KAWICHKUSHU (“LOUSE”) AND PIKAWGAMI (“WIDE LAKE”)
KAWICHKUSHU (“LOUSE”) AND
PIKAWGAMI (“WIDE LAKE”)
GEORGE HEAD, GERTI DIAMOND, AND DICK PRESTON
INTRODUCTION BY DICK PRESTON:
1) Ethnographic context
The story you are about to read is an Eastern Cree Narrative of a Conjuring Contest, from the Eastern Subarctic region of Canada, where ever since the melting of the great Wisconsin glacier, thousands of years ago, small groups of indigenous peoples have hunted over a wide expanse of land, rivers, and lakes for their living. Crees still go to the bush to hunt and trap today, though few families spend the entire winter. The Cree language continues to be spoken by many thousands of people, and along with Ojibwa and Inuktitutt, is considered to have a very secure future in Canada.
The story-teller was George Head, a fine old man who told stories to me and to others who were respectfully interested in learning about the “old ways.” George said that this story is a tipachiman (Preston 2002), meaning that it is not one of the stories from time out of mind (not what we call a myth), but rather it describes a more recent -- and local to the region -- set of events. In addition to many stories, George also sang the traditional Eastern Cree songs, quiet yet exuberant expressions of hope for getting a living in the northern “bush”.
George narrated Kawichkushu (“Louse”), in 1969 at the community of Fort George, Quebec, when it was translated by Gerti Murdoch of Waskaganish, Quebec, and recorded by Richard J. “Dick” Preston. The recounting was not done in a ‘traditional’ bush camp, but George had recorded stories for non-Crees at Fort George on other occasions and was quite comfortable with the setting. Commentary on the story was recorded in Waskaganish, in 1974 by Dick Preston in conversation with John Blackned, who was born in the 1890’s and hunted inland up the Eastmain River, Quebec. Translation and comment was provided by Albert Diamond, a young university-educated Cree of Waskaganish. The session was in John’s house.
Of all the many Cree stories I have recorded, the story of Louse and Wide Lake’s conjuring struggle against each other is the one that struck me most forcefully for its wealth of extraordinary images. When I first read through it, I wrote on the transcript, “ever metaphorical!” My enthusiasm set off in my mind an uneasy sense of caution, and this led me to ask the anthropologist’s question. Was I imposing my own culture’s notions of metaphor on this traditional Cree story? The short answer is “yes”. But what were the Cree notions or habitual sense of ‘fitness’ regarding the use of trope in language? When I asked Gerti about the Cree use of metaphor, she thought a while and replied that she thought that there were no metaphors in Cree. I had a problem.
I re-read the story, this time to try to discern which of the “metaphors” might almost certainly be something like a metaphor in Cree. I found only one for which I could feel confident, where the conjuring power rises, “like a wave”. But perhaps even here my interpretation was misplaced, or an artifact of translation from Cree to English. The wave was not a metaphor; it was deadly power. The rest of the images were probably to be taken literally, or as dream images, or perhaps something else. I had stumbled upon a profound problem in translating images of power. I had to discover how words were serving to communicate Cree meanings within an ethos and structure of knowledge that was the cultural context of this story and the rest of the oral tradition.
I needed to ask the experts, beginning with the one from whom I had recorded the story, but George Head had died a few years after the recording, so I brought my question to John Blackned, who had been my mentor during the 1960’s. The transcript of this conversation is included at the close of the story.
I also looked for experts who have written on the topic of metaphor. I found the most help in Hawkes’ little book on the history and types of metaphor (Hawkes 1979). But the problem did not yield very easily. What were those waves, really? How could a man cause another’s arm to swell enormously, without more physical contact than touching a bit of seaweed? How could a sorcerer travel underground, then move invisibly up a thin tipi pole, move across on a thin pole serving as a drying rack, and then cause a cloud of steam by spitting in a fire? Was this an image of striking an adversary in his very hearth and home? How could separate bits of bone blind both of a man’s eyes at the same time? How could the blind man, standing in a canoe, use a bow and arrow to shoot a seal? What is the story telling us about conjuring power? What are we being told bout the consequences of interfering in other people’s lives? The story opens up the whole domain of stories, world view, ethos, the nature of human relationships, the agency of conjuring power, and more. Since I was particularly interested in conjuring (Preston 2002), my attention focused on this aspect, especially in the follow-up discussion with John Blackned.
