To the Indian mind everything of value or possession was filled with or controlled by a guardian spirit.
When the thunder rolled ominously along the heavens it was because the Manido wished to warn his cowering children of the awfulness of his wrath and had released the birds who lived on human flesh.
When the north wind intruded its unwelcome presence into their poor crazily built wigwams it was because Ka-bib-on-oka in the meaness of his spirit wished to rob them of their comfort and possibly of their life, and although the terms from which spring their word ” Kitchi Manido ” mean much the same as ” Father,” Comforting One,” ” Sustainer,” yet there was little in their practical belief to comfort or to help.
But all spirits or manidos were not evil by any means nor did the Indian want in appreciative languag eto describe such as brought them any relief.
On one occasion, in the forest, on the borders of a lake did two beings meet. One of them coming from the northerly direction, was old and withered, and down his bowed back streamed the straggly grey hair of unnumbered winters ; his loins were girt about as though for a long journey and in his hand he carried a rough stick whose threatening proportions omened ill for whoever opposed his wishes.
Seating himself on the bank of the lake he watched its waters congeal until no longer did the zephyrs stir its bosom into ripples. At the breath of his coming, while he was yet a long way off, had the trees shed their crimsoned foliage and hung their saddened heads. Where’ere he stepped the grass was blackened under his feet and birds fled before him to a warmer clime. The other being who had came and who now stood before him was young and comely. Upon his splendid shoulders did the sunshine fall with genial warmth, while through his thick hair were seen entwined the snow-drops and the trilliums.
” Who are you and whence come you ?” demanded the Brave of the older one.
” From the North,” came the retort, which made the young man shudder, ” over the lakes and rivers, which freeze before me to pass over, through pathless forests which shed their leaves that I may see my way, for many moons have I journeyed and I would fain journey further, but I am weary.” ” Then, you are Winter ?” cried the other, ” and from the South have I come to meet and drive you back for all the world is dead behind you, and no further shall you go.”
Across the lake he started, but before him the older one fled and as his grey locks and gaunt body disappeared in the distance did the ice once more begin to break, the air filled with the perfume of the buds and the trilling of the song birds once more filled the awaking forests. At his feet sprang up the blossoms of white and pink, of yellow and blue, for he who now stood in the midst of nature was the Manido, Spring, the conqueror of the Winter, of Famine and of Cold.
The birth of the water lily is, like the story of the coming of Spring, wrapped in poetic imagery.
‘Tis said that, in the early days ere men’s fingers learned to war, when perpetual summer smiled upon the flower bedecked land and ere the famine and fever had stalked with gaunt visage among the Indians, a star appeared whose wondrous lustre attracted the attention of the Braves. Night after night did it dazzle with its splendour, but Kitchi Manido vouchsafed no reason for its being. Men ascended to the tops of lofty mountains in the hope of reaching it and solving the mystery but all to no purpose, until one evening, when the fires had died low and the tribe had gone to sleep, a maiden appeared at the door of a young warrior’s wigwam, and rousing him, proclaimed herself the star incarnate.
She told him how she had watched the tribe’s doings and loved them for their innocence and now begged for an abode among its members wherein she might live.
In the morning the message was made public and the warrior was bidden by the council to welcome her to their midst and to let her choose for herself the place most congenial.
At first, in answer to the welcome, the spirit choose a high pine tree, but there she found herself so buried in the branches as to be unable to see those among whom she had come to live. Next she chose the prairie but fled from thence in fear of the hoofs of the buffalo. Next a mountain top was visited, but the people could not clamber up its rugged sides and she was in danger of being forgotten. Gazing down from her solitary height she saw the river dotted with the canoes of the Red Men and hearing the songs and shoutings of the happy people exclaimed, “There on the water’s bosom shall be my resting-place, for there all may see me and I in turn shall enjoy the company of my adopted people where the children shall be my playmates and I shall kiss their brows as they slumber by the cool water’s edge.”
Following its decision the spirit alighted upon the waters, and the next day the Braves, awaking, discovered thousands of white flowers covering the bosom of the river as far as the eye could reach. The star had assumed a tangible form and from the grateful Indians received a new name, Wah-be-gwon-nee, which means the Water Lily.
When men pluck the Water Lily, tradition says it should first be raised toward the skies that it may say ” Good-bye” to its sisters, the Morning and the Evening Stars, before it be used for human adornment.
A third legend which has to do with the origin of the Iroquois is still related, it is said, by the Indians about the State of Main.
A woman, a stranger, who wandered into a camp of the Algonquins was, on account of her beauty and her power of arousing compassion, adopted into the tribe and at once became the wife of one who was a leader among the “Bucks.”
Hardly were they married, when the warrior sickened and died, as indeed did more than one other who had the hardihood to admit her to their tepees.
Finally suspicion was aroused and the woman summoned before the council, confessed that she was a snake disguised as a human being to wreak her hatred upon mankind. She was turned out of the camp and driven off many days’ journey, and finally settling, she reared a family whose descendants have ever been known by the term Naud-o-wayAdder.
But a tradition of much more interest locally is that told of the origin of the Attik-umaig, the White Fish of St. Mary’s Rapids.
An Indian woman had proved unfaithful to her spouse. and the council being called and having heard the case condemned the culprit to death.
She was led into the woods, and there murdered, but her spirit ceased not to haunt her old-time wigwam.
Never day passed but the mother’s voice terrified her shrinking children, and when the shadows of night fell, the little onesfor they were the objects of her special attacklistened in palsied fear to her shrieks. At last, so bad did their state become, that the medicine men advised them to leave the village at Bow-a-ting and journey into the interior that the spirit might lose itself in the tangled glades of the forest. They set out upon their journeythey were only two little children-and for many moons they fled onward toward the south, the boy killing food on which both subsisted. Whenever, however, they journeyed there also the spirit followed till, worn out with travel and terror they retraced their steps and finally arrived again on the bank of the River. They had been told in the South that to cross this river would ensure them peace forever afterward, but when they reached the shore a mighty storm was raging, the waves were swept mountain high and no canoe could have lived to have borne them over. Behind them, hurrying lest it should be too late, raged the furious spirit, wrathful at the idea of their attempted escape, and the children, crouched upon the beach in agony, waiting for the end.
But presently the Indians gathered on the other shore, saw a crane swoop down, which took first the girl upon its back, and mounting high in the air, flew over and deposited her among her waiting people ; then returning and mounting the boy upon its wings fetched him safely over. By this time the spirit had reached the south shore and now importuned the bird to once more perform its charonian task, but the crane was deaf to entreaty, till overcome by the prayers and offers of future reward by the spirit, the bird mounted it too upon its wings and raised itself in flight. Higher and higher it rose, battling with the angry storm, to whose howlings the Manidos joined their shrieks for and against the ghoul. Out over the rapids drifted the storm beaten bird, while the spirit, becoming frantic from fear, clutched tightly at the carrier’s throat in its wild desire for safety. The bird became frightened, A battle between itself and its burden began, and as the storm clouds for a moment swept aside, the moonlight revealed the falling spirit, which was dashed to pieces in the rapids.
With the dawn of day the waters were found to be swarming with fish that had not been known before.
Some of these were immediately caught by the Braves and opened, and were found by a peculiar evidence (which was the presence in the stomach of a pearly substance) to have been created from the spirit s brain. So was infidelity punished, and from the death of this very tangible ghost was produced, for the Indian, the white fish.
The word for white fish ” Attik-umaig,” is a compound, meaning the ” deer-of-the-water,” and he who recalls the value of the deer in the Red Man’s eyes, which is to him a source of weapon, food and clothing, must perceive in the imaginative title their appreciation of this splendid fish.
