Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"We Give You Our Hearts In This Feast"

“Sioux Dog Feast” by George Catlin

New evidence found on the West Coast suggests three things: 1) that humans have been in the New World for at least 14,000 years; 2) that they may have sailed down the west coast from Siberia in skin boats rather than walked down an "opening in the ice," and; 3) that they were eating dog.

How do we know all this? Simple: scientists found human coprolites (i.e. semi-fossilized human turds) while digging on a shelter in Oregon.

The human feces give us real human DNA in the New World world at least a thousand years before Clovis, and the coastal location (and the fish scales in the coprolites) suggests a sea-faring people, which is not too big a leap since folks in the Pacific had been making longer voyages with less substantial boats for quite a long time before this.

As to the dog diet, that can be surmised by the dog hair and dog DNA found in the feces.

North American Indian tribes routinely ate dog and so did the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which consumed over 200 of them on their travels. In fact, Meriwether Lewis ended up preferring dog to elk.

Perhaps the best story about dogs in the diet of the Sioux, however, is told by painter George Catlin in one of his letters and a painting (see above).

He writes:

Some few days after the steamer had arrived, it was announced that a grand feast was to be given to the great white chiefs, who were visitors amongst them; and preparations were made accordingly for it. The two chiefs, Ha-wan-je-tah and Te-han-dee, of whom I have before spoken, brought their two tents together, forming the two into a semi-circle, enclosing a space sufficiently large to accommodate 150 men; and sat down with that number of the principal chiefs and warriors of the Sioux nation; with Mr. Chouteau, Major Sanford, the Indian agent, Mr. McKenzie, and myself, whom they had invited in due time, and placed on elevated seats in the center of the crescent; while the rest of the company all sat upon the ground, and mostly cross-legged, preparatory to the feast being dealt out.

In the center of the semi-circle was erected a flag-staff, on which was waving a white flag, and to which also was tied the calumet, both expressive of their friendly feelings towards us. Near the foot of the flag-staff were placed in a row on the ground, six or eight kettles, with iron covers on them, shutting them tight, in which were prepared the viands for our voluptuous feast. Near the kettles, and on the ground also, bottom side upwards, were a number of wooden bowls, in which the meat was to be served out. And in front, two or three men, wile were there placed as waiters, to light the pipes for smoking, and also to deal out the food.

In these positions things stood, and all sat, with thousands climbing and crowding around, for a peep at the grand pageant; when at length, Ha-wan-je-tah (The One Horn), head chief of the nation, rose in front of the Indian agent, in a very handsome costume, and addressed him thus:

"My father, I am glad to see you here to-day -- my heart is always glad to see my father when he comes -- our Great Father, who sends him here is very rich, and we are poor. Our friend Mr. McKenzie, who is here, we are also glad to see; we know him well, and we shall be sorry when he is gone our friend who is on your right-hand we all know is very rich; and we have heard that he owns the great medicine-canoe; he is a good man, and a friend to the red men. Our friend the White Medicine, who sits with you, we did not know -- he came amongst us a stranger, and he has made me very well -- all the women know it, and think it very good; he has done many curious things, and we have all been pleased with him -- he has made us much amusement -- and we know he is great medicine.

"My father, I hope you will have pity on us, we are very poor -- we offer you to-day, not the best that we have got; for we have a plenty of good buffalo hump and marrow -- but we give you our hearts in this feast -- we have killed our faithful dogs to feed you -- and the Great Spirit will seal our friendship. I have no more to say."

After these words he took off his beautiful war-eagle head-dress -- his shirt and leggings -- his necklace of grizzly bears claws and his moccasins; and tying them together, laid them gracefully down at the feet of the agent as a present; and laying a handsome pipe on top of them, he walked around into an adjoining lodge, where he got a buffalo robe to cover his shoulders, and returned to the feast, taking his seat which he had before occupied.

