In addition to the examples of Indian music that have been given,
especially the songs of shamans, it may be of interest to add a few
remarks concerning the several varieties of songs or chants. Songs
employed as an accompaniment to dances are known to almost all the
members of the tribe, so that their rendition is nearly always the
same. Such songs are not used in connection with mnemonic
characters, as there are, in most instances, no words or phrases
recited, but simply a continued repetition of meaningless words or
syllables. The notes are thus rhythmically accentuated, often
accompanied by beats upon the drum and the steps of the dancers.
An example of another variety of songs, or rather chants, is
presented in connection with the reception of the candidate by the
Midē´ priest upon his entrance
into the Midē´wigân of the first degree. In this instance words are
chanted, but the musical rendition differs with the individual, each
Midē´ chanting notes of his own, according to his choice or musical
ability. There is no set formula, and such songs, even if taught to
others, are soon distorted by being sung according to the taste or
ability of the singer. The musical rendering of the words and
phrases relating to the signification of mnemonic characters depends
upon the ability and inspired condition of the singer; and as each
Midē´ priest usually invents and prepares his own songs, whether for
ceremonial purposes, medicine hunting, exorcism, or any other use,
he may frequently be unable to sing them twice in exactly the same
manner. Love songs and war songs, being of general use, are always
sung in the same style of notation.
The emotions are fully expressed in the musical rendering of the
several classes of songs, which are, with few exceptions, in a minor
key. Dancing and war songs are always in quick time, the latter
frequently becoming extraordinarily animated and boisterous as the
participants become more and more excited.
Midē´ and other like songs are always more or less monotonous,
though they are sometimes rather impressive, especially if delivered
by one sufficiently emotional and possessed of a good voice. Some of
the Midē´ priests employ few notes, not exceeding a range of five,
for all songs, while others frequently cover the octave, terminating
with a final note lower still.
The statement has been made that one Midē´ is unable either to
recite or sing the proper phrase pertaining to the mnemonic
characters of a song belonging to another Midē´ unless specially
instructed. The representation of an object may refer to a variety
of ideas of a similar, though not identical, character. The picture
of a bear may signify the Bear man´idō as one of the guardians of
the society; it may pertain to the fact that the singer impersonates
that man´idō; exorcism of the malevolent bear spirit may be thus
claimed; or it may relate to the desired capture of the animal, as
when drawn to insure success for the hunter. An Indian is slow to
acquire the exact phraseology, which is always sung or chanted, of
mnemonic songs recited to him by a Midē´ preceptor.
An exact reproduction is implicitly believed to be necessary, as
otherwise the value of the formula would be impaired, or perhaps
even totally destroyed. It frequently happens, therefore, that
although an Indian candidate for admission into the Midē´wiwin may
already have prepared songs in imitation of those from which he was
instructed, he may either as yet be unable to sing perfectly the
phrases relating thereto, or decline to do so because of a want of
confidence. Under such circumstances the interpretation of a record
is far from satisfactory, each character being explained simply
objectively, the true import being intentionally or unavoidably
omitted. An Ojibwa named “Little Frenchman,” living at Red Lake, had
received almost continuous instruction for three or four years, and
although he was a willing and valuable assistant in other matters
pertaining to the subject under consideration, he was not
sufficiently familiar with some of his preceptor’s songs to fully
explain them. A few examples of such mnemonic songs are presented in
illustration, and for comparison with such as have already been
recorded. In each instance the Indian’s interpretation of the
character is given first, the notes in brackets being supplied in
further explanation. Pl. XXII, A, is reproduced from a birch-bark
song; the incised lines are sharp and clear, while the drawing in
general is of a superior character. The record is drawn so as to be
read from right to left.
Plate XXII.a. Mnemonic Song.
|| From whence I sit.
