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Contents

Introduction

A Newborn is Introduced to the Cosmos

Hopi Lullaby

Children of the Land

Korosta Katzina Song 

Learning to Hunt

Look Again

Song of the Rain Chant

Teachings of My Father – for a Daughter

When our Earth Mother is Replete

No Matter How Hard I Try

Teachings of My Father - for a Son

Twelfth Song of the Thunder

Health

In Beauty May I Walk 

The Importance of Stories

Fire-Fly Song

Pipe of Peace

Warrior Song

All My Song is Lost and Gone 

Sources

 

Introduction

Although writing appears to have been invented independently in Central America some time before 600 BCE, its use was restricted and it does not seem to have spread into North America. For North American Indian, therefore, the wisdom of the tribe was passed along orally for the most part. Even pictographs recording the history of migrations depended on an oral tradition of interpretation. Similarly, hide paintings and birch bark scrolls required oral interpretation by elders.

The following extracts are the spoken words of North American Indians as written down by anthropologists, sociologists, editors, or by Indians themselves. They deal with attitudes towards children, the passing on of skills, the relationships between men and women, life in Indian society, the role of the family, farming, health, and traditional stories.

The ceremony for a child at birth is recognition of the participation of a human person in the natural world. The four hills are the four ages of a person. The teachings that Crashing Thunder received from his father are the oral equivalent of the wisdom literature of Egypt. The songs about butterflies, pollen, corn, and rain are the poetic expression of hopes of desert people for an abundant harvest. The Mountain Chant is ceremony of healing.

 

 

1 A Newborn Is Introduced to the Cosmos

 

Ho! You Sun, Moon, Stars, 

All you that move in the heavens,

I bid you hear me!

Into your midst has come a new life.

Give your consent, I implore you!

Make its path smooth, that it may reach

The brow of the first hill!

 

Ho! You Winds, Clouds, Rain, Mist, 

All you that move in the air,

I bid you hear me!

Into your midst has come a new life.

Give your consent you, I implore you!

Make its path smooth, that it may reach

The brow of the second hill!

 

Ho! You Hills, Valleys, Rivers, Lakes, Trees, Grasses, 

All you of the earth,

I bid you hear me!

Into your midst has come a new life.

Give your consent you, I implore you!

Make its path smooth, that it may reach

The brow of the third hill!

 

Ho! You Birds, great and small, that fly in the air,

Ho! You Animals, great and small, that dwell in the forest,

Ho! You Insects that creep among the grasses and burrow in the ground—

I bid you hear me!

Into your midst has come a new life.

Give your consent you, I implore you!

Make its path smooth, that it may reach 

The brow of the fourth hill!

 

Ho! All you of the heavens, 

All you of the air, all you of the earth:

I bid you all to hear me!

Into your midst has come a new life.

Give your consent, all of you, I implore!

Make its path smooth—then shall it travel

beyond the four hills!

Omaha Indian

 

2 Hopi Lullaby

 

Sleep, sleep, sleep.

In the trail, the beetles

On each other's backs are sleeping,

So on mine, my baby, you.

Sleep, sleep, sleep.

Hopi Indian

 

3 Children Of The Land

Lakota Children in their play, either alone or in groups, roamed far and wide over the countryside. They grew up without a sense of restriction and confinement. Their faculties became accustomed to space and distance, to skies clear or stormy, and to freedom in its full meaning. The 'Great Out-doors' was reality and not something to be talked about in dim consciousness. And for them there was perfect safety. There were not the dangers that seem to surround childhood of today. I can recall days—entire days—when we roamed over the plains, hills, and up and down streams without fear of anything. I do not remember ever hearing of an Indian child being hurt or eaten by a wild animal.

Every now and then the whole village moved ten or fifteen miles to a grassier spot, but this was not considered much of a job. It was less trouble than moving a house from the front to the back of a city lot. Miles were to us as they were to the bird. The land was ours to roam in as the sky was for them to fly in. We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and winding streams with tangled growth, as 'wild.' Only to the white man was nature a 'wilderness' and only to him was the land 'infested' with 'wild' animals and 'savage' people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. Not until the hairy man from the east came and with brutal frenzy heaped injustices upon us and the families we loved was it 'wild' for us. When the very animals of the forest began fleeing from his approach, then it was that for us the 'Wild West' began.

