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Miwok Material Culture: Indian Life of the Yosemite Region (1933) by S. A. Barrett and E. W. Gifford


SWEAT-HOUSE

The sweat-house (tcapu'ya. C, S) was not slept in, was not an habitual club, and was not used as a lounging place for men and boys. It was only a sudatory for men, for hunting and curative purposes, heated by fire and not by steam. It was a conical,73 earth-covered structure, six to fifteen feet in diameter and of a height permitting only half erect posture. The largest would accommodate ten men. The house was built over a pit two or three feet deep. Brush, Digger or Western Yellow Pine needles, bark (in the mountains cedar bark), and earth formed the successive layers of the roof. The smoke hole at the top was about six inches in diameter.

Each man who sweated had a little pile of wood to feed the fire. Whoever added most fuel, thus creating most heat, was regarded as the strongest. The fire was preferably of white oak. Often several men would sweat for two hours, then yield their places to a second group. Each man knelt and put his face on the ground, so as not to be smothered.

A deer hunter entered the sweat-house before sunrise and stayed from one to three hours. Then he jumped into a pool in the creek. He repeated the sweating and bathing once or twice, continuing until about 1 p. m. This was thought to purify him. Sometimes a man on leaving the sweat-house would faint before he reached the creek. Some men sweated before dancing, so as to “feel better” when dancing.

The sweat-house was used especially by men who had bad luck in deer hunting. It was supposed to make their legs strong, so that they could walk far without aching. The sick were not sucked in the sweat. house, but were simply sweated there. The sweat-house did not enter into shamanistic treatment.

When a chief announced a social or ceremonial gathering many men sweated to be successful in killing deer for the celebration. If a man was not sweated he would not get deer. Sweating was not necessary for rabbit hunting or mountain lion hunting.

It seems likely that the sweat-house was more regularly used for deer-hunt preparations than for curative purposes. However, men with rheumatism and headache, at least, made use of it. They sweated two or three hours, then bathed in a pool. The legs were also scratched with a sharp quartz crystal as a curative measure. Sometimes, in frosty weather, a family with a poor house would occupy the sweat-house.

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73 Powers (fig. 34) pictures a domed structure.



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