The Strait : Chapter 2 : Obenabi's grandmothers
(1934 - 1985)
Fredy Perlman (August 20, 1934 – July 26, 1985) was an American author, publisher, professor, and activist. His most popular work, the book Against His-Story, Against Leviathan!, details the rise of state domination with a retelling of history through the Hobbesian metaphor of the Leviathan. Though Perlman detested ideology and claimed that the only "-ist" he would respond to was "cellist," his work as an author and publisher has been influential on modern anarchist thought. (From : Wikipedia.org.)
I find myself leaning on the roundish rock by the Strait’s edge, wondering if this is the same moonless night, or the sixth since my journey began. The shadowy figure before me gives me an arrowhead and a blistered mask. The mask burns my face and I try frantically to remove it. But my arms fly wildly in front of me and reach for the arrowhead a young hunter extends to me. My mind floods with memories.
I shudder remembering the corner where I huddled with my baby sister, my embracing arms protecting her from the spectacle on the longhouse floor, the frightful dance so different from any I had seen before, altogether lacking the joy and mirth I so loved in the planting and strawberry festival dances.
Sister trembled and buried her face in my neck, but I looked fearlessly, attentively, at mouths twisting into the grimaces of false faces and vomiting black sand. I knew that, after the dance, aunts and grandmothers would tell me why their bodies had writhed, why their groins had turned black, why their mouths had discharged sand; they would tell me what part of earth was renewed and made beautiful by this dance. And I would have to remember, for one day I would have to renew earth’s beauty for the others.
When the writhing and vomiting and groaning stopped, two ghosts in long black robes entered the longhouse. One took my sister; the other offered me his hand. I understood the ceremony wasn’t over.
Outside, people of other longhouses lay motionless on the ground.
Carrion birds hovered above the village, their excited cries replacing the groans and shouts of the stilled villagers. I made out the figure of a man removing cloaks, cutting pendants, taking earrings.
I pulled my hand free, ran back to our lodge and screamed to wake my mother, uncles and grandfathers, but none stirred. My scream was answered only by an echo that sounded like laughter coming from the carrion birds or the scavenging man.
Vomiting on the longhouse floor, I wished earth who’d pushed me up would swallow me, but the robed ghost returned for me and carried me far from my longhouse and my village. Hooded ghosts with crosses came and went during my interminable night of aching and vomiting. They didn’t tell me why they had arranged the fearful ceremony I had seen.
When I stopped vomiting, the blackrobed ghosts named me Anne and took me to another part of the stone cave. Here girls with covered bodies sang in the tongue of the ghosts and repeatedly crossed themselves.
I kept on asking Why? I refused to eat until they told me that Le Dieu, the grandfather of all the Blackrobes, had arranged the death dance, because he didn’t like the songs or feasts or ceremonies of the longhouse people, and they said he would make me vomit sand if I didn’t cross myself and sing and bow to his mother, La Sainte Marie.
They also told me that Le Dieu made all the decisions in the councils in the sky just as our grandfathers did in our longhouse councils. But I knew that longhouse grandmothers made the decisions, so I knew it was La Sainte Marie who had killed the people in our longhouses. I refused to sing to her.
The Robes always watched us. They named my sister Marie and frightened her into singing their songs. I went on singing the longhouse songs and they called me a child of Satan. When I called them disease-bringers, the Robes said war had killed the people of my longhouse, and they spoke of eastern enemies whom they named Serpents and Wolfpacks.
But there were days when they admitted killing my people with the plague. On those days they’d say the plague was a bane only to the children of Satan but a boon to the children of Dieu and Sainte Marie. I knew what they meant. The plague left cloaks and pendants for scavengers of things, like the one I’d seen, and it left kinless Annes and Maries for the scavengers of souls.
When the Robes thought we had forgotten the people of our village, they told us the plague could not have killed forty of our people to every one of theirs. Since only a few of their people had died, all the people I remembered couldn’t have existed. I grew up doubting there was any truth in their Word.
But my sister grew up believing their truth, believing that their Word came first. She grew up forgetting that first came the earth and the sun and the sky, that next came the seed from which came plants and flowers and people and their Word, that the children of the marriage of earth with sky, the children of the seed, came last.
When we weren’t watched, I took my sister to the garden or to the edge of the forest where it was all so plain to see. She looked, but she didn’t see. She returned to the stone cave to bow to crosses, kneel to statues and sing to the bringers of plague.
When I was watched, I too bowed and kneeled and moved my lips. I too learned the Robes’ languages, the one they spoke to each other and the one they spoke to their statues. I too would have grown up forgetting.
But when I was with the pelt dressers, I stayed close to a woman who remembered the dreams of the original people. The Robes called her a witch.
She told me: I wasn’t a witch before I came to the mission, although I had known several witches in my village. My cousin had learned from a Tellegwi how to speak to a dead ancestor who asked for gifts the earth wanted. My aunt dreamed of things to come, and then we had to make them come, just like the Talamatun. My Neshnabek grandmothers dreamed of animals and were guided by them. I wanted to be a witch. I fasted. But I couldn’t concentrate because I was afraid. My fear came from my uncles who carried dressed pelts to the Longbeards of Stadacona and returned to our village with metal pots, hatchets, knives, crosses and sometimes rifles. Only those who learned Holy Mary songs were given rifles. Many learned the songs so as to be given rifles. Those who returned with rifles called my fasting cousin, aunt and grandmothers witches and said the wrath of God struck down villages with witches in them. What my uncles foresaw came to pass. Talamatun from across the river burned our lodges and carried off my cousins, aunts and grandmothers. The witchcraft had provoked the raid, I then believed, and I let my uncles bring me to Stadacona where I’d be safe from raids and witches. I still wanted to speak to a dead ancestor or dream of things to come or have an animal guide, but the Robes said dreams that weren’t in their Book were false, so I stopped fasting. I was afraid of God’s wrath. My fear made me listen 'carefully to everything the Robes tokfme: the earth where my ancestors lay was hell, the forest was the Devil’s lodging and animals were his creatures, festivals to regenerate the earth were orgies; enjoyment of earth’s fruit was evil, we originated in sin, our lives were a painful burden, our salvation was death, and after death we would be regenerated, but not all of us, only those who had believed the Word—that’s why we had to seek guidance only from the carriers of the Word, the Blackrobes. The year of the plague, when you and Mani came, I listened even more intently to the Robes, and I also listened to the children and to an old Turtlewoman. And then I fasted. I learned witchcraft by myself in a corner of the Blackrobes’ lodge. After several days of fasting, a bear came for me. Taking large strides, he carried me to the outskirts of a Talamatun village on the other side of the river. I heard shots. Men who had been repairing longhouses, women who had been harvesting corn, fell to the ground. I heard a Longbeard urging my uncles to shoot again. I saw what had provoked the wrath that had destroyed my village. The robed and bearded men had implicated us in their feuds. It was their dreams that were evil. From that day, whenever the Robes speak to me of Satan, sin or evil, I fast, for now I know that my dreams come from the same depths from which earth, life and joy emerged.
I listened to the woman in the pelt lodge, but I didn’t want to dream; I wanted to put seeds into earth and see corn plants grow, as my grandmothers had.
I joined the seed planters and clung to an old woman who secretly sang the longhouse people’s planting festival songs. The Robes called her a sorceress because she sang of a time they wanted us to forget, a time when there was no mission or trading post in Stadacona, a time when both banks of the Northern River were solid green with corngold openings. And she sang of the time when it all ended:
We lodged and fed the longbearded men who disembarked from the ships, and then we lodged and fed the plague that disembarked with them. We were crippled by the plague, yet we protected our guests from the fury of those among our kin who did not feel the obligations of hosts toward the plague-bringers. Soon we were feuding among ourselves. Peacemakers went from lodge to lodge to repair the breach. Our robed guests gave rifles to their protectors. The carnage that followed made the breach irreparable. People of a single tongue who had been spared by the plague attacked each other and separated. Those who refused to be hospitable to the robed strangers went into the forests south of the river. The rest of us went west to join people of our tongue on the island called Morningland by the people of the Lakes. The Northern River’s abandoned fields and villages filled with bearded and robed strangers. Two Robes followed us to Morningland, gathered children deprived of lodge and kin by plague, and taught them to sing of Sainte Marie and to speak of our eastern kin as fierce Serpents. Youth who grew hot and fearful at the thought of serpents were given rifles, and the feud sped over the distance that separated us from our kin. Each raid was followed by a counter-raid. Peaceful emissaries from both sides eloquently denounced the fratricide, but to no avail. The easterners named our youth Holy Marys and said that users of the alien killing-sticks were neither good hunters nor brave raiders, but were mindless destroyers of the tree of life. They warned that we, a mere branch, would fall if the tree fell. The eastern branches gathered at a great council and put an end to feuds among themselves. They sent emissaries to beg us to bury our crosses and join them under the shade of their long-leafed tree. We sent peacemakers, but even as our emissaries coun- ciled with the other branches reunited around the tree, our firespitting Holy Marys attacked the council and put an end to all talk of reconciliation. The Robes’ converts did not attack the easterners to adopt them under our tree, for we weren’t nursing a tree, nor to avenge dead kin, for that was sinful, but to vanquish paganism. The rest of us thought of the easterners’ warning and started to nurse a tree. We counciled with the Ehrye people of similar language who lived in the valleys of the Beautiful River. They had inherited a festival from grandfathers of different speech. We begged them to arrange this festival in Morningland. We invited all the people of the lakes and valleys to bury the bones of their dead in a common grave, and to embrace each other as children of common ancestors. Black- robes came and brought the plague with them. We and our Ehrye neighbors were devastated. Our tree was stillborn.
The old woman’s eyes filled with tears. I told her I was bom in the village where that festival was held, and asked why she had followed the plague-bringers to Stadacona. She said the Robes took the children to make them forget. She wanted the children to remember. She gave me a grain of corn and taught me to sing of the great turtle, of the woman who fell from the sky and of her twins.