2) Conceptual perspective
I want to begin with Evans-Pritchard's thoughts, late in his career, on the problem posed to anthropologists and others, that in all known cases in culture history, people have had some kind of spiritual beliefs. He wants to clarify the question of how we may best understand them.
My answer to the question that I have asked [in Theories of Primitive Religion] must be that while the problem posed is, wide though it may be, a real one, the answers are not impressive. I would propose instead that we do some research into the matter. (1965:119) [... and…] Perhaps, also, field research into this particular topic demands a poetic mind which moves easily in images and symbols. (1965:112)
Let us, then, try to move more experimentally in images and symbols, in allusions and intuitions. To begin, let’s take Evans-Pritchard’s example of how a missionary to the Eskimo or Inuit peoples of the arctic in the 19th century could translate the Biblical phrase “Feed my sheep.” Translating into Inuktitutt words, he might try “Feed my seals.” But this does not convey the allusion to a shepherd who protects and nurtures his flock. An Inuk hunter is not interested in herding and nurturing seals, but in nurturing one seal’s acquiescence in being found, and then killing it to nurture his family. The ideology of an Old Testament pastoralist is radically different from the ideology of an Arctic hunter. And so the translation of the spiritual idiom requires us to look beyond the translation of words, to translation of images and cultural systems of images (Geertz 1973).
It is helpful and historically accurate to view metaphor, as we understand and use it today, as a much more specialized and deliberate use of word images than what was practiced as recently as only a few hundred years ago in our own literate tradition. That is, the use of imagery in modern English has only recently involved the deliberate use of metaphors that we are familiar with today (Hawkes 1978). Now, extending this 'proto-metaphoric' characteristic to the Cree, I will beg the question by claiming that for our own traditional ancestors and for the Cree's traditional ancestors, there was neither concept nor notion of a crafted metaphorical use of word images. Following on this, we will not look for evidence of a class of deliberate, cognitive, 'special cases' of trope but rather for evidence of experience that is both intuited and expressive, more than it is intellectual and literal-minded. For an example of the intuitive and expressive in our own story-telling tradition, here is Shakespeare on man's glassy essence:
But man, proud man!
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he's most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep.
A literal and intellectual approach to this would miss the point. This is expressive literature and asks us to try to intuit what human pride and folly means. I would like to believe that Shakespeare’s “glassy essence” was pointing us at the multifaceted, fragile and deceptive ambiguities of “seeing through a glass, darkly”, not at the literal clarity of looking in the mirror. In the glass, the seer may apprehend a clouded microcosm of the world where one may sometimes be allowed to see beyond the normal restrictions of time and place, and sense an aesthetic (though not necessarily beautiful) unity in life’s experiences. This would involve the formulation of images of our nature as humans, but would not involve more abstract (and possibly reflexive) intellectual symbols.
The next step is to consider some Cree images, with the proviso that these images, too, may not be essentially cognitive, but rather intuitive and spiritual, dreamlike and emotional. If we can get a grasp of imagery at this level, we will have achieved a fair grasp of Cree imagery as a whole (Preston 2002), and perhaps some ideas about a tacit Cree theory of language. The story is unusual in my experience for the degree that it involved direct “quotes” of the persons, moving us right into the action. Most stories, most of the time, refer to the persons speaking by an identifying third-person pronoun (then he said…), rather than giving a first-person account. Rather than create paragraphs, and thereby changing the emphases of the narrative, I have tried to space the printed form of the statements in a way that represents the timing of the story-telling, and the pacing of the thoughts that are being conveyed (Toelken 1969, 1987; Tedlock 1983). Following this story, with its allusions to extraordinary and powerful events, we will hear another Cree story-teller’s thoughts about what the story is telling us.
