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Chileeli Or The Red Lover






Source: The Myth Of Hiawatha

ODJIBWA.


Many years ago there lived a warrior on the banks of Lake Superior,
whose name was Wawanosh. He was the chief of an ancient family of his
tribe, who had preserved the line of chieftainship unbroken from a
remote time, and he consequently cherished a pride of ancestry. To the
reputation of birth he added the advantages of a tall and commanding
person, and the dazzling qualities of personal strength, courage, and
activity. His bow was noted for its size, and the feats he had
performed with it. His counsel was sought as much as his strength was
feared, so that he came to be equally regarded as a hunter, a warrior,
and a counsellor. He had now passed the meridian of his days, and the
term Akkee-waizee, i.e., one who has been long on the earth, was
applied to him.

Such was Wawanosh, to whom the united voice of the nation awarded the
first place in their esteem, and the highest authority in council. But
distinction, it seems, is apt to engender haughtiness in the hunter
state as well as civilized life. Pride was his ruling passion, and he
clung with tenacity to the distinctions which he regarded as an
inheritance.

Wawanosh had an only daughter, who had now lived to witness the budding
of the leaves of the eighteenth spring. Her father was not more
celebrated for his deeds of strength than she for her gentle virtues,
her slender form, her full beaming hazel eyes, and her dark and flowing
hair.

"And through her cheek
The blush would make its way, and all but speak.
The sunborn blood suffused her neck, and threw
O'er her clear brown skin a lucid hue,
Like coral reddening through the darken'd wave,
Which draws the diver to the crimson cave."

Her hand was sought by a young man of humble parentage, who had no
other merits to recommend him but such as might arise from a tall and
commanding person, a manly step, and an eye beaming with the tropical
fires of youth and love. These were sufficient to attract the favorable
notice of the daughter, but were by no means satisfactory to the
father, who sought an alliance more suitable to the rank and the high
pretensions of his family.

"Listen to me, young man," he replied to the trembling hunter, who had
sought the interview, "and be attentive to my words. You ask me to
bestow upon you my daughter, the chief solace of my age, and my
choicest gift from the Master of Life. Others have asked of me this
boon, who were as young, as active, and as ardent as yourself. Some of
these persons have had better claims to become my son-in-law. Have you
reflected upon the deeds which have raised me in authority, and made my
name known to the enemies of my nation? Where is there a chief who is
not proud to be considered the friend of Wawanosh? Where, in all the
land, is there a hunter who has excelled Wawanosh? Where is there a
warrior who can boast the taking of an equal number of scalps? Besides,
have you not heard that my fathers came from the East, bearing the
marks of chieftaincy?

"And what, young man, have you to boast? Have you ever met your
enemies in the field of battle? Have you ever brought home a trophy
of victory? Have you ever proved your fortitude by suffering
protracted pain, enduring continued hunger, or sustaining great
fatigue? Is your name known beyond the humble limits of your native
village? Go, then, young man, and earn a name for yourself. It is none
but the brave that can ever hope to claim an alliance with the house of
Wawanosh. Think not my warrior blood shall mingle with the humble mark
of the Awasees[58]--fit totem for fishermen!"

The intimidated lover departed, but he resolved to do a deed that
should render him worthy of the daughter of Wawanosh, or die in the
attempt. He called together several of his young companions and equals
in years, and imparted to them his design of conducting an expedition
against the enemy, and requested their assistance. Several embraced the
proposal immediately; others were soon brought to acquiesce; and,
before ten suns set, he saw himself at the head of a formidable party
of young warriors, all eager, like himself, to distinguish themselves
in battle. Each warrior was armed, according to the custom of the
period, with a bow and a quiver of arrows, tipped with flint or jasper.
He carried a sack or wallet, provided with a small quantity of parched
and pounded corn, mixed with pemmican or maple sugar. He was furnished
with a Puggamaugun, or war-club of hard wood, fastened to a girdle of
deer skin, and a stone or copper knife. In addition to this, some
carried the ancient shemagun, or lance, a smooth pole about a fathom
in length, with a javelin of flint, firmly tied on with deer's sinews.
Thus equipped, and each warrior painted in a manner to suit his fancy,
and ornamented with appropriate feathers, they repaired to the spot
appointed for the war-dance.