I sang of earth mating with sun and sky to make seeds generate food, life and joy, and I translated into the Robes’ language so as to hear them rail against orgies, sodomy, evil and sin.
I had been in the mission for six winters and was ready to leave, if only my sister left with me. But my sister thought there was nothing but plague outside the mission, and the plague was Hell. When I took her to the pelt lodge, she smiled at the northern woman’s pronouncing her name Mani, but heard nothing else. After listening to the old seed planter, she ran to cross herself before a statue.
One day new Blackrobes visited the mission. A few days later I heard groans of pain from every direction. Then the pelt dresser called my sister and me. She shouted to us not to enter the lodge: Mani! On the shores of Kichigami you’ll lose your thirst for the Robes’ Paradise.
To me, she said: Ankwe! Keep singing your songs; life is unlivable without them.
My eyes were so full of tears I could barely see the swellings, the oozing blisters on so many bodies. Robes pulled us away as they had earlier, but I freed myself and Mani from their grasp and became the sorceress they thought me: Destroyers of seeds! I shouted at them, May all you reap poison and destroy you!
They who disfigured our bodies with their plagues and our spirits with their songs responded with: Heretic! Savage!
Mani and I ran out of the mission. She no longer feared the Hell outside. It was Hell inside.
We found the old seed planter gathering others who ran out. She gathered enough of us to fill a longhouse and took us past Stadacona’s square lodges to the harbor, where we saw bearded men carry bags from ships to shore. She had me ask a band of northern men, fur carriers, to take us to the Bay of Rolling White Sands in Morningland.
Mam trembled from fear of a pagan place but I was happy with anticipation. I was at last leaving Hell and traveling to the center of the world.
But my heart broke when we reached our destination. The disease hadn’t only visited the Stadacona mission, it had almost depopulated Morningland’s remaining villages. We joined people from large villages with many lodges in a small village with a few lodges.
The old woman wanted to go east and be adopted by the people nursing the long-leafed tree. Mani paled at the thought. She knew the easterners loved crosswearers as dearly as the Robes loved fierce Serpents, and she knew the easterners did not think it sinful to avenge dead kin.
I told the old woman that Mani and I wanted to start our new lives in Morningland, and I went to seek a dream by a stream near the edge of the village on a night when the moon was full.
I had been fasting since the day the fur dresser had given her life. I sat by the stream and waited. Soon a beaver came to me and told me he was going to drown the world. He raised a dam so high that the water swallowed the village and the forest. When I saw the beaver again he was carrying mud to a turtle’s back. He winked at me and the mud became a field where laughing children ran among stalks of yellow corn caressed by sun and wind.
I told the old woman my dream and she scolded me. She called me Yahatase, serpent who changes her skin: You were born a longhouse granddaughter. Then you spoke like a Holy Mary. You’ve just begun to sing like a seedkeeper. Yet now you dream like a northerner of different speech and reject your own people.
It occurred to me that a serpent sheds an ugly old skin and grows a beautiful new one, unlike the Robes who never change their skins. Anne was drowned by a beaver. Yahatase be it! I liked my new skin.
Some of our people who had gone east returned as emissaries of the eastern league and told us to bury our crosses, stop singing to life-hating spirits, and join the branches surrounding the living tree. A few rifle-armed youth, incensed by the presence of fierce Serpents in our midst, murdered the emissaries.
Soon after this deed, the fur carriers who had brought us to Morningland came to warn us that a large band of easterners was heading toward us and that these Serpents from the sunrise were armed with rifles given to them by Oceanshore strangers whom the Robes considered more evil than pagans. The old woman insisted on staying in the village, thinking the warriors were rushing toward us to adopt us.
I was convinced they had good reason to kill us all. I fled with Mani to the forest. In a few days we were lost, hungry and cold. I understood why Longbeards and Blackrobes feared the forest: they didn’t know how to enjoy earth’s gifts any better than my sister or I did.
We smelled roasting meat and thought we were in Paradise. We followed the smell to where the northern fur carriers were camped. We overflowed with gratitude, even when they told us they hadn’t lost sight of us since we had left our longhouse, and that we had confirmed what they’d heard about the powers of mission people in the forest.
When the carriers told us the war was over, we followed them through the forest past a neighboring village which was completely desolate. Mani cried. I rushed from abandoned roundlodges to abandoned longhouses, then to a spot where a square lodge had stood. The Robes’ lodge was burned to the ground. But there were no corpses.
Mani clung to me and trembled when we glimpsed our village. Nothing and no one remained. Every lodge was a mound of ashes; even our fields were burned.
Suddenly the old woman walked toward us from a bark lodge by forest’s edge. She told us our village had been attacked by children of people who had lived in Morningland: The easterners begged us to join them by their tree, but our Holy Marys responded to the invitation by pointing their rifles. Then the easterners pulled hidden rifles from cloaks and bundles, more rifles than there were in all Morningland. Everyone went east.
Our crosswearers and gun carriers went bound, tied to each other like dogs to a travois.
The old woman, who so longed for the songs and dances, the names and meanings of the longhouse festivals, had stayed and waited for our return, knowing that Mani would not have been adopted.
The fur carriers offered to take us to a distant island in a beautiful green bay where neither plagues nor raiding Serpents would reach us. Thinking of my dream, and of what the fur dresser had told Mani, I couldn’t wait to step from a canoe to the shore of that beautiful island. But the old woman didn’t want to be adopted by people of different speech and ways. She wanted Mani to bury her cross, learn the longhouse songs, and go to where the leaves and branches were connected to a living tree.
Mani wouldn’t part with her cross, and I was too far removed from our mother’s ways to let myself be guided by the longhouse grandmother. The old woman talked in signs to one of the carriers; she rejected my offer to translate. At last she told us we would go together to a green bay, to a lake called Mishigami.
During the journey, Mani and I were speechless. We hadn’t imagined there was so much beauty in the world. But when we reached our destination, I was disappointed and felt betrayed. I didn’t see the playful and vigorous people the fur dresser had led me to expect, nor the gorgeous field my dream’s beaver had promised. I saw the same thing I had seen since my fifth spring: a gathering of plague’s survivors. These had fled from a place they named with our tongue, Tiosa Rondion; perhaps that was the beaver village of my dream.
The person who adopted us was the carrier I liked least of the entire band, a somber, irritable man who coughed and shivered even though he kept his pockmarked skin covered with fur. He made me think of the man who had moved among the corpses of my first village removing cloaks and pendants. I was sure he never dreamed. He spoke mainly of the Longbeards of Stadacona, and he spoke of them with the same mixture of pride and reverent humility with which my sister spoke of La Sainte Marie.
This man and his two nephews lived in a square lodge on the fringe of the island village. They helped us raise a small longhouse. The man brought meat to the old woman. The younger nephew brought beads and quills to Mani. The older nephew kept his distance from us and said nothing; he seemed hostile to our presence in his village.
My disappointment gave way to hope in spring, when several men cleared a field, and women with corn, squash and bean seeds joined us in a planting ceremony. We were enchanted that women of northern speech were familiar with the songs and dances of Turtlefolk, as they called us. While I danced, I felt the seeds germinating in earth, the plants pushing through, and I knew the seeds germinating in me would also push through.
But my hopes didn’t last a season. The canoe caravan returned from the east with the trophies gotten for the scavenged furs. The carrier came to our lodge, deliberately avoided the old woman, and with an ugly smile frozen across his face, handed me beads, cloth, a pot, a knife and meat.
Something in my head burst. I dumped the gifts into the pot and threw the entire offering at the man’s face. I remembered the old woman talking to this man with signs. I could almost hear them: she wanted to complete her longhouse with a man who would bring meat and father children, even if he spoke differently. He wanted to swell his power bundle with a many- tongued companion who would help him speak directly to the Longbeards, even if she changed her skin like a serpent. Perhaps he wanted the Longbeards to name him le chef des gens du lac. I shouted to him: Take the old woman and father her children! And may your children scavenge your grave and filch your bones for trophies!
I fled to a spot on the shore and looked out on the bay. The old woman would have to make do without meat. I felt sorry for her. When I returned to our lodge, Mani embraced me; she was proud of my chastity! I wished she’d had the mind and heart to embrace the old woman instead.
I ran daily to my spot on shore. Soon I became aware that someone was spying on me. One day a canoe floated into my view. The older nephew stood in it with his back to me and speared fish. Some days later I found the canoe abandoned near my spot; the spear was in it. I paddled out, tried to spear fish, and at last succeeded. I sensed that my whole performance was watched. But I used the canoe whenever I found it, and danced back to our lodge with the fish I speared.
Then I found a bow and several arrows. I sent arrows toward leaves and branches until I lost them all. The next day the arrows were all retrieved and I shot them again, a little more accurately. One day I saw a deer. I aimed. The deer fell to the ground. I ran towards it and froze. I cried in the face of the beautiful life I had taken. I turned to walk away. At that moment the youth, the hostile older nephew, appeared from nowhere, walked past me and knelt by the deer. He removed the arrow and broke off the stem.
He gives me the arrowhead. His gift, his shyness, his way of providing our lodge with meat, make me cry harder. He carries the deer to my lodge, walking several steps behind me. I turn and ask Why?
Why was he so hostile when we first came? Why is he so generous now? The youth places the deer at the entrance to my lodge and leaves, answering no questions.
Now it’s I who follow him, one day to a forest opening, another to the edge of a stream, then to the island’s shore, at last to the spot where I first sensed him watching me.
He tells me gradually, not all at once, the things he’s never before told anyone.
His grandmother named him Wedasi, warrior, but he doesn’t know what feats she expected of him. His first memory is of returning to his village Tiosa Rondion, of his kin on shore shouting and waving their arms, and of his father paddling furiously away from his village. He tells me the canoe didn’t stop until it reached this island in the green bay where more people were gathered than he thought existed. He says he didn’t know how few they were.
