Symbols of Hunting in Pictography

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Keossawin, or Hunting Pictography. The signs used in the preparations for, and in the pursuit of the chase, are the Kekewin and the Kekenowin, that is to say, a mixture of both the simple representative signs and instructions, and symbolic signs. The art of hunting is the primary object of a non-agricultural people, and all these institutions are made to bend and conform to it. The earliest rudimental art, taught the hunter’s son, is the use of the bow and arrow, and his first success among the birds and smaller animals, which surround his father’s lodge, is hailed as an omen of his future triumph in the chase. And his indulgent parents always prepare, on this occasion, a family feast, in which the little bird, or animal killed by the tiny hunts man, is ostentatiously displayed. The boy himself is placed at the head of the feast, and his mother and sisters wait upon him, and dish out the food, with a truly oriental formality. The skill and pride of manhood, thus early fanned into life, is fed with stronger fuel, as he grows up, till increase of strength, and knowledge of the woods and of the habits of the animated creation, enable him to bring down the deer, to capture the bear, and to entrap the beaver. That the Indian’s belief in the magical power of the meda, and the art of the meda-wininee, or meda-men, should be brought to bear on the business of hunting, may naturally be inferred. The ceremonies which the father adopts, to propitiate success, the son imitates; and, long before he reaches manhood, he esteems these ceremonies of the highest importance. The efficacy of the different baits put in traps, the secret virtues and power of certain substances carried in the medicine-sack, and exhibited in the secret arcanum of the meda’s and jossakeed’s lodge, are objects of eager and earnest attainment. And no small part of the time the hunter devotes to ceremonial rites is given up to this mystical part of his art.

Pictographic Inscriptions used in Hunting - Plate 53
Symbols of hunting in Native American pictography – Plate 53

It is believed that these secret and sacred objects of care, preserved in his Skipeta-gun, are endowed with virtues to attract animals in certain ranges of country, to which they are willed by the jossakeed. An arrow touched by their magical Medáwin, and afterwards fired into the track of an animal, is believed to arrest his course, or other wise affect him until the hunter can come up. A similar virtue is believed to be exerted, if but the figure of the animal sought be drawn on wood or bark, and afterwards submitted to the efficacious influences of the magic medicine, and the incantation. Pictographs of such drawings, these symbols of hunting, are frequently carried about by the hunter, to avail himself of their influence, or of the means of becoming more perfect in the mystical art, by intercommunication with other and distant Indians. These figures are often drawn on portable objects of his property, such as implements of hunting, canoes, utensils, or rolls of lodge-barks, or sheathing. So subtile is the principle of influence exerted by the Medáwug or magii deemed to be, that one hunter, it is believed, can wield it against another, and thus paralyze his exertions, or render his weapons, or his skill in using them, inefficacious. The belief in this species of witch craft, among all the tribes, is very general. I have never found any exceptions among them as whole tribes. Particular professors in the arts of the societies of the Jeesukawin and Medawin, are believed to be more skilful or powerful than others; and much of the native energies of the Red men is wasted and paralyzed by endeavors to acquire skill in their occult arts. The annexed figures, (Plate 53, Symbols of hunting in Native American pictography) are transcribed and selected from separate inscriptions used in hunting, throughout a wide range of the north-western latitudes, reaching from St. Mary s at the foot of Lake Superior, to Red River and the plains of the Saskatchewine.

No. 1, is the figure of a learner in the Meda. He is drawn with waved lines from each ear, to denote hearing or attention. His heart is depicted as under the magic influence. He sings this chant:

Shi e gwuh
Ne no no nen dum
Ah me
Me da win in ne wug
Ne kau nug
A na mud ub e yuss.

Now I hear it from the Meda-men, my friends, who are sitting around.

No. 2, is a compound symbol, denoting a beaver in the act of swimming down a stream. The professor of the art affects to have power from, or coincident with the Great Spirit. He exclaims

A wa nain
Ba mah je wung-a?
Mo ne do
O be mah je wun-ga.

