The universe was, as a whole, held together by spiritual forces that caused man to respect all things, living and nonliving. Indians believed that animals and humans could converse freely and that certain powerful humans could change into animals and leave their bodies. Birds and animals could become humans as well. An old Choctaw man once remarked, when asked about the sanity of a person seen talking to a squirrel in the woods, “Your problem is simple. He speaks squirrel. You don’t.”

The Indian system confused the Europeans who encountered it. Animals, plants, and even the dead were considered animate parts of life. Indians failed to understand why Europeans denied relationships with these entities.

Although the Chitimacha had killed the missionary St. Cosme, most of the priest and ministers went unmolested among the tribes. Their most common lament was that no one would listen to them.

Tolerance was shown by tribes to those missionaries who – in a vitriolic outburst – stormed temples and broke sacred objects found there. These missionaries appeared mad in the eyes of the Indian, and madness was accepted as part of the order of things.

Conversion to Christianity is sometimes descried by old Indian people as “being taught to pray.” Prayer existed in Indian culture to express thanks and tell of need. What the Europeans brought was prayer for salvation. Most tribal religions lacked the concepts of external punishment and sin. There was no hell from which to be saved. Death, then, was not confused with punishment. It was merely a part of the intricate web of natural phenomena.

Owl hoots, the barking of foxes, and other signs such as cracks in house walls portended death. Individuals frequently announced the day and time when they would die; therefore, removing the element of surprise. Omens allowed for adequate preparation. Death was to be met at home surrounded by family and friends. To live for a time and to live well was part of the natural cycle. Sudden or violent deaths were attributed to “witchcraft.” Children were often given a pet; if witchcraft was directed at the child, the pet intercepted it and died. [1]


Works Cited

[1] Kniffen, Fred B. "Historic Indian Tribes of La." Louisiana Conservation Review 4 (7): 251- 3