As a boy of five springs, he didn’t know why his people had left Tiosa Rondion, he didn’t understand the talk of a plague that had visited his Peninsula.
He said he often followed his mother to the forest when she gathered herbs. She sang of Tellegwi kin and of great Serpents that descended from the north. She mixed herbs in certain combinations but Wedasi was too distracted by the sounds of birds and the motions of animals to concentrate on the characteristics of the herbs or the meaning of the songs.
The third winter in Greenbay, Wedasi’s father gave him a bow and took him along when he went into the forest. The youth’s father often sang of his mother, Wedasi’s grandmother, the keeper of the Talamatun fire in Tiosa Rondion. When Wedasi asked if she was still there, tears filled his father’s eyes.
Wedasi was ten when his brother Nangisi was born. He tells me: Grandmother let me help arrange the naming ceremony. We had visitors from every quarter. Her older son, my mother’s brother, had come from the east with canoes full of gifts; and Neshnabek as well as Tellegwi from the Greenbay shores had come to smoke at our fires and see the gifts. Grandmother called my uncle a scavenger and a pit-marked spirit; she said he gave skins of uneaten and unburied animals to men who gave him objects he didn’t need. She told me the Greenbay Tellegwi who counciled at her fire were people whose memories had been washed away by the plague, and that’s why they hovered around Uncle’s gifts. She showed me the scrolls from which she never parted, but I was distracted by the objects I recognized: the shells, birds, trees, and they were all I saw. When she sang of four ages, a land of ice, a feud between Neshnabek, Tellegwi and Talamatun, I heard only words. I told Grandmother none of it meant anything to me, and asked if my memory was washed away or my spirit pit-marked. She said I’d remember everything after the ceremony, when I fasted in my dream lodge.
But before the ceremony ended, Wedasi’s uncle spoke of a bone festival to be celebrated by my mother’s and grandmother’s people in my own village in the Bay of Rolling Sands in Morningland. Wedasi’s grandmother no longer spoke of his dream lodge. She sang of the three fires and of the fourth age and of an otter who would come from the sea and bring the dead back to life by throwing shells on their bones.
In Morningland, Wedasi was filled with wonder by the number of people gathered, by the extent of our corn fields, by the bison heads worn and the skeletons carried by the Ehrye people of the Beautiful River’s valleys. He tells me his father seemed angered by the Talamatun who wore crosses and muttered, by the blackrobed figures who hovered on the fringes like silent crows, and by the bearded men with covered bodies to whom his uncle gave their pelts.
Soon after they arrived, his father rushed him and his brother from the festival ground and set up a tent deep in the forest. Wedasi wanted to be with his grandmother who had stayed at the festival; he wanted to see the three fires and the otter who brought skeletons to life.
When his father left the tent at night, thinking the youths were asleep, Wedasi followed him to a councilground where one fire burned. He says he lost sight of him in the multitude gathered around the fire. A bison-headed Ehrye stood in the center and told that a spirit had visited his dream and warned that the Blackrobes traveling two by two through the land were carrying the plague to all the villages. Then he heard his father say the strangers’ very gifts weakened those who touched them, killed the healthy, and turned the sickly into submissive, chanting scavengers.
At that point, people began to move about, grumbling angrily. Afraid he’d be discovered, Wedasi ran back to the tent. But his father didn’t return. His mother said nothing; her eyes begged Wedasi to stay by her side. But he knew something was about to happen; he returned to the councilground. Several Beautiful River people were vomiting. They told him to stay away from the cursed place.
He went into the village. In every lodge he found people writhing from pain. He found his father, who was angry when he saw Wedasi and told him not to enter but to run, like the people on Tiosa Rondion’s shore who had waved at their returning canoe seven years earlier.
When he ran back to the tent, he was terrified. He thought Blackrobes, Longbeards and crosswearers were running after him. He found his mother arguing with her brother. His uncle was urging her to leave Morningland, saying Wedasi’s father and grandmother would come later. But his mother already knew something terrible had happened.
Carrying Nangisi, she had Wedasi guide her to the festival ground. Before reaching the lodge where his father lay, the youth’s grandmother walked toward them. She seemed old and withered; she vomited sandy blood. She said Wedasi’s father was dead. She gave his mother the scrolls from which she’d never parted and told them to flee.
Wedasi’s uncle, his bundle filled with new gifts, paddled his sister and her children to their Greenbay island, perhaps at the very moment when two Blackrobes took Mani and me from a corpse-filled longhouse to the mission in Stadacona. Wedasi tells me that during the journey his mother was as silent as a stone. His uncle kept repeating that the youth’s father and grandmother would come later until Wedasi told him he knew they had died of the plague brought by the Blackrobes. His uncle grew angry. He said beavers, raccoons and deer had brought the plague. He said the Longbeards laughed at us for loving animals and wanting to speak to them in dreams. He said the Longbeards spoke to animals with firesticks, and loved only dead animals.
Soon after Wedasi’s people and other survivors had returned to Greenbay, his mother told him to take Nangisi and go elsewhere. She tried to scatter the people his grandmother had gathered on this island during her last years. His mother looked as withered as his grandmother had looked in the Bay of Rolling Sands. She gave him everything that was hers: her herb bundle, the pendant his father had given her, his grandmother’s scrolls, all without ceremony. She said nothing; her eyes begged him to leave her alone.
The plague was on this island. Some people ran from sweat lodges to the bay’s water to heal but they never came up. Wedasi went to the forest and untied his grandmother’s scrolls, hoping they would help him understand. But all he saw was the same shells and birds and figures he had seen before, and he couldn’t remember the songs. He tells me he had been distracted and too young to concentrate. He hadn’t known he’d inherit the scrolls. He rolled his grandmother’s scrolls with his tears inside, and tied them.
When he got back to their lodge, his uncle was carrying his mother’s wasted body to a burial spot in the forest. He placed the herb bundle and his grandmother’s scrolls alongside his mother, keeping a bark fragment that broke off; then he helped his uncle cover her body with earth. He says his insides were dead.
Wedasi’s uncle was shunned by the surviving villagers, many of whom feared his gifts. He built a square lodge for himself and his nephews on the outer fringe of the village of roundlodges.
Wedasi’s grandmother had tried to make a whole out of fragments. His uncle took fragments out of the whole. The plague left many youth without kin, without names, without dreams, without guides, and some of these youth accompanied the carrier and admiringly called him Wiske the gift-giver.
The youth’s uncle taught him to use his firestick and to hunt animals not for eating but for the caravans that took dressed skins to Boweting, where Longbeards had set up a post. The carrier said his nephew was well named because his aim was good, and he gave Wedasi a firestick. For a time, Wedasi was proud of his powers, like the other carriers. He no longer felt empty. He had a quality: good aim. He felt stronger than the animals who cringed from him; his firestick had greater powers than the dances and herbs and other medicines.
One day he tracked a moose deep into the forest; he became distracted and kept following the large animal long after he sighted it, watching where it stopped and what it did. He got so close he could touch it. The moose turned to look at him, and then went back to eating flowers. Wedasi raised his firestick and waited. The moose turned again and looked into the young hunter’s eyes, trusting, unafraid, and then proudly walked away. It was Wedasi who cringed. He didn’t feel strong or brave, but weak and cowardly and stupid; his powers were not lodged in himself but in a contrivance he had not made.
Wedasi buried his firestick behind his uncle’s lodge; he hunted with his bow, but only when he was hungry, and he took care to express his gratitude to the proud and generous animals he hunted.
One day he returned to the spot where the moose had looked at him and he built a fasting lodge. He didn’t know what to expect. Those who could have prepared him were dead. He hoped the trusting moose would come and help him. Instead, a bear came, looked at him and went on. A wolf walked near his lodge indifferently, not once looking up, though he must have smelled him.
After a few days he felt sick and weak, but still nothing came, neither a spirit nor a moose. He started thinking of the bone festival where his father and grandmother had died. He couldn’t get it out of his mind. He thought of the Ehrye warrior saying that Blackrobes carried the plague to the villages, and of his father saying that even the gifts of the strangers weakened and killed the Rootkin.
Wedasi wondered why his father had said that since Wedasi’s uncle had carried those gifts to every corner of the Peninsula. And suddenly he understood. He understood his mother’s silence and his father’s anger. He remembered their last day in Tiosa Rondion. They had left to go with Wedasi’s grandmother to the fish feast in Boweting the same day his uncle and the caravan had left to take their fur bundles to the east.
When they returned to Tiosa Rondion, his father’s mother and others were spitting sandy blood and dying. Wedasi’s uncle must have known that they had all fled to Greenbay, but he didn’t show his face here for seven years. When at last he came, it was to invite them to resume their kinship with Talamatun cousins. The carrier’s invitation made the youth’s father dream of sitting at a fire with his mother’s ancestors; it made his grandmother dream of resuming life as it had been before the plague, and it made Wedasi dream of an otter who would revive people with shells.
Wedasi thinks it must have become clear to his father as soon as they arrived at the Bay of Rolling Sands that his uncle’s sole aim had been to lure the Greenbay furs eastward and to lure the Longbeards’ gifts westward. Even more must have become clear to his father. Some survivors must have remembered that a plague had ravaged Morningland seven years earlier when Wedasi’s uncle had gone east to fill his canoes and then returned to Tiosa Rondion before them; he had carried his gift to every corner of the Peninsula.
In his dream lodge, Wedasi saw that his uncle was as heedless of consequences as the makers of firesticks. He wondered what dismal beings in dark caves devised killing-sticks they didn’t themselves wield; and said no herb collector gathers poisons to murder distant strangers who never wronged him, whom he doesn’t confront, whose death he doesn’t see, for a revenge he doesn’t seek.
