Keramaniš’aka's Blessing

by Jaspar Blowsnake
retold by Richard L. Dieterle


Jasper Blowsnake

There was a man named Keramaniš’aka ("Ancient Sky Walker"). Often he would visit the Ioway who lived at Mo’uičā́ on the Mississippi. There, in that village, lived a man called Čašex'įga. Every fall Keramaniš’aka would visit him. Three years he did this without fail. The fourth year he came with a boat load of gifts. There in front of Čašex'įga's lodge he laid them out — a twisted buffalo hair rope; a fine gun; two hunting dogs; clothing not only for him, but for his wife and child; and every manner of food he set out for him. When Čašex'įga saw all that he had brought, he said to him, "My dear younger brother, you have done well. Your actions and your gifts have won for you the right to be one of the Medicine Rite men. Greatly have you exerted yourself. However, the time for this gift is not yet. You must first return home. On the fourth night you must remain awake the whole night; do not fall asleep, or you will lose everything. On this night the blessing you covet will come to you," he said.

Keramaniš’aka then went home. On the fourth night, in the wee hours of the morning, he lay in his lodge awake, waiting to see what would happen. Then, unexpectedly, there was the sound of a black hawk right outside his lodge. When this bird landed, suddenly it became an owl. The owl strained its neck as it looked about the lodge. The owl spoke, saying, "My dear younger brother, I see that you have remained awake, just as you were told." "Yes," he replied, "I have stayed awake the whole night." "It is good. You have won your blessing," said the owl; then suddenly, unexpectedly, Čacex'įga stood right there before him.

Then Čašex'įga placed before him two very holy objects. Indeed, these things were what had given Čašex'įga his power and that made him holy. Then Čašex'įga said, "Younger brother, I am setting before you two very holy objects. You must choose just one of them. The first object is a bundle made of a child's skin; the second is a bundle made of a woman's scalp." Then Keramaniš’aka thought deeply about his choice. "If I take the child's bundle," he thought, "then I shall take many heads in battle." And while he was deciding, the Ioway said to him, "If you do not take the child's bundle, then I shall give it to your younger brother." Keramaniš’aka slowly unwrapped the child bundle and examined each object inside. And after assessing their power, he then turned to Čašex'įga and said, "I shall have the bundle of the woman's scalp." If he had taken the bundle of the child's skin, he would have to have made offerings well beyond his means. Thus he refused it. Then the Ioway taught him the songs that went with the bundle and he cautioned him that he must always keep the bundle vertically on his lap when using it and never turn it wrong side up. This way he would give Life to his descendants.1


Commentary. "Keramaniš’aka" the name can mean either "Ancient (Old) Sky Walker," or "Ancient Cloud Walker." Inasmuch as "sky walker" is a formulaic name for birds, the name would be from the Bird Clan. Compare, Mąxíwimànįga, "Cloud Walker"; Mątajehimaniga, "Wind Walks"; Čoraminąka, "Sits in the Blue."

"the Ioway" — the tribe perhaps most closely related to the Hočągara. Their traditions say that they are an offshoot of the Hočąk nation, and they refer to the Hočągara as "older brothers."

"Mo’uičā́" — Radin says in a MS note: "name of place down the Mississippi where Iowas used to live (Rock Island)".2 The name appears to be the Hočąk, mo’ų, "to move," and hičá, "there." Rock Island (41°29′21″N 90°34′23″W), the largest island in the Mississippi, is mainly noted for the Sauk village of Saukenuk, where Black Hawk was born. It was the site of Ft. Armstrong from 1816 to 1836.

Fort Armstrong as Seen from the Illinois Shore

"Čacex'įga" — this name is (also) Hočąk, and means "Wrinkled Neck," perhaps a reference to the vulture.

"a black hawk" — Radin remarks, "The black hawk is the Iowa and his power to transform himself into this animal indicates that he is an evil medicine man."3

"an owl" — owls have a sinister reputation and are often vehicles of ill foreboding. This reinforces Radin's suggestion above that the Ioway is an evil medicine man.

"bundle" — these are medicine bundles. The skins are a special wrapping enclosing a number of very sacred objects imbued with great supernatural power, which is then conferred on the legitimate owner.

"the bundle of the child's skin" — the bundle made of the child's skin would appear to be the least powerful. In war, an enemy warrior's head is more valuable than a woman's. Someone who killed a child is awarded a feather of proportionate size, much smaller than feathers awarded for killing an adult. Human skin as the covering of a bundle represents a high order of power. A case is known from the story of the Thunderbird Warbundle, which was made from the skin of a human volunteer. Its power exceeded those of all other bundles.

Radin adds, "The pouches mentioned were the type used only in shamanistic practices. That the Iowa medicine man presses his guest to take the pouch has many significant overtones. The Iowa wishes his guest to take it because it is the more powerful of the two and because, as a competing shaman, he has no objection to the other over-reaching himself. However, it is also intended as a gracious compliment to the courage and the power of his visitor. Keramaniš’aka, we see, is sorely tempted but finally realizes that it is too dangerous and takes the pouch made of the woman's scalp. Putting a person to such a test is a typical incident in the vision quest. It is the persistent preaching of the Winnebago to every faster, not to let his ambition and greed override his sense of proportion and fitness lest what is good and life-giving be converted into its opposite."4 See also the Commentary to "The Warbundle of the Eight Generations."


