Pomo Bear Doctors, by S.A. Barrett, , at sacred-texts.com
The suit of the bear doctor, called gawī, was made as follows: First, an openwork basket was woven of white oak twigs to fit the head and with openings for eyes, nose, and mouth. Disks of abalone shell with small openings to permit actual vision were fitted into the eye openings in the basket. This basket served as a foundation over which to place the skin of the bear's head. It was made so that it exactly fitted the wearer's head and remained in place even when he moved violently. The covering of this helmet, as also the outer covering for the rest of the body, was usually made of real grizzly bear skin, though a net covered with soaproot fiber was sometimes used. The skin of the bear's head was shaped, but not stuffed, so as to retain its proper form, the eye-holes of the skin being made to fit the shell-filled eye-holes in the basket. The remainder of the bearskin was fitted exactly to the body, arms, and legs so as to perfectly hide every part of the body and give the wearer the appearance of a grizzly.
When soaproot fiber was used in making the bear doctor's suit, a
fine net was first woven and thickly covered with shredded soaproot fiber (ap tsida). This was woven entirely in one piece and so arranged as to completely cover the wearer from head to foot, including the basketry helmet just mentioned. It laced in front.
A low shoe, with the sole rounded and shaped somewhat like that of a bear's foot, was worn. This shoe was made of woven basketry held between two hoops and so arranged that the foot went between the two sections, which were attached directly to the costume. It was said that sometimes, also, similarly shaped shoes were placed upon the hands. At other times nothing was worn on either hands or feet.
Before donning the suit an "armor" of shell beads was put on. Four belts covered the abdomen. Each was about six inches wide and made of a different size and form of beads. One, called hmūki, covered the umbilicus. The other three, which were placed one above the other, completely covered the remainder of the abdomen, chest, and back up to the armpits, and were called respectively kibūkal, catanī kūtsa, and tadatada. The last protected the heart, and was made of very large, discoidal beads. Ordinarily these bead belts were woven in the usual way. Sometimes, however, one or more of the four was covered without by a layer of woodpecker scalps. Strings of shell beads were wound closely about the arms from wrist to shoulder and the legs were similarly covered. All these beads served as a protection against arrows in case the bear doctor was attacked by hunters.
A type of body armor, made of wooden rods and used in open warfare, is said to have been sometimes used by bear doctors. This consisted of two layers of rods obtained from the snowdrop bush (bakol), each rod being about the size of a lead pencil. These were bound together with string, one layer of rods being placed vertically and the other horizontally, in such a manner as to make a very close and effective armor.
Two globose, three-rod foundation baskets, called kūtc tcadōtcadoī, and each about three inches in diameter, were half filled with water and each encased tightly in a closely woven fabric made of milkweed fiber cord, or in a casing of rawhide. One was then tied, inside the bearskin suit, just under each jaw or under each armpit. In the soap-root fiber suit, small pockets were woven on its inner surface for their reception. The swashing of the water made a sound (pluk, pluk, pluk, pluk) resembling that of the viscera of a bear as he moves along. Sometimes, instead of these baskets, a slightly larger pair of plain-twining were tied one at each side at the waist. The doctor never
wore more than one pair at a time and never wore a single basket alone. Canoe-form baskets ten or twelve inches long and with unusually small openings were sometimes carried in place of the small, globose baskets above mentioned. They were sometimes filled with water, as were the small baskets, and at other times were used as receptacles for beads, berries, or other commodities.
Plate 7 (frontispiece) shows a Pomo bear doctor suit, in the Peabody Museum of Harvard University, reproduced by courtesy of Mr. C. C. Willoughby. This is a model. While differing in some details from the explanations received from informants, it confirms them in substance.