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The Song of Hiawatha
Notes

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This Indian Edda--if I may so call it--is founded on a tradition 
prevalent among the North American Indians, of a personage of 
miraculous birth, who was sent among them to clear their rivers, 
forests, and fishing-grounds, and to teach them the arts of
peace.  
He was known among different tribes by the several names of 
Michabou, Chiabo, Manabozo, Tarenyawagon, and Hiawatha.  Mr. 
Schoolcraft gives an account of him in his Algic Researches, Vol.
I. 
p. 134; and in his History, Condition, and Prospects of the
Indian 
Tribes of the United States, Part III. p. 314, may be found the 
Iroquois form of the tradition, derived from the verbal
narrations 
of an Onondaga chief.

Into this old tradition I have woven other curious Indian
legends, 
drawn chiefly from the various and valuable writings of Mr. 
Schoolcraft, to whom the literary world is greatly indebted for
his 
indefatigable zeal in rescuing from oblivion so much of the 
legendary lore of the Indians.

The scene of the poem is among the Ojibways on the southern shore
of 
Lake Superior, in the region between the Pictured Rocks and the 
Grand Sable.

VOCABULARY

Adjidau'mo, the red squirrel.
Ahdeek', the reindeer.
Ahkose'win, fever.
Ahmeek', the beaver.
Algon'quin, Ojibway.
Annemee'kee, the thunder.
Apuk'wa. a bulrush.
Baim-wa'wa, the sound of the thunder.
Bemah'gut, the grapevine.
Be'na, the pheasant.
Big-Sea-Water, Lake Superior.
Bukada'win, famine.
Chemaun', a birch canoe.
Chetowaik', the plover.
Chibia'bos, a musician; friend of Hiawatha; ruler in the Land of 
Spirits.
Dahin'da, the bull frog.
Dush-kwo-ne'she or Kwo-ne'she, the dragon fly.
Esa, shame upon you.
Ewa-yea', lullaby.
Ghee'zis, the sun.
Gitche Gu'mee, The Big-Sea-Water, Lake Superior.
Gitche Man'ito, the Great Spirit, the Master of Life.
Gushkewau', the darkness.
Hiawa'tha, the Wise Man, the Teacher, son of Mudjekeewis, the
West-
Wind and Wenonah, daughter of Nokomis.
Ia'goo, a great boaster and story-teller.
Inin'ewug, men, or pawns in the Game of the Bowl.
Ishkoodah', fire, a comet.
Jee'bi, a ghost, a spirit.
Joss'akeed, a prophet.
Kabibonok'ka, the North-Wind.
Kagh, the hedge-hog.
Ka'go, do not.
Kahgahgee', the raven.
Kaw, no.
Kaween', no indeed.
Kayoshk', the sea-gull.
Kee'go, a fish.
Keeway'din, the Northwest wind, the Home-wind.
Kena'beek, a serpent.
Keneu', the great war-eagle.
Keno'zha, the pickerel.
Ko'ko-ko'ho, the owl.
Kuntasoo', the Game of Plum-stones.
Kwa'sind, the Strong Man.
Kwo-ne'she, or Dush-kwo-ne'she, the dragon-fly.
Mahnahbe'zee, the swan.
Mahng, the loon.
Mahn-go-tay'see, loon-hearted, brave.
Mahnomo'nee, wild rice.
Ma'ma, the woodpecker.
Maskeno'zha, the pike.
Me'da, a medicine-man.
Meenah'ga, the blueberry.
Megissog'won, the great Pearl-Feather, a magician, and the Manito
of
     Wealth.
Meshinau'wa, a pipe-bearer.
Minjekah'wun, Hiawatha's mittens.
Minneha'ha, Laughing Water; wife of Hiawatha; a water-fall in a 
stream running into the Mississippi between Fort Snelling and the
     Falls of St. Anthony.
Minne-wa'wa, a pleasant sound, as of the wind in the trees.
Mishe-Mo'kwa, the Great Bear.
Mishe-Nah'ma, the Great Sturgeon.
Miskodeed', the Spring-Beauty, the Claytonia Virginica.
Monda'min, Indian corn.
Moon of Bright Nights, April.
Moon of Leaves, May.
Moon of Strawberries, June.
Moon of the Falling Leaves, September.
Moon of Snow-shoes, November.
Mudjekee'wis, the West-Wind; father of Hiawatha.
Mudway-aush'ka, sound of waves on a shore.
Mushkoda'sa, the grouse.
Nah'ma, the sturgeon.
Nah'ma-wusk, spearmint.
Na'gow Wudj'oo, the Sand Dunes of Lake Superior.
Nee-ba-naw'-baigs, water-spirits.
Nenemoo'sha, sweetheart.
Nepah'win, sleep.
Noko'mis, a grandmother, mother of Wenonah.
No'sa, my father.
Nush'ka, look! look!
Odah'min, the strawberry.
Okahah'wis, the fresh-water herring.
Ome'me, the pigeon.
Ona'gon, a bowl.
Onaway', awake.
Ope'chee, the robin.
Osse'o, Son of the Evening Star.
Owais'sa, the bluebird.
Oweenee', wife of Osseo.
Ozawa'beek, a round piece of brass or copper in the Game of the
     Bowl.
Pah-puk-kee'na, the grasshopper.
Pau'guk, death.
Pau-Puk-Kee'wis, the handsome Yenadizze, the son of Storm Fool.
Pauwa'ting, Saut Sainte Marie.
Pe'boan, Winter.
Pem'ican, meat of the deer or buffalo dried and pounded.
Pezhekee', the bison.
Pishnekuh', the brant.
Pone'mah, hereafter.
Pugasaing', Game of the Bowl.
Puggawau'gun, a war-club.
Puk-Wudj'ies, little wild men of the woods; pygmies.
Sah-sah-je'wun, rapids.
Sah'wa, the perch.
Segwun', Spring.
Sha'da, the pelican.
Shahbo'min, the gooseberry.
Shah-shah, long ago.
Shaugoda'ya, a coward.
Shawgashee', the craw-fish.
Shawonda'see, the South-Wind.
Shaw-shaw, the swallow.
Shesh'ebwug, ducks; pieces in the Game of the Bowl.
Shin'gebis, the diver, or grebe.
Showain' neme'shin, pity me.
Shuh-shuh'gah, the blue heron.
Soan-ge-ta'ha, strong-hearted.
Subbeka'she, the spider.
Sugge'me, the mosquito.
To'tem, family coat-of-arms.
Ugh, yes.
Ugudwash', the sun-fish.
Unktahee', the God of Water.
Wabas'so, the rabbit, the North.
Wabe'no, a magician, a juggler.
Wabe'no-wusk, yarrow.
Wa'bun, the East-Wind.
Wa'bun An'nung, the Star of the East, the Morning Star.
Wahono'win, a cry of lamentation.
Wah-wah-tay'see, the fire-fly.
Wam'pum, beads of shell.
Waubewy'on, a white skin wrapper.
Wa'wa, the wild goose.
Waw'beek, a rock.
Waw-be-wa'wa, the white goose.
Wawonais'sa, the whippoorwill.
Way-muk-kwa'na, the caterpillar.
Wen'digoes, giants.
Weno'nah, Hiawatha's mother, daughter of Nokomis.
Yenadiz'ze, an idler and gambler; an Indian dandy.


