Kekenowin

Kekenowin: This class of signs is devoted to the forest priesthood.

There are two institutions among the North American Indians, which will be found to pervade the whole body of the tribes from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, however the terms by which they are denoted differ, or the minor rites of the institutions themselves may be modified. They are called in the language from which we adopt most of the aboriginal terms in this treatise, the Medawin, and the Jeesukawin. In other terms, they are the art of medical magic, and of prophecy. Both are very ancient in their origin, and very generally diffused, practiced  and believed in. It is impossible duly to consider the pictorial art as existing among them, without some prior notice of these leading and characteristic institutions. For, a very large proportion of both the simple representative and symbolic signs they employ, derive their force and significancy from the relation they bear to these institutions.

The term meda 1 in Ottowa meta, is one of long standing in their vocabulary, although, as in many other words, its vowel sounds have probably undergone complete changes in ancient periods, while the consonants m and d have been interchanged according to the generally understood laws of human utterance. 2 Its original significance is obscured by its present application to medical influences, supposed to be exercised by certain mineral or animal matter, as small bits of metals, bones, feathers, and other objects kept in the arcanum of the sacred gush-ke-pe-ta-gun, or medicine-sack. But it is quite obvious that no physical application of these articles is even pretended by the operators, but that they rely wholly on a subtle, invisible, necromantic influence, to be exerted in secret, and at distant as well as contiguous points. The meda, or medawininee, is in all respects a magician. He is distinct from the muskekewininee, or medical practitioner, who administers both liquid and dry medicines, bleeds, cups with a horn, and operates on ulcers, swellings, and fresh wounds. The latter takes his denomination from mus-ké-ke, a liquid dose. The former from meda, a mysterious principle. The one is a physician, the other a priest. Meda is clearly a verb, which is shown by its taking the inflection win, to form a substantive. To meda, is therefore to perform magic, to trick by magic. Medáwin is the art of magic. Its professors are, simply and definitely, magii or magicians. Men who profess this art are formed into societies, or associations. They are admitted by a public ceremony, after having been instructed in private, and given evidence of their skill or fitness. There is no order of descent. The thing is perfectly voluntary. Any one may become a follower and practice of the meda. All that is necessary is to adduce proofs of his skill; but it results that none but those possessed of somewhat more than the ordinary shrewdness, art, or foresight, either assume or attain eminence in this art.

The art of prophecy, or the Jeesukawin, differs from the medáwin in its being practiced alone, by distinct and solitary individuals, who have no associates; who at least do not exist, and are never known as societies. Prophets start up at long intervals, and far apart, among the Indian tribes. They profess to be under super natural power, and to be filled with a divine afflatus. It is, however, an art resembling that of the Medáwin, and founded on a similar principle of reliance, differing chiefly in the object sought. The meta seeks to propitiate events; the jossakeed aims to predict them. Both appeal to spirits for their power. Both exhibit material substances, as stuffed birds, bones, &c., as objects by or through which the secret energy is to be exercised. The general modes of operation are similar, but vary. The drum is used in both, but the songs and incantations differ. The rattle is con fined to the ceremonies of the meda and the wabeno. The jossakeed addresses himself exclusively to the Great Spirit. 3 His office, and his mode of address, are regarded with greater solemnity and awe. His choruses are peculiar, and deemed by the people to carry an air of higher reverence and devotion.

To Jee-suk-a, is to prophesy. The word is a verb, and can be conjugated through the ordinary moods and tenses. The infinitive is converted into a substantive by adding the particle win. It is often prefixed to the word man, making the sense prophecy-man, a vulgar mode of using the principles of a very flexible transpositive language. The term, when thus compounded, is Jee-suk-à-win-in-ee.

There is a third form, or rather a modification of the Medáwin, which I have just alluded to. It is the Wabeno; a term denoting a kind of midnight orgies, which is regarded as a corruption of the meda. Its rites and ceremonies will be particularly noticed hereafter. Sufficient, it is believed, has been advanced to show the influences which are exerted by these two leading institutions, on the general labors and exertions of the race, both in peace and war. How this influence is exerted through the art of figurative and symbolic signs and pictures, so as to be felt and understood in the remotest part of the tribe, will be perceived in the ensuing examples.Citations:

  1. The sound of the e, in this word, is long, as in me; of a, as heard in fate.[]
  2. To denote how these changes would affect the sound, the following modifications of the five vowels will suffice: first vowel sound, mata, meda, mida, moda, muda; second vowel sound, mata, mate, madi, mado, madu.[]
  3. This, it will be recollected, is an indefinite phrase. It may equally mean the great Good, or great Bad Spirit. The latter must, as a general rule, be inferred, when the term gezha is not prefixed.[]

Topics:
History, Religion,

Collection:
Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Archives of aboriginal knowledge. Containing all the original paper laid before Congress respecting the history, antiquities, language, ethnology, pictography, rites, superstitions, and mythology, of the Indian tribes of the United States. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1860.

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