There are some useful and authoritative guides to reaching further insights into this story, and similar stories. For the larger sample and context of Eastern Cree stories, conjuring, and some insight into one storyteller, see my book, Richard J. Preston, Cree Narrative: expressing the personal meanings of events. Second Edition. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2002. For an introduction to the deeply held convictions of peoples in non-literate cultures, a small but excellent introduction is Edward E. Evans-Pritchard, Theories of Primitive Religion. Oxford University Press, 1965. For the landmark in theorizing the anthropological experiments in thinking in images and image-systems, see Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Culture, Harper & Row, 1973. On the history of the use of metaphor, another small but excellent book is Terence Hawkes, Metaphor. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979. For the discussion of how to best represent the spoken word in printed form, see Dennis Tedlock, The Spoken Word and the Work of Interpretation, University of Pennsylvania Press 1983. Barre Toelken has worked wonderfully (I use that word thoughtfully) with Navaho myths, especially interesting for his revisiting of one trickster myth, delving more deeply beyond the surface of apparent events to the moral discourse and below that, to the connectedness of words and power in the universe. Four of his papers should be read in sequence: “The “Pretty Languages” of Yellowman: Genre, Mode, and Texture in Navaho Coyote Narratives.” Genre 2:211-235, 1969; “Life and Death in the Navaho Coyote Tales.”, In, Recovering the Word: Essays on Native American Literature, ed. Brian Swann and Arnold Krupat, pp. 368-401, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1987; “Ma’ii Joldlooshi la Eeya: The Several lives of a Navaho Coyote. The World and I 5:651-660, 1990; “From Entertainment to Realization in Navaho Fieldwork.” In, The World Observed: Reflections on the Fieldwork Process, ed. Bruce Jackson and Edward D. Ives, pp. 1-17. Urbana, University of Illinois Press.
I have had a look at some recent thinking on metaphor, because I have a point to make and don't want it to founder on the criticism of intellectual obsolescence. I have the benefit of an anonymous reader who is quite current, and it's useful to see another person's reaction, in this case with a cutting edge but presentist approach to the problem of metaphor. If this were the 1970's, the reader would have wondered how I could possibly have missed the opportunity to do a structural analysis.
It may be that I am "confusing metaphor with allegory or even just fantastical actions", but my intention is to withhold judgment on what is in the mind of the narrator that might look to us like metaphor, allegory, or fantastical action. The task that worries me is to find a comfortable fit for the reader's perspectives with an ethnographer's respect for the Cree idiom. I had found Hawkes historical view the least likely to lead to imposing an inappropriate theory on the Cree, because I feel that he is reaching back to a use of words that is close to what was, until a few centuries ago, probably a baseline.
Re-reading the reviewer's comments, I tripped over his certainty - "you can't take myths literally," and wonder at this person's range of experience, and intellectual hubris. Perhaps s/he would learn something if s/he would try telling this "can't" to someone who takes the Bible as the absolute Word of God. Or to an old Cree storyteller who deeply believes in the truth of the story he is recounting. That is to say, you CAN take myths literally, for some people do. I am not a "literalist" but neither am I easy with the view expressed by the reviewer that you "can't" ...
My approach has been that, as an ethnographer and as a friend of the storyteller, I first do the very best I can to understand it from the storyteller's point of view. So first, I can try to see it from a literalist stance, and only then do I back off and try to interpret that stance into the generalized readers' frame of mind.
I strongly commend Barre Toelken's four articles, and am thrilled by his depth - nothing at all like the shiny new structural apparatus I was enjoined to use in the 1970's, or the brave certainty regarding imagery I am enjoined to use in the 2000’s - Barre goes humanly deeper.
KAWICHKUSHU (“LOUSE”) AND PIKAWGAMI (“WIDE LAKE”)
The man's name was "The Louse" – Kawichkushu.
He is a dangerous old man. He is going to have a fight with another man.
