Island Weights (Wijirawasewe)
by Richard L. Dieterle
Earthmaker (Mą'una) created our world from his heaven above. This earth and all its waters form an island in space, and therefore is not anchored to anything solid. Since the creative power acts in a kind of circular motion, it imparted a spin to the island-earth. However, others conceived it as a rocking motion like that experienced by a boat on the waters, or as in sexual reproduction. Consequently, creation had to be weighed down in order to bring it to rest and stability. For this purpose Earthmaker created four beings to be placed at the cardinal points, who are called Wič-hirawasewe, "Island Weights." Some say that the Island Weights were four giant Waterspirits;1 others say that they were four large serpents;2 and there are those who compromise and say that they were two snakes and two Waterspirits.3 The Medicine Rite says four Waterspirits were placed below the earth in a line in the east, and four giants serpents beside them so that only their tails protruded in the east and their heads in the west. The Island Weights of the four quarters, the most holy of which was South, were not identified further.4 However, the Bear Clan knows the cardinal Island Weights to be the four primeval Bear Spirits: White Bear (north), Blue Bear (east), Black Bear (south), and Red Bear (west), who also manifest themselves as the winds that emanate from these quarters.5 There is one account of creation in which the Island Weights are the first Trees created by Earthmaker. The first of these is a smooth bark oak found in the southern quarter. It was this Island Weight that helped Red Star (Bluehorn, Evening Star) in his struggle against the Evil Spirit.6
Traditions in the Bird Clan say that the eastern Island Weight is the eldest and that he has knowledge of everything.7 He is said by some to have been an Iron Spirit who in ancient times not only engaged in warfare, but ate his human victims. In this form he was killed by Šųgepaga of the Eagle Clan.8 The Twins also killed one of the Waterspirit Island Weights, apparently of the south.9 The northern Waterspirit Island Weight became Chief of the Waterspirits and the father of Traveler. He was the youngest of the Island Weights, and now resides within Long Lake (probably Pigs Eye Lake), downstream from St. Paul, Minnesota.10
Links: Spirits, Earthmaker, Waterspirits, Bear Spirits, White Bear, Blue Bear, Black Bear, Red Bear, North Wind, South Wind, Cougars, Cosmography, Iron Spirits, Traveler, Swans, Gourd Rattles.
Stories: mentioning Island Weights: The Creation of the World, The Island Weight Songs, South Enters the Medicine Lodge, 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, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Messengers of Hare, The Petition to Earthmaker; mentioning the Island Weight of the South: South Enters the Medicine Lodge, South Seizes the Messenger, Four Steps of the Cougar.
Themes: a powerful being kills an Island Weight: Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, Šųgepaga.
1 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 ) 302-303.
2 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 164.
3 Henry Schoolcraft, Information respecting the Historical Conditions and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States (J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1852-1854) 4:230-231.
4 Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 ) 252-255.
5 Walter W. Funmaker, The Bear in Winnebago Culture: A Study in Cosmology and Society (Master Thesis, University of Minnesota: June, 1974 [MnU-M 74-29]) 12-13, 17, 59. His informant is Walking Soldier (1900-1977) of the Bear Clan. Walter Funmaker, The Winnebago Black Bear Subclan: a Defended Culture (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Minnesota: December, 1986 [MnU-D 86-361]) 47. Informant: One Who Wins of the Winnebago Bear Clan. See also Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 ) 82.
6 Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. A Study in Comparative Literature, Part I (Basil: Ethnographical Museum, Basil Switzerland, 1954) 9.
7 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 167.
8 Paul Radin, "Shugepaga," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #66, Story 1. Informant: Čaxcep Woruxji (Eagle Looking) of the Eagle Clan.
9 Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. A Study in Comparative Literature, Part I (Basil: Ethnographical Museum, Basil Switzerland, 1954) 97. Informant: Sam Blowsnake of the Thunderbird Clan, ca. 1912.
10 Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, Part I (Basil, Switzerland: Ethnographical Museum, 1954) p. 47-48.