04 March 2009

Song of Praise on the Arrival of Birds in the Spring

Whilst a German was wandering round Lake Superior in the summer and early fall of 1855, he gave particular attention to picture writing by some preeminent men of the tribe residing at L'Anse Bay.

A simple spring song in particular was conveyed by "Bebamisse," — or in translation "L'Oiseau Voltigeur" — and was a "song of praise on the arrival of birds in the spring."

The writing, or song was undoubtedly sung with vivacious gusto — apparently at some appropriate time — from right to left, since the birds are arranged in order from earliest to latest in arrival during the spring season.

Here is further interpretation given by Johann G. Kohl in reminiscences from his wanderings. There was nothing provided on how to convey these basics into a lyrical expression.

The bird at No. 1, was an "oiseau de passage," or pluvier, with its arrival the first of a warming spring.

Although this bird of passage was considered to be a plover — based on other known terminology of the historic era — this is not the case as indicated by the drawing. The species resembles a goose with its large body and long neck, more than it might a diminutive plover, such as a killdeer. More appropriate, would be recognition for the Canada goose or snow goose as obvious signs of spring, since the "wild goose" and "we-we's" which would fly past in great flocks on their seasonal passage to the north lands.

No. 2: "the little duck, which the Indians call 'kangkangouè,'" or, "which always keeps timidly a great distance from land."

This is another questionable interpretation. It does not look like a duck, or any species of waterfowl, but appears similar to a larger songbird. There are no ancillary interpretations to assist in any determination of a particular type of bird.

No. 3: another type of duck; "called by the Ojibbeways 'jishib,' and by the Voyageurs canard de France."

There is a good chance that this would be the wood duck.

No. 4: "Voilà l'aigle, ou le migissi, qui, s'élève pour prendre son air."

This roughly translates to: "Here are l' eagle, or the migissi, which, s' raise to take its air" or, instead of here, it was translated to "sail."

The large size and term "aigle" indicate this would be a raptor, and more specifically an eagle. The definition for the following glyph seems to pertain more to this particular depiction.

No. 5: "That is the great kiniou, which the Voyageurs call 'le quiliou,' (the celebrated war-eagle, from which the Indians derive their handsomest war-ornament). 'Descending from the heavens, he brings with him the fine weather.'"

This species might be a crow or raven, or some other large bird whose identity will remain unknown.

"And next to the kiniou will be seen, at the top of the fir-tree, the piskiniou, which the Voyageurs call the quiliou bâtard. These are the two birds which fly the highest in our land, and are nearly always in the uppermost clouds."

This is a large-sized bird, perhaps a species of grouse, which, with the arrival of spring, is atop the trees feeding on fresh buds.

No. 7: "the hopping crane, the 'adjijag,' which arrives the last, and brings the summer with it."

The term given, designates well to crane based on other historic tribal terminology for birds, which most predominantly would be the gray crane, or sandhill crane, well known for its glorious spring dancing. There is a lesser chance it would be an attribution for the less prevalent whooping crane.

No. 8: "C'est le chèfre du beau temps. He brandishes a knife, and is adorned with numerous wampum necklaces and a belt, and summons the birds and the spring."

Would this be the bird man of the tribe there on the western extent of the great lakes.

Traveler Kohl provided this bit of an interpretive summary:

"I say that in this song something may be recognised bearing a resemblance to a song of spring, or a poem on the arrival of the birds. In the soaring eagle and the descending kiniou some pastoral allusions may also be traced. A Voyageur, before whom I laid this drawing, to me it is true that the birds really arrived, or, as he said, 'd'après leur naturalité,' in a very different succession; but it is too much to expect fidelity to natural history in a song."

Despite what the author may have considered, obviously the picture writing did convey the sequential arrivals of various migrants, something which is readily known by close watchers of the birds.

This is probably the first known pictorial depiction for a spring migratory schedule anywhere on the continent.

This memoir also has an exquisite bit of pictorial writing on birch-bark. The object was a possession of an Indian from the northern interior of Wisconsin. It is worth is own bit of study, but in summary refers to a boy watching a flying bird, a flying eagle, a bird hovering above, as well as other essential lore of tribal importance at this time more than 150 years ago in history.

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