He is going to try to beat this other old man Pikawgami ("wide lake"), who has power too, but a different type. This Pikawgami had something, in a little power bag, that he hangs under his cache, and if anyone gets too close, he dies, and the bag transmits a noise to Pikawgami, and then he knows that someone got killed.
So, one day Kawichkushu said, "I'm going to see Pikawgami. I'm going to trade him some caribou skins for his fishnet."
He said that because he just wanted to go to see his power, to test it.
So he went off to Pikawgami 's place and took the caribou skins with him, and when he arrived at Pikawgami 's tent, he said, "I've got some caribou skins here that I want to trade to you for a fishnet.
So, Pikawgami said, "Oh, sure, I'll take the caribou skins, I won't be able to give you an old net, I'll give you a brand new one, I need the skins."
The reason he did this was to make Pikawgami mad. So, Kawichkushu went back with his net, and left the skins.
The next day he went back to Pikawgami 's camp and took the net back and told the old man, "I brought this fishnet that you gave to me, I heard that you weren't satisfied with the skins, so I brought the net back."
Pikawgami said, "No, I didn't say that. Somebody must have been joking, I'm satisfied with the skins."
"Anyway," he said, "I want my skins back." So Kawichkushu went back, with his skins.
Nothing happened, Pikawgami was mad, but didn't do anything.
Kawichkushu thought, "I would like to make that old man mad, to see how powerful he is. If there is some way to make him mad. I'm going to go there. I'm going to use my own power, too, and have my power ready."
So, as he came close to Pikawgami s tent, Kawichkushu saw the cache with the little bag hanging under it.
"I took my spear with me. I drew two straight lines close to the cache, between myself and the cache.
“I went under the cache and walked back and forth. The bag didn't move.
“Then I started to walk back and forth again, under the bag, and it started to move. Then I ran back of the second line.”
When it moved, it sent the signal to Pikawgami and he sent his full power back to the bag to attack the one that walked close. When the bag transmitted to Pikawgami, he told the women, "Go and see who is killed under the cache, there is somebody killed out there."
And the woman replied, "I don't see anybody dead, but I see Kawichkushu over there."
When Pikawgami heard this he started to use his power again. It came back to the ground from the bag, like a wave, and then it rose and came to the first line, and slowed, but rose (again, like a wave) and came towards the second line.
Kawichkushu took his spear and stuck it at the second line. When the wave of power came to the second line, it stopped there, the power failed.
"So I went back home, but I didn't feel anything at all. I knew that he was going to do something with me, so I was ready for it.”
Later, Pikawgami sent his power to Kawichkushu, and he wasn't expecting it. Kawichkushu told his younger brother, "Let's go out and visit our fishnets."
When they got down to their canoe, one of the paddles was missing and they thought one of the kids was playing with it, and it floated away.
So, he told his brother, "Let’s paddle around anyway, maybe we'll find the paddle floating."
(But the power of Pikawgami is in the paddle)
The paddle was floating in the water, and Kawichkushu picked it up. There was a bit of seaweed on the end of the paddle. He tried to wash it off by passing it in the water, but it did not come off.
So he tried to flick it off with his fingers, and the power, which was in the seaweed, went up into Kawichkushu's hand.
His fingers felt peculiar, and then he knew it was too late. He has to control himself now.
“My fingers felt like they were burning now, and worse, when I got home."
It started to swell. He made a tourniquet to keep it from going up his arm. But each time he put it, it got so bad he had to move it up. Finally it was to his shoulder, and there was no way to tie it.
Finally, he fell into a coma, and he started to talk, but he didn't know what he was saying. "The only thing that will help me is the skunk widui (musk)”.
They sent the men out (and dogs, too) to look for skunks.
Finally, all day, the men came back with nothing. There were still some dogs out.
The last dog to come back, late in the night, had a skunk.
Kawichkushu said, "I hear them talking about skunks, I feel a little bit better, that is the medicine I need." The men started to rub the widui on his arm.
So in the morning his arm was back down to normal again.
“The next night, when I went to sleep, I tried to find out why it had been like that. I tracked it and I saw Pikawgami going up my arm to my shoulder, but there was a giant skunk there, and Pikawgami turned back.