Wedasi thanks the earth and trees and animals for helping him see clearly. He saw something his grandmother had called Digowin, something that scavenges, something that swallows life without intending to, something that’s stupid but proud of strength and intelligence which are not and never become its own. He saw that the men called Longbeards wielded his uncle the way the carrier wields a firestick, and that the colorful cloth and the pots and hatchets are what his father thought they were, objects that weaken and kill.
Mani and I and the old woman arrived in a canoe laden with pots, hatchets, knives and cloth; a cross hung from Manfs neck, and she muttered like people Wedasi had seen at the Bay of Rolling Sands. Wedasi didn’t welcome us; he thought we were his uncle’s, or even the plague’s, accomplices.
But when he saw me throw his uncle’s gifts in his face, Wedasi saw that he had made a bad mistake: With that single act, you did more than I’ve known how to do since I’ve lived in uncle Wiske’s lodge. I followed you to your clearing to repair my mistake.
I ask him why he chose such a strange way to give me fish and meat.
Looking at the arrowhead I carry around my neck, he tells me it was because he was sure I wouldn’t accept those gifts from the hand of that man’s nephew. But when he gave me the arrowhead, I looked at him with eyes as trusting and unafraid as the moose’s, and saw that he had made another mistake. He laughs shyly.
I want him to say more, but I know he won’t, for he’s told me all. I know that the trust in my eyes reminds him of the trust, not in the moose’s, but in his grandmother’s eyes. I know his grandmother expected something from him, and although he doesn’t know what it is, it’s what he wants to give me, as if I too expected it from him. How can I make him stop seeing his grandmother’s expectant eyes behind my loving eyes?
I know how. By bringing about what his grandmother expected from him. Then I’ll be able to give him what he’d like to give me. What his grandmother wanted is as clear to me as if she’d told me herself. I may not know all the right words or melodies, but neither does Wedasi nor anyone alive.
Until now I’ve avoided the people who have visited our island in the green bay. Now I have reason to mingle with the newly arrived longhouse people who have been to the Sunset Mountains. I beg them to stay with us, for my sake, for the sake of Wedasi’s grandmother, and for the sake of the old woman who was forced to this island by Manfs and my unwillingness to join the people of the long-leafed tree.
Our guests say they are glad to rest after having wandered to every corner of the world. They tell us they were still numerous enough to fill a large village after the plague reduced them on the Northern River. They fled to Morningland and sought protection in the Blackrobes’ crosses and chants. Disenchanted by the Robes’ powers after being further reduced by a second plague, the survivors returned eastward and sought adoption among the people of the long-leafed tree.
But they would not abandon brothers and cousins who refused to bury their crosses, just as I had refused to abandon Mani, and so had to flee from those whose refuge they had sought. Shunned by one side for stubbornness and by the other for inconstancy, they then retraced the original migration of the longhouse people, following the Beautiful River to where it flows into the Long River of the sunset.
They continued westward over prairies and plains until their path was blocked by mountains with craters and volcanos. Returning eastward to dry plains, they found no familiar berries, roots or fruit, and hunger killed many more. They gave earth seeds, but their half-grown corn was destroyed by stampeding bison and their camp was attacked by bison hunters who rode animals similar to the Longbeards’ horses. The survivors thought their last reduction was an omen and they returned toward the sunrise, for their rememberers said horselike animals did not exist in the western plains.
While Mani chants with the crosswearers among the guests, the old woman and I and Wedasi listen to what the wanderers tell us of the eastern longhouse people leagued around the long-leafed tree. Wedasi asks if it’s true that the easterners use Wiske’s weapons to reconstitute their tree. Our guests tell us the easterners do use firesticks, but only against Holy Marys, and not always against them, for the concern of their longhouse grandmothers is to regenerate the world, not to depopulate it. Themselves reduced by plague and harassed by Northern River Longbeards and Oceanshore Invaders, the easterners have filled their longhouses and villages by adopting people of eleven different tongues, among whom are captured children of three tongues spoken by the Invaders from the sea, and all of the adopted bear ancestral names, wear masks in the festivals, sing the songs and understand the meanings.
Our guests’ words bring tears to the old woman’s eyes, for she contrasts what she hears with the incompleteness of our lives. But their words fill me with hope and clarify my task.
Although the wanderers are barely numerous enough to fill a single longhouse, on my insistence we raise two new longhouses, leaving space for visitors of different tongues, and we help our new kin clear a field, Wedasi alongside me, his brother Nangisi alongside Mani.
Soon more guests arrive, people from Wedasi’s Peninsula who had fled southward to the valley of the Beautiful River, where they were attacked and reduced by the plague that devastated the Ehryes. The newcomers stay. The old woman is taken up with adoption ceremonies, instructing me in the arrangements, teaching Peninsula people and northerners the rhythms and melodies of longhouse dances, listening attentively when old northerners sing of their origins. She seems younger.
I too feel light inside as I hop from a naming ceremony to a planting festival. People of five languages, some with crosses, form a circle around a councilground surrounded by long and round lodges. At the center Wedasi has drawn a triangle and lit a fire at each of its points.
In the field of our three plant sisters, the tall yellow com - embraced by intertwining bean vines and adored by heavy squashes shakes its hair in the wind and generously offers its fruit to us. The rhythm of feasts and festivals is undoing the ravages we’ve undergone. The wounds are healing without the aid of firesticks or bands of warriors or a league covenant or even a council of grandmothers.
Peninsula people are dancing around a newborn child and singing of the time when their ancestors first came to the shores of the Great Lakes. It’s the third summer since we helped raise the new lodges, and the child newly named Chacapwe is surrounded by trees with strong branches; the island looks more and more like the land a beaver once promised me in a dream.
My eyes seek Wedasi’s. I know this village is a beginning toward what his grandmother wanted, and I wish he’d attach himself to it and let himself be supported by it; I wish he’d rise with me out of his anguish as the corn rises out of the ground, as our new lodges rose up. But the eyes that greet mine are not filled with joyful celebration of the plants that grew from the seeds we planted.
Wedasi’s eyes are sad, almost morose; they’re searching for something, anxiously, as if his life depended on it. I wonder if he’s contrasting my fulfillment of my dream with his own, as if we’d been racing. I wonder if he’s reproaching himself for having failed to grasp the message of his grandmother’s scrolls, for having failed to grasp what his grandmother had wanted him to reconstitute.
I take to spying on him to see if I can leave a helpful canoe somewhere on his path, as he did for me. I soon learn that he devotes all his energy to a very small field: his uncle’s lodge; and that, if he makes contrasts, he surely contrasts the rest of the village with the square lodge that stands on its fringe, the lodge from which his uncle leads a rifle-armed band to murder our furry forest neighbors.
Perhaps Wedasi feels that whatever he retained from his grandmother is needed most in this lodge. He takes his fourteen-spring brother Nangisi to the forest with a bow and arrows; he tells Nangisi that the original people killed their animal kin only to satisfy hunger, not to fill their uncle’s eastbound canoes. He shows his brother that neither bears nor wolves conspire to exterminate weaker animals; he urges Nangisi to fast and builds him a dream lodge deep in the forest. Nangisi wants to be liked by his older brother. He uses every occasion to express his love and gratitude to Wedasi, except when their uncle’s canoes return from the sunrise. Then he’s the first person on the landingplace.
I realize I can’t help Wedasi wean his brother away from his uncle. I wish he’d leave Nangisi in his uncle’s lodge and come to my longhouse. I prepare to tell him that he’s distracted again, that he’s wasting himself to no purpose, that a beautiful flower grows on a healthy bush or out of fertile soil and not in isolation or out of sand, that his uncle’s lodge is as isolated from the other lodges as the band of carriers is from the life of the village, that his grandmother had devoted herself to people who could grow to a fourth age and not to those stunted in a second or third age, that a poisonous plant can serve as soil for healthy plants but can’t itself be made healthy.
My love for Wedasi feeds my resentment of Nangisi and blinds me to a spell that originates in the core of my own lodge, a spell that binds and twists Wedasi’s brother Nangisi out of shape.
My first glimmer comes on the day Nangisi returns from his dream lodge. Mani and I are in the field. Knowing he’s tried before, Mani asks him if he saw anything this time.
Nangisi, assuming I’m in on the secret, answers her: Exactly what you said. When I got tired and hungry, I saw lots of animals. They all spoke to me. That should make Wedasi happy.
Roused by this exchange, I seek my sister’s eyes and ask: Did you tell him that is what he’d see, Mani?
The world’s most innocent eyes, a child’s eyes, look back at me. She thinks I suspect her chastity! Silly sister! The whole village laughs at the chastity that loves all equally but can’t see the one who wants the love. My anger melts.
I run from Mani to the clearing to which I ran from the uncle’s gifts. Wedasi is there before me. He already knows how Nangisi dreamed, what guidance he found.
I sit next to Wedasi but say nothing; all I’d prepared to tell him is as dead as last year’s leaves. Did Wedasi know what I’m just starting to understand? Would I have believed him if he’d told me?
I know why I’ve been so blind. Innocent, lovable Mani is so good, so generous to everyone, especially to the crosswearers, always sharing their woes and teaching their children to share them. I’ve never listened, but I know what woes she shares and teaches.
I too was taught to wail heartrendingly of our depopulation by the fierce Serpents, the Wolfpacks who banded together against helpless rabbits. I too was taught to think little and speak less of plagues, yet to thank Dieu for sending a boon to his children and a bane to the serpentine pagans who tried to reconstitute their villages without his Word. I too was taught that the Lord who subjected this world and its creatures to his will was not of this world, that I was his sister and not the sister of deer or beaver or trees or lakes or earth or sun for my spirit was like unto his, that my respect for earth was submission to the Devil and my gratitude to animals was idolatry, that it was my task to subject myself and earth and all her creatures to his will.