Who makes this river to flow? The Monedo, he makes the stream to flow.

No. 3, depicts a Meda. He is about to open his performances, and appeals to the candor and sympathy of his fellows.

Kah we whaub o me da
Ne Lmu nug
Need juh
Nish e nau ba
Ka ke ka ne me kwain
Ne kau nug.

Behold me, Medas, my friends. Unishenauba, (or the common people.) Question me, my friends.

No. 4. Depicts the symbolical union of a Meda with a bird. He affects to have all space at his command, and to be gifted with powers of supernatural locomotion.

Ah wa nain
Ba bah mis saud
Ween jeeh
Un ish en au ba?
Who makes the Unishenauba, my fellows, walk about ?
Be nais e wah
Ba bah mo saud
Wee jee ha
Unish en au ba.

The birds they make the Unishenauba, my fellows, walk about.

No 5. Represents the union of a bird and an arrow, by a bird s body with an arrow s head. This is a boastful symbol for a hunter. He boasts in these words:

Neen
Ba ba mis sa gahn
Nin goatsh
Ah wai see
Neen gah
Kwa tin ah wau.

I fly at will, and if I see an animal I can shoot him.

This comprehends one of the original hunter’s cartes, or barks of inscription, with the text of the mnemonic chants. In the following synopsis the native words are omitted, but their literal import is given, together with the symbolic value of the figures, and their mnemonic import. Each Meda sings an independent verse.

No 6. I sit down in the meda s place the Monedo lodge. (A Meda lodge.)
No 7. Two days must you fast, my friend four days must you sit still. (Two marks on the breast, and four across the legs, denote time.)
No 8. Cast away your garments throw them off. (He boasts of magic power.)
No 9. I am loaded with gifts I sit down to rest. (The position denotes rest, the circle over the head a load.)
No 10. Who makes the people walk to feasts? It is I. (A good hunter, denoted by a bird with an arrow s head.)
No 11. I shoot your heart! wary moose! I hit your heart. (A moose under enchantment.)
No 12. I cause myself to look like fire. (A bear enchanted.)
No 13. I can call water from above from the heavens and from the earth. (Water symbolized by a dish on the head, filled.)
No 14. I have caused to look like the dead, a man I have caused to look like the dead, a woman I have caused to look like the dead, a child. (Human figure with the face crossed.)
No 15. I shine by night. (Symbol of the moon.)
No 16. A spirit is what I employ. (An arrow.)
No 17. Can any animal remain longer under the water than I? I am a beaver, and can keep under water longer than any. (A beaver.)
No 18. To myself I do good to myself. (Abundance of goods denoted by the circle around the head, and the square to represent the female meda.)
No 19. I hear the words of your mouth, you are an evil spirit. (Hearing denoted by waving lines.)
No 20. The feather the feather it is the power. (A feather.)
No 21. I am the wild cat I have just come up out of the ground. Who can master the wild cat ? (A panther, or wild cat.)
No 22. A beast! What beast comes calling? It is a deer is calling. (A deer.)
No 23. I am a spirit! what I have I give to you in your heart. (A spirit denoted by rays from the head a meda by the rattle.)
No 24. His tongue, exclaiming, We go! A bear his tongue! (A bear s tongue.)
No 25. Your own tongue kills you it is your own. Bitter words denoted by an arrow pointed towards himself.)
No 26. Anything T can shoot with this Medáwin even a dog. I can kill with it. (A dog.)
No 27. What makes the long moon? What! I know not. (A crescent.)
No 28. I shoot thy heart, man. (An arrow in a heart.)
No 29. I can kill even the white loon. (An arrow in a loon.)
No 30. My friends my friends * * * *. (Male figure.)
No 31. I open my wolf-skin, and the death-struggle must follow. (A bear.)
No 32. Now I wish to try my bird once it had power. (A bird.)
No 33. I can kill any animal because thunder helps me. (A bird.)
No 34. I am rising. (Symbol of the sun.)
No 35. Who is a spirit? He that walks with a snake walking on the ground he is a spirit. (Human figure holding a serpent.)
No 36. He sat down, the great Manabozho, his fire burns for ever. (Manabozho seated.)
No 37. Though you speak ill of me it is above where my friends are. (A circle around the head to denote the influence he has in the sky.)
No 38. I walk through the sky. (Symbol of the moon.)
No 39. I think you enchant with the We-ne-ze-bug-oan. (A plant.)
No 40. Now I have something to eat. (Hand to mouth.)
No 41. Though he is a Monedo, I can by my arts take his body. (An arrow suspended in one hand.)
No 42. Now they will eat, my women! Now I will bid them eat. (A circle around the abdomen to denote plenty.)
No 43. Come up, white crow. (A crow.)
No 44. I shrivel your heart up that is my power. (An animal transpierced.)
No 45. I fill my kettle for the spirit. (A lodge and kettle.)
No 46. A long time since I laid myself down in the earth, ye were spirits. (A square and snake, to denote his residence in the earth.)
No 47. I open you for a bear. (A bear.)
No 48. A dead man s skin it is a Monedo. (Death denoted by the want of head and hands.)
No 49. Were she on a distant island, I could make her swim over. (A circle to denote an island.)
No 50. What is this I employ to enchant? snake-skins? (A snake.)
No 51. Serpents are my friends. (A snake.)
No 52. I come up from below. I come from above. I see the Spirit. I see beavers. (Symbol of a double death’s-head.)
No 53. I can make an east wind pass over the ground. (A circle with three lines in the direction of latitude, and two marks at the North and South, in the place of the poles.)