In the Vale of Tawasentha. 
This valley, now called Norman's Kill; is in Albany County, New 
York.


On the Mountains of the Prairie.
Mr. Catlin, in his Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and

Condition of the North American Indians, Vol. II p. 160, gives an

interesting account of the Coteau des Prairies, and the Red Pipe-
stone Quarry.  He says:--

"Here (according to their traditions) happened the mysterious
birth 
of the red pipe, which has blown its fumes of peace and war to
the 
remotest corners of the continent; which has visited every
warrior, 
and passed through its reddened stem the irrevocable oath of war
and 
desolation.  And here, also, the peace-breathing calumet was
born, 
and fringed with the eagle's quills, which has shed its thrilling

fumes over the land, and soothed the fury of the relentless
savage.

"The Great Spirit at an ancient period here called the Indian 
nations together, and, standing on the precipice of the red pipe-
stone rock, broke from its wall a piece, and made a huge pipe by 
turning it in his hand, which he smoked over them, and to the
North, 
the South, the East, and the West, and told them that this stone
was 
red,--that it was their flesh,--that they must use it for their 
pipes of peace,--that it belonged to them all, and that the
war-club 
and scalping-knife must not be raised on its ground.  At the last

whiff of his pipe his head went into a great cloud, and the whole

surface of the rock for several miles was melted and glazed; two 
great ovens were opened beneath, and two women (guardian spirits
of 
the place) entered them in a blaze of fire; and they are heard
there 
yet (Tso-mec-cos-tee aud Tso-me-cos-te-won-dee), answering to the

invocations of the high-priests or medicine-men, who consult them

when they are visitors to this sacred place."


