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Appendix IV: a visit to Hiawatha's people

The following narrative of the reception given to the Longfellow family by the Ojibway Indians was prepared by Miss Alice M. Longfellow for the Riverside Literature Series, and is used by permission.

When the idea of writing an Indian poem began first to take form in Mr. Longfellow's mind, he followed the adventures of Manabozho (a mythical character, whose exploits figure largely in all Ojibway legends) and gave his name to the poem; but feeling the need of some expression of the finer and nobler side of the Indian nature, he blended the supernatural deeds of the crafty sprite with the wise, noble spirit of the Iroquois national hero, and formed the character of Hiawatha. [317]

Early in the last century the scattered bands of the Ojibways who had their home near Lake Superior and Lake Huron, with their principal village at Garden River in Algoma, not far from Sault Ste. Marie, were ruled over by Chief Shingwauk, a ruler of force and character. He held the remnants of the tribe together, cherished their national pride, and laid great stress on the importance of preserving the national legendary history. He imbued his son Bukwujjinini with the same feeling, and carefully instructed him in all the legendary lore of his people. Bukwujjinini became thus well versed in these legends, and it was from him that Mr. Schoolcraft, who had married an Indian woman, received them, turning them into English and printing them in his great work on the Indians.

The old chief was a fine specimen of the aboriginal red man, dignified, wise, and thoughtful, and deeply beloved by his people. He selected his nephew, George Kabaoosa—or Daguagonay—as his successor in continuing the legendary history of his people, constantly repeating to him all he had heard from his father, and this Kabaoosa is now engaged in writing out all these legends to preserve them for posterity. In addition to his knowledge of these tales from his uncle's lips, Kabaoosa had heard the poem of ‘Hiawatha’ read by his Sunday-school teacher in his youth.

In the winter of 1900 a band of Ojibway Indians was formed to illustrate Indian life at the Sportsmen's Show in Boston. Among them was the old chief [318] Bukwujjinini, and one of the inducements he had to take the journey was the hope of visiting the home of the writer who had cared enough for the legends of his people to turn them into poetry. But this could not be, for the old man, who was over ninety, fell ill, and died on the very day the Indians were to set forth, and they took their journey without their father, and with genuine sorrow in their hearts.

For some time the Canadian gentleman who arranged the expedition had been cherishing the idea of training the Indians to perform scenes from ‘Hiawatha’ in the forest on the shores of the ‘big sea water.’ Kabaoosa readily fell in with this scheme, and after the visit of the Indians to Mr. Longfellow's home in Cambridge the plan rapidly matured, and a formal invitation was sent to Mr. Longfellow's family to be present at the representation as guests of the Indians. The invitation was written on birch bark, in Ojibway, and was as follows—

Ladies: We loved your father. The memory of our people will never die as long as your father's song lives, and that will live forever.

Will you and your husbands and Miss Longfellow come and see us and stay in our royal wigwams on an island in Hiawatha's playground, in the land of the Ojibways? We want you to see us live over again the life of Hiawatha in his own country.

Kabaoosa. Wabunosa. Boston, Onahbaunegises, The month of crusts on the snow.


The invitation was cordially accepted, and in August the party of guests, twelve in all, left the train at Desbarats on the north shore of Lake Huron; there they were met by the Indians in full costume, and in sailboat and canoes they set forth for the little rocky island, which had been prepared for them. There was a square stone lodge on the highest part of the island, most picturesquely finished inside and out, with the flag of England floating above it. Surrounding this were several tepees of tanned hide and stained canvas, and nearer the shore two little groups of tents, where two Indian families lived, who cooked and served, sailed the boats, entertained their guests with songs, dancing, and story-telling, doing all with a quiet dignity, ease of manner, and genuine kindliness that removed every difficulty.

The play of ‘Hiawatha’ was performed on a rocky, thickly wooded point about two miles away. Near the shore a platform was built around a tall pine-tree, and grouped around this were tepees and wigwams forming the Indian village. Behind this the ground sloped gradually upward, forming a natural amphitheatre.

As a prelude to the play a large pile of brushwood was lighted.

And the smoke rose slowly, slowly,
As a signal to the Nations.

Down the hillsides rushed the braves in war-paint and feathers,—

Wildly glaring at each other,
In their hearts the feuds of ages. [320]
Then upon the ground the warriors
Threw their weapons and their war-gear,
Leaped into the rushing river,
Washed the war-paint from their faces,
And in silence all the warriors
Broke the red stone of the quarry,
Smoothed and formed it into Peace-Pipes.

Then appeared old Nokomis leading by the hand the youthful Hiawatha, and taught him how to shoot the bow and arrow, while the warriors stood around watching and applauding when he hit the mark.

The third scene was the journey of Hiawatha in his manhood after his battle with Mudjekeewis, a picturesque figure striding through the woods flecked with sunshine and shadow.

Only once his pace he slackened,
Paused to purchase heads of arrows
Of the ancient arrow-maker.

The wigwam of the ancient arrow-maker was placed far from the rest in the shade of the trees, to give an idea of distance. The arrow-maker himself, a very old man, sat by the entrance, cutting arrowheads; his daughter, a modest Indian maiden, stood beside him with downcast eyes, while the stranger paused to talk with her father.

