1. Songs and Pictures

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Recorded by Frances Densmore circa 1907, the "song pictures" (as she called them) are pictographs recorded on birch bark, representing individual songs & extended series of songs that can be read-out from them. According to Densmore the pictures use certain "established" (but apparently very open) symbols common to Midê drawing (see below) & rearranged & elaborated for each particular occasion. But W.J. Hoffman’s earlier readings show departures from the mere representation of the songs’ contents to the presentation of new information not supplied by the words.

The songs so depicted are almost all from the Midêwiwin (Society of the Midê or "shamans"), the basic organizational form of the tribal religion. The artists – Odenigun (numbers 82-87), Debwawendunk (number 17), Becigwizans (numbers 66-69), & Nawajibigokwe (all the rest) – had all been initiated through the various grades or degrees of the society, toward a gradual opening-up of sense perception, powers to heal, etc. Again & again Densmore tells us that even in the recording of songs for her information, singers & artists treated the events, i.e. the singing & drawing, as an experience of some intensity, an occasion for prayer, tobacco offering & (sometimes) meditative withdrawal. Thus Debwawendunk ("an old man … and a most devout adherent of the Midê") smoked in silence, then made a speech as follows:

I am not doing this for the sake of curiosity, but I have smoked a pipe to the Midê manido from whom these songs came, and I ask them not to be offended with me for singing these songs which belong to them.

The numbering of the song pictures follows from Densmore’s numbering of 107 poems in her original collection. The wording was modified for publication in Jerome Rothenberg (ed.), Shaking the Pumpkin, while her original translations can be found, along with ample descriptions, in Frances Densmore, Chippewa Music, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 45, 1910.

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