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Somatology





The vigorous avocations of the chase and war were reflected in fine
stature, broad and deep chests, strong and clean limbs, and sound
constitution among the Siouan tribesmen and their consorts. The skin was
of the usual coppery cast characteristic of the native American; the teeth
were strong, indicating and befitting a largely carnivorous diet, little
worn by sandy foods, and seldom mutilated; the hands and feet were
commonly large and sinewy. The Siouan Indians were among those who
impressed white pioneers by the parallel placing of the feet; for, as
among other walkers and runners, who rest sitting and lying, the feet
assumed the pedestrian attitude of approximate parallelism rather than the
standing attitude of divergence forward. The hair was luxuriant, stiff,
straight, and more uniformly jet black than that of the southerly stocks;
it was worn long by the women and most of the men, though partly clipped
or shaved in some tribes by the warriors as well as the worthless dandies,
who, according to Catlin, spent more time over their toilets than ever did
the grande dame of Paris. The women were beardless and the men more or
less nearly so; commonly the men plucked out by the roots the scanty hair
springing on their faces, as did both sexes that on other parts of the
body. The crania were seldom deformed artificially save through cradle
accident, and while varying considerably in capacity and in the ratio of
length to width were usually mesocephalic. The facial features were
strong, yet in no way distinctly unlike those found among neighboring
peoples.

Since the advent of white men the characteristics of the Siouan Indians,
like those of other tribes, have been somewhat modified, partly through
infusion of Caucasian blood but chiefly through acculturation. With the
abandonment of hunting and war and the tardy adoption of a slothful,
semidependent agriculture, the frame has lost something of its stalwart
vigor; with the adaptation of the white man's costume and the incomplete
assimilation of his hygiene, various weaknesses and disorders have been
developed; and through imitation the erstwhile luxuriant hair is cropped,
and the beard, made scanty through generations of extirpation, is commonly
cultivated. Although the accultural condition of the Siouan survivors
ranges from the essentially primitive status of the Asiniboin to the
practical civilization of the representatives of several tribes, it is
fair to consider the stock in a state of transition from barbarism to
civilization; and many of the tribesmen are losing the characteristics of
activity and somatic development normal to primitive life, while they have
not yet assimilated the activities and acquired the somatic
characteristics normal to peaceful sedentary life.

Briefly, certain somatic features of the Siouan Indians, past and present,
may be traced to their causes in custom and exercise of function; yet by
far the greater number of the features are common to the American people
or to all mankind, and are of ill-understood significance. The few
features of known cause indicate that special somatic characteristics are
determined largely or wholly by industrial and other arts, which are
primarily shaped by environment.





Next: Habitat

Previous: The Siouan Mythology



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