“So I thought to myself, "It's my turn to do something to Pikawgami.
“So I looked around and I couldn't find anyplace where I could reach him, his power was all around.
“Then I thought to myself, I don't think he has power underground.
“So I went underground, and came out right at the entrance to his tent.
“He was lying at the back of his tent, and he didn't know me.
“So I came up the pole and across, and sat on the pole, and still Pikawgami didn't see me. “There was an open fire under me. I spit on the fire, and the steam came bigger and bigger. “At last it burst.
“While it was bursting, I grabbed Pikawgami by the throat and took him out. By the time I got him out, Pikawgami could hardly move.
“So I didn't take any chance, I just killed him right there.
“Pikawgami 's power was gone just like that.
“So, I am the only one left who can be the leader now.
“So at last Pikawgami died and I had no more problems.
“So that was the end of it. I lived with the people!”
Pikawgami had a brother, who was upset and mad, when he heard that.
He said, "I only wish Kawichkushu would get into trouble, and after all he has caused trouble to other people."
Kawichkushu didn't know what the brother was saying. So they traveled and hunted and nothing happened to them.
Finally they got a lot of caribou. Kawichkushu was told to stay at home one day to grind the bones.
So while he was working on the bones, hammering them, the pieces flew up and stuck in his eyes.
He tried to take them out, but he couldn't.
The women tried but they couldn't get them.
So they had to leave them.
So, he couldn't see anything at all.
He had a brother somewhere. He told his friends to go get his brother, because his brother lived with his old grandmother and he thought his grandmother could do something about it. So finally the brother arrived with his grandmother and they were fed with caribou meat, and he told them what happened.
The old grandmother couldn't do anything, too.
So, he told his grandmother that he feels sorry that he couldn't see his children, couldn't do anything at all.
The grandmother didn't say anything at all.
When the grandmother got ready to go home, she said, "Sorry, grandson, I can't do anything to you. The old man that used to feed me and help me, you have killed.
“You will have to help yourself."
That's the last time she ever saw Kawichkushu.
So Kawichkushu thought "I guess there is nothing much I can do, just wait."
He told his friends. "There is one thing you can do for me. That is to make me a canoe.
“When the sea opens in the spring, I'll paddle around.
“And make bows and arrows.
“And when it is finished, take me down to the sea and I will float away.
“I'll float around the sea.
“I'll hear the seals coming out from the water.
“I will take my bow and arrow and I will shout where I hear the noise.
“And I will hear my arrow stuck in the seal's head,
“And I'll go and get the seal and make a big meal. I'll make a big supper.
“And in the fall I will start setting rabbit snares. I will use the seal fat to fry the rabbit meat.”
And that was the last word, and he died.
CONVERSATION OF JOHN BLACKNED, DICK PRESTON, AND ALBERT DIAMOND, TRANSLATING
Dick: "Well, I'm not clear what's happening ... “
John is not sure he remembers the story so Dick recites it, as well as he remembers it.
Albert to John: "He wants to ask you a few questions concerning this story. I don't know if you will be able to answer them. Did you hear this story before?
John: "I heard this story before. It's like someone dreaming. I remembered parts here and there. The way he tells it sounds like the way I heard it. When I was told this story, I wasn't really listening. I was too restless. I'd only listen to parts of it. And as I got older that's when I started to listen to these stories. (John laughs)
Dick: "There sounds like there is quite a lot of meaning behind the words. Towards the end of the story, there, because if you were to take it literally, it's not likely that a blind man could shoot a seal with a bow and arrow. Also, he's preparing himself for all these things he is going to do, but he dies right there. And also, where he is going after Wide Lake, he is going underground and coming up on the tent pole. It doesn't sound like he could be taking his body with him. It would have to be his spirit, or maybe spirit is not the right word. And what I want to know is, how is he doing that?
Albert to John: "In the story, when he was blind, why did he ask for these things, like the canoe and also when he said he would kill the seal?”
John: "Maybe, its the fact, that he wants to kill those things last.”
