Nisqually Time

Time. Time was measured by seasons and by moons. Two seasons were recognized, winter or cold and summer. Spring was "the coming of summer" and fall was "the coming of winter". A year was designated by reference to the following or preceding season corresponding to the one during which the designation was made, next cold or last cold. Moons were reckoned according to the phases of the moon, from full moon to the next moon. A record of moons was kept by women of menstrual periods and of the lapse of time to child birth, by tying knots in a sinew thread. This was the only use of knots for reckoning or record keeping which was reported and it seems to have had a quite specific function. Information on the calendar was difficult to obtain and the following list is combined from two informants neither of whom was sure of his data:

January – "little brother winter month."

February – "rest."

March – "windy."

April – "calm."

May – none

June – "little brother summer month."

July – "summer moon."

August – "moon of salal-berries."

September – none

October – none

November – none

December – "winter month."

The day was divided into four parts marked by four points: (I) the darkness before dawn; (II) mid-morning, between nine and ten by our clocks; (III) mid-afternoon; and (IV) the darkness after sunset. Noon and midnight were relevant only in so far as they indicated the amount of daylight or of darkness to follow. The Nisqually informants said that they had seen the old Indians watch their shadow and when it pointed north they would say, "Half the sun has gone." At Yelm, on the Nisqually prairie, was situated, about 1875, a day clack which the information who described insisted was of Indian construction. It consisted of a pole six to ten feet high stuck firmly in the ground in an UN-shaded spot. The position of the first shadow if the pole visible at sunrise was marked the last shadow visible at sunset. The sticks were placed equidistant from the foot of the pole. Half way between the sticks, in the side toward which the shadow of the pole fell during the day, was placed a third stick. Between this and the sunrise and sunset sticks were placed a fourth and fifth stick. As the day progressed, the amount of daylight yet to occur could be told at a glance by reference to the shadow of the pole as it fell along this improvised dial. The portions of the day, which were given by all informants, were not points, however, but rather vague periods of time similar to our everyday use of the terms noon, afternoon and evening.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *