How a Medicine Man Was Born, and how He Turned Man into a Tree

A story of old times. There was once a woman who traveled constantly through the woods. Every bush she saw she bit off, and from one of these she came to be with child. She grew bigger and bigger until at last she could travel no longer, but built a wigwam near the mouth of a stream. The woman gave birth to a child in the night. She thought it best to kill the child, but did not wish to murder her offspring. 1

At last she decided to make a canoe of bark, and in it she put her child and let it float down the river. The water of the river was rough, but the child was not harmed, or even wet. 2 It floated down to an Indian village, and was stranded on the shore near a group of wigwams. A woman of the village found the baby on the shore and brought it to her home. Every morning, after the baby had been brought to the place, a baby of the village died. The Indians did not know what the matter was until they noticed that the waif which the woman had found in the bark on the river bank went to the river every night and returned shortly after. A woman watched to see what this had to do with the death of the babes, and she saw the child, when it returned to the wigwam, bring a tongue of a little child, roast and eat it. Then it laid down to sleep. The next morning another child died, and then the Indian knew that its tongue had been cut out. It was therefore believed that the strange child had killed the baby. They deliberated as to what they should do with the murderer. Some said, cut him in pieces and cast the fragments into the river. Others said, cut him up and burn the fragments. This, after much consultation, they did. They burnt the fragments of the child until nothing but the ashes remained. Everybody thought it dead, but the next morning it came back to camp again, with a little tongue as before, roasted and ate the morsel. The next morning another child was found to have died the night before. After the weird child had roasted and eaten the tongue of its victim he laid down to sleep in the same place he had laid before he had been cut up into fragments and cremated. But in the morning the child said that it would never kill any more children. He had now, in fact, become a big boy. He said he would take one of his bones out of his side. This he tried to do, and as he did it all the bones came out of his body at the same time. Then he closed his eyes by drawing his fingers over his eyelids so that his eyes were hidden (not necessarily blind). He could not move, because he had no bones and had grown very fat. He became a great medicine man, and told the Indians that whatever they asked of him he would grant them. Then the Indians moved away from the place and left the medicine man behind in a nice wigwam which they built for him. But they were accustomed to go back when they wished anything, and to ask the conjurer for it. The Indians used to go to him for medicine of all kinds. When he granted their request he said, “Turn me over and you will find the medicine under me.” 3

Once upon a time a young man who wished the love of women went to him and asked for a love potion. The old man said, “Turn me over.” The young man turned the conjurer over and found under him an herb. The old man told him he must not give this away or throw it away. The young man went home to his wigwam. On his return home all the women of the place followed him, everywhere and at all times. He longed to be alone, and did not like to have the women so much about him. At last he was so much troubled by them that he went back to the conjurer and gave back the medicine to the medicine man, who took the herb, and the young man went away without it. Another man went to the conjurer for medicine. The old man said, “What do you want?” He said, “I want to live as long as the world stands.” The old man said the request was hard to grant, but he would try to answer it. The conjurer, as was his wont, said, “Turn me over,” and underneath his body was the herb. Then the conjurer told the man who wished to live forever to go to a place which was bare of everything, so bare indeed that it was destitute of all vegetation, and to stand there. He pointed out the place to him. This the man did, and, looking back at the conjurer, branches grew out all over him, and he was changed into a cedar tree. He is useless to every one, and there he will stand forever.

The first part of this story strongly reminds one of the story of Moses, and may have been due to contact with Europeans. It is to be remarked that the mother of the child became pregnant by eating an herb. The child is therefore parthenogenetic. According to Leland, the medicine man who turned the man into a cedar tree is Glooscap. Glooscap performed many such miracles, as in the case of the story of the animals. In another story the father of Glooscap is mentioned as a being who lives under a great fall of water down in the earth. His face is half red, and he has a single eye. In another he can give to any one coming to him medicine to grant him whatever he wishes, and in still another Glooscap is now sharpening his arrows way off in some distant place. He will return to earth and make war.

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“On whom will he make war?” “He will make war on all, kill all: there will be no more world; world all gone. Dunno how quick,-mebbe long time: all be dead then, mebbe-guess it will be long time.”

“Are any to be saved by any one?” “Dunno. Me hear some say world all burn up some day; water all will take fire. Some good ones be taken up in good heavens, but me dunno; me just hear that. Only hear so.” 4

In their stories the Passamaquoddies tell the old stories as true; but they speak of other stories as what they hear. The part of the above account, of the return of Glooscap and the destruction of the world, they say is true. The last portion shows its modern origin in the statement that they hear that it is so.

The stories of the birth of Glooscap, 5 his power to work miracles, and his ultimate return to earth, are very suggestive.

The belief of the Indians in a Great Spirit is a figment of the imagination on the part of the whites. It is now extremely difficult to discover what the original belief of the Passamaquoddies was, as they are now Christianized and have been for many years.

From a scientific standpoint much has been lost by this change. There are several customs which are undoubtedly modifications of older observances which they probably replace. That these customs are secondary modifications, their general character seems to demonstrate. Still they have certain Indian features, and as such merit record. There are doubtless certain religious observances which have been changed by the influence of the whites. If these were rightly interpreted they might tell some very interesting story of the ancient beliefs of this people, but many of these observances have been so modified that their meaning, if they have any, is wholly obliterated.

Among these might be mentioned a common burial custom, an account of which has never been recorded. I am informed by Mrs. Brown that when an Indian dies a gun is fired. The coffin is enveloped with fine white sheeting, and cords are tied around the sheeting to keep the cotton in place. When the coffin is lowered into the grave the cords are removed, and the cotton is given to the grave-digger. Possibly this custom may have been derived from some older one, or may have originated from contact with the whites. The mode of burial in coffins and the use of cotton sheeting are certainly modern customs, but may be modifications of some older ceremonial when other material was used.

The counting-out rhyme which is given on the cylinder is as follows:
Hony, kee bee, la a-weis, ag-les, huntip.

The inflection on the last word is always a rising one. This is especially true on the last syllable of the last word, “tip.” The counting out is not very different from that of white children. They all place two fingers of each hand in a circle; the one who repeats the doggerel, having one hand free, touches each finger in the circle saying, Hony, kee bee, la a-weis, ag-les, huntip. Each finger that the huntip falls on is doubled under, and this is repeated again and again until there are but three fingers left. The persons corresponding to these start to run, and the one caught has to play as Squaw-oc-t’moos. 6 To the Indian mind “counting out” has a significance, and even the simple huntip is a magic word, bringing good luck, as it lessens the chance of being “squaw-oc-t’moos.” “Journal of American Folk-Lore,” vol. iii. No. 8, pp. 71, 72.

One of the songs, said to be a salutation, which was sung on the cylinders, has been written out from the phonograph by the late Mr. S.P. Cheney. The words, as nearly as I can make them out, are as follows:-
T’wa too boo hen ee too boo ho to be way bla
Tel ey wees ee lu
Hoi kay yu kar, heno yah ha,
Kaye yu kar, hen o yar-hah,
Kay yu kar, hen o yah-hah, kay yu kar, hen o yar-hah.
The first two lines are sung first to the upper staff, then repeated to the music on the second, which differs somewhat from the first. Then follows the third and fourth lines, which are sung to the third staff, and repeated with slight variation from the fourth.

notes3 notes4

The question of whether the Indians originally had characters to designate tones has been discussed by Theodor Baker (“Ueber die Musik der Nord Amerikanischen Wilden”). Although the Micmacs seemed to have had an elaborate system of hieroglyphics 7 to designate sounds, neither they nor their immediate neighbors, according to Vetromile, had characters to designate tones. The songs were probably committed to memory, and possibly on that account were often somewhat modified.