In these devices, one of the most remarkable traits to be noticed, is the simplicity with which the metaphorical import is often conveyed. A waving line to denote air in motion, drawn from the ear, implies hearing or attention. To double the sign by embracing both ears, is full or perfect attention, and shows the devotion of the listener. A circle drawn around the body at the abdomen, denotes full means of subsistence; a sitting posture, rest. An elliptical line about the shoulders, symbolizes a pack or burthen, and implies the possession of goods. If a square be drawn to include the lower limbs, it is a symbol of the female godaus or coat, and denotes that the family also are provided with clothing. A dish, or semicircle, filled with water and placed on the head, denoted by short dashes, symbolizes the waters of the clouds, and implies power over them. A circle completely surrounding the head, denotes the immersion of it in the sky, and implies miraculous influences. A lodge and a kettle represent the preparation for a feast. A man s hand lifted to his mouth, denotes eating. An arrow symbolizes the direct power over life.

To denote the magic influence of the Meda over the animal creation, a line is invariably drawn in the figure from the mouth to the heart. Power over man is symbolized in the same manner. The heart is usually represented by a triangle, some times a square, and sometimes heart shaped. These figures are, therefore, homophonous. The human face crossed, is used to denote the power of withdrawing life. The sun is represented as a rayed circle, with semicircles at two opposite sides, in the relative place of human ears; the moon, in the ordinary shape of the crescent. Night, as a finely crossed or barred sun, or circle with human legs. Vigilance, speed, and success in hunting, are symbolized by a human head appended to the body and stretched wings of a bird. If it be intended to represent superlative skill, the arrow is substituted as the head of this compound symbolical figure. An arrow held so as to direct the point inwards, is used to portray the self-acting effect of sharp words. The serpent appears in these as in all the Indian picture-writing, as the emblem of power and subtlety. It is the prime figure of their mythology, their superstitions, and their religion.

Pictorial record of a chiefs success in hunting and war - Plate 54
Pictograph of a chiefs success in hunting and war – Plate 54

The subjoined figures, (Plate 54,) numbered from 1 to 17, comprise a pictorial record of a chief s success in hunting and war, with the means he employed. They are derived from the plains of the upper Missouri, and denote some peculiarities in the natural history of the country, with some slight variations in the style of drawing, but none, whatever, in the general principles of the pictorial art. The devices evince the same reliance on mystical or magical influences, exerted through the skill of their Meda-men; and the same ready resource of expressing the union of human and divine power by compound signs.

