Native American smoke curing a human corpse

Native American smoke curing a human corpse

The Kwakwaka’wakw people of the Pacific Northwest United States participate in a ritual in which their dead are smoke cured – in trees and several at a time, and eaten.

The corpse was one of the Kwakwaka’wakw dead members. They used to bury their dead on trees. The body was placed in a box, and these boxes were placed on branches a considerable distance up a tree. There the boxes were piled one on top of the other. The bodies, when so exposed to the action of the freely circulating air, mostly mummify. A corpse is taken down from the tree and is soaked in salt water. The shaman takes hemlock twigs, the leaves of which have been removed, and pushes them under the skin, gradually removing all the decayed flesh until nothing but the skin remains. After this is done the body is placed on top of the small hut in which the novice (initiate) is living while he is staying in the woods. The hands of the body hang down. Its belly is cut open and spread with sticks. The initiate was expected to smoke-cure the bound corpse for the final ritual. During the ritual the aspirant and the senior members of the brotherhood (Hamatsa) devoured portions of the corpse.

“The drying mummy”, photo by Edward S. Curtis, 1910.

Via Rare historical Photos.

4 Responses

  1. J.B. says:

    Oh my GOD. This is GROSS BEYOND UNDERSTANDING. Why?? Why do they DO this?? Do they think they are ingesting the dead body’s “soul”? Because they AREN’T ingesting the soul. They are ingesting PUTREFIED DEAD FLESH. Disgusting.

  2. charles says:

    and maybe the fact that you eat and consume dead animals or drive around toxic vehicles or use all these toxic products to attempt to make yourself look better in society’s eyes is gross to them. How are you going to try to belittle someone else’s culture and Heritage when you most likely don’t even understand your own. It is something that has been passed down from one generation to another and out of respect and love for their ancestors and for the Dead they continue the tradition. Something that your people could not even begin to understand because you’ll have no respect for the ones that have come before you much less the Traditions that they tried to pass on. So before you cast stones make sure you don’t live in a glass house…

  3. sklawz says:

    Mmmmm…..Smoked Kwakwaka’wakw. It’s what’s for dinner. ☺

    Yes. I try to be tolerant and understanding of other people’s beliefs…but sometimes I have to scratch my head and wonder why? Why were we knocked out of the trees?

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