Luther Standing Bear, Lakota Indian

 

4 Korosta Katzina Song

 

Yellow butterflies,

Over blossoming corn maidens,

With pollen-painted faces,

Brilliant—

They chase one another.

Blue butterflies,

Over the blossoming bean maidens,

With pollen-painted faces,

Brilliant—

They chase one another.

Over the blossoming corn,

Over the corn maidens

Wild bees hum:

Over the blossoming beans,

Over the bean maidens,

Wild bees hum.

Over your field

Hang thunder-clouds, all day;

Over your field

Comes rushing rain, all day.

Over your field,

Rain moves over

All day.

Hopi Indian

 

5 Learning To Hunt

My grandfather came and asked my father if I would make a trip with them to the mountains where they hunt for deer, as well as mountain sheep, and gather huckleberries. They caught salmon from the spawning beds there and dried them for their provisions while they were staying in the mountains. Naturally, they depended for their livelihood on what they could catch and kill, as well as catch small fish from the streams.

When we began, first I was to learn how to control my horse, which was given to me with a complete outfit, as well as a gun. Then we came to the first camp. Early in the morning my uncle started to assume his responsibilities, got me out of bed, and he says, "Nephew, let's hurry down to the creek. It's my duty now to train you, to equip you with the wisdom and knowledge that I have acquired. First of all, we're going to go down to this swift stream and we're going to plunge in that stream and we will disturb the old lady." (We referred to the stream as an old lady.) "We'll disturb her and the old lady will rub you down and soothe up your sore muscles and give you an endurance for the rest of the day." I knew I had to do the things that I was told.

We went down and we stripped off and jumped into this swift water, very cold, we stayed in the water until my body was numb. We came up and pranced around, jumped up and down to get our circulation going. We put on our clothes and by the time we got back to the camp, the breakfast was ready.

Again, we were taught how to care for the horses and how to handle them. As we traveled, the same processes were conducted until we reached our destination. As soon as we reached our destination, I was told that the sweat house and the hot rocks which were prepared for the sweat house were blessings taught and handed down from the Great Spirit. This hot steam caused by pouring cold water on the rocks would cleanse you and purify your scent, so the wild animals wouldn't detect you. You would have the scent the same as the fir bough and reeds that grow in the mountains. So naturally I had to believe that this was the case.

I followed through this system and we had to do this every morning about three o'clock while we were in the mountains. At the end of our trip, I was wiry; I could walk, probably for days and weeks if I had to. I had gone through my course of training for survival. I learned every herb, root, berries and how to take care of them. This kind uncle of mine and his wife took time to explain these things step by step. They didn't leave one thing untold and it was shown physically to me, then asked of me if I could do it.

Alex Saluskin, Yakima Indian

 

6 Look Again

 

Look up river very often, look again.

In spring when river ice breaks,

Look again—

You may see me heading down river.

Look very often up river, look again.

Ku we nu de nu,

Ku we nu de nu.

Wabanaki Indian

 

 

7 Song of the Rain Chant

 

Far as man can see,

Comes the rain,

Comes the rain with me.

From the Rain-Mount,

Rain-Mount far away,

Comes the rain,

Comes the rain with me.

O'er the corn,

O'er the corn, tall corn,

Comes the rain,

Comes the rain with me.

'Mid the lightnings,

'Mid the lightnings zigzag,

'Mid the lightnings flashing,

Comes the rain,

Comes the rain with me.

'Mid the swallows,

'Mid the swallows blue,

Chirping glad together,

Comes the rain,

Comes the rain with me.

Through the pollen,

Through the pollen blest,

All in pollen hidden,

Comes the rain,

Comes the rain with me.

Far as man can see,

Comes the rain,

Comes the rain with me.

Navajo Indian

 

 

8 Teachings of My Father – For a Daughter

Be good and virtuous in your married life. If you do not listen to what I am telling you, you will become bad and men will make fun of you. They will do whatever they wish with you; joke with you familiarly on any subject. If you do not listen to me you will injure yourself. Thus did the old people speak to one another and thus did they hand down these precepts from one generation to another, warning young girls against committing wrong actions. They also said that when a girl is growing up, one should admonish her and that is why I am now speaking to you.