Hark you, Bear! you are a coward. 
This anecdote is from Heckewelder.  In his account of the Indian 
Nations, he describes an Indian hunter as addressing a bear in 
nearly these words.  "I was present," he says, "at the delivery
of 
this curious invective; when the hunter had despatched the bear,
I 
asked him how he thought that poor animal could understand what
he 
said to it.  'O,' said he in answer, 'the bear understood me very

well; did you not observe how ashamed he looked while I was 
upbraiding him?"'--Transactions of the American Philosophical 
Society, Vol. I. p. 240.


Hush! the Naked Bear will hear thee! 
Heckewelder, in a letter published in the Transactions of the 
American Philosophical Society, Vol. IV. p. 260, speaks of this 
tradition as prevalent among the Mohicans and Delawares.

"Their reports," he says, "run thus: that among all animals that
had 
been formerly in this country, this was the most ferocious; that
it 
was much larger than the largest of the common bears, and
remarkably 
long-bodied; all over (except a spot of hair on its back of a
white 
color) naked. . . . .

"The history of this animal used to be a subject of conversation 
among the Indians, especially when in the woods a hunting.  I
have 
also heard them say to their children when crying: 'Hush! the
naked 
bear will hear you, be upon you, and devour you,'"


Where the Falls of Minnehaha, etc. 
"The scenery about Fort Snelling is rich in beauty.  The Falls of

St. Anthony are familiar to travellers, and to readers of Indian 
sketches.  Between the fort and these falls are the 'Little
Falls,' 
forty feet in height, on a stream that empties into the
Mississippi.  
The Indians called them Mine-hah-hah, or 'laughing waters.'" --
MRS. 
EASTMAN'S Dacotah, or Legends of the Sioux, Introd., p. ii.


Sand Hills of the Nagow Wudjoo. 
A description of the Grand Sable, or great sand-dunes of Lake 
Superior, is given in Foster and Whitney's Report on the Geology
of 
the Lake Superior Land District, Part II. p. 131.

"The Grand Sable possesses a scenic interest little inferior to
that 
of the Pictured Rocks.  The explorer passes abruptly from a coast
of 
consolidated sand to one of loose materials; and although in the
one 
case the cliffs are less precipitous, yet in the other they
attain a 
higher altitude.  He sees before him a long reach of coast, 
resembling a vast sand-bank, more than three hundred and fifty
feet 
in height, without a trace of vegetation.  Ascending to the top, 
rounded hillocks of blown sand are observed, with occasional
clumps 
of trees standing out like oases in the desert."


Onaway! Awake, beloved! 
The original of this song may be found in Littell's Living Age,
Vol. 
XXV. p. 45.


On the Red Swan floating, flying.
The fanciful tradition of the Red Swan may be found in
Schoolcraft's 
Algic Researches, Vol. II. p. 9.  Three brothers were hunting on
a 
wager to see who would bring home the first game.

"They were to shoot no other animal," so the legend says, "but
such 
as each was in the habit of killing.  They set out different
ways: 
Odjibwa, the youngest, had not gone far before he saw a bear, an 
animal he was not to kill, by the agreement.  He followed him
close, 
and drove an arrow through him, which brought him to the ground. 

Although contrary to the bet, he immediately commenced skinning
him, 
when suddenly something red tinged all the air around him.  He 
rubbed his eyes, thinking he was perhaps deceived; but without 
effect, for the red hue continued.  At length he heard a strange 
noise at a distance.  It first appeared like a human voice, but 
after following the sound for some distance, he reached the
shores 
of a lake, and soon saw the object he was looking for.  At a 
distance out in the lake sat a most beautiful Red Swan, whose 
plumage glittered in the sun, and who would now and then make the

same noise he had heard.  He was within long bow-shot, and,
pulling 
the arrow from the bowstring up to his ear, took deliberate aim
and 
shot.  The arrow took no effect; and he shot and shot again till
his 
quiver was empty.  Still the swan remained, moving round and
round, 
stretching its long neck and dipping its bill into the water, as
if 
heedless of the arrows shot at it.  Odjibwa ran home, and got all

