  Their effort, in turn, incites the first man to outdo all his competitors.”

The Karok speak of a branching of the trail traversed by the dead.  One path is followed by “poor men, who have no providence, and do not help (with regalia, payments, and entertainment) to make the dances.”  The other is the trail of people of worth.

When an honored guest was taken into the sweat house he was assigned the tepolatl, the place of distinction, and the host offered him his own pipe.  A common man was told to lie at legai, by the door, or nergernertl, opposite it.  A bastard who entered was ordered out, the Yurok say.  It is likely, however, that such unfortunates were more tolerantly treated by their maternal grandfather and uncles.

Food was sometimes sold by the Yurok: but no well-to-do man was guilty of the practice.  “May he do it, he is half poor — tmenemi wo'asoi” would be the slighting remark passed; much as we might use the term nouveau riche or “climber.”



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