A level, grassy plain extended for nearly a mile from the lodge of
Wawanosh along the lake shore. Lodges of bark were promiscuously
interspersed over this green, and here and there a cluster of trees, or
a solitary tall pine. A belt of yellow sand skirted the lake shore in
front, and a tall, thick forest formed the background. In the centre of
this plain stood a high shattered pine, with a clear space about,
renowned as the scene of the war-dance time out of mind. Here the
youths assembled, with their tall and graceful leader, distinguished by
the feathers of the bald eagle, which he wore on his head. A bright
fire of pine wood blazed upon the green. He led his men several times
around this fire, with a measured and solemn chant.[59] Then suddenly
halting, the war-whoop was raised, and the dance immediately began. An
old man, sitting at the head of the ring, beat time upon the drum,
while several of the elder warriors shook their rattles, and "ever and
anon" made the woods re-echo with their yells. Each warrior chanted
alternately the verse of a song, of which the words generally embraced
some prominent idea, often repeated.

The eagles scream on high,
They whet their forked beaks:
Raise--raise the battle cry,
'Tis fame our leader seeks.

Thus they continued the dance, till each had introduced his verse, with
short intermissions, for two successive days and nights. Sometimes the
village seer, who led the ceremony, would embrace the occasion of a
pause to address them with words of encouragement, in a prophetic voice
and air, suited to raise their voices.

In the dreamy hours of night
I beheld the bloody fight.
As reclined upon my bed,
Holy visions crowned my head;
High our guardian spirit bright
Stood above the dreadful fight;
Beaming eye and dazzling brand
Gleamed upon my chosen band,
While a black and awful shade
O'er the faithless foeman spread.
Soon they wavered, sunk, and fled,
Leaving wounded, dying, dead,
While my gallant warriors high
Waved their trophies in the sky.

At every recurrence of this kind, new energy was infused into the
dance, and the warriors renewed their gesticulations, and stamped upon
the ground as if they were trampling their enemies under their feet.

At length the prophet uttered his final prediction of success; and the
warriors dropping off, one by one, from the fire, took their way to the
place appointed for the rendezvous, on the confines of the enemy's
country. Their leader was not among the last to depart, but he did not
leave the village without seeking an interview with the daughter of
Wawanosh. He disclosed to her his firm determination never to return,
unless he could establish his name as a warrior. He told her of the
pangs he had felt at the bitter reproaches of her father, and declared
that his soul spurned the imputation of effeminacy and cowardice
implied by his language. He averred that he could never be happy until
he had proved to the whole tribe the strength of his heart, which is
the Indian term for courage. He said that his dreams had not been
propitious, but he should not cease to invoke the power of the Great
Spirit. He repeated his protestations of inviolable attachment, which
she returned, and, pledging vows of mutual fidelity, they parted.

That parting proved final. All she ever heard from her lover after this
interview was brought by one of his successful warriors, who said that
he had distinguished himself by the most heroic bravery, but, at the
close of the fight, he had received an arrow in his breast. The enemy
fled, leaving many of their warriors dead on the field. On examining
the wound, it was perceived to be beyond their power to cure. They
carried him towards home a day's journey, but he languished and expired
in the arms of his friends. From the moment the report was received, no
smile was ever seen in the once happy lodge of Wawanosh. His daughter
pined away by day and by night. Tears, sighs, and lamentation, were
heard continually. Nothing could restore her lost serenity of mind.
Persuasives and reproofs were alternately employed, but employed in
vain. She would seek a sequestered spot, where she would sit under a
shady tree, and sing her mournful laments for hours together. Passages
of these are yet repeated by tradition.

It was not long before a small bird of beautiful plumage flew upon the
tree under which she usually sat. This mysterious visitor, which, from
its sweet and artless notes, is called Chileeli, seemed to respond in
sympathy to her plaintive voice. It was a strange bird, such as had not
before been observed. It came every day and remained chanting its notes
till nightfall; and when it left its perch on the tree, it seemed, from
the delicate play of the colors of its plumage, as if it had taken its
hues from the rainbow. Her fond imagination soon led her to suppose it
was the spirit of her lover, and her visits to the sequestered spot
were repeated more frequently. She passed much of her time in fasting
and singing her plaintive songs. There she pined away, taking little
nourishment, and constantly desiring to pass away to that land of
expected bliss and freedom from care, where it is believed that the
spirits of men will be again reunited, and tread over fields of flowery
enjoyment. And when death came to her, it was not as the bearer of
gloom and regrets, but as the herald of happiness. After her decease,
the mysterious bird was never more seen, and it became a popular
opinion that the mysterious visitor had flown away with her spirit.[60]

[58] Catfish.

[59] Notes of the Pibbigwun.

[60] Notes of the Pibbigwun.





Next: Sheem The Forsaken Boy Or Wolf Brother

Previous: Ojeeg Annung Or The Summer-maker



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