Sweat Lodges

I thought I’d put up something about sweat lodges.  Annie Miner Peterson, Jim Buchanan, Lottie Evanoff, and Frank Drew all talked about them some, yet each person’s descriptions are, at time, subtly different.  I think it is due in part to their respective genders, generation they were born into, and how much they were influenced by Alsea and/or Southern Oregon Athabaskan cultures.

The Athabaskan peoples to the south tended to build, so far as I’ve been able to find, one type of sweat lodge, an underground sweatlodge in some ways like a small version of the main dwelling houses.  Men and older boys slept in them as their dormitories.  In addition to a door they had an air hole – a feature Jim Buchanan mentioned existed in Coos underground sweatlodges, the air hole called skwil.  (Pronunciation note – as always, pronunciation guides are under the tab marked ‘About’).

The northern Tillamook traditionally had only small above ground sweat lodges.

Change came again with the introduction of the Ghost Dance – or Warm House Dance – religion that came up out of Nevada and California.  For a time they build lodges that were part sweat lodge part dance house.  No dancing had been done in sweat lodges prior to this.

In the Coos Bay languages, the underground plank sweat lodge was called a kwiletl’ or a kwoletl’ (remember ‘o’ here is standing in for the ‘uh’ sound).  The above ground lodge made of bent saplings and usually used by women was called a xuuxuu.  So far I’ve only found one word for Sweatlodge in the Siuslaw/Umpqua language, and that is q’iimats.  Whether that is due to, like Tillamook, they usually built only one type of lodge, or so far that’s the only word I’ve found recorded, I don’t know.  Coos Bay was often the ‘border’ where northern and southern cultural traits mixed, and was the northern most or southern most edge for particular cultural traits.

Anyway, I decided to just post below individual’s own descriptions of what they saw and experienced.  Maybe it’ll help with our own ongoing reconstructions of sweat lodges:

Frachtenberg -Lower Umpqua Texts – q’íímats is sweatlodge (Siuslaw/Lower Umpqua language)

Annie Miner Peterson, Jacobs 96:148; xuuxuu. They take limber sticks, bend them, bury it & go in & throw water on the rock. I actually saw a xuuxuu at Als. -every fam. Had a xuuxuu only 2 can use. They did not have xuuxuu here in Coos Bay-They only had kulletl’, that’s the big one.

Annie Miner Peterson, Jacobs 101:22 and 24=In a Coos village, the neighbors of four or five houses for the men, called kwóletl’, the youngsters and men sleep there; except some men who stay with their wives uring the night,a nd then at dawn, when they see a fire in the kwóletl’, go to there to sweat too. The kwóletl’ is underground, how deep Mrs P doens’t know. It’s round like a xúuxu but far larger, as big as a house; likewise covered with dirt. There was a big timber in the center – at least one. A fire was made inside and the coals taken out, Mrs. P believes; then water was thrown on the red hot rocks. Mrs P never saw a Coos kwóletl’, so is in doubt about its construction. She never heard of a women entering one. At Siletz they built a kwóletl’ for Coquille Thompson’s introduced Ghost Dance Religion the year after the Yahach exodus; women and men both danced in it. Mrs. P was just married to William Jackson, Alsea, and she went with the Alseas to Siletz; scores went in it and danced in it there.

Men never go in the xúuxu’ The beehive sweathouse is only for 4 or 5 girls and women. Sometimes a fire is outside, sometimes inside; if an inside fire, then the woman takes out the coals, and after that they sprinkle water on the rocks and sweat. Women went in any time they felt fatigued and wanted to sponge off after a sweat bath. Maybe once a day, once in two days; or when they felt badly. Leaves of various sorts were stuck in the walls, and the steam made them smell. Sometimes they’d cut each other’s bodies all over with shít’eu [flint or obsidian], just enough to make the blood flow; a few women were experts at this, and might be paid to do it, they’d scrape the bad blood away, all over. They might or might not sweat after this – Then they’d feel fine. They’d stay in 10-20-30 or even more minutes. They don’t sing in it. Men do sing in the kwóletl’ – maybe hunting or fishing songs – but now the women. Women don’t sing in the xúuxu, however, they may just gossip…

Women make the xúúxu of course. Covered with weeds, ferns, grass, woven in tight covered with dirt. Mrs. P thinks not all xúuxu houses were made close by creeks. Sometimes they made a brush fence (Hanis sq’e’ém, also called sye’ém) of sticks upright, high, small poles, tied to it horizontally, then leaves.

Hanis ba’náqbanq’, Milluk baqbánq = sun-yourself-in-it.

They’d (the women) perhaps with male help make a brush fence with a woven grass and root door within which to sun oneself or work or hang around in the. Then the xúúxu would be right there. Men relatives would lounge inside this fence too. And also right there would be their little brush house, móqmi, for the woman’s basket work, etc, where it wouldn’t be warm like in the yixé’wox, residence house. Basket makers make baskets all year round. But they never make baskets in very dark days or at night for fear of eyestrain.

