When the North American Indians saw the Western European wayfarers and missionaries erect crosses,they were scandalized by the act they regared as profane.For them,the erection of wooden memorials,called totemic staffs,was conducted only as part of a funeral ceremony.These monuments were symbols of death,reminders of the afterlife and the afterworld,and tokens of the surviver's love and respect for the departed.Hence,for the strangers and their missionaries to implant a monument of death on an occasion other than a funeral and in a place other than a burial ground was a mockery of the dead.
The wayfarers and missionaries misconceptions about Anishinaubae life were drawn from their observations of aboriginal ceremonies and language One such major misconception was related to the Anishinaubae notion of god.The chief misunderstanding was the term Manitou,which from the beginning was interpreted to mean only spirit.Naturally,this narrow interpretation of the term distorted the essential truth of what the Anishinaubae people meant.The inference that follwed was to be expected, that the aboriginal mind was incapable of conceiving or expressing any but the simplest of the abstract.Thereafter,whenever an aboriginal person uttered the word Manitou,Western Europeans thought it meant spirit.When a medicine person uttered the word Manitowun to refer to some curative or healing property in a tree or plant,they took it to mean spirit When a person said the word Manitouwut to refer to the sacrosanct mood or atmosphere of a place,they assumed it meant spirit.
And when a person spoke the word Manitouwun to allude to a medicine person with miraculous healing powers,they construed it to mean spirit.
Western Europeans took it for granted that aboriginal people,being of simple heart and mind,believed in the presence of little spirits in rocks,trees,groves and waterfalls,much as the primitive people of Europe believed in goblins,trolls and leperchauns.Men and women who addressed the Manitou's were believed to worship spirits and idols.
But most aboriginal people understood their respective languages well enough to know from the context the precise sence and meaning intended by the word Manitou or any of it's other derivatives.Depending on the context,they knew that in addition to spirit,the term also meant property,essence,transcendental,mystical,muse,patron,and devine.
Therefore,when the Anishinaubae people predicated the term Manitou to God,they added the prefix"Kitchi",meaning great.By this term they meant "The Great Mystery of the supernatural order,one beyond human grasp,beyond words,neither male or female,not of the flesh".As a being of the supernatural,transcendental order,Kitchi Manitou cannot be known or described in human corporeal terms.What little is known of Kitchi Manitou is known through the universe,the cosmos,and the world.
Kitchi Manitou is the creator of all things,all beings,including Manitou's.
According to the creation story,Kitchi Manitou had a vision,seeing,hearing,touching,tasting,smelling,sensing,and knowing the universe,the world,the Manitou's,plants,animals,and human beings,and brought them into existence.The story represents a belief in God and in creation,an explanation of the origin of things;it also serves as an example for men and women to emulate.
Following the example set by Kitchi Manitou,every person is to seek a dream or vision within the expanse of his or her soul-spirit being and, having attained it,bring it into fulfillment and reality.Otherwise the dream or vision will be nullified.Futhermore,every person is endowed with the gift of a measure of talent or aptitude to enable him or her to bring the vision or dream to reality,to shape his or her own being,as it were,and to fashion an immediate world and destiny.But finding this substance deep within one's intermost being is not an easy task.One must descend to the depths or ascend to the very heights of one's soul-spirit being,by means of vision or a dream,to discover and to retrieve that morsel of talent or aptitude.Sky Woman,the mother of the people who called themselves Anishinaubae,used her talents to recreate her world and that of her decendants from a morsel of mud obtained from the bottom of the flood waters.Nana'b'oozhoo the central figure in Anishinaubae mythology who also symbolizes human potential,recreated an island,his world,from a clutch of soil retrieved from the bottom of the sea.Had he not done so,he would have perished.
With the creation of the physical world and the beings in it,the work of Kitchi Manitou was complete.Kitchi Manitou had done all that needed to be done.From that moment on,the onus was on men and women their cotenants on the earth-the animals,birds,insects,fish,and plants-to continue the work put into motion by the creator.Kitchi Manitou had furnished them with all they required to fulfill their visions and purposes.
Kitchi Manitou had done everything that needed to be done and had provided all the means for humankind's well-being,growth,and accomplishment,so Kitchi Manitou was finished with the world and would take no further part in humankinds affairs.
But was Kitchi Manitou's abdication from the world and it's affairs an act of disinterest? On the contrary,creation was seen as the highest act of selflessness,of generosity,that anyone,Manitou or other, can perform- the sharing of one's gift's.And Kitchi Manitou's grant of freedom to human beings to seek and fulfill their visions and dreams according to their individual abilities was an act not only of generosity but of trust. And what obligation do the recipients and beneficiaries owe their benefactor for the abundnce and variety of benefits received? What would be the most fitting gift to tender to Kitchi Manitou in recompense for all the things they received? Nothing.There was not a thing that human beings could offer Kitchi Manitou in return,other than to imitate Kitchi Manitou in the exercise selflessness and generosity. By giving and sharing one's goods,knowledge,experience,and abilities with the less fortunate of their kin and neighbors-the elderly,sick,widows,and orphans-human beings could emulate Kitchi Manitou.