The cylinder with Passamaquoddy words and the English equivalents has the following records, which I have written down as nearly as I could from the phonograph, and verified by repeating them from my spelling to the Indians. With two exceptions, the Indians, were able to understand the word meant, and to give me an English equivalent identical with that originally recorded. I have made these experiments of verification in order to test the capabilities of the phonograph. In the cases where my spelling of the word has failed to convey the sound of the word, the phonograph was perfectly understood by the Indian interrogated. This fact seemed to me to bring out a serious defect in the use of the phonetic method, which may not be confined to me alone. I doubt very much if the Indians could understand many of the words in some of the vocabularies of other Indians which have been published, if the words were pronounced as they are spelled. The records of the phonograph, although of course sometimes faulty, are as a general thing accurate. When I wrote out the Passamaquoddy words given below, I was wholly ignorant of their meaning. I wrote them as I heard them on the cylinder, placing at their side the English equivalent. I then pronounced the word to an Indian, and he gave the same English word which I had myself written from the phonograph:

k’talgus (gin), ear.
Wee tin, nose.
Hük, body.
K’telobagen, arms.
Sqat, fire.
K’tagen, foot.
Wittuk, forehead.
(Puks que nor wuk), Pugorken, blood.
Tups kuk, neck.
Wusquan, elbow.
Kort, leg.
Qutque, knee.
Wukum, heel.
Wus quout, liver (heart).
Wee bee, tooth.
p’kutt, smoke.

The object of the above list is simply to show how nearly one can obtain the sound of the word phonetically by the phonograph. It is thought to illustrate a possible use of this instrument.

Vocabularies of Passamaquoddy words have been published, but as a general thing they are very incomplete. Miss Abby Alger, of Boston, has printed a short list of common words and phrases, and in Kilby’s “History of Eastport” the Passamaquoddy names of certain localities, rivers, etc., are given.

It is probably impossible to get the same story in all its details from two different Indians. The variations in incidents are very numerous. Consequently the observer who follows me will undoubtedly find a great difference between the tale as I give it and as he hears it. That is to be expected, nor is it probable that these stories admit of absolute accuracy as long as human memory is fallacious. These stories are membra dejecta of older ones, and, although lineal descendants of ancient tales, are probably more or less modified or changed.

Fewkes, J. Walter. Contribution to Passamaquoddy Folklore: Hemenway Southwestern Archaeological Expedition. Reprinted From The Journal Of American Folk-Lore, October-December, 1890.

  1. By combining this story with some given by Leland it would seem that the child was Glooscap. If that is so, this is the only account in Passamaquoddy lore in which his parthenogenetic origin is traced. Mrs. Brown insists, however, that the medicine man was not Glooscap.[]
  2. The resemblance of this story to the tale of Moses is very great. Whether or not it is derived from the early teaching of the church through Catholic priests, or from still earlier Norse legends, I leave others to decide.[]
  3. Dr. Rand (American Antiquarian, p. 8, vol. xii. No. 1) mentions a personage (Koolpejot) as “rolled over by means of a handspike.” He is a great medicine man: he has no bones, always lies out in the open air, and is rolled over from one side to the other twice a year, during spring and fall. He adds that an intelligent Indian once suggested that this was a figurative representation of the revolution of the seasons.[]
  4. Quoted from Leland’s Algonquin Legends.[]
  5. According to Leland’s story.[]
  6. The word “squat” in Passamaquoddy means fire. Mrs. Brown spells the name of the swamp woman as follows: Squaw-oc-t’moos. The a is very long, and possibly can be best represented by aw.[]
  7. Pictographic writing, which is so well known among the Micmacs, was also practised by the Passamaquoddies. The sign of the Passamaquoddies is a canoe with two Indians in it and a porpoise. This sign appears on rocks in certain places. The design for the present flag of this tribe is of late conception, and shows the Christian influence.[]

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