his own and his brother's arrows and shot them all away.  He then

stood and gazed at the beautiful bird.  While standing, he 
remembered his brother's saying that in their deceased father's 
medicine-sack were three magic arrows.  Off he started, his
anxiety 
to kill the swan overcoming all scruples.  At any other time, he 
would have deemed it sacrilege to open his father's
medicine-sack; 
but now he hastily seized the three arrows and ran back, leaving
the 
other contents of the sack scattered over the lodge.  The swan
was 
still there.  He shot the first arrow with great precision, and
came 
very near to it.  The second came still closer; as he took the
last 
arrow, he felt his arm firmer, and, drawing it up with vigor, saw
it 
pass through the neck of the swan a little above the breast. 
Still 
it did not prevent the bird from flying off, which it did,
however, 
at first slowly, flapping its wings and rising gradually into the

airs and teen flying off toward the sinking of the sun." -- pp.
10-
12. 


When I think of my beloved.
The original of this song may be found in Oneota, p. 15. 


Sing the mysteries of Mondamin.
The Indians hold the maize, or Indian corn, in great veneration. 

"They esteem it so important and divine a grain," says
Schoolcraft, 
"that their story-tellers invented various tales, in which this
idea 
is symbolized under the form of a special gift from the Great 
Spirit.  The Odjibwa-Algonquins, who call it Mon-da-min, that is,

the Spirit's grain or berry, have a pretty story of this kind, in

which the stalk in full tassel is represented as descending from
the 
sky, under the guise of a handsome youth, in answer to the
prayers 
of a young man at his fast of virility, or coming to manhood.

"It is well known that corn-planting and corn-gathering, at least

among all the still uncolonized tribes, are left entirely to the 
females and children, and a few superannuated old men.  It is not

generally known, perhaps, that this labor is not compulsory, and 
that it is assumed by the females as a just equivalent, in their 
view, for the onerous and continuous labor of the other sex, in 
providing meats, and skins for clothing, by the chase, and in 
defending their villages against their enemies, and keeping 
intruders off their territories.  A good Indian housewife deems
this 
a part of her prerogative, and prides herself to have a store of 
corn to exercise her hospitality, or duly honor her husband's 
hospitality, in the entertainment of the lodge guests." --
Oneota, 
p. 82. 


Thus the fields shall be more fruitful.
"A singular proof of this belief, in both sexes, of the
mysterious 
influence of the steps of a woman on the vegetable and in sect 
creation, is found in an ancient custom, which was related to me,

respecting corn-planting.  It was the practice of the hunter's
wife, 
when the field of corn had been planted, to choose the first dark
or 
overclouded evening to perform a secret circuit, sans
habillement, 
around the field.  For this purpose she slipped out of the lodge
in 
the evening, unobserved, to some obscure nook, where she
completely 
disrobed.  Then, taking her matchecota, or principal garment, in
one 
hand, she dragged it around the field.  This was thought to
insure a 
prolific crop, and to prevent the assaults of insects and worms
upon 
the grain.  It was supposed they could not creep over the charmed

line." -- Oneota, p. 83.


With his prisoner-string he bound him.
"These cords," says Mr. Tanner "are made of the bark of the elm-
tree, by boiling and then immersing it in cold water. . . .  The 
leader of a war party commonly carries several fastened about his

waist, and if, in the course of the fight, any one of his young
men 
take a prisoner, it is his duty to bring him immediately to the 
chief, to be tied, and the latter is responsible for his safe 
keeping." -- Narrative of Captivity and Adventures, p. 412. 


Wagemin, the thief of cornfields,
  Paimosaid, who steals the maize-ear.

"If one of the young female huskers finds a red ear of corn, it
is 
typical of a brave admirer, and is regarded as a fitting present
to 
some young warrior.  But if the ear be crooked, and tapering to a

point, no matter what color, the whole circle is set in a roar,
and 
wa-ge-min is the word shouted aloud.  It is the symbol of a thief
in 
the cornfield.  It is considered as the image of an old man
stooping 
as he enters the lot.  Had the chisel of Praxiteles been employed
to 
produce this image, it could not more vividly bring to the minds
of 
the merry group the idea of a pilferer of their favorite
mondamin. . 
. .

"The literal meaning of the term is, a mass, or crooked ear of 
grain; but the ear of corn so called is a conventional type of a 
little old man pilfering ears of corn in a cornfield.  It is in
this 
manner that a single word or term, in these curious languages, 
becomes the fruitful parent of many ideas.  And we can thus
perceive 
why it is that the word wagemin is alone competent to excite 
merriment in the husking circle.

