Caddo Harvest Ritual
After the crop has been gathered they hold their most notable feast, the one which the greatest number of people attend. Then only one or two stay in each house to take care of the aged and infirm. Notice is given through the messengers some days beforehand so that each may send his offering for the feast. Six days prior to this time, the men meet at the house of the captain (where there is a small temple and where a spot has previously been cleaned). The old men pray and distribute the warm drinks of foamy laurel tea. The old man who acts as chenesi orders the young men to go out in all directions to hunt deer, charging them to return soon and declaring that, in the meantime, with the old men, he will continue to make supplications to the caddi-ayo. If two or three are hunting, they all return to this house. This they repeat on the second day and all the meat, with the exception of the head and the intestines, is prepared and cooked for the function. When the day arrives they take the best woolen clothing they have—which they carefully preserve for this purpose—also very fine deer skins, with ruffles decorated with little white ornaments, some very black deer skins, decorated with the same ornaments, bracelets, and necklaces which they wear only on this and other feast days. They all gather at the house designated where, on the previous day, they have prepared the things needed for the feast.
It is at night during the new moon in September. The first night the crowd of old conjurers, medicine men, captains, and the necessary officials and servants spend within doors. The rest who come lodge outside by families where they build a fire for light as well as because the cold is already beginning to be felt. After two of the old men say their prayers between their teeth, they stand for more than an hour, take tobacco as well as bits of meat and throw it on the fire which is in the middle of the house. Then they sit down on their benches and all the old men and captains are given the rest of the meat. They mix with it their drinks of brewed wild olives which is served them three or four times in an earthenware vase. They take pipes of tobacco which they pass around to everybody. They draw from time to time and blow the smoke, first upward, then toward the ground, and then to the four winds, while all the people gather together as midnight approaches. At midnight a crier begins to call all the families in their order. They come in by threes, one woman from each house, and each presents a pot or small vessel of very fine meal and some rolls which they call bajan made of a thick paste of roasted corn and the seed of sunflowers. The majordomos then deposit these in two big receptacles of their own. In this way the criers continue to call and all the houses and families make their gifts. This finished, the offering is divided among the old men, the captains, and officials of the settlement. The celebration halts for some time while some of the young medicine men sleep. Others sing together with their instruments for the purpose of driving away sleep because there is great effort made not to sleep that night.
From midnight on one of the Indians is stationed as a watchman or sentinel. He watches to see when the pleiades are perpendicular from the house. They call these stars las sanatas, i. e., "the women," because the devil has made them believe that these stars are people. He then informs the chief conjurer who goes in company with another conjurer to a circle made of green canes struck in the ground where there is a big bonfire which three or four novices feed continually. The two men seated on an elevation serve as masters of ceremony. The Indians are formed, to their left, as follows, the old women in the first row or file, behind them the married women and the young girls, and, at the end the younger girls. The little girls are in front of this file. To the right there is an arbor with a bonfire under it. Three old men, dressed in the best they have, consisting of curious buffalo robes, go to this fire, each following in the footsteps of the one in front, while the women and children in the ranks begin singing. After a considerable pause, the old men again approach the circle, dancing as they come. When they rejoin it, the singing stops and they deliver a harangue of pure jargon in a hasty, high pitched voice without saying a single intelligible word. As they arrive in front of each woman, she presents them, without rising, with a little pot of meal and rolls made of various grains. Each presents her own gift. The songs of those in the circle continue and the old men go away in silence. In the meantime, the novices, each in his turn, carries the offering to the front. This continues for an hour, more or less. The songs of the old men and women is continued longer although some time elapses before dawn. Then all of them become more active to the music of the gourd or calabash filled with little stones. This makes the noise which they accompany with their voices. As day breaks, they stop singing and five old men divide the offering which has been collected. After the song, they all await the rising of the sun. Certain young men and boys are sent out into the nearby woods as if calling or speaking to the sun for the purpose of hastening its coming. Just as it begins to rise they run about joyously and gaily and it seems as if they were giving thanks for their past crop or were beseeching the sun to aid them in the projects they are beginning. All of one size or age are in one line; and, after giving the signal for starting, they all run as fast as they can to a tree which is about a gun shot's distance and then return to the starting point. They make this turn two or three times until they give out. Then the girls and boys in their turn, do the same thing.
All the relatives are intent upon seeing who gains the advantage and this person is the one that carries off the laurels of the occasion. The wives and female relatives of the man who is left behind or becomes tired out without finishing the race, set up a terrible weeping, because they say that when this person goes out to war, he will be left behind either as a captive or dead, because of his lack of speed. This ceremony lasts about an hour. They then take hollow logs, covered on top with green branches, bury the ends of them, and select eight strong Indian women, who, seated at intervals with sticks in each hand, use each the hollow log as a drum, to the accompaniment of the calabash which the old men play, and the songs of the men and women singers to the number of more than twenty. This music is for the dance in which they all engage, old women and girls, old men and boys, and little children. They dance in a circle, the men facing the women, keep time, moving only their feet. In this cherished frivolity they spend the time until midday, when tired and sleepy, each goes home to rest from his strenuous exercise.
From “Descriptions of the Tejas or Asinai Indians, 1691-1722. Part IV. Fray Isidro Felis de Espinosa on the Asinai and their allies.” Translated from the Spanish by Mattie Austin Hatcher. Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 31 (1927), pp. 171-174.