The Sweetened Drink Song
by Jasper Blowsnake
Hočąk-English Interlinear Text
(113) A great man of the Medicine Rite spent four years as a Seeker, and then with a nod, there they released it to him. They recited to him a set of ceremonial greetings that he might ever use. And whatever each of them knew, they gave all of it to him. They put in front of him whatever things made them holy. And afterwards, they gathered good plants that stand with Life-and-Light, as many as there are of every good blossom in Our Grandmother's hair, and of every perfumed herb, and again of all those that are good tasting, and they made one that was sweetened. They used it to put Life-and-Light into men. They said to him that since it was the good one that they knew, therefore this one is a ceremonial greeting that they call the "Sweet Song." Therefore, that breath, that one that is about to be heard, is a ceremonial greeting, they say.1
Commentary. "ceremonial greetings" — the Hočąk is wiruhįčera, from wa-hi-ruhįč-ra, where wa- means, "someone"; hi-, "by means of"; ruhįč, "(to perform) ceremonial greeting"; -ra, "a particular set such that ...". So wiruhįčera is a set of actions such that each is done by performing a ceremonial greeting to someone. Radin translates this as "life-engendering greetings," which is a theory-laden translation, since there is no word for "life" contained in the Hočąk compound term. The primary ruhįč was a silent sign of respect performed by slowly raising the outstretched right arm before the face of the person being greeted.2 That this is the original ruhįč can be seen by its initial syllable, the instrumental prefix ru-, which means, with the hand, by pulling toward the body (Lipkind, Marino). The term hįč is more general, meaning, "to worship, greet ceremonially, be skilled (in curing?)" (Marino). It might be related to the homonym hįč, meaning (with some doubt), "to cover" (Marino), which could be explained from the following practice: "When going to a doctor the Indians always showed their respect by placing tob[acco] in his hand and in his hair and gently rubbing it [in]."3 The raising of the hand to the face is conceivably an abbreviation of placing tobacco on the head. They did the same to the French when Nicollet first met them in 1634, as this Hočąk account states:
When the French were about to come ashore they fired their guns off in the air as a salute to the Indians. The Indians said, "They are thunderbirds." They had never heard the report of a gun before that time and that is why they thought they were thunderbirds. Then the French landed their boats and came ashore and extended their hands to the Winnebago, and the Indians put tobacco in their hands. The French, of course, wanted to shake hands with the Indians. They did not know what tobacco was, and therefore did not know what to do with it. Some of the Winnebago poured tobacco on their heads, asking them for victory in war.4
For ruhįč in other stories, see their Commentaries (1, 2, 3).
"holy" — that is, those things that gave them supernatural power.
"Life-and-Light" — this is the word Hąp, whose literal meaning is "light," but as in Gnostic Christianity, light is used as a symbol of life, particularly immortal life. "Life-and-Light" is the translation that Radin gave to it, but in the present story he uses simply "life."
"Our Grandmother's hair" — Grandmother is earth, and her hair is vegetation.
"one" — it is clear from the context, and apparently from Radin's informants, that it is a drink to which this refers.
"Sweet Song" — the Hočąk is wasgu-nąwą, literally, "sweet song." As indicated immediately above, it is understood to be a drink, and is translated by Radin as "Sweetened Drink Song." The song itself is omitted and is now no doubt secret.
Stories: about fasting blessings: Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Difficult Blessing, The Boy Who Became a Robin, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, The Seer, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Great Walker's Medicine, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, Holy Song, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Plant Blessing of Earth, The Blessing of Šokeboka, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Tap the Head Medicine, Ancient Blessing; mentioning the ruhįč (ceremonial greeting): The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v.4), Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 5), Hog's Adventures; 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.
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 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 Ojibwe Witches, The Diving Contest, 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, The Island Weight Songs, A Snake Song Origin Myth, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Song to Earthmaker, The Completion Song Origin, The Origins of the Nightspirit Starting Songs, The Origins of the Sore Eye Dance, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth; someone is blessed with a medicine: The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Fourth Universe, Great Walker's Medicine, Bow Meets Disease Giver, The Seven Maidens, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Seer, The Healing Blessing, A Weed's Blessing, A Snake Song Origin Myth, Young Man Gambles Often, The Origins of the Sore Eye Dance, The Elk's Skull, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, A Peyote Vision.
1 For the original handwritten interlinear text, see Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3898 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society: n.d.) Winnebago III, #1: 113-114; the handwritten phonetic text is found at Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3872 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society: n.d.) Winnebago II, #1: 137; and the typed phonetic text is found at Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3875 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society: n.d.) Winnebago II, #5: 146. A loose English translation is found in Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 ) 142.
2 Paul Radin, The Culture of the Winnebago: As Defined by Themselves, Special Publications of the Bollingen Foundation, #1: 99-100 nt 33.
3 Charlie Houghton, Untitled, translated by Oliver LaMère, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Winnebago III, #11a, Freeman #3892 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) 121-131 [nt at the bottom of page 129].
4 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 ) 19.