Never think a home is yours unless you make one yourself. If you are living with people and have put them in charge of your household, do not behave as though the home were still yours.

Do not be haughty with your husband. Do whatever he says. Kindness will be returned to you and he will treat you in the same way as you treat him.

If you have a child and it is naughty, do not strike it. In olden times when a child was naughty, the parents did not strike it, but instead made the child fast. Then when he is quite hungry he will reflect upon his disobedience. If you hit the child you will merely be putting more naughtiness in him. It has also been said that mothers should not lecture their children, that they merely make them bad by admonishing them. If your husband scolds them, do not take their part for then they will become bad indeed.

If a stranger makes your children cry, do not speak to the stranger in your children's presence and take their part, If you wish to take the children's part, prevent such a thing from happening and keep your children there at home, take good care of them and think of the best means of letting your children get to know you. When you are bringing up children, do not imagine you are taking their part if you just speak about loving them. Let them see it for themselves. Let them see what love is by observing you give things away to the poor. Then they will see your good deeds and then they will know whether you have been speaking the truth or not.

Do not show your love for other children so that other people notice it. Love them but let your love for them be different from your love for your own. . .

Do not hurt the feelings of your relatives, the old people used to say. If you hurt their feelings you will make your brothers-in-law feel ashamed of themselves on account of the evil things you say about them.

The old people said, "Never hit your relatives." You may be on bad terms with one of them, for instance, and he may die. Then people will say that you used to quarrel with the deceased when he was alive. They may even claim that you are overjoyed at his death, that you want to dance with joy. Then indeed will your heart be sore and you will think to yourself how best you can make amends. Even should you have a performance of the Medicine Dance given in his honor, if you wish to bury him with honor, even then people will say, "What does all this mean? She used to be partial and jealous when he was alive. Now that he is dead she loves him! She should not do such things. She is merely wasting her wealth. She need not have spent so much." Thus will people speak of you. Then indeed will your heart ache to its very depths. Perhaps you will even get angry when people say these things to you. It is to prevent this from happening that the old people used to say, "Love one another." If you have always loved a person then when he dies you will have the right to feel sorry. All your relatives will love you; indeed every one will love you. If you behave like a true woman you will be beloved by all and then if you meet with some crisis in life, all will turn their hearts to you in your trouble. . .

Crashing Thunder, Winnebago Indian

 

9 When Our Earth Mother Is Replete

 

When our earth mother is replete with living waters,

When spring comes,

The source of our flesh,

All the different kinds of corn,

We shall lay to rest in the ground.

With their earth mother's living waters,

They will be made into new beings.

Coming out standing into the daylight

Of their sun father,

Calling for rain,

To all sides they will stretch out their hands.

Then from wherever the rain makers stay quietly

They will send forth their misty breath;

Their massed clouds filled with water will come out

and sit with us,

Far from their homes,

With outstretched hands of water they will embrace the corn,

Stepping down to caress them with their fresh waters,

With their fine rain caressing the earth,

And there, wherever the roads of the rain makers come forth,

Torrents will rush forth,

Silt will rush forth,

Mountains will be washed out,

Logs will be washed down,

There all the mossy mountains will drip with water.

The clay-lined hollows of our earth mother

Will overflow with water,

Desiring that it should be thus,

I send forth my prayer.

Zuni Indian

 

10 No Matter How Hard I Try

 

No matter how hard I try

To forget you,

You always

Come back to my mind,

And when you hear me singing

You may know

I am weeping for you.

Nootka Indian

 

11 Teachings of My Father - For a Son

Help yourself as you travel along the road of life. The earth has many narrow passages scattered over it. If you have something with which to strengthen yourself, then when you get to these narrow turns you will be able to pass through them safely and your fellow men will respect you. See to it that people like you. Be on friendly terms with every one and then every one will like you. You will be happy and prosperous. . .

When you have your home, see to it that whoever enters your lodge obtain something to eat, no matter how little you yourself may have. Such food will be a source of death to you if withheld. If you are stingy about giving food, some one might kill you in consequence; some one may poison you. If you ever hear of a stranger passing through your country and you want to see him, prepare food for him and have him brought to you. In this manner you will be doing good and it is always good to do good, it is said.