No wonder the crosswearers to whom Mani is so good are the carrier’s most reliable hunters. No wonder the children with whom she chants are on the landingplace beside Nangisi when the canoes return with their trophies. No wonder Nangisi can agree with Wedasi that beaver are not hostile to people, that strong animals don’t spend their lives killing weak ones, that their uncle’s reasons for slaughtering beaver are senseless.
Mani helps Nangisi agree with everything Wedasi tells him, and to stand Wedasi on his head even while agreeing, by giving Nangisi far better reasons than his uncle’s for the slaughter. Mani is helping Nangisi become everything Wedasi opposes. She’s helping Nangisi see himself as a proud firestick, as a local incarnation of the outside power that subjugates the world’s creatures to its will, as a bane to the Devil’s kin and a boon to the kin of the Lord, as a foe to fierce Serpents and an ally to the plague.
Wedasi wants his brother to know of their grandmother; he wants Nangisi to know of three fires around which four peoples gathered and began to live their fourth age.
Nangisi smiles like one whose memory has been washed away by plague. He nods like one whose spirit is pitmarked; after smiling and nodding, he joins hunters who war against the forest’s furry inhabitants.
Yet Wedasi persists. He blames himself for failing to give his brother what their grandmother had given Wedasi. I understand why Wedasi persists. Nangisi is not like their uncle. He’s not outwardly pitmarked; he’s neither somber nor irritable. Nangisi is healthy, open and ingratiating; he chooses his every move with others in view, like those Mani calls saints.
Nangisi takes part in the village festivals, he knows the words of the songs and the steps of the dances. He hunts with a bow and shows respect for the bones of animals. And he does it all the same way that he dreamed, seeing nothing and feeling nothing, but concerned that his gesture make Wedasi or Manr or someone else happy.
When Nangisi leaves with his uncle’s caravan to take furs to the Longbeards in Boweting, it’s not because he has at last rejected the grandmother’s way and chosen the uncle’s, but because he wants to enhance his grandmother’s way with the gifts he brings.
Wedasi, alone in his canoe, takes frequent journeys away from the island. The few times I see him, I remind him there’s a place in the longhouse intended for him. Part of him wants to come, I know; but another part is ashamed, as if he were to blame for his brother’s choices.
Wedasi waits. At last, what he’s waiting for seems to arrive. Nangisi and other carriers return in empty canoes. Nangisi’s uncle is dead. The carrier band breaks up. Wedasi hopes his brother will immerse himself in the life of the village and grow to his fourth age. But after questioning other carriers, Wedasi and I anticipate Nangisi’s immersion with trepidation.
The uncle fell ill at a place called Shequamegon in a bay of Kichigami, the great northern lake. On his deathbed, this depopulator of forests urged his band to kill without restraint and gather a veritable mound of furs. He sent word to the Longbeards of Boweting that he would part with his fur load if they warded off his death, as if life were a gift conferred by a trading post for a large enough load of furs. He thought death killed only his singing, dreaming, bow-armed kin; he thought rifle-wielders who burned animal bones and carried furs to Longbeards would live forever. He clutched his rifle to the very end. Believing himself invulnerable, he chose no heir.
As soon as his uncle was dead, Nangisi showed his respect by arranging an unusual ceremony. He urged the carriers to go to their villages and return with the bones of dead kin. He sent word to the Boweting Longbeards to continue their westward journey.
In Shequamegon, Nangisi had the carriers enact a festival of bones like those Wedasi had described to him, binding the carriers in kinship with each other, with the uncle, and with the nephew. Nangisi bound the visiting Longbeards to himself and to the band by giving them the entire mound of furs gathered to make the uncle deathless.
Wedasi and I know that Nangisi has not returned to immerse himself in village festivals and naming ceremonies; we know that Nangisi is only waiting for the snow to melt.
When the snow does melt, Nangisi and the other carriers head toward Shequamegon to rejoin the band.
The carriers return during harvest moon with a fully reconstituted caravan. Nangisi is in the central canoe, waving his uncle’s rifle. A girl wearing Stadacona cloth is beside him. Two Longbeards disembark from the last canoe. The village children and youth can’t decide which to idolize: the girl in cloth, the Longbeards, or cousin Nangisi. At last they circle like flies around Nangisi, for he’s everything Mani told them about an earthly being who incarnates otherworldly powers.
The girl Nangisi calls Binesikwe, birdwoman, is as proficient as Mani or I in the Longbeards’ tongue. Nangisi no doubt expects her to do for him what I refused to do for his uncle. A cross dangles from her neck in memory of the Blackrobes who helped her forget the kin their plague carried off.
The cross should delight my sister. But I see that Mani is in tears and flees from my glance. Mani is jealous; she wanted to be Nangisi’s companion. She hid her love, even from herself, for too long.
Nangisi invites all the villagers to a ceremony, something his isolated uncle never did. He even sends runners to invite the kin of all the beaverkillers along the green bay’s shores.
I run to my clearing before the ceremony begins. If Mani has reasons for not looking at the gifts brought by Nangisi, I have reasons for not looking at what Nangisi is doing to our village.
Wedasi comes to tell me what’s happening, which I don’t want to hear; he doesn’t tell me what he will do about it, which is all I want to hear. He tells me the ceremony is taking place, not on the councilground in the center of the village, but by the square lodge on the fringe. Longbeards and carriers are the center, villagers the fringe. Nangisi showed the depth of his gratitude and understanding by throwing tobacco to the earth spirit who provides beaver, and by blowing smoke to the water spirit who threatens Neshnabek fur carriers with drowning.
Then Nangisi parodied the calumet ceremony by passing a pipe to the older Longbeard. Villagers chuckled, knowing that Nangisi could commit and impersonate no one but himself. Nangisi wanted the Longbeards to think that by smoking with him, they were forming a bond with the entire village. This was Nangisi’s self-naming ceremony; he named himself, in the Longbeards’ eyes, le chef of our village.
Wedasi tells me the carriers arranged themselves around three fires. Nangisi led the Longbeards to the center of the triangle. Binesikwe translated Nangisi’s explanation of the proceedings.
Nangisi spoke of the Firekeepers, the Peninsula people who welcomed their kin from the four quarters, and he pointed to his uncle’s original carriers, the kinless, dreamless men who had taken the plague to the Peninsula. He spoke of Neshnabek and pointed to the ax and bead seekers he had gathered at Shequamegon. He spoke of Tellegwi and pointed to the bayshore people whose memories were washed away by plague. He spoke of Talamatun and pointed to the crosswearing youths whom Mani had taught to chant.
Wedasi bites his lip with frustration; he now knows that Nangisi heard and absorbed everything Wedasi told him, for he now sees Nangisi putting it all to use and probably thinking Wedasi is happily proud of him. Nangisi heard of four peoples and three fires with the same ears with which he heard of dreams and bone rituals. Severed from oneness with earth, animals and kin by my sister’s wisdom, he learned from his uncle that animals give themselves to his rifles when he performs a bone ritual and also when he doesn’t.
Nangisi learned on his own that villagers accept him and make much of him when he does perform a bone ritual, and when he lights three fires and sings of four peoples.
Nangisi didn’t tell the Longbeards which of the four peoples he spoke for. He had the Longbeards see him at the center; he had them see the world lit up by the fires, not the dark world of amused, surprised or angry villagers watching from the fringes. The Longbeards must have been confident that Nangisi was showing them our world, for they saw it with their own eyes.
In the Stadacona mission I had wondered how the Black- robes had acquired their self-confident understanding of le gouvernement parmi les sauvages, with its chefs and councils of men. Now I know. If the Robes were here now, they would be counciling with le grand chef des peuples du lac.
Wedasi bites his lip, but I take his hand and rush back to the village with him, determined to act.
When we reach the place of the three fires, children already encircle the iron knives, axes kettles, cloth, beads and metal arrowheads the Longbeards carried from their canoe. I know that the Longbeards didn’t come from Boweting to make children happy any more than to see Nangisi’s parody of the ceremony of three fires. These are people who distribute gifts so as to create obligations. They view our youths the way travelers would view a pack of dogs: to determine if they’re strong enough to pull a travois.
Wedasi’s grandmother made a whole out of fragments; her son pulled fragments out of the whole and put them into his power bundle; I won’t let her grandson Nangisi repeat her son’s feat. I rush with Wedasi into the longhouse. The old woman is consoling Mani by scolding her. I tell the old woman we seek her advice about the two Longbeards in our village.
Mani says she’ll go help Chacapwe’s mother birth her second child; my sister looks at me with fear as she leaves, probably guessing what advice I’ve come to seek. It’s the first time I’ve sought the old woman’s advice. I ask her to remember the day when the longhouse people of the Northern River began feuding over whether to lodge or dislodge the strangers.
She sends Wedasi to gather all the rememberers he can find on both shores of the bay. She sends me to all the longhouses and roundlodges on our island.
Late that night, while Nangisi and the Longbeards are still distributing gifts by the square lodge on the fringe, the old woman speaks to the fourscore tense people gathered in our longhouse. She says that for three generations the seasons have been good to carrion birds, and it’s not due to the birds. She reminds her listeners why we’re all here, in a green bay on the sunset shore of Mishigami: Strangers came through our land two by two, in the guise of gift-givers. Wherever the strangers went, the inhabitants died. She asks: Where are the elk and beaver who were once as numerous as sands on a beach? Where are the people of the Northern River, of the Beautiful River, of the Morningland, of the Peninsula?
The gathered people become agitated. An old hunter tells that the elk were able to defend themselves from predatory wolverines by running to water, but that nothing protects the elk from the power of the Longbeards. A longhouse woman says such power is a poisoned mushroom that grows on dung. Another adds that the gift-givers should more properly be named life-takers or worldeaters.
The old woman then says that there were some among our kin who did not feel the obligations of hosts toward the plague- bringers.
Everyone is silent. The same thought must be on everyone’s mind, just as it must have been on everyone’s mind at the council in the Bay of Rolling Sands to which Wedasi followed his father.
