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Nature volume 130, pages 439441 (17 September 1932) | Download Citation



Tobacco among Californian Indians.—Knowledge of tobacco and the practice in its use among the Karuk Indians of the Klamath River, California, are recorded, for the most part in their own words, by Mr. J. P. Harrington in Bull. 94 of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Literature on this matter among Californian Indians is practically non-existent, and this is the first section of an inquiry among selected tribes in diversified areas of the State. Drake, in recording his visit to what is now presumed to be Drake's Bay, in 1579, mentions “bagges of Tobah for presents” brought by the Indians. This was Nicotiana bigelovii var. exaltata, the species now used by the Karuk. The Porno Indians use N. glauca, introduced from South America. Both species now grow wild in this region. Before the restriction of their activities by the whites, the Karuk were typical river Indians, living on rancheros, their food being acorn soup, salmon, deer meat, greens, berries, nuts, and vegetables. Tobacco was cultivated in a simple fashion. In curing, leaf and stems were separated, the latter being pounded to form an inferior kind of tobacco which was used by hunters, priests of ceremony, and doctors as offerings to the Ikxarey, the ‘old-time people’, who turned into animals, plants, rocks, mountains, and the like, when the Karuk came to the country, and after they had started all customs. The superior tobacco is smoked by men. Women never smoke except when, as doctors, they perform the functions of men. Tobacco is used only for smoking, being chewed only rarely, and never eaten. The pipe is made of wood with a soapstone lining to the bowl, and is sometimes inlaid with abalone. Smoking is practised in the evening only, after the meal. Tobacco-smoke blowing and tobacco tossing accompany all ceremonies and actions in which luck is sought. The thought of the Karuk is so occupied with tobacco, that it enters into the names of places and individuals.

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