Book: Pomo Bear Doctors
Author: S. A. Barrett

Pomo Bear Doctors By S. A. Barrett

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 33
Publication Date: 1917

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This is a monograph on a typical variety of native Californian shamanism, the animal-impersonator. This describes the practice among the Pomo, a Northern Californian people. Despite the title 'Bear Doctor,' these shamans did not cure: they were berserkers, as befits their totem, with a license to kill up to four people per year. Chapters include: Origin Account; Acquisition Of Power; Assistants; Hiding Places; The Magic Suit; Weapons And Their Use; Rites Over The Suit; Communication Between Bear Doctors; Panther Doctors; Comparison With Yuki Beliefs; and, Comparison With Miwok Beliefs.

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The following tradition was obtained in January, 1906, from an old Eastern Pomo man and his wife. The husband stated that he had himself been a bear doctor at one time in his life. In his later years he became a noted practitioner of ordinary Indian "medicine," and was much in demand as a "sucking doctor." His old wife proved a very valuable informant on Pomo mythology, and it was while relating myths that the subject of bear doctors was mentioned and the fact developed that her husband had practiced this craft when a younger man. The incident led to a full discussion of the entire matter with the couple, and resulted in the recording of the following material. This was given by the Indians more as a personal favor than for any other reason, and was communicated only after a pledge that their story would not be spread about as long as the two were still alive. Both are now deceased, as is also the interpreter who aided in recording the material, so that there is no reason for longer withholding this information. Out of deference to the relatives of the three, it seems best not to name them in these pages.

Besides the myth, these two old people furnished the greater part of the descriptive information given in the remainder of this paper, but additional data from other informants have been included. Unless otherwise stated, the Pomo terms are in the Eastern dialect.

In the days before Indians were upon the earth, and when the birds and mammals were human, there was a large village at danō xa. These people were great hunters, pursuing their game with bows and arrows and spears. But chiefly they set snares in every direction about the village.

They had caught many kinds of game, but finally found a large grizzly bear in one of the snares. They saw that his carcass would furnish a great feast, but they were confronted with the difficult problem of getting their prize to the village. Each of the birds tried unsuccessfully to carry the bear, first on his right shoulder and then on his left, in the following order: tsai (valley bluejay),auaū (crow), īlil (a species of hawk), tīyal (yellowhammer), karats (red-headed woodpecker), sawalwal (mountain bluejay), bakaka (pileated woodpecker), kabanasiksik (a large species of woodpecker), cagak ba bīya (a species of hawk), kiya (a species of hawk), sīwa (mountain robin), tsitōtō (robin redbreast), tcūma tsīya (grass bird), and tīnītal.

Finally a very small bird, tsina bitūt kaiya patsōrk, succeeded in carrying the bear. He first tied its front and hind feet with a heavy milkweed-fiber rope in such a manner as to enable him to sling the carcass over his shoulder with the body resting upon his hip. No one else had thought of any such method. The ingenuity of this bird, the smallest of them all, won success and enabled him to walk away easily with the heavy load. The others laughed uproariously and shouted their approval of the feat, immediately naming him būrakal-ba-kīdjon, literally grizzly-bear-you-carrier. Thus he carried the grizzly home to the village, and Bluejay, the captain, cut it up and divided the meat among all the people. As a reward for his service būrakal-ba-kīdjonwas given the bearskin. This was a very valuable present, worth many thousands of beads.

With this skin in his possession, būrakal-ba-kīdjon thought a great deal about the grizzly bear and became very envious of his powers of endurance, his ferocity, and his cunning. He forthwith began to study how he might make some use of the skin to acquire these powers. He needed an assistant, and finally took his brother into his confidence. The two paid a visit to cō danō, a high mountain east of the village. They then went down a very rugged canon on the mountain-side and finally came to a precipice the bottom of which was inaccessible except by way of a large standing tree, the upper branches of which just touched its brink.

In a most secluded and sheltered spot at the foot of this precipice they dug a cavern called yēlīmo, or būrakal yēlīmo, which they screened with boughs so that it would be invisible even if a chance hunter came that way. They dug an entrance about two feet in diameter into the side of the bank for a distance of about six feet. This led slightly upward and into a good-sized chamber. The mouth of this entrance was so arranged as to appear as natural as possible. Some rocks were left to project and twigs were arranged to obscure it. As a further precaution against detection the brothers always walked upon rocks in order never to leave a footprint, in ease any one became curious about their movements. They even went so far as to have the rocks at the foot of the precipice, where they stepped from the branches of the tree, covered with leaves, which they were careful to adjust so as to obliterate the slightest vestige of their trail should any one succeed in tracking them to this point. In this cave they began the manufacture of a ceremonial outfit.

They went out from the village daily, ostensibly to hunt, and they did, as a matter of fact, kill deer and other game, which they brought back to the village; but they never ate meat, nor did they have intercourse in any way with women. When asked why he was thus restricting himself, būrakal-ba-kīdjon evaded the truth by saying that he expected to gamble, and that he had a very powerful medicine which would yield him luck only with the most rigid observance of certain restrictions.