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Pomo Bear Doctors, by S.A. Barrett, [1917], at


When the suit was put on for the first time by the bear doctor, the following elaborate ceremony was performed. The assistant took up his position in the center of the practice ground, having on one side of him four hundred counting sticks, each about the size of a lead pencil, nicely arranged in even rows. Directly in front of him was the entire bear doctor 's suit, except the beads and bead belts; that is, the basketry helmet, the bearskin garment, the two water baskets, the dagger of elk antler, and the obsidian knife. These were the articles which were strictly ceremonial, and which must never be handled by women or children for the reason that they were the property of the particular supernatural beings under whose patronage the bear doctor operated and whose powers were invoked for his success, especially by means of a long series of ritualistic songs sung by his assistant during the ceremony of donning the suit, now to be described.

While the assistant sang the ritualistic songs, the bear doctor who was to wear the suit danced up toward it four times each from each of the four cardinal points in the following order: north, west, south, and east. Each time the dancer advanced toward the suit, the singer raised above his head one counter from the one side and as the dancer receded placed it on his opposite side. Thus this portion of the ceremony took sixteen counters. Having thus approached the suit four times the sacred number four, the dancer picked up with his left hand the basketry helmet and danced with it four times around the practice ground, the singer keeping tally with the necessary four sticks. He then danced four times up toward and back from the place on the practice ground where he intended to temporarily place this object, so using another four counters. Thus there were used in all with this one object twenty-four counters.

He did precisely the same with each of the remaining five articles of the suit. Thus one hundred and forty-four counters were transferred from the original group to the singers opposite side.

p. 459

He next took all six of these articles in both hands and performed the same cycle of twenty-four dance movements that was employed in handling each separately, so using one hundred and sixty-eight counters up to this point.

He then repeated this entire cycle of one hundred and sixty-eight dance movements in precisely the same order and manner as just described, but using the right hand instead of the left, thus using three hundred and thirty-six counters up to this point.

He next repeated all the foregoing movements exactly in reverse order in every respect; taking up the articles in reverse order and dancing toward the cardinal points in reverse order and using the hands in reverse order, thus using six hundred and seventy-two counters up to this point.

He finally took the entire suit in both hands and went around the practice ground four times in a clockwise direction and then four times in a contra-clockwise direction, thus using in all six hundred and eighty counters, indicative of that number of separate movements, or rather one hundred and seventy distinct types of movements each repeated four times.

Throughout this entire ceremony the assistant sang ritualistic songs invoking, in the ascending order of their importance, the aid of the particular supernatural beings under whose patronage the bear doctor was supposed to be and with whom he came into direct contact. According to one informant, these were, in order, brush-man, rock-man, shade-man, spring-man, pond-man, mountain-man, and sun-man, though a large number of others are also included. 17 In fact, it seems probable that all the spirits of the Pomo world are supposed to be directly concerned. The following were specifically mentioned by the informants:


Eastern Dialect

Central Dialect


danō gak

danō baiya


xa gak

ka baiya


dūwē gak

īwē baiya


gagō gak

kakō baiya


se gak

see baiya


xabē gak

kabē baiya


gapa gak

gapa baiya


ciyō gak



xō gak

hō baiya

p. 460




gak kalal

ītal baiya


gak dagōl

dakōl baiya




Whitled-leg widow

kama sīlī dūket mīya

cakū kattciū





yai kī

ya tcatc


danō kawō



ūī bagō

ūī nasai


da tca



da mata



bice gaūk

pce tea

To all these he sang songs and made prayers the substance of which usually was: "You know what I am doing. I am doing as you do and using your ways. You must help me and give me good luck."

He sang to and invoked particularly Sun-man because he was an all-seeing deity and knew everything that happened all over the earth, and more particularly because as Sun-man rises with the sun each morning lie comes with his bow and arrow drawn and ready to shoot on sight any wrongdoer. Unless, therefore, Sun-man was propitiated and previously informed of the bear doctor's intentions, he was likely to shoot him just as the sun appeared above the horizon. The substance of his prayer to Sun-man was: "I am going to do as you do. I shall kill people. You must give me good luck.

When the suit was finally put on there was a certain amount of ceremonial procedure. The beads used as armor were first put on the naked body. The arms and legs were closely wound, each with a single long string of beads. The bear doctor then danced around the practice ground four times in a clockwise direction and then four times in a contra-clockwise direction. He next advanced toward and receded from the suit four times each from the north, west, south, and east. He then made four times a motion as if to pick up the suit, and again four times the motion of putting the suit on, after which he donned it and was completely ready for his journey, being endowed with all the supernatural powers of the bear doctor.

Throughout the entire construction of the suit, and also throughout the ceremony connected with putting it on, he turned his head around toward the left after each separate action, such as lifting up or putting down any article and after each dancing up and back toward the suit, or running around the practice ground.

Each subsequent donning of the suit was quite simple. The bear

p. 461

doctor picked up each article separately and made a motion with it four times toward the part of the body it was to cover, turning his head four times to the left after each of these sets of four motions. He then put on the suit and danced in a contra-clockwise direction four times around the practice area or the interior of his cavern, as the case might be, after which he was fully ready for his journey.

In case of inclement weather the bear doctor dressed in the shelter of the cavern, but if the weather was fair this was always done on the practice ground.

In undressing, on the other hand, the bear doctor performed no ceremony at all, but simply took off his suit and carefully laid it away, hanging up in the cavern the bearskin itself to keep it clean. It was necessary that a bear doctor swim immediately upon removing his suit. Still dressed in his bead armor, he went, therefore, to his swimming place, removing the beads and piling them on the bank. This was done so that if discovered he had immediately at hand a treasure with which to buy secrecy. The penalty paid by an informer who had been thus bribed was certain death at the hands of the bear doctor. Upon emerging from the pool, he returned to his cavern, carefully folded the belts and strings of beads and laid each away separately until the suit was again needed.


459:17 Another informant gave as these chief spirits sun-man, mountain-man, wind-man, night-man, water-man, and valley-man, though not stating that they were considered in this order.

Next: Communication Between Bear Doctors