Dick: "Would you ask him, if it’s possible that he is talking about after he leaves this world?”
John: "Its possible, when a person leaves here, the things he likes most doing here, he'll probably do up there.”
Dick: "So, I wondered when he says to make him a canoe… - Is there a word in Cree for metaphor?” (asked of Albert) … “Anyway, it seems like when he says to make him a canoe that there's something behind the words there, that's like, 'prepare me for leaving this world', and he is telling them what he is going to be doing.”
Albert to John: "When he (Louse) asked "make me a canoe" do you think that there was a reason why he told him this before he died?”
John: "Yes, he knew that he was going to die soon; that's what he liked doing the most. Maybe, it was because he liked traveling by canoe, that's why he wanted that made.”
Dick to Albert: "You wouldn't really call that a metaphor, would you?”
Albert to Dick: "No, the way I put that question to him, I couldn't really say metaphor [in Cree], so I told him, 'When he asked for the canoe, do you think he was trying to convey a message, not directly, but indirectly, to the people that he is leaving?'”
Dick to Albert: "Well, we can go back to the other part where he is going to go under the ground. This is where he is going to come in his tent.”
Albert: "Now, the one that they call Louse, when he was ready to see Wide Lake, why did he go underground? How did he do this when he went underground?”
John: "That skunk, he asked for. That's who he used. That's what I heard; that's all I remember. The skunk made the tunnel for him, and he followed it. I forgot the rest.”
Dick: "It was his whole self then - he was taking his body, too?
Albert to John: "When he went under the tunnel...”
John: "Louse went where the skunk went, when he went to see Wide Lake, so that Wide Lake would not see him. That's what I heard. I don't remember it all.”
Dick: "The reason I want to ask that is that I wondered if, when a person is very powerfully conjuring, his mind or spirit can leave his body and do something. I thought maybe that was what was happening when he went underground. That's ... the same, if he goes and he's out on this pole and he's spitting into the fire. I thought, he can't be very big now, because its not a big hole, maybe?”
Albert to John: "This is what I thought," Dick says, "when he went underground and also when he climbed the pole, that he wasn't too big". Dick didn't hear the part when the skunk helped him.”
John: "The reason why Louse died is because when the bones were put in his eyes, they worked their way down into the heart.”
Dick: "Did he say if it would be possible for this self or other person to leave the body and conjure like that?”
Albert to John: "Could it be possible for this to happen that when someone goosbtum, this person can make it look like someone else is doing the thing, but actually he is the one that is doing it?”
John: "Yes, that could happen.”
Dick: "... One of the stories I got from John is about Meskino going to his Mistabeo and killing a woman and also a kid ... I was wondering, when they speak of the conjuror going like that, if he is leaving his body behind?”
John: "When he conjures, he doesn't send his own self, but his mistabeo or his helper.”
[AND HERE WE GET A SENSE OF THE STOIRY’S IMAGERY AS TELLING US ABOUT ACTIONS UNSEEN, OR NOT ORDINARILY SEEN, OR PERHAPS SEEN IN A DREAM]
Albert to John: "Do you think that this is what happened to Louse? Did he go himself or did he send someone else?”
John: "Oh yes, he sent someone else. He used the skunk as his helper; that's why he asked for him.”
Albert to John: "Did he go himself?
John: "Yes, he went himself.
[AND HERE WE ARE GIVEN A MERGER OF SELF AND HIS HELPER] Sometimes, they kill each other by making things.”
Dick: "What kinds of things?
John: "Like a rock. He aims at the person when he's not looking. He blows on the rock; it falls on the man and it makes its way to the heart. It goes off like a bullet when he blows it.”
Dick: "Can you draw out that object before it gets to the heart?”
John: "Some people know how to stop it. When they see him do it, he uses an axe to stop it, by knocking it away. It’s the same thing with Louse, when he had those bones. That's a way to kill someone. Also with the porcupine quills, they use that a lot. They don't blow it like they do with the rock. They put it in the fire and they aim it at the person. It’s just like shooting someone, and it works its way to the heart and then [THE PERSON] dies. The devil was helping them when they did this.”