The following night, Nangisi and the Longbeards wait by the fires while the carriers and their kin bring all their furs, even their worn cloaks for which the Longbeards have a special liking. The darkness surrounding the three fires grows larger as the green bay’s other fires are extinguished. The dark circle closes in on the lit triangle, which diminishes as the prudent slip out of the light.
Drums and hundreds of murmurs generate a rumble that seems to come from under the earth, and the lit-up faces appear to be looking into the crater of a volcano. The Longbeards seek an explanation from the translator.
Nangisi, undaunted, tells them his brother has prepared a special ceremony for their benefit.
Now Wedasi leaps into the center and asks Binesikwe to translate his words: The rumble is the voice of all the plague’s victims. Turning to Nangisi he adds: The voice of our grandmothers, our mother and father, our kin of Tiosa Rondion, our cousins of the Peninsula.
Nangisi has Binesikwe tell the Longbeards that the ceremony is a celebration of a gift-giving hero who saved the original people by slaying a monster called Digowin.
Either Nangisi is fearless and uncannily clever, or else this is not the first time he’s been threatened by his brother, and he knows how Wedasi carries out threats.
It dawns on me that Wedasi, misnamed warrior, as fierce as a moose, learned from his grandmother how to expel a monster, whether it be a worldeater or a trickster.
Wedasi raises his arms and postpones the deed decided by last night’s council. He rushes to the square lodge and reemerges with his bundle, his bow and a captive hare. He walks through the outer circle, then past the lit figures, to the center.
Wedasi holds the hare and waits. He’s waiting for me! He’s holding the gift I’ve been waiting for, the gift he’s wanted to give me for ten years. I wish he hadn’t chosen this moment. My mind races, my heart thumps.
My head tells me not to sacrifice the wellbeing of the village, not to go to the man who forces this choice on me. My head tells me I’m a child of a longhouse, and last night the longhouse council decided, so there’s no going back. My head tells me the poisonous mushrooms should be buried deep in the ground, the mushrooms and dung should merge with earth and water and should nourish seeds, protect shoots, embrace roots of healthy plants, sustain a tree with strong branches and long leaves.
But my heart tells me the world is regenerated by love, by the union of earth with sky. My heart goes out to the man of Tiosa Rondion, the grandchild of peacemakers, the hunter who buried his firestick after looking into the eyes of a moose.
The drumming deafens me. Unable to hold back my tears, I leave the outer circle and walk past the carriers, past Nangisi and the Longbeards, toward Wedasi’s gift. I take the hare, kneel, and hold the animal on the ground. Wedasi’s knife beheads the creature; its last convulsions reverberate through the inner and outer circles.
Suddenly the tension vanishes. The drumming stops. The rumble ends. The circles disperse.
Wedasi waits for me to raise up the animal and walk beside him. He beckons the Longbeards to accompany him. He abandons his brother’s lodge and guides the strangers to the longhouse where their death was decided, but where no harm can reach them now.
The old woman cooks the monster and feeds it to the Longbeards. Wiske is expelled. Digowin is eaten.
I ask Wedasi if he’s satisfied. I ask him if this is the wedding feast he wanted. He tells me that the death of these two bearded men would not revive the dead, nor heal the lame, nor restore the fourth age.
Wedasi’s adoption of the bearded men does not add permanent leaves to our tree, for the Longbeards don’t stay the night. Mani guides them to Nangisi, and Nangisi hastily paddles them and all the furs away from the island in the green bay.
My ears fill with a drumming and a rumble whenever I think of the cruel men who give trophies to children who scavenge and to youths who slaughter our forest neighbors, who justify the slaughter by saying the animals are of the flesh but their hunters of the spirit, who push hunters to murder unconverted kin because such people are, like the animals, of the flesh.
Yet the northerners were satisfied that the Longbeards were expelled, and the old woman would even have adopted them into our longhouse.
I wonder if my hatred is excessive, if it comes from the Blackrobes’ mission, if it’s a child of their desire to purify the world of evil.
I accept Wedasi’s love and give him mine. But I don’t feel our love reflected in the world around us. This is no longer the village his grandmother hoped he’d reconstitute.
Nangisi hasn’t brought any more Longbeards since the hare was slain, but the Longbeards’ gifts have penetrated into every lodge. Now all the village children, and not only the crosswearers, look for the return of Nangisi’s gift-bearing canoes, and too many youths are willing to scavenge among corpses for worn fur cloaks.
My ears hear the drumming whenever I cross paths with Nangisi’s little birdwoman, Binesikwe. She was born in Boweting soon after Longbeards set up a fur post and Blackrobes a mission. Her kin died the year Mani and I left Stadacona, of the same disease that killed the fur dresser. She was only two, younger than Mani had been when the Blackrobes took her to their mission. She was given a cross to hang from her neck and taught to forget her past, her songs, and her people. She saw Blackrobes turn children and youth against their own kin. She saw Longbeards feed people a poisoned water that made them lash out at each other like sick dogs. But she expresses no hatred. She thinks killers and deceivers who wear crosses are saved. She sews their brightly-colored beads into bird patterns on her cloth skirt without a thought, or maybe thinking the gifts come from a cloth-bearing tree and a bead bush.
She grows big with Nangisi’s child, yet hops around as lightly as if she were one of the beaded birds on her skirt, with no thought of the ground on which she’ll lay her burden down.
I carry Wedasi’s child with all my thoughts on the ground. I know the ground is poisoned. It’s the same ground on which my first longhouse stood, the ground on which I saw a shadowy figure scavenging, removing scabs from dead bodies. I can’t hop. My child is too heavy. I hobble in search of ground on which a healthy plant can grow to full stature and bear all its fruit.
The pains grow more frequent. I carry the child to a mat in a longhouse on an island that rests on a great turtle’s back, but the turtle is ill. Disease is sapping the turtle’s strength and she can no longer support her load. She’s let the creatures on the eastern part of her shell slip into the sea; she’s dying. Her shell is blistered, it’s as full of holes as a rotting fallen tree trunk.
My child wants life, blindly confident that its beginning is the world’s beginning, that its emergence will revive the dying turtle.
My kind sister rubs me; she’s pained by my pain, relieved by my relief. She’s undergoing her third birth. On the night of the longhouse council she suffered through the long and painful birth of Chacapwe’s brother Nopshinga. A moon ago she rubbed Binesikwe until Nangisi’s daughter Kukamigokwe emerged from under the bird-decorated skirt. Thrice a mother and still virgin, Mani seems reconciled to her lonesome chastity and to Nangisi’s crosswearing bride, to whom she gladly gives refuge from my hostility.
Wedasi beams after my pains end, but neither my son nor I beam back. I see my child’s eyes asking: What mask has my father carved for me? The mask of a scavenger, or a beaver- killer, or a manhunter, or a beaded bird with a long beard? Do you expect me to regenerate the world better than my mother or father have?
At my son’s naming, there’s joy everywhere except in me. What am I turning into? The dancers avoid me. None dare name my son. They see the rage in my eyes. I, Yahatase, the happiest of the longhouse singers and seedkeepers, have changed my skin again. Ever since Wedasi saved the lives of the Longbeards, I’ve been the bitterest person on the island. I think only of Nangisi, who is in Boweting again with his load of scavenged furs. I’m afraid he’ll grow a beard on my son and turn him into a scavenger. I show my fear by shunning his birdwoman and by cursing her moon-old Kukamigokwe. I seem unable to remove my rattling skin even long enough to smile to a child.
Yet Binesikwe is the one who dares offer a name to my son. She whispers: Chebansi, duckling, the name as meek as the voice that offers it.
I snap: Nadowe, fierce serpent. I try to drown out the meek whisper. I accept what I’m affirming: blood feud, endless war, sacrifice if necessary to renew this poisoned ground.
But the old women hear Chebansi and resume the dance. I wonder if my son is better named than his warrior father, than I, than his aunt, the mother of God. I wonder if he’ll be Chebansi, a bird like his namer, but awkward, too heavy for his feet, flying only reluctantly, preferring to sit on water’s surface letting waves raise and lower him. But the duckling’s father already expects the child to soar like an eagle.
Wedasi helps clear fields, he repairs lodges, and he leaves on lonesome journeys to prepare a gift that will help his son see what the father couldn’t see in his grandmother’s gift.
He journeys upriver and down, he goes north and south along Mishigami’s coast seeking storytellers, scrollkeepers, medicine women, rememberers. He returns with neatly tied scrolls and with disintegrating bark fragments. He spreads the fragments before him, his eyes filled with hope and anticipation. He compares the fragments with others gathered on earlier journeys, and before long his eyes have the same tortured expression they had when he told of his inability to understand his grandmother’s scrolls. He arranges and rearranges the fragments, he gazes at the figures on them long and intently, but he sees no more than he already knows; he sees figures that describe a beginning followed by three ages and an interrupted fourth, when events took place which are no longer possible. But he doesn’t see the sequel, the strangers from the sea, the plagues, the scavengers. The only sequel he sees is that the scrolls describing the four ages are disintegrating into fragments.
Gathering up and storing the fragments, he then unties and examines the complete scrolls, but cursorily, without patience or interest, as if he’d rather not see them, as if he wanted to destroy them. These scrolls show what’s lacking on the fragments. They show the path of disease from the seashell coast to the sunset, but they’re not continuous with the earlier, disintegrating scrolls. They don’t show a fourth or any other age. There’s a breach. The two sets of scrolls seem to be made by beings as different from each other as beavers from people, and like beavers and people, they’re no longer able to speak to each other.
I try to share Wedasi’s interest and his anguish, but on the day when Nangisi returns from Boweting speaking of fierce Serpents infesting the northern Woodlands, the sound of drumming returns to my ears and I lose all patience with the scrolls.