[The singer is seated, as the lines indicate contact with
the surface beneath, though the latter is not shown. The
short line extending from the mouth indicates voice, and
probably signifies, in this instance, singing.]
|| The big tree in the center of
[It is not known whether or not this relates to the first
destruction of the earth, when Mi´nabo´zho escaped by
climbing a tree which continued to grow and to protrude
above the surface of the flood. One Midē´ thought it related
to a particular medicinal tree which was held in estimation
beyond all others, and thus represented as the chief of the
|| I will float down the fast
[Strangely enough, progress by water is here designated by
footprints instead of using the outline of a canoe. The
etymology of the Ojibwa word used in this connection may
suggest footprints, as in the Delaware language one word for
river signifies “water road,” when in accordance therewith
“footprints” would be in perfect harmony with the general
|| The place that is feared I
inhabit, the swift-running stream I inhabit.
[The circular line above the Midē´ denotes obscurity, i.e.,
he is hidden from view and represents himself as powerful
and terrible to his enemies as the water monster.]
||You who speak to me.
|| I have long horns.
[The Midē´ likens himself to the water monster, one of the
malevolent serpent man´idōs
who antagonize all good, as beliefs and practices of the
||A rest or pause.
|| I, seeing, follow your example.
|| You see my body, you see my
body, you see my nails are worn off in grasping the stone.
[The Bear man´idō is represented as the type now assumed by
the Midē´. He has a stone within his grasp, from which magic
remedies are extracted.]
|| You, to whom I am speaking.
[A powerful man´idō´, the panther, is in an inclosure and to
him the Midē´ addresses his request.]
|| I am swimming—floating—down
[The two pairs of serpentine lines indicate the river banks,
while the character between them is the Otter, here
personated by the Midē´.]
||Bars denoting a pause.
|| I have finished my drum.
[The Midē´ is shown holding a Midē´ drum which he is making
for use in a ceremony.]
|| My body is like unto you.
[The mī´gis shell, the
symbol of purity and the Midē´wiwin.]
|| Hear me, you who are talking to
[The speaker extends his arms to the right and left
indicating persons who are talking to him from their
respective places. The lines denoting speech—or hearing—pass
through the speaker’s head to exclaim as above.]
|| See what I am taking.
[The Midē´ has pulled up a medicinal root. This denotes his
possessing a wonderful medicine and appears in the order of
||See me, whose head is out of water.
On Pl. XXII, B, is presented an illustration reproduced from a
piece of birch bark owned by the preceptor of “Little Frenchman,” of
the import of which the latter was ignorant. His idea of the
signification of the characters is based upon general information
which he has received, and not upon any pertaining directly to the
record. From general appearances the song seems to be a private 293
record pertaining to the Ghost Society, the means through which the
recorder attained his first degree of the Midē´wiwin, as well as to
his abilities, which appear to be boastfully referred to:
Plate XXII.b. Mnemonic Song.
|| I am sitting with my pipe.
[Midē´ sitting, holding his pipe. He has been called upon to
visit a patient, and the filled pipe is handed to him to
smoke preparatory to his commencing the ceremony of
|| I employ the spirit, the spirit
of the owl.
[This evidently indicates the Owl man´idō, which has been
referred to in connection with the Red Lake Midē´ chart, Pl.
III, No. 113. The Owl man´idō is there represented as
passing from the Midē´wigân to the Dzhibai´ Midē´wigân, and
the drawings in that record and in this are sufficiently
alike to convey the idea that the maker of this song had
obtained his suggestion from the old Midē´ chart.]
|| It stands, that which I am
[The Midē´, impersonating the Bear man´idō, is seeking a
medicinal tree of which he has knowledge, and certain parts
of which he employs in his profession. The two footprints
indicate the direction the animal is taking.]
|| I, who fly.
[This is the outline of a Thunder bird, who appears to grasp
in his talons some medical plants.]
|| Ki´-bi-nan´ pi-zan´. Ki´binan´
is what I use, it flies like an arrow.
[The Midē´’s arm is seen grasping a magic arrow, to
symbolize the velocity of action of the remedy.]
|| I am coming to the earth.