"This term is taken as the basis of the cereal chorus, or corn
song, 
as sung by the Northern Algonquin tribes.  It is coupled with the

phrase Paimosaid,--a permutative form of the Indian substantive, 
made from the verb pim-o-sa, to walk.  Its literal meaning is, he

who walks, or the walker; but the ideas conveyed by it are, he
who 
walks by night to pilfer corn.  It offers, therefore, a kind of 
parallelism in expression to the preceding term." -- Oneota, p.
254.


Pugasaing, with thirteen pieces.
This Game of the Bowl is the principal game of hazard among the 
Northern tribes of Indians.  Mr. Schoolcraft gives a particular 
account of it in Oneota, p. 85.  "This game," he says, "is very 
fascinating to some portions of the Indians.  They stake at it
their 
ornaments, weapons, clothing, canoes, horses, everything in fact 
they possess; and have been known, it is said, to set up their
wives 
and children and even to forfeit their own liberty.  Of such 
desperate stakes I have seen no examples, nor do I think the game

itself in common use.  It is rather confined to certain persons,
who 
hold the relative rank of gamblers in Indian society,--men who
are 
not noted as hunters or warriors, or steady providers for their 
families.  Among these are persons who bear the term of
Iena-dizze-
wug, that is, wanderers about the country, braggadocios, or fops.


It can hardly be classed with the popular games of amusement, by 
which skill and dexterity are acquired.  I have generally found
the 
chiefs and graver men of the tribes, who encouraged the young men
to 
play ball, and are sure to be present at the customary sports, to

witness, and sanction, and applaud them, speak lightly and 
disparagingly of this game of hazard.  Yet it cannot be denied
that 
some of the chiefs, distinguished in war and the chase, at the
West, 
can be referred to as lending their example to its fascinating 
power."

See also his history, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian
Tribes, 
Part II, p. 72. 


To the Pictured Rocks of sandstone. 
The reader will find a long description of the Pictured Rocks in 
Foster and Whitney's Report on the Geology of the Lake Superior
Land 
District, Part II. p. 124.  From this I make the following
extract:--

"The Pictured Rocks may be described, in general terms, as a
series 
of sandstone bluffs extending along the shore of Lake Superior
for 
about five miles, and rising, in most places, vertically from the

water, without any beach at the base, to a height varying from
fifty 
to nearly two hundred feet.  Were they simply a line of cliffs,
they 
might not, so far as relates to height or extent, be worthy of a 
rank among great natural curiosities, although such an assemblage
of 
rocky strata, washed by the waves of the great lake, would not, 
under any circumstances, be destitute of grandeur.  To the
voyager, 
coasting along their base in his frail canoe, they would, at all 
times, be an object of dread; the recoil of the surf, the
rock-bound 
coast, affording, for miles, no place of refuge,--the lowering
sky, 
the rising wind,--all these would excite his apprehension, and 
induce him to ply a vigorous oar until the dreaded wall was
passed.  
But in the Pictured Rocks there are two features which
communicate 
to the scenery a wonderful and almost unique character.  These
are, 
first, the curious manner in which the cliffs have been excavated

and worn away by the action of the lake, which, for centuries,
has 
dashed an ocean-like surf against their base; and, second, the 
equally curious manner in which large portions of the surface
have 
been colored by bands of brilliant hues.

"It is from the latter circumstance that the name, by which these

cliffs are known to the American traveller, is derived; while
that 
applied to them by the French voyageurs ('Les Portails') is
derived 
from the former, and by far the most striking peculiarity.

"The term Pictured Rocks has been in use for a great length of
time; 
but when it was first applied, we have been unable to discover. 
It 
would seem that the first travellers were more impressed with the

novel and striking distribution of colors on the surface than
with 
the astonishing variety of form into which the cliffs themselves 
have been worn. . . .

"Our voyageurs had many legends to relate of the pranks of the 
Menni-bojou in these caverns, and, in answer to our inquiries, 
seemed disposed to fabricate stories, without end, of the 
achievements of this Indian deity." 

Toward the Sun his hands were lifted.
In this manner, and with such salutations, was Father Marquette 
received by the Illinois.  See his Voyages et Decouvertes,
Section V. 
Personae

Terms Defined

Referenced Works