Check out my new article in the Pacific Sun on Coast Miwok death ceremonies:
When a person died in a Coast Miwok village, everything went quiet. People spoke in whispers and moved gently, hushing their children and cringing at every dog bark. The village was flushed with silence, but the people were quiet out of more than just respect for the grieving family.
“They were afraid that if they made a noise, someone would come to poison them,” Maria Copa, a Coast Miwok, explained in a 1931 interview.
The Miwoks feared that if you laughed or shouted while another family was mourning, they might be so offended, they would get a sorcerer to poison you.
“In the 18th century, it wasn’t clearly understood what caused illness,” says Betty Goerke, author of Chief Marin: Leader, Rebel, and Legend, published by Heyday Books earlier this year. “They believed there were sorcerers in the village that were paid to cause people to die, and they were fearful of bringing illness upon themselves. So they were cautious.”
Miwoks had other kinds of silences surrounding death as well. After someone died, his possessions were destroyed and his name was never spoken again. His memory remained in the confines of people’s heads, passing away completely with each generation.
What a fascinating story!!! I think the world would be a better place if all of us took the time to understand the rituals and customs of others, past and present.