While Wedasi has been trying to reconstitute birch fragments, our village of adopted kin has been disintegrating. While he’s been seeking the memory of life, our living and seemingly healthy tree with strong branches and growing leaves has been sending its roots ever deeper into sand.
Nangisi and his carriers are the center of the gathering by the square lodge that was once the village’s shunned fringe. They speak of eastern Wolfpacks who slipped past the Boweting cataract and now slink hungrily toward Shequamegon. All the village crosswearers and all the short-memoried, headed by Mani and Binesikwe, beg the rifle-armed carriers and beaver- killers to turn into manhunters and protect us from the Wolfpacks.
Wedasi’s brother Wiske beams with pride, eager to fill hollow reeds with his wind, eager to embroil Neshnabek in war against the monster Digowin.
Enraged that memories can be so short, enraged that our center is so easily dislodged, I shout that Wolfpacks and fierce Serpents are the names Blackrobes give my kin, Manf s kin, our eastern cousins, the longhouse people of the long-leafed tree. But my voice is drowned by the noise of the excited youths around Nangisi and by the wails of the crosswearers.
I run toward my clearing by the shore, blind to where I’m stepping. I stumble; my head crashes against a tree.
I find myself sitting in a shallow pond with an island in its center; a tiny longhouse stands on the island. A little figure waves to me from the longhouse entrance; I recognize the figure as my son of two springs, Chebansi. The pond empties, the longhouse turns into a beaverlodge and the figure at the entrance is a beaver I’ve seen before. He waves to me, but sadly, as if he were pleading, begging for something. Suddenly there’s movement all around me. Rifle-armed men run toward the lodge, poke their sticks in and shoot into it. The beaver leaps from his lodge into the dry pond. Shots ring out from every direction.
Wedasi kneels beside me on the ground of my clearing. He places leaves on my bleeding head. He carries me back to the village and calls for a council. He has me tell my dream. An old longhouse man, one of the people who returned from the Sunset Mountains, says he’ll go scouting to the north to determine if the Wolfpacks are indeed our kin. I insist on going with the old man, even though I’m carrying my second child and my head bleeds.
Wedasi, knowing he can’t dissuade me, decides to accompany me. When Mani learns of the scouting party, she too insists on going. She says she knows that the people she loves most are going to their death, and she doesn’t want them to die unredeemed.
The four of us leave Greenbay as quickly as the canoe will take us, paddle up the river that traverses the northern land, run across the carrying places, and turn eastward when we reach the Kichigami shore. A hunter tells us where to find not one, but two bands of walking easterners, one pursuing the other.
We bank our canoe, but just as we turn to begin our search, we find ourselves surrounded by rifle-armed youths who wear crosses. The youths lead us to the center of their camp, face to face with several grandfathers and two Blackrobes.
Mani’s necklace and her endless crossings and mumbling save us from harm. The Blackrobes and their converts are delighted to learn we’re from Greenbay. They’ve already met Nangisi whom they take, no doubt from his own claim, for a crosswearing refugee from a Morningland longhouse.
I look around the camp until I spot a one-armed warrior who wears no cross. I approach him and ask if he’s afraid to talk to a group of pagans. He tells me he recently threw his cross into the lake to be rid of its weight. I take Wedasi and the old man to the warrior and ask if the Blackrobes and their converts have long ears. He assures us they’re too occupied looking for Serpents to pay any more attention to us.
After hearing why we’ve come, the one-armed warrior tells us: We, as well as our pursuers, were once a large village of Robe-led plague survivors in central Morningland. We frequently raided the longhouse people of the sunrise because the Robes convinced us the eastern Serpents intended to destroy us. The Serpents captured one of our raiding parties; we formed new parties and went on raiding. This spring many of the captured raiders returned with gifts, told us they’d been adopted by the easterners, and urged us to kill the Robes who lied to us. They told us disease was ravaging the eastern villages, and they were determined to end our fratricidal raids. Most of our people accepted the easterners’ gifts, but a hundred of us slipped past our encirclers with the Robes and fled in search of crosswearing longhouse kin who, the Robes assured us, were very numerous in the land of the Sunset Lakes. More than five hundred of our kin set out after us, so that we grew dizzy from constantly looking ahead while looking behind. Our pursuers could easily have captured us, but disease reduced them at the very outset, allowing us to increase our distance from them. We fled past the cataract. Our kin were still after us, but our scouts saw that they had been reduced to two hundred and were still declining. The Robes spoke of the disease as a stroke of heaven and said it was reaping an abundant harvest for eternity. Many of us began to have doubts about eternity. But at this point the Robes made contact with your kinsman Nangisi, who promised to send a war party against our pursuers. We saw that our new allies were neither numerous nor longhouse kin. And then disease broke out among us. Some of us, deceived once or twice too often, are ready to send a peace party to our pursuers. What keeps us from doing this is the knowledge that the Robes would not hesitate to urge your kinsman Nangisi to attack our pursuers while we sit with them counciling for peace.
Wedasi and the old man, yellow as autumn leaves from the tale, assure the one-armed warrior we will not pause until we cut off Nangisi’s war party.
I grab Mani, and the four of us rush unobstructed to our canoe. There’s no time for Mani to nurse the ill or pray for the dying; there’s no time for the old man to build a sweat lodge in which we can purify ourselves; there’s no time to sleep.
As soon as we reach the canoe, I slip to its bottom from exhaustion.
I see my beaver standing at his lodge entrance vomiting black sand. Rifle-armed warriors rush past me, shoot, pull off the skin, and then eat the diseased flesh of the beaver who once showed me a field where laughing children ran among stalks of yellow corn caressed by sun and wind.
Wedasi helps me from the canoe to the longhouse. He cries when I tell him my dream, but he doesn’t have me tell the others. It’s too late. The old woman and Binesikwe tried to restrain Nangisi’s warriors. But the warriors painted themselves and they danced and they would not let Nangisi wait for the return of our scouting party.
My child grows heavy inside me and I’m exhausted all the time, but after my long sleep in the canoe, I’m unable to either sleep or wake. I hear a constant drumming.
One day the earth shakes, trees fall on each other and slide into the bay; a mound of stones flattens, a stream changes course and flows to the opposite shore of the island, and a burning star flies across the sky.
The day after the shaking earth, the warriors return from their victory over the monster. They and their Shequamegon allies killed two hundred fierce Serpents. They must have ambushed Serpents who were sitting at a peace council with crosswearing kin, but Nangisi’s warriors are as proud of their deed as dogs who defeated a rabbit, their tails high in the air.
I wander into their midst and aim Wedasi’s arrowhead at Nangisi as if it were a spear. I expect to see his mouth bloody and foul from devouring the flesh of my kin. I want to shout: Who is the Digowin we need protection from if not this boaster?
But my shout gags in my throat when I see one of the manhunters fall to the ground, his face contorted with pain, his skin covered with blisters. I reel and vomit at the sight and feel myself sinking to the ground. Thoughts writhe inside my head like copulating snakes.
Suddenly the whole world becomes silent. I fall through a hole and I keep falling and falling, but the abyss has no bottom, there’s no earth, the great turtle is dead, she was exhausted by too many corpses from too many plagues.
I keep falling during an interminable night of aching and vomiting longer than the night after the plague that emptied my first longhouse.
When at last I stop falling, I find myself in a miniature lodge next to a miniature child. Surely she’s Shutaha, the girl- child who lodged the woman who fell from the sky, Shutaha the plague’s child, Shutaha the new beginning. I sing to Shutaha of the destruction of the old that precedes the birth of the new. I remember one who said: Ankwe, keep singing your songs, life is unlivable without them.
I crawl off my mat to see the sky, but a carrion bird tries to stop me, a bird with a cross dangling from its neck, a bird whose claw raised a spoon to my mouth while I fell. I push my hand into the bird’s beak and crawl out of the tiny lodge. I wade through mud and I look. There’s no longhouse, no village, no island. The world ended. The beautiful field the beaver gave me perished with him.
This must be the other shore, the one that survived. It must be resting on another turtle, one who survived. And those staring faces—they must be the people who survived. They’re building lodges, small ones, there’s no need for longhouses.
I recognize two of the survivors, the brothers, the bad twin who hides from me and the good twin with the anguished eyes who runs toward me to raise me out of the mud. I sing to him of Shutaha the new beginning.
His tears sing to me of all those who died. They didn’t vomit sandy blood, as in my dream; no, their lives oozed out through blisters.
The man from Tiosa Rondion returns me to the side of my daughter in the miniature lodge.
The peaceful man’s arrowhead hangs from my neck again, as it did before. He didn’t put it back; she did, the carrion bird with dangling cross who spoons potions toward my mouth.
I knock the spoon out of the bird’s claw and sing to her of the people I once lodged on an island. I sing to her of longhouse people who had been to the Sunset Mountains and Peninsula people who had been in a Beautiful Valley, all of whom I had invited to my island. I sing of an old woman who longed to go to the sunrise, whom I pulled to the sunset so that she could die nursing my sister. I sing of my blistered Mani who went with me to the shore of Kichigami because she thought I would die, my kind, dead sister who couldn’t see well because a cross blocked her view. I hear the bird sob faintly, but the sound of drumming drowns the sob and I return to night.
The ground is hard when I leave the miniature lodge on my feet. I reject the bird’s claw and find support on the shoulder of a young woman who only yesterday was a child, the Peninsula people’s daughter Chacapwe, who guides her little brother Nop- shinga with one hand and my Shutaha with the other.
Who are the others, the staring ones whose eyes turn to the ground when mine seek them? They’re survivors from elsewhere. I learn that Wedasi invited them to stay. So he’s still gathering fragments, the man with the anguished eyes, Chacapwe’s only surviving Peninsula uncle. The lodge to which she guides me is small and round, but the place is beautiful and the lodge will withstand earth’s shaking. I must remember to sing of this lodge to uncle Wedasi.
I’m able to walk unsupported among the roundlodges of the small village on the bay’s shore. I can even reach the small field and give earth a seed.
