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Rock Writing or Muzzinabikon

The application of picture-writing among the tribes has now been traced, from its first or simple drawings in the inscription of totems and memorials on grave-posts, through the various methods adopted to convey information on sheets of bark, scarified trees, and other substances, and through the institutions and songs of the Meda, and the Wabeno societies, the mysteries of the Jeesukawin, the business of hunting, and the incidents of war and affection. It remains only to consider their use in an historical point of view, or in recording, in a more permanent form than either of the preceding instances, such transactions in the affairs of a wandering forest life as appear to them to have demanded more labored attempts to preserve.

The term kekewin is applied to picture-writing generally. Another syllable, (no) is thrown into the centre of the word, when the figures are more particularly designed to convey instruction. The term then is kekenowin. It is the distinction which the native vocabulary appears to establish, between simple representative figures and symbols. By reference to a prior page, other terms, descriptive of other means of communicating information by signs, or emblems, will be observed. The term Muz-zin-a-bik-on, is strictly applied to inscriptions on rocks, or, as the word literally implies, Rock-writing (petroglyphs). Izzi is one of those general stock roots in the language, denoting generic matter or substance, which enters into a variety of compound words and phrases. As the vowel, i, is permutable under the influence of the juxtaposition of various prefixed consonants, the sound changes frequently, to uzzi, ozzi, &c. The letter M, as an initial in compound words in this language, is generally derived from the adjective, Monaudud, (a bad thing, or substance,) and denotes a bad or defective quality. In this instance, its meaning and office is, evidently, to denote a mysterious import; most things of a mysterious nature being associated in the Indian mind with fear, or a bad quality. Aubik, the third syllable, is rock, and the termination in cm, (pronounced oan,) is a common inanimate plural. Muzziniegun, a single letter, book, writing, or piece of written or printed-paper, derives its first two syllables from the same roots, and has the same meaning. Its termination in egun, instead of aubick, is from jeegun, a generic word for implement, or anything artificially made. The word is frequently, most frequently, indeed, contracted to gun; and in this instance means paper for which the natives had no word. The precise difference between the two terms, therefore, is, that between paper writing and rock-writing.

Cavern in the Pictured Rocks - Plate 44

Cavern in the Pictured Rocks – Plate 44

Of rock writing, or muzzinabikon, there are many examples in North America; but most of the known inscriptions consist of single, or at most, but few figures. Allusion has been made to several instances of this kind, which are generally in the simple representative character. There has been noticed a striking disposition in the persons inscribing these figures, to place them in positions on the rock, not easily accessible, as on the perpendicular face of a cliff, to reach which, some artificial contrivance must have been necessary. The object clearly was, to produce a feeling of surprise or mystery. The mottled and shaded appearance on the imposing line of coast on Lake Superior, called the Pictured Rocks, is not at all the result of pictured writing. No artificial writing of any kind has been noticed there. The term has been introduced into popular use to denote a geological effect analogous to that for which, in mineralogy the Germans have the appropriate term of ange laufenen farben, or iridescent colors.1

There exists, however, an inscription at a point west of this precipitous portion of the coast, on the banks of the Namabin, or Carp River, about half a day’s march from its mouth. The following copy of this inscription (Plate 57) was made by the chief Chingivauk, and drawn on birch bark. He also explained the symbols and gave its full interpretation. There lived on that stream, as he states, years ago, a chief of the name of Myeengun, or the Wolf of the Mermaid, (or rather, as the language has it, Merman totem,) who was skilled in the Meda, and was invested by the opinion of his people, with a character of much skill and secret power. He practiced the arts and ceremonies of the Meda, and made ckeekwondum. By these means he acquired influence, and raised a war party which crossed Lake Superior in canoes. The expedition was not barren in other respects of success, but this exploit was considered as a direct evidence of the influence of his gods, and it gave him so much credit, that he determined to perpetuate the memory of it, by a Muz-zin-a-bik-on. He made two inscriptions, one on the south, and the other on the north shores of the lake. Both were on the precipitous faces of rocks. Copies of both are presented. These copies were made with the point of a knife, on a roll of bark of firm texture, and exhibit an evidence of ingenuity and dexterity in the art, which is remarkable. They are transcribed in the two following pictographs, marked A and B., (Plate 57)

