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The Seminole Indians
Death and Burial Ritual


Introduction | How They Came to Be | Religious Beliefs | Native Clothing and Housing | Green Corn Ceremony | Death and Burial Ritual | Conclusion

Death and Burial Ritual.

         The Seminole death and burial ritual is another ceremony that helps define the Seminole culture. This is actually one of the hardest subjects to attain information on. It is known that the body is left in the Everglades, but any information leading up to that point or anything after is concealed. John Tiger was one of the most prominent elders of the tribe whose death was short coming. The morning soon after his passing, his body was placed in a casket, put in a canoe, and taken to the Everglades. Panther, a Seminole in charge of the procedure, "chewed bay leaves and spat on the three men who carried the casket to give them strength and to ward off evil spirits." These leaves were held by all upon entering the Everglades. When the Indians arrived at their destination, bay leaves were once again chewed by Panther, however, now they were spat onto the casket. Tigers possessions were laid on the casket which was later covered with leaves and branches. The body was said to stay there for about thirty days and would later be carried to its resting place deep in the Everglades (Seminole Music 34-35).

         On the day after a blue, old cloth was hung in his house and a square was laid marking Tigers sitting place. Men and women were crying exuberantly with their hair hanging loose. Mrs. Tiger then went into the Everglades and stayed there for 6 weeks. Immediate family would also leave and left their houses to different occupants. All of the women that were akin to Tiger wore their hair loose and only several beads around their necks at a time (Seminole Music 35).

         Another Seminole named Willie John also died and required that someone take the body to its final resting place. The funeral practices here, however, seem to be quite different than that of the first one. The body was enclosed in thick blankets and denim making it almost impossible to determine which end was the head. The coffin was actually a box made out of cypress boards and when the body was placed in it bay leaves were gathered and scattered on the whole body. Kettles, utensils, and a bundle were placed in a box at each end. The top was then nailed shut and finally driven to its final resting place. The place, however, had to be selected to insure that it would not be bothered by the fires. When the party finally reached the final resting place, a cabbage palm was cut down to support the end of the coffin and palmetto leaves covered the top of it. It is said that personal belongings stay with the body and that a miniature fire made out of twigs is seen near the head. Widows and their children are said to stay with the dead up to four nights, lamenting, with messy hair. It is said that when a widow restores her hair and beads, she is ready for remarriage (Seminole Music 35-36).

         Another instance in which shows a different variation was when a Seminole girl died at the entrance of her husbands store. It was not custom to move the body until it was ready for final disposal. The closest of kin never traveled along with the body but rather followed three days later. Wild myrtle (a type of shrub) and bay was frequently used and burned "in front of burial company." On the day after death, women, girls, and boys were known to sit on a log, facing East, and did not make a move the entire day while being stripped to the waist. A medicine man, who sat near the house, sang and sprinkled water on the mourners the entire day (Seminole Music 36-37).

         It has also been mentioned that the Seminoles place food and drink with the body in containers outside of the coffin (Floridas Seminole Indians 83-84). There was an example in which food was taken to a burial site for three consecutive days by three different people (Seminole Music 37). As seen in the previous examples of funerals, the possessions of the deceased are buried alongside of them. However, each item is intentionally broken before put in the coffin. "Tin pans are bent double, pots are flattened, pipe-systems are snapped, chinaware is chipped, even valuable objects such as rifles or shotguns are broken before being placed with the body." The Seminoles believe that the breaking of an object sets the "spirit" free from the item which will in turn follow the dead soul into the afterlife (Floridas Seminole Indians 83-84).


Carrying the Dead