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Makwa´ Man´idō

 Native American Nations | The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society                    

When a candidate is prepared to advance to the third degree (No. 47) he personates Makwa´ Man´idō, who is the guardian of this degree, and whose tracks (No. 48) are visible. The assistants are visible upon the interior, drumming and dancing. There are three sacred posts, the first (No. 49) is black, and upon this is placed Ko-ko´-ko-o´—the Owl; the second (No. 50) is painted with white clay and has upon the top the effigy of an owl; while the third (No. 51) is painted with vermilion, bearing upon the summit the effigy of an Indian. Small wooden effigies of the human figure are used by the Midē´ in their tests of the proof of the genuineness and sacredness of their religion, which tests will be alluded to under another caption. The horizontal rod (No. 52), extending from one end of the structure to the other, has suspended from it the blankets and other gifts.

The guardian of the fourth degree is Maka´no—the Turtle—as he appears (No. 53) facing the entrance of the fourth degree (No. 54). Four sacred posts are planted in the fourth degree; the first (No. 55), being painted white upon the upper half and green upon the lower; the second (No. 56) similar; the third (No. 57) painted red, with a black spiral line extending from the top to the bottom, and upon which is placed Ko-ko´-ko-o´—the Owl; and the fourth (No. 58), a cross, the arms and part of the trunk of which is white, with red spots—to designate the sacred mī´gis—the lower half of the trunk cut square, the face toward the east painted red, the south green, the west white, and the north black. The spot (No. 59) at the base of the cross signifies the place of the sacred stone, while the human figures (No. 60) designate the participants, some of whom are seated near the wall of the inclosure, whilst others are represented as beating the drum. Upon the horizontal pole (No. 61) are shown the blankets constituting gifts to the society.

Plate VII. Ojibwa Facial Decoration.

The several specific methods of facial decoration employed (Pl. VII), according to Ojibwa’s statement, are as follows:

First degree.—One stripe of vermilion across the face, from near the ears across the tip of the nose.

Second degree.—One stripe as above, and another across the eyelids, temples, and the root of the nose.

Third degree.—The upper half of the face is painted green and the lower half red.

Fourth degree.—The forehead and left side of the face, from the outer canthus of the eye downward, is painted green; four spots of vermilion are made with the tip of the finger upon the forehead and four upon the green surface of the left cheek. In addition to this, the plumes of the golden eagle, painted red, are worn upon the head and down the back. This form of decoration is not absolutely necessary, as the expense of the “war bonnet” places it beyond the reach of the greater number of persons.

Before proceeding further with the explanation of the Midē´ records it may be of interest to quote the traditions relative to the migration of the Ani´shinâ´beg, as obtained by Mr. Warren previous to 1853. In his reference to observing the rites of initiation he heard one of the officiating priests deliver “a loud and spirited harangue,” of which the following words1 caught his attention:

“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:

There is another tradition told by the old men of the Ojibway village of Fond du Lac, Lake Superior, which tells of their former residence on the shores of the great salt water. It is, however, so similar in character to the one I have related that its introduction here would only occupy unnecessary space. The only difference between the two traditions is that the otter, which is emblematical of one of the four Medicine Spirits who are believed to preside over the Midawe rites, is used in one in the same figurative manner as the seashell is used in the other, first appearing to the ancient An-ish-in-aub-ag from the depths of the great salt water, again on the river St. Lawrence, then on Lake Huron at Sault Ste. Marie, again at La Pointe, but lastly at Fond du Lac, or end of Lake Superior, where it is said to have forced the sand bank at the mouth of the St. Louis River. The place is still pointed out by the Indians where they believe the great otter broke through.

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.

On account of the independent operations of the Midē´ priests in the various settlements of the Ojibwa, and especially because of the slight intercourse between those of the northern and southern divisions of the nation, there has arisen a difference in the pictographic representation of the same general ideas, variants which are frequently not recognized by Midē´ priests who are not members of the Midē´wiwin in which these mnemonic charts had their origin. As there are variants in the pictographic delineation of originally similar ideas, there are also corresponding variations in the traditions pertaining to them.

Fig. 6.—Birch-bark record, from White Earth.

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 Mi´nabō´zho as a companion.

Such was the interpretation given by the owner of the chart, but the informant was unconsciously in error, as has been ascertained not only from other Midē´ priests consulted with regard to the true meaning, but also in the light of later information and research in the exemplification of the ritual of the Midē´wiwin.

Mi´nabō´zho did not receive the rite from any Midē´ priests (Nos. 2 and 5), but from Ki´tshi Man´idō. Women are not mentioned in any of the earlier traditions of the origin of the society, neither was the dog given to Mi´nabō´zho, but Mi´nabō´zho gave it to the Ani´shinâ´beg.

The chart, therefore, turns out to be a mnemonic song similar to others to be noted hereafter, and the owner probably copied it from a chart in the possession of a stranger Midē´, and failed to learn its true signification, simply desiring it to add to his collection of sacred objects and to gain additional respect from his confrères and admirers.


Fig. 7.—Birch-bark record, from Red Lake.

Fig. 8.—Birch-bark record, from Red Lake.

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:

No. 1, represents Esh´gibo´ga, the great uncle of the Ani´shinâ´beg, and receiver of the Midē´wiwin.

No. 2, the drum and drumsticks used by Esh´gibo´ga.

No. 3, a bar or rest, denoting an interval of time before the song is resumed.

No. 4, the pin-ji´-gu-sân´ or sacred Midē´ sack. It consists of an otter skin, and is the mī´gis or sacred symbol of the Midē´wigân.

No. 5. a Midē´ priest, the one who holds the mī´gis while chanting the Midē´ song in the Midē´wigân. He is inspired, as indicated by the line extending from the heart to the mouth.

No. 6, denotes that No. 5 is a member of the Midē´wiwin. This character, with the slight addition of lines extending upward from the straight top line, is usually employed by the more southern Ojibwa to denote the wig´iwam of a Jess´akkid´, or jugglery.

No. 7, is a woman, and signifies that women may also be admitted to the Midē´wiwin.

No. 8, a pause or rest.

No. 9, a snake-skin pin-ji´-gu-sân´ possessing the power of giving life. This power is indicated by the lines radiating from the head, and the back of the skin.

No. 10, represents a woman.

No. 11, is another illustration of the mī´gis, or otter.

No. 12, denotes a priestess who is inspired, as shown by the line extending from the heart to the mouth in Fig. 7, and simply showing the heart in Fig. 6. In the latter she is also empowered to cure with magic plants.

No. 13, in Fig. 7, although representing a Midē´ priest, no explanation was given.

Fig. 9 is presented as a variant of the characters shown in No. 1 of Figs. 7 and 8. The fact that this denotes the power of curing by the use of magic plants would appear to indicate an older and more appropriate form than the delineation of the bow and arrows, as well as being more in keeping with the general rendering of the tradition.

Fig. 9.— Esh´gibo´ga

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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