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Impearls: HIC 5.05: Rites at Katimin

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

Rites at Katimin

At Katimin the old man in charge of the ceremony sleeps for 10 nights in the sacred sweat house there.  This, at least in its present form, is not a true sweat house, but a squarer and higher structure, not slept in at other times.  (Pl. 12.)  During the days he is in the sacred living house; but each day he visits a different rock or spot in the hills and speaks to it the requisite part of his long formula.  It is said that this formula was not treated as private property — that is, not sold or inherited outright — but that the old man would teach it to a younger one who evinced memory, interest, and concentration.  This might often be his assistant, it may be assumed, or, if not, then a son or nephew.  It does not seem likely that a Karok would allow so important a possession as this knowledge to pass to any other than a kinsman in some degree.

Besides his assistant the priest is accompanied by two virgins, or perhaps girls not yet adolescent, who seem to gather wood for his fire in the living house and to cook the light portions of acorn gruel on which alone he subsists.  For the same 10 days he speaks to no person, does not turn his head to look or listen, and is addressed by no one.  On each visit to a sacred spot he is followed by a band of young men, who shoot at marks and play along the way.  Meanwhile visitors begin to arrive and camp on the sand bar by the river.

The 10 days come to a climax on the last night at the yuhpit, a foot-high hillock of clean sand near a large pepper tree at the edge of the bluff on which Katimin stands.  (Pl. 22.)  The two maidens clean this of any rubbish that may have accumulated and add to it each year one basketful of clean sand from the river.  They descend to this, cook acorn gruel at the water's edge, and, carrying it up to the yuhpit, give it to the young men who have accompanied the priest on his daily journeyings.  In the evening the old man brings out a sacred stool or seat from the sweat house, sets it on the sand pile, and, with his drill, kindles new fire before the assembled people.  As he throws something on and the blaze burns up he calls out, and all except he cover their faces until he orders them to cease.  Whoever looked would be bitten by a snake during the year.  For the remainder of the night he sits or stands on his holy seat, perhaps reciting prayer or formula at times, and the people, or some of them, remain about “helping him to keep awake” by their jests and laughter.

The combination of the use of sand in the yuhpit and of the fact that the Karok name for the world which is established by the rite is isivsanen, has led to strange reports that this is a “sift sand” ceremony.

The next day begins the Deerskin dance.  The priest is still attended by the two girls, and daily mutters his story while casting angelica root into the fire before the dancers commence.  For the last day's dance they line up between the yuhpit and the pepperwood.  Two parties, representing Aftaram and Katimin, compete in the dance.  In old days there may have been more.

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