Major Sanford then rose and made a short speech in reply, thanking him for the valuable present which he had made him, and for the very polite and impressive manner in which it had been done; and sent to the steamer for a quantity of tobacco and other presents, which were given to him in return. After this, and after several others of the chiefs had addressed him in a similar manner; and, like the first, disrobed themselves, and thrown their beautiful costumes at his feet, one of the three men in front deliberately lit a handsome pipe, and brought it to Ha-wan-je-tah to smoke. He took it, and after presenting the stem to the North-to the South -- to the East, and the West -- and then to the Sun that was over his head, and pronounced the words "How--how--how!" drew a whiff or two of smoke through it, and holding the bowl of it in one hand, and its stem in the other, he then held it to each of our mouths, as we successively smoked it; after which it was passed around through the whole group, who ail smoked through it, or as far as its contents lasted, when another of the three waiters was ready with a second, and at length a third one, in the same way, which lasted through the hands of the whole number of guests. This smoking was conducted with the strictest adherence to exact and established form, and the feast the whole way, to the most positive silence. After the pipe is charged, and is being lit, until the time that the chief has drawn the smoke through it, it is considered an evil omen for any one to speak; and if any one break silence in that time, even in a whisper, the pipe is instantly dropped by the chief, and their superstition is such, that they would not dare to use it on this occasion; but another one is called for and used in its stead. If there is no accident of the kind during the smoking, the waiters then proceed to distribute the meat, which is soon devoured in the feast.

In this case the lids were raised From the kettles, which were all filled with dogs' meat alone. It being well-cooked, and made into a sort of a stew, sent forth a very savory and pleasing smell, promising to be an acceptable and palatable food. Each of us civilized guests had a large wooden bud placed before us, with a huge quantity of dogs' flesh floating in a profusion of soup, or rich gravy, with a large spoon resting in the dish, made of the buffalo's horn. In this most difficult and painful dilemma we sat; all of us knowing the solemnity and good feeling in which it was given, and the absolute necessity of falling to, and devouring a little of it. We all tasted it a few times, and resigned our dishes, which were quite willingly taken, and passed around with others, to every part of the group, who all ate heartily of the delicious viands, which were soon dipped out of the kettles, and entirely devoured; after which each one arose as he felt disposed, and walked off without uttering a word. In this way the feast ended, and all retired silently, and gradually, until the ground was left vacant to the charge of the waiters or officers, who seemed to have charge of it during the whole occasion.

This feast was unquestionably given to us, as the most undoubted evidence they could give us of their friendship; and we, who knew the spirit and feeling in which it was given, could not but treat it respectfully, and receive it as a very high and marked compliment.

Since I witnessed it on this occasion, I have been honoured with numerous entertainments of the kind amongst the other tribes, which I have visited towards the sources of the Missouri, and all conducted in the same solemn and impressive manner; from which I feel authorized to pronounce the cornfeast a truly religious ceremony, wherein the poor Indian sees fit to sacrifice his faithful companion to bear testimony to the sacredness of his vows of friendship, and invite his friend to partake of its flesh, to remind him forcibly of the reality of the sacrifice, and the solemnity of his professions.

The dog, amongst all Indian tribes, is more esteemed and more valued than amongst any part of the civilized world; the Indian who has more time to devote to his company, and whose untutored mind more nearly assimilates to that of his faithful servant, keeps him closer company, and draws him nearer to his heart; they hunt together, and are equal sharers in the chase-their bed is one; and on the rocks, and on their coats of arms they carve his image as the symbol of fidelity. Yet, with all of these he will end his affection with this faithful follower, and with tears in his eyes, offer him as a sacrifice to seal the pledge he has made to man; because a feast of venison, or of buffalo meat, is what is due to every one who enters an Indian's wigwam and of course, conveys but a passive or neutral evidence, that generally goes for nothing.

I have sat at many of these feasts, and never could fully appreciate the moral and solemnity of them. I have seen the master take from the bowl the head of his victim, and descant on its former affection and fidelity with tears in his eyes. And I have seen guests at the same time by the aide of me, jesting and sneering at the poor Indian's folly and stupidity; and I have said in my heart, that they never deserved a name so good or so honourable as that of the poor animal whose bones they were picking.

