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The several specific methods of facial decoration employed
(Pl. VII), according to Ojibwa’s statement, are as follows:
“Our forefathers were living on the great salt water toward the rising sun, the great Megis (seashell) showed itself above the surface of the great water and the rays of the sun for a long time period were reflected from its glossy back. It gave warmth and light to the An-ish-in-aub-ag (red race). All at once it sank into the deep, and for a time our ancestors were not blessed with its light. It rose to the surface and appeared again on the great river which drains the waters of the Great Lakes, and again for a long time it gave life to our forefathers and reflected back the rays of the sun. Again it disappeared from sight and it rose not till it appeared to the eyes of the An-ish-in-aub-ag on the shores of the first great lake. Again it sank from sight, and death daily visited the wigiwams of our forefathers till it showed its back and reflected the rays of the sun once more at Bow-e-ting (Sault Ste. Marie). Here it remained for a long time, but once more, and for the last time, it disappeared, and the An-ish-in-aub-ag was left in darkness and misery, till it floated and once more showed its bright back at Mo-ning-wun-a-kaun-ing (La Pointe Island), where it has ever since reflected back the rays of the sun and blessed our ancestors with life, light, and wisdom. Its rays reach the remotest village of the widespread Ojibways.” As the old man delivered this talk he continued to display the shell, which he represented as an emblem of the great megis of which he was speaking.
A few days after, anxious to learn the true meaning of this allegory, ***I requested him to explain to me the meaning of his Me-da-we harangue.
After filling his pipe and smoking of the tobacco I had presented he proceeded to give me the desired information, as follows:
“My grandson,” said he, “the megis I spoke of means the Me-da-we religion. Our forefathers, many string of lives ago, lived on the shores of the great salt water in the east. Here, while they were suffering the ravages of sickness and death, the Great Spirit, at the intercession of Man-a-bo-sho, the great common uncle of the An-ish-in-aub-ag, granted them this rite, wherewith life is restored and prolonged. Our forefathers moved from the shores of the great water and proceeded westward.
“The Me-da-we lodge was pulled down, and it was not again erected till our forefathers again took a stand on the shores of the great river where Mo-ne-aung (Montreal) now stands.
“In the course of time this town was again deserted, and our forefathers, still 184 proceeding westward, lit not their fires till they reached the shores of Lake Huron, where again the rites of the Me-da-we were practiced.
“Again these rites were forgotten, and the Me-da-we lodge was not built till the Ojibways found themselves congregated at Bow-e-ting (outlet of Lake Superior), where it remained for many winters. Still the Ojibways moved westward, and for the last time the Me-da-we lodge was erected on the island of La Pointe, and here, long before the pale face appeared among them, it was practiced in its purest and most original form. Many of our fathers lived the full term of life granted to mankind by the Great Spirit, and the forms of many old people were mingled with each rising generation. This, my grandson, is the meaning of the words you did not understand; they have been repeated to us by our fathers for many generations.”
In the explanation of the chart obtained at Red Lake, together
with the tradition, reference to the otter, as being the most sacred
emblem of society, is also verified in a brief notice of a tradition
by Mr. Warren,2 as follows:
It is affirmed
by the Indians that at Sault Ste. Marie some of the Ojibwa
separated from the main body of that tribe and traversed the
country along the northern shore of Lake Superior toward the
west. These have since been known of as the “Bois Forts”
(hardwood people or timber people), other bands being
located at Pigeon River, Rainy Lake, etc. Another separation
occurred at La Pointe, one party going toward Fond du Lac
and westward to Red Lake, where they claim to have resided
for more than three hundred years, while the remainder
scattered from La Pointe westward and southwestward,
locating at favorable places throughout the timbered
country. This early dismemberment and long-continued
separation of the Ojibwa nation accounts, to a considerable
extent, for the several versions of the migration and the
sacred emblems connected with the Midē´wiwin, the northern
bands generally maintaining their faith in favor of the
Otter as the guide, while the southern bodies are almost
entirely supporters of the belief in the great mī´gis.
The tradition relating to Mi´nabō´zho and the sacred objects
received from Ki´tshi Man´idō for the Ani´shinâ´beg is
illustrated in Fig. 6, which is a reproduction of a chart
preserved at White Earth. The record is read from left to
right. No. 1 represents Mi´nabō´zho, who says of the
adjoining characters representing the members of the
Midē´wiwin: “They are the ones, they are the ones, who put
into my heart the life.” Mi´nabō´zho holds in his left hand
the sacred Midē´ sack, or pin-ji´-gu-sân´. Nos. 2 and 3
represent the drummers. At the sound of the drum all the
Midē´ rise and become inspired, because Ki´tshi Man´idō is
then present in the wig´iwam. No. 4 denotes that women also
have the privilege of becoming members of the Midē´wiwin.
The figure holds in the left hand the Midē´ sack, made of a
snake skin. No. 5 represents the Tortoise, the guardian
spirit who was the giver of some of the sacred objects used
in the rite. No. 6, the Bear, also a benevolent Man´idō, but
not held in so great veneration as the Tortoise. His tracks
are visible in the Midē´wiwin. No. 7, the sacred Midē´ sack
or pin-ji´-gu-sân´, which contains life, and can be used by
the Midē´ to prolong the life of a sick person. No. 8
represents a Dog, given by the Midē´ Man´idōs to
as a companion.
Two similar and extremely old birch-bark mnemonic songs were
found in the possession of a Midē´ at Red Lake. The
characters upon these are almost identical, one appearing to
be a copy of the other. These are reproduced in Figs. 7 and
8. By some of the Midē´ Esh´gibo´ga takes the place of
Mi´nabō´zho as having originally received the Midē´wiwin
from Ki´tshi Man´idō, but it is believed that the word is a
synonym or a substitute based upon some reason to them
inexplicable. These figures were obtained in 1887, and a
brief explanation of them given in the American
Anthropologist.3 At that time I could obtain but little
direct information from the owners of the records, but it
has since been ascertained that both are mnemonic songs
pertaining to Mi´nabō´zho, or rather Eshgibo´ga, and do not
form a part of the sacred records of the Midē´wiwin, but
simply the pictographic representation of the possibilities
and powers of the alleged religion. The following
explanation of Figs. 7 and 8 is reproduced from the work
just cited. A few annotations and corrections are added. The
numbers apply equally to both illustrations:
1 Op. cit., p. 78 et seq.
2 Op. cit., p. 81.
3 Vol. 1, No. 3, 1888, p. 216, Figs. 2 and 3.
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The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society, 1891
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