The Island Weight Songs

by Jaspar Blowsnake
translated based on that of Oliver LaMère and Paul Radin


Jasper Blowsnake

Hočąk Text — The Island Weight Songs


(71) Long before us, a man once had a dream. (72) The Island Weights, our grandfathers, taught him the song, every day placing upon us song. They started for him one song apiece. The very first one in the east started a song for him, he made the first song. And again the one who sits in the direction of the edge of the island, the great one of the north side, he also started a song for him. That's the one who made the second song. And again the one on the west side also started a song. He made that third song. And again also on the south side, he started a song that they call "Down Stream." Thus it was that they started four songs.

And also he himself made a song. He himself thought of their customs, and there he said, "Grandfather tried what he told us about," he said. If the singer, grandfather, poisoned him, it would be just as he told him. (73) When he poisoned a man, he would die, and as he told him, so things ended up. He died. Thus was that song that he made. And again he made another, a song that the man himself sang. He poisoned him, and when he killed one of the men, he would make a song about him, making a particular song.

We will try to reproduce with our mouths these (Island Weight) songs.1


Commentary. "Island Weights" — spirit beings located at each of the cardinal points whose task it is to keep the earth stationary. Most agree that these beings are Waterspirits (Wakčexira). Radin's translation incorporates the number four, since there is one Island Weight for each quarter, but the Hočąk does not happen to mention their number since this fact is so well appreciated.

"Down Stream" — the identity of the south with downstream comes from the fact that the Mississippi River runs due south.

"to reproduce with our mouths" — the stem is woračga, which means, "to guess at with the mouth," which seems to mean to attempt to say or sing something that is perhaps imperfectly known. The word woračga is paired in contradistinction to woručga, which means, "to guess at by hand," as one might when feeling around for an object in the pitch dark. These songs at which they humbly describe themselves as "guessing at" are the gifts of the Island Weights which are sung during the Medicine Rite at the conclusion of the story of their origins. The songs themselves were not recorded by Radin.


Links: Island Weights.


Stories: mentioning Island Weights: The Creation of the World, South Enters the Medicine Lodge, East Shakes the Messenger, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, North Shakes His Gourd, Wolves and Humans, Šųgepaga, Traveler and the Thunderbird War (v. 2), The Lost Blanket, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (v. 1), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, South Seizes the Messenger, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Messengers of Hare, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, Four Steps of the Cougar, The Petition to Earthmaker; mentioning poisons: Hare Visits the Blind Men, The Creation of Evil, The Seer, The Shaggy Man, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 3), Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (v. 1), Ocean Duck, The Diving Contest, A Wife for Knowledge, Great Walker's Medicine (antedote); pertaining to the Medicine Rite: The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, Holy Song, Holy Song II, Maize Origin Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hog's Adventures, Great Walker's Warpath, see also Other Stories from Jasper Blowsnake's account of the Medicine Rite.

Stories from Jasper Blowsnake's account of the Medicine Rite (The Road of Life and Death) in notebook order: The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (v. 1), Keramaniš’aka's Blessing, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Historical Origins of the Medicine Rite, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge of the Medicine Rite, Lifting Up the Bear Heads, East Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 1), The Creation of the World (v. 12), The Creation of Man (v. 8), Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4), East Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 2), Testing the Slave, South Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 2), The Descent of the Drum (v. 1), The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (v. 2), East Shakes the Messenger, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 4), The Messengers of Hare (v. 2), North Shakes His Gourd, Grandmother's Gifts, South Seizes the Messenger, Four Steps of the Cougar, The Messengers of Hare (v. 1), The Petition to Earthmaker, A Snake Song Origin Myth, The Completion Song Origin, Great Walker's Medicine (v. 2), Great Walker and the Anishinaabe Witches, The Diving Contest, The Sweetened Drink Song, The Plant Blessing of Earth, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 3), The Tap the Head Medicine, The Claw Shooter, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 4), Peace of Mind Regained, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 5), A Wife for Knowledge, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (v. 2), The Descent of the Drum (v. 2), South Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 1), Death Enters the World.


Themes: a spirit blesses a man with knowledge of sacred songs: Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), Holy Song, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, A Snake Song Origin Myth, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Song to Earthmaker, The Completion Song Origin, The Sweetened Drink Song, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman.


Notes

1 The original interlinear is found in Jasper Blowsnake, Jasper Blowsnake's Account of the Medicine Rite, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago III, #1: 71-73. A highly legible handwritten MS is found in Jasper Blowsnake, Jasper Blowsnake's Account of the Medicine Rite, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago II, #1: 96-97. The corrected text is an interlinear typescript in Jasper Blowsnake, Jasper Blowsnake's Account of the Medicine Rite, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago II, #5: 97-99. For a loose English translation, see Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1945]) 119-120.