Pictographs on Lake Superior and Carp River Michigan - Plate 57

Pictographs on Lake Superior and Carp River Michigan – Plate 57

Figure 1 (A) represents the chief Myeengun, whose family totem is given under the form of his lodge, (Number 2.) This lodge is to be regarded as ancestral. The totem Nebanabee, or the Merman, No. 3, fills it, and symbolically denotes that all its members bear the same mark. His individual name is given by Figure No. 4, the wolf. The whole of the remaining eight figures, are symbolical representations of the various spirits, or gods, upon whom he relied. Number 5 is the Misshibezhieu, or fabulous panther. The drawing shows a human head crowned with horns, the usual symbol of power, with the body and claws of a panther, and a mane. The name of the panther, Misshibezhieu, is a great lynx. The crosses upon the body denote night, and are supposed to indicate the time proper for the exercise of the powers it conveys. Number 6 is a representation of the same figure without a mane, and without crosses, and denotes the exercise of its powers by day-light. In Number 7 he depicts his reliance upon Mong, or the loon; in Number 8, upon Mukwah, or the black bear; and in Number 9, on Moaz, or the moose. Each of these objects is emblematic of some property, or qualification, desired by the warrior. The loon, whose cry foretells changes of the weather, denotes forecast; the bear, strength and sagacity;, and the moose, wariness, being the most keen of hearing and wary of any of the quadrupeds. In Number 10, he depicts a kind of fabulous serpent resembling a saurian, having two feet, and armed with horns. Both these appendages are believed to be symbolic of its swiftness and power over life. It is called Misshikinabik, or Great Serpent. In Number 11 there is shown a reptile of analogous powers, but it has a body mounted on four legs, and is therefore more clearly of the lizard, or saurian type. The name is, however, the same.

Thus far are detailed the means and powers upon which the chief relied, and these were (symbolically) inscribed in the region of his residence, on the southern shores of the lake. The results of the expedition are given in pictograph B, Plate 57, which was painted on the face of a rock at WAZHENAUBIKINIGUNING AUGAWONG, or the Place of the Writing, or Inscription Rock, on the north shores of Lake Superior, Canada. It is near a bay, between this point and Namabin River, that the lake was crossed. The passage was made in five canoes of various sizes, and numbering, in all, fifty-one men. Of these, sixteen were in number one, nine in number two, ten in number three, eight in number four, and eight in number five. The first canoe was led by Kish-kemunasee, or the Kingfisher, (figure Number 6,) who was his chief auxiliary. The crossing occupied three days, depicted by the figure of three suns, under a sky and a rainbow, in Number 7. In Numbers 8, 9, and 10 he introduces three objects of reliance, not previously brought forward. Number 8 is the Mikenok, or land-tortoise, an important symbol, which appears to imply the chief point of triumph, that is, reaching land. Number 9 is the horse, and reveals the date of this adventure as being subsequent to the settlement of Canada. The Meda is depicted on his back, crowned with feathers, and holding up his drumstick, such as is used in the mystic incantations. Number 10 is the Migazee, or eagle, the prime symbol of courage. In Number 11 he records the aid he received from the fabulous night panther this panther, by the way, is generally located in the clouds and in Number 12 a like service is recorded to the credit of the great serpent.

The following explanations of Plates 58 and 59, exhibit a general synopsis of the symbolic and representative devices in common use.

Plate 58

Synopsis of Indian Symbols - Plate 58

Synopsis of Indian Symbols – Plate 58

Number 1. Chronological and arithmetical devices.
Number 2. Symbol of a headless body.
Number 3. Symbol of a headless body.
Number 4. Devices representing the human head.
Number 5. Death s head symbolically eclipsed, or veiled.
Number 6. The human figure representative.
Number 7. Symbol of a man walking at night, or under the moon.
Number 8. Symbol of the sun.
Number 9. Do. do.
Number 10. A spirit, or man enlightened from on high, having the head of the sun.
Number 11. Totemic mark of the sun.
Number 12. The moon dry quarter.
Number 13. The moon flaming.
Number 14. The moon eclipsed, or at night.
Number 15. A man s head, with ears open to conviction.
Number 16. A winged female.
Number 17. Clouds.
Number 18. The sun filling the world.
Number 19. A Meda endowed by the sun with mystic power, denoted by the appended plumes and rays.
Number 20. A Wabeno.
Number 21. The sky.
Number 22. Death s heads.
Number 23. Hearing ears.
Number 24. The sea.
Number 25. A spirit.
Number 26. Do.
Number 27. A Jossakeed.
Number 28. A sick man under the influence of necromancy.
Number 29. A Meda.
Number 30. An evil, or one-sided Meda.
Number 31. Medical skill the human heart symbolic.
Number 32. An idol.
Number 33. A seer s image.
Number 34. The human heart a symbol.
Number 35. Symbols of the heart.
Number 36. A headless Wabeno.
Number 37. A man loaded with presents.
Number 38. The society of the Wabeno seated in a lodge.
Number 39. Grand medicine.
Number 40. Domestic circle.
Number 41. A fortress European.

