Friday, May 21, 2010

Memegwesiwag: The Little People of North America

This spring I read a wonderful trilogy for children by Louise Erdrich. The three books, "The Birchbark House," "The Game of Silence," and "The Porcupine Year," are set in the mid eighteen hundreds in North America and follow the life of Omakayas, an Anishinabe girl (nowadays called Ojibwa or Chippewa) and her family living around Lake Superior.

The books are beautifully written and very profound. I was interested to read about two special encounters which children have with some memegwesiwag. When Omakaya's grandmother Nokomis was a girl, she met a memegwesi while tracking its little footprints through the forest.

"To my amazement, I looked up into the face of a little person just as perfect as any man, only hairy like a chimookoman. (A "chimookoman" is a white person or non-Indian.) His clothing was of fine tanned deerskin, quilled in the old way, not beaded."

"He had a sweet little crinkled face, round as a berry and very dark, with bow lips and shining eyes. He was tinier than my little brother, who was only three years old at the time. Yet there was something huge about him. He awed me, and my heart began to pound so hard I could not speak."

She respectfully lays an offering of tobacco down for him, and he promises to stay nearby and help her always. Later, when the family is starving during the harshest part of the winter, he shows Nokomis the breathing hole of a hibernating bear, and the family is saved.

Omakayas and her brother Quill also meet a memegwesi. They miraculously survive a harrowing trip down the rapids in a canoe. When the children climb back upriver to look at the rapids from the shore, they realize they could only have survived the brutal rapids with the help of a spirit. That is when they see a memegwesi standing on the opposite shore.

"The little person moved his arm, as if making an offering to the rapids, and they saw that he was proportioned like a fully grown Anishinabe man. He was dressed in buckskins and knee-high makizinan, and his hair stuck out all over, like Quill's hair."

From now on, whenever I am in the forest, I will be looking for signs of the Memegwesiwag!


TwigandToadstool said...

They sounds like wonderful books. Love the picture and utterly magical description.
Thanks for sharing!

Grace said...

We read The Birchbark House and Porcupine Year and loved them. Somehow we did not know about The Game of Silence - I'll have to look for that at the library.

Amanda said...

Sounds precious! I will have to check into the series at my library. Do you think the stories fit into any particular season? We try to keep our books seasonal when it applies.

Lisa said...

what great stories! thank you for sharing them. i love the illustrations. can't wait to head into the forest!!
have a great week

Appleshoe said...

This is wonderful Beth. I've never heard of the Memegwesiwag before. I will have to read this book. Take care.

Anonymous said...

Memegwesi is singular, the wag (pronounced as wuk) makes the word plural so you didn't need to write 'some memegwesiwag' when the word is already pluralized