Chacapwe comes to tell me her dream. The others have already heard and spoken, but she wants me, her aunt Yahatase, to hear her dream and sing to her. She dreamed of a beaverlodge. I sing to her of a place on the other side of the world where there are still beaverlodges, a place I dreamed of called Tiosa Rondion.
My son Chebansi comes to me. He wants to show me his game. He’s awkward, big for his age. Looking into his eyes, I sing to him of a moose, and I remove the arrowhead from my neck and place it on his. He has a trickster’s eyes. He guides me to the shade of a tall, broad tree and bids me sit by his wide-eyed sister Shutaha and her life-enamored cousin Miogwewe.
Chebansi runs off to hide behind a square lodge whose occupant is away. Girls gather twigs and place them in three mounds, around which they form a circle; I recognize the village. Boys emerge from behind the square lodge doing paddling motions with sticks, some carrying stones; I recognize the gift caravan. In the center of the caravan Chebansi impersonates his uncle with uncanny accuracy, waving the stick above his head and shouting victoriously.
The shout deafens me and the sound of drumming returns to my ears. I crawl toward him intending to shriek: May all you reap destroy you! But I see that he’s not the other, he’s not bearded, he’s the duckling, my son.
My vision blurs. A girl lights the fires. She glances toward me with hatred; she’s Wiske’s firstborn, Kukamigokwe. I feel something pulling me back. It’s Shutaha hanging on to my skirt. I crawl toward a boy carrying gifts, grab the stones from his hands and hurl them with all my strength at the square lodge.
Suddenly the sun burns itself out and it’s night, yet I still hear the crackling fires, I hear the boys dancing, Chebansi at their head. I hear Kukamigokwe carrying screaming Shutaha into the third fire. I feel a claw on my arm trying to raise me off the ground. I fight the bird with all my strength.
Two hands pull me by the hair. A voice shrieks: Crazy, ungrateful Serpent witch, you’re hurting my mother! If only the plague had devoured you!
The raspy, cutting, hate-filled voice of the bird’s firstborn Kukamigokwe pierces my head.
I vomit and my head clears. I sit up. The sun hasn’t burnt itself out. The mounds of sticks are not lit. My daughter is not on fire. She sobs near my feet and buries her face in my brightly colored bird-patterned skirt. Binesikwe’s younger daughter Miogwewe strokes Shutaha’s hair with one hand and her mother’s with the other
Binesikwe lies next to me, trembling and sobbing. No cross dangles from her neck. I raise her hand to my lips to tell her I know it’s not a claw, to tell her I heard her during my interminable night, to tell her I know she tried to propitiate my rage with the two most precious gifts she could bring me. I know she abandoned Nangisi’s square lodge and came to mine to replace my blistered sister, I know she gave me her joy-spreading second-born to replace my wandering son, I know she buried her cross when she saw it made me vomit, I know she’s not a carrion bird but a clawless, soft, helpless little woman who loves me with no good reason.
I try to shed the skin of the ungrateful serpent. I try not to hear the drumming. I see that flowers bud and bloom, new shoots spring from the ground, rivers flow. I try not to see beyond. I try to keep myself from singing the longhouse songs, the songs no women in the village remember. I give earth seeds of life-sustaining corn and see the stalks come up straight and strong without a planting festival.
I try to smile to the woman who gave up her lodge, husband, daughter and cross for me, but my mouth only stretches to the side and gives me the twisted grin of a false-face. Binesikwe smiles to me with tears in her eyes; maybe she knows I’m trying.
My son is away on a journey. I try not to think of the poison that weakens him. I try to forget the scavenger I saw moving among corpses picking off cloaks and pendants.
I look into my daughter’s wide eyes and see that she’ll grow straight and strong. I see her eyes penetrate through mine to my gnarled thoughts seeking whatever strengthens and completes; she loves the moon and the straight tree, the serpent and the phallus; Jshe loves whatever nourishes life!
In her cousin Miogwewe’s scheming eyes I see a power that will plot and intrigue to keep life’s circle from breaking. I try not to think how small that circle has become.
But the noises that make me reel and vomit don’t all come from inside my head. A piercing shout reaches our cornfield. It’s Kukamigokwe’s intrusive, mocking, cutting voice announcing the arrival of the gift caravan. The women and children run toward it. I walk toward the village slowly; Binesikwe stays behind with me.
When we arrive, the carriers are already unloading their gifts. The mock three fires are being prepared. Wedasi and Binesikwe urge me to rest in my lodge or return to the field, but I insist on seeing the carriers’ doings; I feel myself strong enough. I already know that Nangisi’s parody of his grandmother’s ceremony is the only center of this village on the world’s fringe, and I don’t expect to learn anything worse.
Nangisi stands at the center of the fires and boasts of the unprecedented size of the caravan and length of the journey. Thirty canoes bypassed Boweting and made their way to Hochelaga on the Northern River, the newest gatheringplace of Longbeards and Blackrobes and fur carriers who don’t know of Hochelaga as an ancient place of longhouses and fields.
Nangisi smirks as he lays out pots and axes, knives and cloth. I wonder if the same smirk was on the faces of the Blackrobes who brought the Word and its companion to my first village.
Now the youths, my Chebansi and Chacapwe’s brother Nopshinga foremost among them, begin to reenact the voyage so as to immortalize it in their and our memories.
The chanting boys emulate the swoosh of thirty paddles pushing on one side, then thirty on the other, their bodies rocking like trees bending and straightening in the wind. Their snakelike procession winds across the councilground as they sing of gliding past the cataract toward the Bay of Rolling Sands, over rivers and carryingplaces, to their distant destination.
The moment the boys pretend to disembark and walk up the embankment, Chebansi and others, with masks and coverings, arrange themselves into the squares and circles that constitute Hochelaga. Their poses, motions and coverings remind me of the Stadacona where Mani and I spent the years of our childhood.
The censitaires on road-building corvee are more ragged than I remember them, the cloth- and frill-clad habitants more ostentatious, the uniformed soldiers more aggressive, but the black-hooded figures are exactly as I remember them, hovering on the outer edge like birds of prey over carrion.
At the very center, Chebansi in a plumed hat with cords and ribbons dangling from his brilliant uniform and surrounded by his court of similarly clad boys, impersonates le chef of Hochelaga, the Seigneur, the mind and will of the Longbeards.
Now Nopshinga, impersonating Nangisi, leads the carriers toward le chef, and the rifle-armed uniformed men stiffen, ready to kill at le chef’s command. The censitaires drop the axes with which they were scarring the forest, the smirking habitants leave off caressing the furs brought by the carriers, and I imagine the habitants’ women greedily peering through the slightly opened doors of their post and clay lodges.
Le chef raises his arm and the whole crowd of Longbeards move in response, as if they were his limbs.
Chebansi winks to me. His gesture reminds me of a beaver I saw in a dream. He wants me to watch attentively. He wants me to know he’s not what I think him. I feel my face smile for the first time in many seasons. I realize he’s mocking what he’s impersonating.
Chebansi as le chef accepts Nopshinga’s belt and hastily puffs the offered pipe while the carriers deposit the furs at le chefs feet. Twisting his face into a mask of greed which makes all of us laugh, Chebansi tells Nopshinga and the carriers: Le roi cannot give you all the gifts you ask for, because le roi already has too many furs.
Pausing to adjust his smirk, Chebansi then says:(Is this all you brought? This is not enough. Le roi needs twice, thrice as many pelts. Tell your hunters they must cease hunting for food, they must hunt only for l’etat and for our sun, le roi. They must devote themselves entirely to his growth, they must not be distracted by animals, lazy kinsmen or dreams, they must leam to subdue all obstacles that turn them from this supreme goal.
Chebansi prepared all this for me! He has heard not only his uncle’s and my sister’s songs, but also Wedasi’s and mine! As the villagers rearrange themselves around the fires for Nangisi’s gift-giving ceremony, storm clouds move across the sky.
I run toward my son to tell him of my delight from his beautiful gift. But before I reach him, I hear several shrieks and see a circle that is not part of the ceremony. Running towards it, I see Binesikwe raising up a man covered by ugly lumps.
Binesikwe shouts to Wedasi to take me and the children to the forest; then she shouts to Nangisi, who rushes away with Kukamigokwe and Miogwewe. I help her support and half-carry the dying man to the lodge furthest from the councilground. When we return we find another, and we remove him. But then we see yet another.
The people gathered around the fires disperse in every direction, toward lodges, toward the field, toward the water. Only those unable to move remain in the circles.
Chebansi and Shutaha run toward me. Binesikwe and I scream to them to stop. We turn and run toward the lodge with the diseased men. When I look out, I see Wedasi pulling my children slowly away from this village he raised on the fringe of the world.
When they’re gone, I seek in the darkness of the lodge and see that the woman in the brightly colored bird-patterned skirt is no longer able to raise me up from mud. Her lips move. Putting my ear to them I hear she’s singing longhouse songs. She must have learned them from me during my long night of aching and vomiting. She left her lodge and buried her cross so as to sing alongside me. And she must have sung my songs to Chebansi, she whom I suspected of filling my son with Manfs and Nangisi’s wind.
I take her in my arms and sing with her. My speaking voice returns to me: I don’t fear you or hate you, Binesikwe, I trust you.
Surely she knows now. She looks just like my sister, all blister and ooze. I leave her for a while.
The storm has turned our village into a mud pond. Everyone is gone except the corpses. My feet slip on the muddy ground. There’s no one left to raise me up.
Earth is shedding tears. She’s crying from pain. She’s being violated and tortured. I have no seeds to give her, but one. I give myself. I slide into the mud, letting her who pushed me up swallow me: Thunderspear, split my skull, not the strong- branched tree! Muddy earth, swallow me, not life!
My hand shakes when I remove the beautiful but blistered mask that still oozes after I set it on the ground.
From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org
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