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Impearls: HIC 5.07: Rites at Amaikiara

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

Rites at Amaikiara

The Amaikiara new year ceremony also centers about a fire that mortals may not see; but this is made during the day, and there is a ritualistic eating of the first salmon of the season.  The priest or formula reciter is called fatawenan, and with his assistant has fasted — that is, subsisted on thin acorn mush — for “many days,” probably 10.  Early on the morning of the great day the men who have been with him in the Amaikiara sweat house emerge and shout to the people of the town and of Ashanamkarak across the river to leave.  Everybody packs up his food and starts uphill.  No one may eat until the summit of the ridge is reached.  There they feast, play, and shoot at a mark, but never look back, for whoever saw the sacred smoke arising would sicken before long.

A woman assistant is ferried across the river to Ashanamkarak.  Going uphill, she cuts down a small madroña tree, splits the whole of it into kindling, and carries the load down to the river's edge at Ashanamkarak, after which she returns to Amaikiara and spends the remainder of the day fasting in the sacred house wenaram.

Toward noon the priest and his assistant leave the sweat house, bathe, paint themselves, and cross to Ashanamkarak.  Here, in a small cleared space among the tumbled rocks, stands an altar (Pl. 6), a rude cube of stone about a foot high, the only instance known in California of a true altar, unless the southern California ground paintings be so reckoned.  This the assistant repairs, then starts a fire near it with the madroña wood.  He also cooks and eats a salmon.  How and when this is taken, and whether it is caught at the spot, which is noted for its fish eddies, are not certain.  The priest himself merely deposits tobacco to the deities, directs by signs, and speaks his formula “inside” — that is, thinks or mumbles it.  He utters no word and is in too holy a state to perform any act.  Later in the afternoon the pair return to Amaikiara, where they are received in the sweat house by the men who have remained within, to the same song to whose strains they left it.  Toward evening these men come out and shout to the people to return.

For 10 days more the fatawenan and his assistant remain seated in the wenaram and sleep in the sacred sweat house.  The people, however, make the Jumping dance at Ashatak, opposite the mouth of the Salmon, and conclude the last day by dancing at Ashapipmam, while those of Katimin come down and dance simultaneously across the mouth at Itiwuntunuta.  In the Jumping dance the Karok use eight long poles, ahuvareiktin, painted red and black, which afterwards the young men try to take from one another and break.  This is a feature not known from the Yurok and Hupa, except for an incident in the customs of the former when they build the dam at Kepel.



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