If you see a helpless old person, help him if you have anything at all. If you happen to possess a home take him there, and feed him, for he may suddenly make uncomplimentary remarks about you? You will be strengthened thereby. . .

Never do any wrong to your children. Whatever your children ask of you, do it for them. If you act thus people will then say that you are good natured. If any one in the village loses a friend through death, should you at all be wealthy, cover the expenses of the funeral of the deceased, if you can. Help the mourners likewise in defraying the expenses of feeding the departed. If you act thus, you will do well. All the people you have helped will then really know what kind of a man you are. For the good you do, people will love you. . .

It is not good to win at gambling. You may possibly become rich thereby but that is no life to lead. If you are blessed with luck in cards, if you are blessed with luck at gambling, you will perhaps win things and have plenty of wealth, but none of your children will live. . .

My son, when you get married, do not make an idol of the woman you marry; do not worship her. If you worship a woman she will insist upon greater and greater worship as time goes on. This is what the old people used to say. They always preached against those men who hearken too strongly to the words of women; who are the slaves of women. Now it may happen that a man has received many warnings as to his behavior in this regard and that he pays no attention to them. It may go so far that when he is asked to attend a war-bundle feast he will refuse to go; it may be that when he is married he will listen to the voice of his wife and refuse to go on a warpath. . .

Now again, my son, let me enjoin you. Do not abuse your wife. Women are sacred. If you make your wife suffer, then you will die in a short time. Our grandmother Earth is a woman, and in abusing your wife you are abusing her. Most certainly will you be abusing your grandmother if you act thus. Since after all it is she who is taking care of us, by your action you will be practically killing yourself.

Remember this too, that women cannot be watched. If you try to watch them and are jealous about them, then your female relatives will also be jealous of them. Finally when your jealousy has developed to the highest pitch, your wife will leave you and run away with some one else. You have allowed her to see by your actions that you worship a woman, and one alone, and, in addition, you have been watching her all the time. Because of this incessant annoyance she will run away from you. . .

Crashing Thunder, Winnebago Indian

 

12 Twelfth Song of the Thunder

 

The voice that beautifies the land!

The voice above,

The voice of thunder.

Within the dark cloud

Again and again it sounds,

The voice that beautifies the land

The voice that beautifies the land!

The voice below:

The voice of the grasshopper.

Among the plants

Again and again it sounds,

The voice that beautifies the land.

Navajo Indian

 

 

13 Health

The three cardinal principles of health of the Lakota were pure food, air and water, the fast, and the sweat bath. It was a usual custom for the men to go into the sweat-bath with the medicine-man, and when the body was saturated with perspiration to rub it briskly with wild sage. Women had their sweat-houses and did the same thing. But not only in steam and water did the Lakota bathe—he literally bathed in air. The pores of his skin were daily bathed in pure air and sunshine—nature's greatest cleansers. The scrupulous observance of health principles undoubtedly kept the blood stream pure, and helped in the miraculous cures of wounds, bruises, and other injuries.

Luther Standing Bear, Lakota Indian

 

14 In Beauty May I Walk

 

In beauty may I walk.

All day long may I walk.

Through the returning seasons may I walk.

On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.

With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk.

With dew about my feet may I walk.

With beauty may I walk.

With beauty before me, may I walk.

With beauty behind me, may I walk.

With beauty below me, may I walk.

With beauty all around me, may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty,

Lively, may I walk.

In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty,

Living again, may I walk.

It is finished in beauty.

It is finished in beauty.

Navajo Indian

 

15 The Importance of Stories

These stories were the libraries of our people. In each story, there was recorded some event of interest or importance, some happening that affected the lives of people. There were calamities, discoveries, achievements, and victories to be kept. The seasons and the years were named for principal events that took place. There was the year of the "moving star" when these bright bodies left their places in the sky and seemed to fall to earth or vanished altogether; the year of the great prairie fire when the buffalo became scarce; and the year that Long Hair (Custer) was killed. But not all our stories were historical. Some taught the virtues — kindness, obedience, thrift, and the rewards of right living. Then there were stories of pure fancy in which I can see no meaning. Maybe they are so old that their meaning has been lost in the countless years, for our people are old. But even so, a people enrich their minds who keep their history on the leaves of memory. Countless leaves in countless books have robbed a people of both history and memory.