Of the origin of the Rapids a beautiful legend is told of how a brave, when the beaver were dying out, built a dam across the narrows where now the ” Sault” lays, and forced the water back in order to entrap the coveted game. Leaving his wife to watch at the dam he went up the river to hunt his prey, but while he was ‘absent Manab-o-sho, chasing a deer, caused him to leap into the water above the newly constructed dam. As the deer leapt the great uncle of the Ojibways. shouted to the girl to drive it back and she in her eagerness to do his bidding left the dam and gave chase. Immediately the beavers appeared which, clambering over and forcing down the piled up stones, escaped from the trap, while the stones rolling down lay in the channel and thus formed the rapids.
The brave, in anger, came hurrying back, and hearing his wife’s excuses, was tilled with jealousy and slew her and left her body in the flood.
When white men visit the Sault they exclaim, ” Listen to the roar of the waters !” but the Indian will tell you that it is not the sound of rushing water, but the voice of the murdered woman, crying her explanation to her angry husband, and as the bubbles rise from beneath to the surface the Red Man will point and cry, ” Behold the tears of her who was wrongfully slain.”
Man-ab-o-sho now received a visit from the Great Spirit who demanded from him an account of the tragedy. On hearing the story Kitchi Manido was wrath and pronounced a curse upon the friend of the Indians. He became a great stone and was doomed to lie, helpless to aid, yet able to hear and feel the prayers and wants of the people until the crime of the murder should be expiated.
So Man-ab-o-sho became a stone and lies in the harbour of Port Arthur, where he may be seen to this day. Nor does any Red Man pass his recumbent form without the salutation, ” Aho,
Every Indian had a guardian spirit, a Manido which took the form of reptile, animal or inanimate thing.
When about the age of fifteen years the boys left the tribal camps, and proceeding each to some secluded place alone, built there a wigwam wherein to sojourn.
The period of triail from three to ten or more days, according to the stregth and will power of the lad, who dreamings hoped to have brought before his mind’s eye some particular form.
To one the vision was of a bear or a serpent, to another it was a bird, and henceforth that seen in his visions became the young buck’s particular.
Never afterwards did he go forth without a skin or at least a bone of the creature represented to him. It was his talisman against all ills, but often when the talisman failed in its work it was discarded and some other selected in its stead.
Sometimes. descending to the abodes of the tribe, after the lengthy fast, a boy would tell with awe-stricken voice how in ecstatic mood he had seen a man of great beauty and strength standing and regarding him with favour and would ask the meaning of his vision and the old men would whisper to each other that the lad had seen the Great Spirit himself and was thus assured of long and happy days. But if he failed to return within a reasonable time a party went in search of him, and if he had died of exposure and starvation he was regarded as having entered upon his journey which would one day lead him to the happy hunting ground.
To that happy hunting ground, the Ishpeming ” of the Ojibway, did all Indians alike direct their steps, but not all to enjoy its bliss.
It was in truth a spirit world where everything was a phantom. Spirit warriors hunted ghostly animals and shot bodiless arrows from behind the shades of rocks and trees. Spirit rivers flowed to quench the thrist and carry the shadow canoes of the departed ones who ” packed” into that world beyond, the shades of those things deposited in their graves at the time of their burial. And so all things necessary for their comfort were placed therein : blankets for warmth, bows and arrows for the chase, tobacco for solace, mocassins, snow-shoes, wampum belts and food, but in the graves of cowardly ones were deposited no such things, for Indian belief held that these needed only their hands with which to gather snakes and roots which Braves would disdain to live upon.
Once in every ten or twelve years was a grand burial feast held by some nation. Then the war club was laid aside and all, who would, gathered to pay the last mark of respect.
After the feasting, the remains, now merely bones, were brought amid much wailing and sorrow and deposited in one common grave and only then were the spirits absolutely released from their earthly prisons and permitted to escape to the other world.
It was at one of these funeral feasts held by the Hurons that the Jesuit Fathers first became acquainted with the Ojibways which in time led to the establishment of their mission at the Rapids of Saint Mary.