Strieter Autobiography: The Ojibwe
August 19, 2015 Leave a comment
One time I went with him [Missionary Meyer] to a sick woman. Back in the sugar maple woods a little old woman who was almost 100 years old had taken ill. They brought her home to her wigwam. There she lay on a bulrush mat with an old squaw attending to her. Next to her lay a dead bird, green, with long legs; I believe we called it a waterhen. She kept setting the bird here and there and stroking it. The missionary told me later that it was her guardian spirit that would supposedly bring her to the Indian heaven. The missionary spoke with her about Heaven, but she would not listen to any of it. She said she was too old. Especially the other woman was very surly.
The religion of the Indians was described to me this way: They believe that there is a great good spirit, Gishaemanido, and an evil spirit, Machimanido.28 Each one has many spirits in its service, which are in the animals and all around us. For example, a rattlesnake is an evil spirit. When it storms really badly, that is caused by the evil spirit, and you have to appease it with offerings. My brother-in-law once had an Indian with him in a ship when the waves were high; the Indian threw tobacco in the water. In the far west, they say, is a beautiful land with magnificent sugar maple forests and beautiful lakes and rivers. There is a lot of game and a lot of fish, but no pale-face comes there. That’s where eternal peace is found. Along the border of that land runs a deep, narrow, dark stream, with a narrow footbridge going across. A bad Indian falls off and perishes in the stream, but a good Indian gets across. Everyone chooses his own guardian spirit, like that woman chose the bird. When she was buried, I went to find her grave. There a split piece of wood was embedded in the ground at the head, and her bird was painted in green on top of it.
The Indians liked me: “Bushu, bushu John,” they would say.29 I even witnessed one of their festivals. They had assembled near the creek30 in an open area. With short, thin sticks, perhaps one and a half feet high, they had staked off a longish space. In the middle stood a man with the drum, which was a hollow log covered with deerhide on both ends. He had a mallet in his hand and now he began beating on the deerhide with gusto. Another man stood next to him with a gourd, a vegetable like a pumpkin, a thick, round mass with a handle. When it is dry, it is very hard, and the seed rattles when you pound it against your hand. He now took his one hand with the thing and began pounding it forcefully against the other, so that it rattled. That was the music. When they had played for a while, a man and a woman stepped into the circle, their hands crossed against their chest and an animal pelt hanging over their arms with the scalp still on it, a weasel, a muskrat, a mink, etc. They skipped along one after the other. Pretty soon the man thrusts his pelt into a woman’s face and cries out, “Hui!” and she then jumps into the space too. The woman does the same to a man, and pretty soon the space is filled. Those in the middle play the music and the others go skipping along to it one after the other. And then pretty soon two of them leave the ring and go over into the nearby thicket. The chief, Nage-Dschikamik,31 great chief, lies on the ground nearby and has a large liquor jug in his arm. A Frenchman who knew the language was with me. The chief spoke with me through him. He told me, “We are celebrating a festival of thanks to the great spirit.” I had the interpreter tell him that that was not how a person thanks the great spirit. He replied, “He is a very great spirit, not as particular as people are. It doesn’t matter to him whether you people kneel down and pray, or whether we dance.” The next morning I went back to the festival area. There lay the chief dead-drunk, and his squaw sat next to him, watching over him.
28 These names are variously spelled. According to “The Ojibwe People’s Dictionary,” gichi-manidoo means great spirit or god and maji-manidoo means evil spirit or demon (accessed 19 August 2015).
29 According to “The Ojibwe People’s Dictionary,” boozhoo means hello! or greetings! (accessed 19 August 2015).
30 Probably the Shebahyonk River (or Shebeon Creek), but possibly the Sebewaing River.
31 The “Dsch” is probably Strieter’s German way of representing a “j” sound. Strieter spells this name two slightly different ways in his manuscript – Nage-Dschikamik here, and Nage Dschickamik later.
[Read the next part here.]