Luther Standing Bear, Lakota Indian

 

 

16 Fire-Fly Song

 

Flitting white-fire insects!

Wandering small-fire beasts!

Wave little stars about my bed!

Weave little stars into my sleep!

Come, little dancing white-fire bug,

Come, little flitting white-fire beast!

Light me with your white-flame magic,

Your little star-torch.

Ojibwa Indian

 

17 Pipe of Peace

Of all symbols that ever inspired men the Pipe of Peace was the strongest. Standards, typifying the ideals of societies, have been worshiped and followed, but none have exerted so great an influence toward peace and brotherhood as this symbol. Its motto was Wolakota wa yaka cola, 'Peace without slavery!' Not another standard but has been desecrated by war; not another but has led men into unholy conflict and there are none to keep them from war except the Pipe of Peace. If this sacred symbol was taken to Lakota warriors in the thickest of battle, they would at once obey its mandate and retire. To disobey was to suffer personal disaster and it is Lakota history that no warrior ever disobeyed without at last dying an ignominious death.

Peace—that ideal which man may sometime reach—was symbolized in the Pipe of Peace and, under the society of the pipe, or codes symbolized by the pipe, native man made the most effectual effort at arriving at peace ever made on this continent. It was but a start, perhaps, but its strength lay in the fact that under the Great Peace, women had begun the necessary foundational work for the elimination of war by raising sons who could participate only in pursuits of peace. War was excluded from the existence of a certain portion of the male population and in this move the Indian mother pointed the way and the only road to the realization of peace between all men. The acceptance of a kinship with other orders of life was the first step toward humanization and the second step was the dedication of sons to peace, the spiritual value of which is incalculable; and not until the women of the land come back to the forsaken road, emulate the Indian mother, and again raise sons for peace will there be any substantial move toward 'peace on earth and good-will toward men.'

Luther Standing Bear, Lakota Indian

 

18 Warrior Song

 

I shall vanish and be no more,

But the land over which I now roam

Shall remain

And change not.

Omaha Indian

 

 

19 All My Song is Lost and Gone

 

Hai-ya, hai-ya—hai-ya, hai-ya—

All my song is lost and gone.

Sad at heart is the bluebird,

All my song is lost and gone,

Woe is me, alas! Alas!

All my song is lost and gone.

Pima Indian

 

Sources

1, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18. When the Earth was Young by David Yeadon. Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1978. These songs, handsomely printed with photographs, are in the public domain. The original sources are:

1. Bureau of American Ethnology Twenty-seventh Annual Report, 1905-6. pp. 115-16.Translated by Alice Fletcher 

9. Bureau of American Ethnology Forty-seventh Annual Report, 1929-30. p. 484. Translated by Ruth Bunzel.

10. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 124, 1939. p. 327. Translated by Frances Densmore.

12. Bureau of American Ethnology Fifth Annual Report, 1888-89. p. 459. Translated by Washington Matthews.

14. Part of the "Mountain Chant" from Navajo Myths, Prayers and Song by Washington Matthews. University of California Press, 1907. pp. 48-49.

16. Oneota or the Characteristics of the Red Race of America, Henry R. Schoolcraft. Wiley and Putnam, New York, 1845. p. 347.

18. Bureau of American Ethnology Twenty-seventh Annual Report,1904-6. p. 431. Translated by Alice Fletcher and Francis LaFlesche.

2, 4, 6, 7, 19. The Indian's Book: An Offering by the American Indians of Indian Lore, Musical and Narrative, to form a Record of Songs and Legends of Their Race recorded and edited by Natalie Curtis. Harper and Brothers, New York, 1907.

3, 13, 15, 17 Land of the Spotted Eagle by Luther Standing Bear. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, Nebraska, 1978. Extracts reproduced by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright 1933 by Luther Standing Bear. Renewal copyright, 1960, by May Jones.

5 "Learning to Hunt" by Alex Saluskin in Can the Red Man Help the White Man? edited by S. M. Morey. The Myrin Institute, Inc., New York, 1970.

8, 11. Crashing Thunder—The Autobiography of an American Indian edited by Paul Radin. D. Appleton and Company, New York, 1926.

        Selection and adaptation © Rex Pay 2001