Links: Supernatural & Spiritual Power, Black Hawks, Hawks, Owls, Witches.


Stories: mentioning the Ioway: Ioway & Missouria Origins, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle, Migistéga’s Magic, Little Priest's Game, A Peyote Story, Introduction; mentioning witches or warlocks: The Witch Men's Desert, The Thunder Charm, The Wild Rose, The Seer, Turtle and the Witches, Great Walker and the Anishinaabe Witches, The Claw Shooter, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Mijistéga and the Sauks, Migistéga's Death, The Mesquaki Magician, The Tap the Head Medicine, Battle of the Night Blessed Men and the Medicine Rite Men, The Hills of La Crosse, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara (v. 2), Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle, Potato Magic, Young Rogue's Magic; about Bird Spirits: Crane and His Brothers, The King Bird, Bird Origin Myth, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Wears White Feather on His Head, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Thunderbird, Owl Goes Hunting, The Boy Who Became a Robin, Partridge's Older Brother, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Foolish Hunter, Ocean Duck, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Quail Hunter, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Hočąk Arrival Myth, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster and the Geese, Holy One and His Brother (kaǧi, woodpeckers, hawks), Porcupine and His Brothers (Ocean Sucker), Turtle's Warparty (Thunderbirds, eagles, kaǧi, pelicans, sparrows), Kaǧiga and Lone Man (kaǧi), The Old Man and the Giants (kaǧi, bluebirds), The Bungling Host (snipe, woodpecker), The Red Feather, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Waruǧápara, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Black and White Moons, The Markings on the Moon, The Creation Council, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna (chicken hawk), Hare Acquires His Arrows, Worúxega (eagle), The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (eagle), The Gift of Shooting (eagle), Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Blue Jay, The Baldness of the Buzzard, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster (buzzards), The Shaggy Man (kaǧi), The Healing Blessing (kaǧi), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (kaǧi), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Įčorúšika and His Brothers (Loon), Great Walker's Medicine (loon), Roaster (woodsplitter), The Spirit of Gambling, The Big Stone (a partridge), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, The Fleetfooted Man, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4) — see also Thunderbirds, and the sources cited there; mentioning black hawks: Hawk Clan Origin Myth (v. 2), The Dipper, The Thunderbird, Partridge's Older Brother, The Woman who Loved her Half-Brother, Waruǧápara, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Morning Star and His Friend, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Race for the Chief's Daughter; in which owls are mentioned: Owl Goes Hunting, Crane and His Brothers, The Spirit of Gambling, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, The Glory of the Morning, The Chief of the Heroka, Partridge's Older Brother, Waruǧápara, Wears White Feather on His Head, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, The Green Man; 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; mentioning medicine bundles: The Tap the Head Medicine, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle, The Mesquaki Magician; set on the Mississippi (Nį Kuse): The Two Children, Trickster Concludes His Mission, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Oto Origins, Bluehorn's Nephews, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle.

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), 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 Island Weight Songs, 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.

The prequel to this story is found in The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle.


Themes: a witch blesses someone with (things of) power: Great Walker and the Anishinaabeg Witches, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle; a human turns into a (spirit) animal: How the Thunders Met the Nights (Thunderbird), Waruǧápara (Thunderbird), The Dipper (hummingbird), Elk Clan Origin Myth (elk), Young Man Gambles Often (elk), Sun and the Big Eater (horse), The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Were-Grizzly, Partridge's Older Brother (bear), The Woman who Loved her Half-Brother (bear), Porcupine and His Brothers (bear), The Shaggy Man (bear), The Roaster (bear), Wazųka (bear), The Spotted Grizzly Man (bear), Brass and Red Bear Boy (bear, buffalo), White Wolf (dog, wolf), Worúxega (wolf, bird, snake), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (buffalo), The Brown Squirrel (squirrel), The Skunk Origin Myth (skunk), The Fleetfooted Man (otter, bird), A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga (otter), The Diving Contest (Waterspirit), The Woman who Married a Snake (snake, Waterspirit), The Omahas who turned into Snakes (four-legged snakes), The Twins Get into Hot Water (v. 3) (alligators), Snowshoe Strings (a frog), How the Hills and Valleys were Formed (v. 3) (earthworms), The Woman Who Became an Ant, Hare Kills a Man with a Cane (ant); people turn into birds: Waruǧápara (owl, Thunderbird), Worúxega (eagle), The Thunderbird (black hawk, hummingbird), The Dipper (black hawk, hummingbird), The Hočąk Arrival Myth (ravens), The Annihilation of the Hočągara I (turkey), The Quail Hunter (partridge), The Markings on the Moon (auk, curlew), The Fox-Hočąk War (goose), The Fleetfooted Man (water fowl?), The Boy Who Became a Robin (robin); someone must stay awake for a long time in order to receive a blessing: The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Snowshoe Strings; a man rejects a blessing because it is too powerful: The Warbundle of the Eight Generations.


Notes

1 Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1945]) 92-93.

2 Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society Library, n.d.) Winnebago II, #6: 16 verso).

3 Radin, The Road of Life and Death, 337 nt 30.

4 Radin, The Road of Life and Death, 337 nt 30.