Lottie Evanoff– Harrington 22:1011b-kwilletl’=In which man sleep every night, pray for his good luck, in morning he get up go bathe in the cold water. Maybe 4 or 5 men sleep in there. I never saw one.

xuuxuu-made of small round hoops and blankets

Jim Buchanan – Frachtenberg ethnography

Sweat houses

Called kwiletl. They were square and dug in the ground. They were built exactly like the [house] except that the walls were plastered with short boards reaching only half way up. No tule mats were put on the boards. Roof was made of boards, and covered with dirt. Roof was usually round, and sticking out from the ground only about 1 ft or 1 ½ ft.

Another hole was dug (about big enough to let a man crawl in) and the hole lead to the door, that was usually placed in the middle of one of the walls. The door was not fastened at all. Whoever [?] to enter took it and put it aside. Another hole (skwil) was dug right at the bottom of the house and lead way outside. This was the air-hole. The fireplace was on one side of the door. The sweat-house was about 12 ft wide, 6 ft high and 12 ft long. These were larger one’s too. Each village had one sweat-house, which was used at nighttime by the young unmarried men of the village as a sleeping place.

The sweat was used by men only. The house was heated with a fire of dry wood.

The Coos Indians used the sweat house very seldom.

No sweat-house dances.

The fire-place of the houses was simply a hole in the ground.

Jim Buchanan – Jacobs 92:153

The sweat house was good for weakness, headache, cold. Then people did not leap into the river always, but took it easy, lolling around after the sweat.

The larger sweat house, kwólletl’ [there was a place named kwóletl’ich, north towards Yahatch].

This house was perhaps 6 ft by 12 ft, perhaps 8 or 7 ft high, and 3 or 4 feet in ground. Jim saw one once at the Yaquina R., at the place of a Siletz Indian (?) It wasn’t a steam house, but a terrifically warm house. Dry vine maple and dry alder limbs were used, no pitch wood, the fire was on one side, and the smoke doesn’t go out. Sometimes 4 or 5 men stay in all night, but the fire goes down of course. The xúuxu is for men and women. The kwóletl’ was for men. Maybe each head man has a kwóletl’, maybe 15 or 20 go in, completely stripped; they might go in cold water after. Jim thinks it was not possessed north of Coos River tribes. Women have only a xúuxu to go to. The men in the kwóletl’ lie down on their back, ‘belly up’, and sing and make fun. The ‘women aren’t let in because they couldn’t stand the heat. The top is covered with ferns or fir boughs and dirt. Not we’etl’.

Frank Drew 91:91-92

Sweat house, xúúxu. A place is picked where there is a high dry bank along a creek. A hole by the men is dug on the top of the bank, and make a hole large enough for two or three persons. It is 3 or 4 feet deep, square, 4 by 6 perhaps. When dug, fir sticks are gotten, and two fir posts, forked, of about 4 ft high, are put in the hole, and 4 smaller posts, 1 ft or 18 inches high are placed on the ground around. So that the roof of the sweat house,a bout 5 ft high, forced a man to stoop when inside. There is a center ridge pole, and side poles, rafters, tied with buckskin which won’t dry and crumble. On the rafters are put fir boughs, a foot deep of them, and then earth all over, top, sides nad all. The front side is partly enclosed by brush, sticks and earth. The river doorway is very small, some earth is cut away but not much because the slant of land allows a larger frontside – hence a sizeable door – then would have been possible on the backside. The doorway itself is made of a tule mat fastened or tied on two posts. In the center floor is a hole dug in, 2 feet more, about 2 foot square. Fire is built in this hole. After burning well, boulders are placed on top, when redhot the hot burning sticks are removed, only hot rocks are in there. Then the two or three men (generally two or three would be ‘too severe a treatment’) strip outside, take a bucket in, take a handful of water, sprinkle the hot rocks with it. When they sprinkle the rocks there is steam. They keep sprinkling it till the house is full of steam. Then they don’t sprinkle any more. They pour sweat, of course, now. You don’t dare breathe towards the other fellow because your breath towards him burns his skin, it hurts ot breath on another’s skin in a hot steaming atmosphere. They don’t sing. They keep pretty quiet. If you talk a bit you don’t face the other for fear of your breath burning him. They may stay in 25 or 30 minutes. After, they plunge in the creek. Always. Women use the same sweathouse, but at other times. They didn’t take children in until they were 15 or 20, Drew thinks. Drew doesn’t know how often they used to take sweat baths. He knows of no religious association with sweat baths. He says it’s purely a matter of health. A sweat house would be close by the house – a few hundred feet perhaps. No one goes near it, because someone is stripped when in it. You are subject to a fine if you see a woman stripped there, especially so if she’s a married woman. The fine isn’t much, of course, because it is presumed the trespass is unintentional, accidental. Nothing is said if the appropriate fine is properly paid, and quietly.


About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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