From the innate sence of graditude felt by most men and women sprang the practice of thankgiving on public occasions and in private.
At the commencement of grand council conferences,at the assembilies of the midewewin,at negotiations for peace,and at the begining of festivals the pipe of peace smoking ceremony was performed with the prefactory words,"let us conjoin all our thoughts,intentions,dreams,and aspirations and all our petitions and prayers in thanksgiving to Kitchi Manitou for having bestowed upon us such bounty and beauty beyond imagination...and for granting us such increase in our days as to enable us to gather together in communion as in days of old...to enable us to see our children's children."
The words were formal,addressed to Kitchi Manitou as if the great benifactor was distant.For men and women,who often lived on the margin of existence and worked on the border of hardship and danger in the midst of plenty,the presence of Kitchi Manitou and other Manitou's was immediate.Their experiences as hunters,fishers,and harvesters constantly reminded the that the success of their expiditions and the yield of their crops depended not so much on their skills or experience as on such intangibles as chance,the goodwill or ill will of the Manitou's,and the efficacy of their medicine.If scccess depended solely on skill or patience,the out come of every expidition would have been assured,but human experience taught them that this was not so.Some hunters consistently returned from the forest empty-handed,while others came back with more meat then they could carry or consume.How were these out comes to be explained? What did the one hunter posess that the other did not? Both used similar weapons and had similar skills and opportunities, yet one emerged from the woods with his back bent under the weight of meat,whereas the other returned with nothing for his children.
How could one account for such occurences except in terms of the sanction and will of the Manitou guardian who presided over the well being of his hunted-animal victum? The successful hunter had gained the goodwill of the Manitou's and ultimately Kitchi Manitou by petition,the performance of rituals,and the exercise of due respect for the remains of the victum.
The expression of thanksgiving in words and in the offering of tobacco represented not only the hunters graditude but an admission of his dependence on the goodwill of the Manitou's and Kitchi Manitou.The victum,whether deer or another being,was humankinds cotenant on earth, with it's own purpose,existence,time,and right of place and life.
Niether man or woman had the right to take it and had to ask permission of the Manitou's and of Kitchi Manitou to take it on behalf of the needy.And when the deer drew within range of the hunters arrow,it was a sign that Kitchi Manitou had granted the hunter leave to take the victums life.When the victum fell,the hunter apologized,but the words and sentiments went beyond the expression of remorse;the hunter was declaring a universal truth and reality,that of human being's utter dependence on their cotenants on the earth for life,growth,and well-being.If survival and dependence did not serve as reminders of the presence of Kitchi Manitou,then humankind's disposition to learn and question would not allow anyone to forget.The young wanted to know what it was that called from the depth of the woods in the middle of the night,where babies came from,and where the dead went.And the answer to the inevitable question of the origin of things was Kitchi Manitou.
The question posed in youth lingered into manhood or womanhood,evoked by other phennomena,miracles:the annual dissolution and regeneration of the earth;the emergence of a caterpillar,plain and palling,and it's transformation into a butterfly,a being of beauty and grace;the metamorphosis of a blossum into an apple;the growth and self-healing of a tree stricken by lightning;and hundreds of other wonders,occuring and reoccuring everyday,year after year.Whether they were stalking their quarry or estimating the quality or quantity of the harvest,men and women had to open their senses to the motions,sounds and smells of the forests,mountains,winds and skies by day and by night and in so doing opened their minds to an even greater degree to the works and presence of Kitchi Manitou.With their senses,nay their entire beings,awake and alive to the world,men and women discovered the presence of KitchiManitou. Certain precipices,recesses in the woods,ravines,waterfalls,caves,or valleys were infussed with a greater presence of Kitchi Manitou then others.It was to such places that men and women went in quest of a dream or a vision and wayfarers went to offer tobacco out of deference and reverence.Some men and women beleived that such places were the abodes of Manitou's who shared in the mystery and sacredness of Kitchi Manitou.Perhaps this was one of the reasons that the natives regarded the earth as sacred and deserving of honor and respect.Even if a bay or meadow or stream did not have enough presence of the mystery of Kitchi Manitou to earn it the designation manitouwun, it had another attribute:beauty.Men and women gazed in the wonder on the dance of the wasaunadae(northern lights),a forest shimmering in the morning sun after a freezing rain,and the pale wash of the moonlight on a lake.Such scenes instilled joy in the heart,mind,soul and spirit.
Men and women then declared that Kitchi Manitou created goodness and beauty.
When the Western Europeans arrived on this continent and met the natives,they at once beleived them to be heathens who,without a true religion,were in need of Christianity and civilized knowledge and technology.In refussing a missionary's invatation to renounce their beliefs and to espouse the beleifs contained in the bible,Red Jacket,the celebrated seneca orator,replied on behalf of his people:"Kitchi Manitou has given us a different understanding"he meant in substance that Kitchi Manitou had given the Red People a different understanding of the nature and attributes of god and a different sense of the nature of humankind and the world.Kitchi Manitou had already provided occasion for revolation and the enlightment of humankind.
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