Number 1 is a meda. That fact is denoted by rays, or a kind of symbolic feathers from the head. Number 2 is the accipencer spatularia, or shovel-nosed sturgeon, a fish peculiar to the turbid waters of the South-west. Number 3 depicts a fort. Number 4, a plant of medicinal value. Number 5, a meda holding a charmed pipe with feathers. It is Number 1 in a new attitude, and he here records the success of his various efforts in hunting and in war. This is detailed in the remaining figures, from 6 to 17 inclusive. No. 6, drawn with an an arrow-point, instead of a head, to a human body, resting on the symbol for goods or burthens, implies his success in hunting, to which Number 7 is auxiliary. In Number 8, by the figure of the war-club, he records his skill in war. In Number 9, his mystical skipetagon or medicine-sack, with four magic birds, he denotes his power; and in the complex figure, Number 10, he claims to have taken the lives or scalps of forty men. Number 11 is a minor god called Manitose. It is the figure of an insect. In 12 and 13 he shows that his success over the buffalo and elk was owing to his skill in the meda. In Number 14 he re appears, clothed in a skin of a bear, as an exhibiter of necromantic tricks, and the remaining figures 15, 16, and 17, the beaver, catfish, and a fabulous animal which he depicts as having qualities of the brown bear and the hog, are depicted as results of his efficiency in the assumed character of the bear. The symbol Number 2 denotes his totem, and Number 3 the general area of his residence. The whole inscription was drawn on birch bark, in which form it could be circulated and read off or interpreted by his people. To each figure there is the verse of a song of skill or boasting.

In the next pictograph, same plate, the figures, numbered from 18 to 37, record another example of this rude kind of pictorial biography. The chief, Number 18, begins his efforts in fasting and tears. He represents himself, in Number 19, as uniting the speed of the feathered tribes and knowledge of the sky attributed to birds with great magic power. This is symbolized by the feathers which take the place of a human head on the figure. 20 represents a kind of fabulous reptile which was his totem or family arms. In 21 he denotes his power to be derived from an orbicular divinity, who is commonly called Monedo Ininees, or the Little Man Spirit. In 22 he unites the power of 19 and 20 with the skill over life, denoted by the arrowhead in place of the human. By 23 he depicts the union between the Monedo of the Stickle back, drawn with a human heart, and himself, and in 24 repeats his power over and confidence in the wisdom of birds, before shown in 19. In 25, which is the figure of a bird, (his meda shipetagon, depicted with ears and an ornamented pipe-stem from its head,) he re-affirms his confidence in meda arts. 26 is the bat, an animal of mystic power, and one which realizes the Indian idea of a supernatural union between the human species and a beast and a bird.

Thus far his boasting is without results. In the next figure (27) he appears fasting, tears dropping from his eyes, and he now kills a bear (28). His general location is shown by 29. In 30, he shows the extraordinary power and wisdom of the serpent, in prying into divine affairs. The heads of two serpents are therefore depicted as reaching above the sky. 31 is a modified form of 20. In 32, having traits of a quadruped, a bird and a fish, and in 33, a turtle, he gives further proofs of the power of his local gods, or spirits. There is, in his view, remarkable success both in hunting and war. But he now appears in the character of a pacificator, extending the ornamented pipe-stem, (35,) and smoking the pipe of peace (34). The two remaining signs are merely suffixed. 36 denotes the distribution of presents, and 37 the means of feasting, the result of a public negotiation.



MLA Source Citation:

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Archives of aboriginal knowledge. Containing all the original paper laid before Congress respecting the history, antiquities, language, ethnology, pictography, rites, superstitions, and mythology, of the Indian tribes of the United States. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1860. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 30 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/symbols-of-hunting-in-pictography.htm - Last updated on Apr 1st, 2013


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