This scene was followed by the return of Hiawatha to the land of the Dakotahs. Again the old man sat in the doorway, and by him was Minnehaha, ‘plaiting mats of flags and rushes.’

Then uprose the Laughing Water,
Laid aside her mat unfinished, [321]
Brought forth food, and set before them,
Gave them drink in bowls of bass wood.

She stood modestly on one side while Hiawatha urged his suit, and then putting her hand in his, she followed him home through the forest.

Then came the wedding dances, full of life and spirit, the figures moving always round and round in a circle, with a swaying motion, the feet scarcely lifted from the ground. Under the pine-tree, tall and erect, with head and eyes uplifted, stood the musician, chanting his songs with a strange rhythmical cadence, and accompanying them on the flat Indian drum.

The old Nokomis in one corner guarded with a war-club a group of maidens who were dancing all the while, and the braves circling round slyly stole one maiden after another, until Nokomis was left alone. Then followed the caribou dance, the dancers with arms uplifted like horns, knocking and striking one another; the bear dance, with its clumsy, heavy motion; and the snake dance, where the dancers wound and twisted in and out, round and round; and always the singer continued his rhythmic chant.

Last came the gambling dance, the favorite with the actors. A mat of rushes was placed on the ground, and on each side kneeled the contestants. At the back stood the old singer, drumming and chanting advice to the players. On each side were grouped the women watching the game, their bodies swaying in time to the music, while the players grew more and more excited, arms, heads, bodies all moving [322] in perfect rhythm, calling out and shouting as one by one pouches, knives, belts, etc., were passed to the winning side. One side hid a small metal counter under one of two moccasins, while the other side tried to find it.

This game was interrupted by a sudden shout, and across the water was seen approaching a canoe, and seated in it the missionary, ‘the black robe chief, the prophet.’ On the shore he was graciously received by Hiawatha, and led to a wigwam for refreshment and repose. Then he addressed the attentive tribes in Ojibway,—

Told his message to the people,
Told the purport of his mission.

Thereupon Hiawatha arose, greeting the missionary, took farewell of all his people, and—

On the clear and luminous water
Launched his birch canoe for sailing.

With hands uplifted he glided slowly out upon the lake, floating steadily onward across the rippling water toward the setting sun.

And the people from the margin
Watched him floating, rising, sinking,
Till the birch canoe seemed lifted
High into that sea of splendor.
And they said, “Farewell, forever!”
Said, “Farewell, O Hiawatha.”

A beautiful ending to a most unique and interesting drama of the forest, with the broad stretch of the lake in front, and the forest trees closing in the scene.

After this followed an evening of songs and dancing, [323] addresses of welcome in Ojibway to the paleface strangers, and then the return of the guests to the little island, quietly sailing in the starlight, while the Indians sang their favorite hymns in the strange Ojibway tongue. The next day being Sunday, all the Indians gathered on the island, where a church was improvised, and a simple service was held in their native tongue by the English clergyman from Garden River, who had impersonated the missionary in the play.

After the service an old man arose, welcoming the strangers, because their father had written in poetry the legends of his people, and with pride produced a large silver medal given to his ancestors by King George III. as a pledge that their rights should be respected. ‘And,’ he said, ‘he told us that as long as the sun shone the Indians should be happy, but I see the sun still shining, and I do not think Indians always happy. But the medal he told us always to wear when with persons of distinction;’ and with great dignity the old man slipped the medal with its broad blue ribbon around his neck, looking proud and happy.

The party of strangers made a visit to Garden River, the home of the Indians for many generations, where they were most hospitably received; the old chief's house was opened for them, and all his treasures displayed.

A few days before the end of the visit, the Indians were very busy building a small platform on the island, and decorating it with green boughs, doing [324] everything with much secrecy. After sunset, when the fire was lighted on the rocks near by, the Indians assembled together, and Kabaoosa as the spokesman announced that they wished to have the pleasure of taking some of the party into the tribe as members. First came the ladies, as their father had turned the Ojibway legends into verse. They were led in turn before Kabaoosa, who took one of their hands in his, and made a spirited discourse in Ojibway. Then striking them three times on the shoulder, he called aloud the Indian name of adoption, and all the bystanders repeated it together. Then the new member of the tribe was led around the circle, and each Indian came forward, grasping the stranger by the hand, and calling aloud the new name. The names, which were valued names in the tribe, were all chosen with care, and given as proofs of high regard; the men of the party were honored as well as the women.

Odenewasenoquay, The first flash of the lightning [Miss Longfellow]; Osahgahgushkodawaquay, The lady of the open plains [Mrs. J. G. Thorp]; Daguagonay, The man whom people like to camp near [J. G. Thorp, Esq.]; and the names of the old chiefs Shingwauk, or Sagagewayosay [Richard Henry Dana], and Bukwujjinini [Henry W. L. Dana].

The ceremonies were followed by much singing and dancing, of which the Indians never tire, and the following day came the farewells,—farewells to the broad, beautiful lake, the islands, the sweet fragrance of the forest, and the kind and devoted hosts. With many regrets the party turned their faces eastward, [325] while the Indians accompanied their farewells with a parting dance.

And they said, “Farewell forever!”
Said, “ Farewell, O Hiawatha.”


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