Indian Boyhood - Charles Eastman

Hakadah's First Offering

[Illustration] from Indian Boyhood by Charles Eastman

"Hakadah, coowah!" was the sonorous call that came from a large teepee in the midst of the Indian encampment. In answer to the summons there emerged from the woods, which were only a few steps away, a boy, accompanied by a splendid black dog. There was little in the appearance of the little fellow to distinguish him from the other Sioux boys.

He hastened to the tent from which he had been summoned, carrying in his hands a bow and arrows gorgeously painted, while the small birds and squirrels that he had killed with these weapons dangled from his belt.

Within the tent sat two old women, one on each side of the fire. Uncheedah was the boy's grandmother, who had brought up the motherless child. Wahchewin was only a caller, but she had been invited to remain and assist in the first personal offering of Hakadah to the "Great Mystery."

This was a matter which had, for several days, pretty much monopolized Uncheedah's mind. It was her custom to see to this when each of her children attained the age of eight summers. They had all been celebrated as warriors and hunters among their tribe, and she had not hesitated to claim for herself a good share of the honors they had achieved, because she had brought them early to the notice of the "Great Mystery."

She believed that her influence had helped to regulate and develop the characters of her sons to the height of savage nobility and strength of manhood.

It had been whispered through the teepee village that Uncheedah intended to give a feast in honor of her grandchild's first sacrificial offering. This was mere speculation, however, for the clear-sighted old woman had determined to keep this part of the matter secret until the offering should be completed, believing that the "Great Mystery" should be met in silence and dignity.

The boy came rushing into the lodge, followed by his dog Ohitika who was wagging his tail promiscuously, as if to say: "Master and I are really hunters!"

Hakadah breathlessly gave a descriptive narrative of the killing of each bird and squirrel as he pulled them off his belt and threw them before his grandmother.

"This blunt-headed arrow," said he, "actually had eyes this morning. Before the squirrel can dodge around the tree it strikes him in the head, and, as he falls to the ground, my Ohitika is upon him."

He knelt upon one knee as he talked, his black eyes shining like evening stars.

"Sit down here," said Uncheedah to the boy; "I have something to say to you. You see that you are now almost a man. Observe the game you have brought me! It will not be long before you will leave me, for a warrior must seek opportunities to make him great among his people.

"You must endeavor to equal your father. and grandfather," she went on. "They were warriors and feast-makers. But it is not the poor hunter who makes many feasts. Do you not remember the "Legend of the Feast-Maker," who gave forty feasts in twelve moons? And have you forgotten the story of the warrior who sought the will of the Great Mystery? To-day you will make your first offering to him."

The concluding sentence fairly dilated the eyes of the young hunter, for he felt that a great event was about to occur, in which he would be the principal actor. But Uncheedah resumed her speech.

"You must give up one of your belongings—whichever is dearest to you—for this is to be a sacrificial offering."

This somewhat confused the boy; not that he was selfish, but rather uncertain as to what would be the most appropriate thing to give. Then, too, he supposed that his grandmother referred to his ornaments and playthings only. So he volunteered:

"I can give up my best bow and arrows, and all the paints I have, and—and my bear's claws necklace, grandmother!"

"Are these the things dearest to you?" she demanded.

"Not the bow and arrows, but the paints will be very hard to get, for there are no white people near; and the necklace—it is not easy to get one like it again. I will also give up my otter-skin head-dress, if you think that is not enough."

"But think, my boy, you have not yet mentioned the thing that will be a pleasant offering to the Great Mystery."

The boy looked into the woman's face with a puzzled expression.

"I have nothing else as good as those things I have named, grandmother, unless it is my spotted pony; and I am sure that the Great Mystery will not require a little boy to make him so large a gift. Besides, my uncle gave three otter-skins and five eagle-feathers for him and I promised to keep him a long while, if the Blackfeet or the Crows do not steal him."

Uncheedah was not fully satisfied with the boy's free offerings. Perhaps it had not occurred to him what she really wanted. But Uncheedah knew where his affection was vested. His faithful dog, his pet and companion—Hakadah was almost inseparable from the loving beast.

She was sure that it would be difficult to obtain his consent to sacrifice the animal, but she ventured upon a final appeal.

"You must remember," she said, "that in this offering you will call upon him who looks at you from every creation. In the wind you hear him whisper to you. He gives his war-whoop in the thunder. He watches you by day with his eye, the sun; at night, he gazes upon your sleeping countenance through the moon. In short, it is the Mystery of Mysteries, who controls all things. to whom you will make your first offering. By this act, you will ask him to grant to you what he has granted to few men. I know you wish to be a great warrior and hunter. I am not prepared to see my Hakadah show any cowardice, for the love of possessions is a woman's trait and not a brave's."

During this speech, the boy had been completely aroused to the spirit of manliness, and in his excitement was willing to give up anything he had —even his pony! But he was unmindful of his friend and companion, Ohitika, the dog! So, scarcely had Uncheedah finished speaking, when he almost shouted:

"Grandmother, I will give up any of my possessions for the offering to the Great Mystery! You may select what you think will be most pleasing to him."

There were two silent spectators of this little dialogue. One was Wahchewin; the other was Ohitika. The woman had been invited to stay, although only a neighbor. The dog, by force of habit, had taken up his usual position by the side of his master when they entered the teepee. Without moving a muscle, save those of his eyes, he had been a very close observer of what passed.