At the feast which I have been above describing, each of us tasted a little of the meat, and passed the dishes on to the Indians, who soon demolished everything they contained. We all agreed that the meat was well cooked, and seemed to be a well-flavored and palatable food; and no doubt, could have been eaten with a good relish, if we had been hungry, and ignorant of the nature of the food we were eating.

The flesh of these dogs, though apparently relished by the Indians, is, undoubtedly, inferior to the venison and buffalo's meat, of which feasts are constantly made where friends are invited, as they are in civilized society, to a pleasant and convivial party; from which fact alone, it would seem clear, that they have some extraordinary motive, at all events, for feasting on the flesh of that useful and faithful animal; even when, as in the instance I have been describing, their village is well supplied with fresh and dried meat of the buffalo. The dog-feast is given, I believe, by all tribes in North America; and by them all, I think, this faithful animal, as well as the horse, is sacrificed in several different ways, to appease offended Spirits or Deities, whom it is considered necessary that they should conciliate in this way; and when done, is invariably done by giving the best in the herd or the kennel.

I am not too horrified at eating dog, though I would give it a pass if at all possible.

As I have noted before, some people will eat groundhog but not possum, snake but not eel, lamb but not pig, pig but now cow, etc. Most of these food taboos are cultural. That said, I do have a culture, however primitive, and even if it is observed only in the breech. Dog? Hmmm. I might skip this meal. On a diet you know. No, no, I really am on a diet, and those rat egg rolls are so fattening. Smells good though -- and thanks!



Anonymous said...

I was in Korea for a little over a year, learned a bit of the language and made a lot of friends in the Korean community. Spent a lot of time socializing with them on their terms according to their customs.

One of their summertime dishes is a soup made of dog meat and shredded scallions/leaks called Po Shin Tong. The waiter/waitress brings a crock of steaming hot broth to the table on a heat block. The sliced meat and onions are arranged artfully around the base, and both are added to the pot to cook at the table.

To Koreans many foods have benefits beyond mere sustenance. Dog is considered to improve your stamina, promote healing and increase tolerance to summer heat, all based on what they see as characteristics of dogs.

Koreans are normally pretty sensitive about eating dog and will rarely even acknowledge it to westerners. If you happen upon a market where dog meat is sold you'll generally be asked to leave. If you pull out a camera you'll be escorted from the area. Because of the freindships I cultivated, when "dog season" rolled around one of my Korean friends invited me to try it.

I found it to be edible, but not much more. The texture was soft even after simmering in the broth and it had a taste and smell mildly reminiscent of wet dog. Some time later while on a soju party with several Korean friends they decided that Po Shin Tong was the appropriate snack to accompany the copious amounts of barley whiskey we were consuming. This time I took enough to be sociable and not offend them, but picked at it politely until we moved on to another bar.

I've heard that if anything is edible there's a culture somewhere in the world that relies on it as a major part of their diet. Eating dog is a better alternative than starving, but I didn't find it particularly enjoyable even discounting cultural sensitivities. I'd much prefer some of the groundhog, raccoon and even possum recipes at the link at a prior entry.


PBurns said...

The stange thing about Korea is that the country is piled high with dried squid and fish, live eels seem to be in every pot and are served (cooked) in every restaurant, and grinning pig heads can be found on every block in the big markets, and yes you can see cages with dogs (as well as bins of turtles, live carp in bassinets, etc.). But DAMN if I could find a chicken in the whole country. I do not eat sea food, and Korea was a hard culinary run as a consequence.


Anonymous said...

I've read about dog eating today, and I can say that I have never heard of anyone anywhere eating a pet dog or a valuable farm or hunting dog. Actually it is more like the situation with people in the US who keep pot-bellied pigs as pets; they still eat ham and bacon.