Dick to Albert: "There's nothing like a metaphor, but there's a meaning where you can be saying something, and meaning something underneath it? Ask John.”
Albert to Dick: "I'll try." [HERE ALBERT TRIES TO APPROXIMATE A CREE EQUIVALENT OF METAPHOR]
Albert to John: "When someone knows that he's dying, when he says something like: especially, if they don't know that he's dying. He's just about ready to tell them that he's dying, but he wants to tell them in another way. Can that happen?”
John: "Yes, that can happen. Before he's ready to die, he's telling them that he's going to die.”
Albert: "Is he telling them right out, that he's going to die?”
John: "Yes, he's telling them that he's not going to be on this earth, and that he will not be walking around. One way you can know is through dreams. A man can dream when he is ready to lose his wife. He dreams that she is walking and she is not turning back. She just keeps on walking.”
Dick: "Its like a metaphor then? Not the same?” [ALBERT LEAVES THIS QUESTION ALONE]
John: "It happens to some women too; they dream about their husbands. She dreams he's going hunting and he's taking everything. She sees him walking away until he disappears. Not everyone knows that her husband is going to die.
“Usually she's feeling very unhappy that this is going to happen.
“That's when some people know that something is going to happen.
“She doesn't even tell them.
“Its not until it actually happens that she tells others that she dreamt this.”
(John laughs) “I guess she's getting tired of waiting for you.” (refers to Dick’s wife Sarah, who is waiting in this same room). “She's probably wondering if they'll ever run out of words to say.”
(And so our enquiry is closed - rp)
What can we understand from the story and the discussion of it with John? I can offer only my educated guess. Albert was fluently bi-lingual and bi-cultural, and he adroitly put my queries to John, but was not able to ask John about a “metaphor” because there was no Cree way to word such a question.
Louse provokes the anger of Wide Lake, to try to prove himself the more powerful shaman. He feels the power of Wide Lake, coming through the covert agency of a bit of seaweed, enter his finger tips and make its way powerfully – visibly -- up his arm. He is saved by his helper the skunk, whose powerful scent is rubbed on the swollen arm and saves him from death. To confirm his apperception of the situation, Louse then sees -- experiences in his mind’s eye -- the power of Wide Lake coming up his arm, until at the shoulder it reaches Louse’s own power, manifested in the agency of the skunk.
Louse’s ability to stop Wide Lake is a sign of his power for the ending of the contest. The consequent foray into Wide Lake’s tipi was made by the skunk, serving as Louse’s helper or “vessel” for his power –- a kind of small Trojan Horse whose powerful scent overcame Wide Lake.
Later, the retaliation comes in small bits of bone, blinding him in a way that his grandmother declines to remedy.
In the end, Louse asks his group to prepare his way to the afterlife, creating for him the practical implements he will need to hunt. But this is a speech that ends with his death, not a set of directions for their practical action.
George Head was born at the turn of the 20th century. He grew to adulthood, married and spent most of his hunting career in the vicinity of Lake Caniapiscow, Quebec, and was a member of the Caniapiscow Band of Inlanders until they merged with the North Coasters and South Coasters of the Fort George Band, where he lived into his retirement years and told this and many other fine stories and sang traditional songs for appreciative audiences.
Gerti Diamond Murdoch was born in 1946, was the first high school graduate from Waskaganish, lived with the Prestons in Lancaster, PA for two years, transcribed my tapes of stories, married John Murdoch in 1971, has been mother of five, Community Education Administrator, Band Councilor, Justice of the Peace, maker of wedding dresses, leader of a dance troupe, and helper of many people for many years.
Richard Preston was born in 1931, lived and schooled in several places, married Sarah in 1953, had five children, began his sojourns in the James Bay region in 1963, mentored by John Honigmann, spent most of his academic career at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, then continuing research and teaching as professor emeritus. Sarah died in 1991. He was very lucky to marry Betty in 1992, under the care of their Quaker Meeting.