Had the dog but moved once to attract the attention of his little friend, he might have been dissuaded from that impetuous exclamation: "Grandmother, I will give up any of my possessions!"

It was hard for Uncheedah to tell the boy that he must part with his dog, but she was equal to the situation.

"Hakadah," she proceeded cautiously, "you are a young brave. I know, though young, your heart is strong and your courage is great. You will be pleased to give up the dearest thing you have for your first offering. You must give up Ohitika. He is brave; and you, too, are brave. He will not fear death; you will bear his loss bravely. Come—here are four bundles of paints and a filled pipe—let us go to the place."

When the last words were uttered, Hakadah did not seem to hear them. He was simply unable to speak. To a civilized eye, he would have appeared at that moment like a little copper statue. His bright black eyes were fast melting in floods of tears, when he caught his grandmother's eye and recollected her oft-repeated adage: "Tears for woman and the war-whoop for man to drown sorrow!"

He swallowed two or three big mouthfuls of heart-ache and the little warrior was master of the situation.

"Grandmother, my Brave will have to die! Let me tie together two of the prettiest tails of the squirrels that he and I killed this morning, to show to the Great Mystery what a hunter he has been. Let me paint him myself."

This request Uncheedah could not refuse and she left the pair alone for a few minutes, while she went to ask Wacoota to execute Ohitika.

Every Indian boy knows that, when a warrior is about to meet death, he must sing a death dirge. Hakadah thought of his Ohitika as a person who would meet his death without a struggle, so he began to sing a dirge for him, at the same time hugging him tight to himself. As if he were a human being, he whispered in his ear:

"Be brave, my Ohitika! I shall remember you the first time I am upon the war-path in the Ojibway country."

At last he heard Uncheedah talking with a man outside the teepee, so he quickly took up his paints. Ohitika was a jet-black dog, with a silver tip on the end of his tail and on his nose, beside one white paw and a white star upon a protuberance between his ears. Hakadah knew that a man who prepares for death usually paints with red and black. Nature had partially provided Ohitika in this respect, so that only red was required and this Hakadah supplied generously.

Then he took off a piece of red cloth and tied it around the dog's neck; to this he fastened two of the squirrels' tails and a wing from the oriole they had killed that morning.

Just then it occurred to him that good warriors always mourn for their departed friends and the usual mourning was black paint. He loosened his black braided locks, ground a dead coal, mixed it with bear's oil and rubbed it on his entire face.

During this time every hole in the tent was occupied with an eye. Among the lookers-on was his grandmother. She was very near relenting. Had she not feared the wrath of the Great Mystery, she would have been happy to call out to the boy: "Keep your dear dog, my child!"

As it was, Hakadah came out of the teepee with his face looking like an eclipsed moon, leading his beautiful dog, who was even handsomer than ever with the red touches on his specks of white.

It was now Uncheedah's turn to struggle with the storm and burden in her soul. But the boy was emboldened by the people's admiration of his bravery, and did not shed a tear. As soon as she was able to speak, the loving grandmother said:

"No, my young brave, not so! You must not mourn for your first offering. Wash your face and then we will go."

The boy obeyed, submitted Ohitika to Wacoota with a smile, and walked off with his grandmother and Wahchewin.

They followed a well-beaten footpath leading along the bank of the Assiniboine river, through a beautiful grove of oak, and finally around and under a very high cliff. The murmuring of the river came up from just below. On the opposite side was a perpendicular white cliff, from which extended back a gradual slope of land, clothed with the majestic mountain oak. The scene was impressive and wild.

Wahchewin had paused without a word when the little party reached the edge of the cliff. It had been arranged between her and Uncheedah that she should wait there for Wacoota, who was to bring as far as that the portion of the offering with which he had been entrusted.

The boy and his grandmother descended the bank, following a tortuous footpath until they reached the water's edge. Then they proceeded to the mouth of an immense cave, some fifty feet above the river, under the cliff. A little stream of limpid water trickled down from a spring within the cave. The little watercourse served as a sort of natural staircase for the visitors. A cool, pleasant atmosphere exhaled from the mouth of the cavern. Really it was a shrine of nature and it is not strange that it was so regarded by the tribe.

A feeling of awe and reverence came to the boy. "It is the home of the Great Mystery," he thought to himself; and the impressiveness of his surroundings made him forget his sorrow.

Very soon Wahchewin came with some difficulty to the steps. She placed the body of Ohitika upon the ground in a life-like position and again left the two alone.

As soon as she disappeared from view, Uncheedah, with all solemnity and reverence, unfastened the leather strings that held the four small bundles of paints and one of tobacco, while the filled pipe was laid beside the dead Ohitika.

She scattered paints and tobacco all about. Again they stood a few moments silently; then she drew a deep breath and began her prayer to the Great Mystery:

"O, Great Mystery, we hear thy voice in the rushing waters below us! We hear thy whisper in the great oaks above! Our spirits are refreshed with thy breath from within this cave. 0, hear our prayer! Behold this little boy and bless him! Make him a warrior and a hunter as great as thou didst make his father and grandfather."

And with this prayer the little warrior had completed his first offering.