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"Ghosts" as Guests - Strange Festivals In Honor Of The Dead

This article is thought to have been published in 1907. Missing sections of several words have been added in parentheses.

Esquimaux is the French variation of the name "Eskimo".

"Ghosts" as Guests

Strange Festivals In Honor Of The Dead

Weird festivals in honor of the shades of (de)parted folk are among the quaint customs (en)deared by tradition to the hearts of the Esquimaux. The natives of the Yukon River region hold a festival of the dead every year shortly before Christmas, and a greater festival at intervals of several years. At these seasons food, drink, and clothes are provided for the returning ghosts in the clubhouse of the village, which is illuminated for the occasion with oil lamps.

Every man or woman who wishes to honor a dead friend, says an American paper, puts up a lamp on a stand in front of the place which the dead one used to occupy in the clubhouse. These lamps, filled with seal oil, are kept burning day and night until the festival is over. They are believed to light the shades on their return to their old home and back again to the land of the dead. If anyone fails to put up a lamp in the clubhouse and to keep it burning, the shade whom he or she desires to honor could not find its way to the place, and so would miss the feast.

When a person has been much disliked his ghost is sometimes purposely ignored, and that is deemed the severest punishment that could be inflicted on him. After the songs of invitations to the dead have been sung the givers of the feast take a small portion of food from every dish and cast it down as an offering to the shades; then each pours a little water on the floor, so that it runs through the cracks. In this way they believe that the spiritual essence of all the food and water is conveyed to the souls. With songs and dances the feast comes to an end and the ghosts  are dismissed to their own place. The dancers dance, not only in the clubhouse, but also at the graves, and on the ice if the dead met their deaths by drowning.

On the eve of the festival the nearest male relative goes to the grave and summons the ghost by planting there a small model of a seal spear or of a wooden dish, according as the dead was a man or a woman. The totems of the dead are marked on these implements. The dead who have none to make offerings to them are believed to suffer great destitution. Hence, the Esquimaux fear to die without leaving behind them someone who will sacrifice to their spirit and childless people generally adopt children, lest their shades be forgotten at the festivals.


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