Plate 59

Synopsis of Indian Symbols - Plate 59

Synopsis of Indian Symbols – Plate 59

Number 42. A necromantic professor filling the world with his power and skill.
Number 43. symbol of power.
Number 44 Gushkepitugush, or magic medicine-sack.
Number 45. A magic drum.
Number 46. The sun inclined to hear.
Number 47. A magic bone lifted by a meda.
Number 48. A magic bone flying.
Number 49. A wampum belt.
Number 50. A cormorant under magic influence.
Number 51. The sun in a hearing attitude.
Number 52. War-clubs.
Number 53. The medical power of a plant filling the world, and reaching to the sky.
Number 54. A medical professor botanic.
Number 55. A Wabeno headless standing on the world holding human hearts
Number 56. Flames symbolic.
Number 57. A Wabeno having power to stand on half the world.
Number 58. An American symbolic.
Number 59. A mösa a species of worm, alluded to by the Wabenos.
Number 60. A Wabeno, sitting on the top of “the circle of the heavens.”
Number 61. A magic ring and a dart symbolic of magic skill.
Number 62. A mer-man a totem.
Number 63. A female prophet.
Number 64. A symbol of war.
Number 65. A symbol of peace.
Number 66. Goods a symbol.
Number 67. Symbol of time.
Number 68. The great horned serpent.
Number 69. A spirit of evil.
Number 70. Serpent.
Number 71. Sociality.
Number 72 . The kingfisher a totem.
Number 73. Spirit of evil, looking into heaven.
Number 74. The tortoise a totem.
Number 75. A belt or baldric nocturnal fraternity.
Number 76. A meda with great magic power.
Number 77. A budding war-club.
Number 78. A Jossakeed, sustained by the power of birds to look into events.
Number 79. Fabulous serpent.
Number 80. Stuffed bird a magic symbol.
Number 81. A doctor, having great skill in plants. The birds give him the power of ubiquity.
Number 82. A magic grasp.
Number 83. Hearing serpent.
Number 84. A symbol of the power to look into futurity.
Number 85. A man clothed in a bear s skin.
Number 86. Symbol of power over the heart.
Number 87. Symbol of spiritual power.
Number 88. Representative figure of a female.
Number 89. The catfish a totem.
Number 90. The eagle a totem.
Number 91. Disabled man.
Number 92. Pipes.
Number 93. A bad spirit of the air.
Number 94. Spirit of the blue sky.
Number 95. A woodpecker, flying off in a direct line.
Number 96. A bad spirit of the sky.
Number 97. Symbol of a Wabeno standing on the globe. Totem of his name.
Number 98. The sun.
Number 99. A spirit of prophecy of the sky.
Number 100. The serpent penetrating the earth.
Number 101. Plants symbols of medical power.
Number 102. A beaver s tail.
Number 103. Symbol of magical power.
Number 104. A Meda’s power, symbolized by an uplifted arm.
Number 105, Symbol of a Meda’s power, holding the clouds in his hands.
Number 106. Botanical power.
Number 107. The turtle.
Number 108. Medical power. A symbol. Number
Number 109. Medical power. A symbol. Number
Number 110. Monster issuing from the earth.
Number 111. Symbol of 40 heads killed in battle.
Number 112. Flag at a grave.
Number 113. A meda with power.
Number 114. Symbol of death.
Number 115. A flag at a grave.
Number 116. War lance-club.
Number 117. Symbol of war.
Number 118. A bale of goods.
Number 119. A canoe hunter s.
Number 120. A monster figure used in the game of the bowl.
Number 121. A chief,
Number 122. A bad spirit half fledged.
Number 123. Symbol of mythical power.
Number 124. A great war captain with one hand he grasps the earth, with the other the sky.
Number 125. Symbol of a warrior bold as the sun.
Number 126. Reindeer’s head a totem.
Number 127. A canoe filled with warriors.
Number 128. Instruction in magic.
Number 129. An encampment symbolic.
Number 130. A beaver under medical influence.
Number 131. A wolf a totem.
Number 132. A fabulous bear having a copper tail.
Number 133. Symbol of speed.
Number 134. A crane a totem.
Number 135. A deer a totem.
Number 136. A fabulous snake.
Number 137. Satanic power a symbol.
Number 138. Crossed serpents a symbol of wariness.
Number 139. Symbol of the death of a man whose totem is the crane.
Number 140. Symbol of death of the bear totem.

These signs by no means fill the entire symbolic alphabet of the Kekenowin and Kekewin, but will serve to denote something of their capacity of symbolizing objects in the various departments of nature.


  1. This term denotes an effect merely, but conveys no idea of the cause or manner of producing the effect, which is so graphically denoted in the German 

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