[A man´idō is represented upon a circle, and in the act of
descending toward the earth, which is indicated by the
horizontal line, upon which is an Indian habitation. The
character to denote the sky is usually drawn as a curved
line with the convexity above, but in this instance the ends
of the lines are continued below, so as to unite and to
complete the ring; the intention being, as suggested by
several Midē´ priests, to denote great altitude above the
earth, i.e., higher than the visible azure sky, which is
designated by curved lines only.]
|| I am feeling for it.
[The Midē´ is reaching into holes in the earth in search of
|| I am talking to it.
[The Midē´ is communing with the medicine man´idō´ with the
Midē´ sack, which he holds in his hand. The voice lines
extend from his mouth to the sack, which appears to be made
of the skin of an Owl, as before noted in connection with
the second character in this song.]
|| They are sitting round the
interior in a row.
[This evidently signifies the Ghost Lodge, as the structure
is drawn at right angles to that usually made to represent
the Midē´wigân, and also because it seems to be reproduced
from the Red Lake chart already alluded to and figured in
Pl. III, No. 112. The spirits or shadows, as the dead are
termed, are also indicated by crosses in like manner.]
You who are newly hung; you have reached half, and you are now full.
[The allusion is to three phases of the moon, probably having
reference to certain periods at which some important ceremonies or
events are to occur.]
I am going for my dish.
[The speaker intimates that he is going to make a feast, the dish
being shown at the top in the form of a circle; the footprints are
directed toward, it and signify, by their shape, that he likens
himself to the Bear man´idō, one of the guardians of the Midēwiwin.]
I go through the medicine lodge.
[The footprints within the parallel lines denote his having passed
through an unnamed number of degrees. Although the structure is
indicated as being erected like the Ghost Lodge, i.e., north and
south, it is stated that Midēwiwin is intended. This appears to be
an instance of the non-systematic manner of objective ideagraphic
Let us commune with one another.
[The speaker is desirous of communing with his favorite man´idōs,
with whom he considers himself on an equality, as is indicated by
the anthropomorphic form of one between whom and himself the voice
On Figs. 36-39, are reproduced several series of pictographs from
birch-bark songs found among the effects of a deceased Midē´ priest,
at Leech Lake. Reference to other relics belonging to the same
collection has been made in connection with effigies and beads
employed by Midē´ in the endeavor to prove the genuineness of their
religion and profession. These mnemonic songs were exhibited to many
Midē´ priests from various portions of the Ojibwa country, in the
hope of obtaining some satisfactory explanation regarding the import
of the several characters; but, although they were pronounced to be
“Grand Medicine,” no suggestions were offered beyond the merest
repetition of the name of the object or what it probably was meant
to represent. The direction of their order was mentioned, because in
most instances the initial character furnishes the guide. Apart from
this, the illustrations are of interest as exhibiting the superior
character and cleverness of their execution.
The initial character on Fig. 36 appears to be at the right hand
upper corner, and represents the Bear man´idō. The third figure is
that of the Midē´wiwin, with four man´idōs within it, probably the
guardians of the four degrees. The owner of the song was a Midē´ of
the second degree, as was stated in connection with his Midē´wi-gwas
or “medicine chart,” illustrated on Plate III, C.
Fig. 37 represents what appears to be a mishkiki or medicine song,
as is suggested by the figures of plants and roots. It is impossible
to state absolutely at which side the initial character is placed,
though it would appear that the human figure at the upper left hand
corner would be more in accordance with the common custom.
Fig. 38 seems to pertain to hunting, and may have been recognized as
a hunter’s chart. According to the belief of several Midē´, it is
lead from right to left, the human figure indicating the direction
according to the way in which the heads of the crane, bear, etc.,
are turned. The lower left hand figure of a man has five marks upon
the breast, which probably indicate mī´gis spots, to denote the
power of magic influence possessed by the recorder.
The characters on Fig. 39 are found to be arranged so as to read
from the right hand upper corner toward the left, the next line
continuing to the right and lastly again to the left, terminating
with the figure of a Midē´ with the mī´gis upon his breast. This is
interesting on account of the boustrophic system of delineating the
figures, and also because such instances are rarely found to occur.
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The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society, 1891
The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society