Little Bit Know Something [Tsattine (Beaver Indians) of northeastern British Columbia]

Contents [p. xiii : "This book is a collection of academic papers" written by the author "between 1968 and 1989".]





where 1st published




Stories in a Language






Telling Secrets






Eye on the Wheel






World of the Hunters






Dreaming & Singing






Hunt-Chief Dreamers






Knowledge, Power






Politics of Experience






Moment of Transformation






Wec^uge & Windigo






Like a Fog






In Doig People’s Ears











1. (pp. 1-47) "Stories in a Language".

p. 18 myths which provide prohibitions for individual persons

"red berries, eggshells, and camera flash link to stories about the power of Thunderbird, whose red eyes flash lightning and whose eggs are laid in nests ... .

The sound made by stretched string was used by giant Spider Man to lure his human game to a giant web.

Frogs, living like people beneath the lakes, used drums in gambling games they played with one another."

pp. 18-9 the individual’s secretive medicine-bundle

p. 18

"a medicine bundle containing objects symbolic of the medicine story ... can only be put together on the authority of a dream ... . The bundle is hung above and to the east of a person’s sleeping place. ...

p. 19

When a person begins to dream back, ... more people have an opportunity to observe the medicine bundle. ... Dreaming back to the ... vision is associated with dreaming ahead to the point of contact between hunter and game."

p. 20 how an insulted animal-deity can transform its human devotee into a cannibal

"Because the giant medicine animals were people-eating monsters, a person whose story is deliberately challenged ... is said to become "too strong." This person is then compelled, by the logic of the medicine story and the authority of having truly experienced the story in a vision ..., to begin a transformation into the person-eating mythic monster. The resulting anthropophagous being is called Wechuge".

pp. 32-8 dreaming & monsters

p. 32

"The medicine man is a dream traveler ... . His medicine is a song – a trail of song leading up and out of the middle earth to a more perfect one at the center, beyond ... . ... Beyond the monster’s appearance, ...

p. 33

it leads to the time when there were monsters and the monsters were eating the people. ... Long ago there used to be monsters ... . They were driven down beneath the earth’s surface. It has been painted over to hide their resting place, but the Dreamer, looking back on his trail, remembers them. ...

p. 34

Monsters circle round to hunt the people".

"The people ... saw that animal. ... it was huge. It had a white back with two great humps on it {cf. camel?}. It was Nowe Nachi, the giant wolverine. When they saw that, the women all started to cry..., because they knew that the animal was going to eat them all. ... [Nowe Nac^i] kept on going, right up that

p. 35

mountain after the people, right straight up ... the steep part. {A steep slope is likewise the path of Wolverine in a Montagnais myth (HNAM, p. 84), where Wolverine is performing the ro^le of the Buddha (upon whom a boulder was rolled by Deva-datta).}...


Only Wolverine understands the nature of traps and snares. While other animals struggle .., Wolverine understands his situation and calmly extricates himself from them. ... He is the one whose back is painted white. ...

p. 36

Only wolverine has a white trail painted along the darkness of his body. {The skunk also hath white streaks on the back.} ...


Human Being .. pretended to be the victim of Wolverine man’s trap, a pit of pointed stakes painted over to look like an ordinary trail.

{Ixion "had laid a pitfall ..., into which the unsuspecting Eioneus fell" (GM 63.a). Ixion’s name referreth to /ixias/ ‘mistletoe’ (GM 63.1) : kissing under the mistletoe is done during Christmas. At Saturnalia, the Pope "laughed heartily" ("RSCh" II.G), and English "good fellow" "had a loud laugh" ("OACh", citing Grimm, p. 502), just as the Montagnais "Wolverine continued to laugh" (HNAM, p. 84).}


[Human Being] winked at [Wolverine’s child].

{St. Nicholas did a "wink of his eye" ("T’was the night before Christmas") on the night before Christmas.}


From that point on, wherever you may go, the humpbacked monster with the streak of light on his back ..., will be behind you, coming closer in your dreams ... . ...

p. 37

... you begin eating up parts of your body before you realize what you are doing. ... Your back was turned when Nowe winked ..., but you remembered it ... . ...

p. 38

The Dreamer left his body rooted in the earth {i.e., asleep} and turned to face the monster in his tracks."

GM = Robert Graves : The Greek Myths. 1955.

"RSCh" = "The Real Story of Christmas"

"OACh" = B. K. Swartz, Jr. : "The Origin of American Christmas"

Grimm = Grimm, Jakob 1844 Deutshe Mythologie, translated by Steven Stallybrass, Teutonic Mythology, 1966.

HNAM = Handbook of Native American Mythology. Oxford U Pr, 2004.


2. (pp. 49-118) "World of the Hunters".

p. 54 moon & ghosts as shadows

the __ is/are shadows

of __

moon (hatlege sa ‘nighttime sun’)




pp. 54, 56 directional locations or non-locations for activities : sleeping, houses, entry into houses

p. 54

"People always sleep toward the sunrise place in anticipation of the sun’s return."

p. 56

"When families camp together no one puts his house between another’s house and the sunrise place.


"women who might be menstruating, may not cross behind where a man sleeps, behind his medicine bundle."

p. 56 places for entering and leaving a house

for __

to the __





pp. 56-7 gigantic animal-people (deities) haunt the forest

p. 56

"giant animals that existed long ago ... hunted men. ... these animals are still sometimes seen in the bush ... , ... the culture hero, Usakindji, ... drove them to a place beneath the ground. ...

Ghosts are found in the bush, but they can only go around to places where

p. 57

people used to camp along the trails of their own past lives."

"The medicine bundle links a man to ... the sunrise place, the world where giant animals may still be found".

pp. 60-1 dream-songs for medicine-bundles

p. 60

"The ... word for medicine is ma yine, "his/its song," and the central symbol {power} a man’s medicine dream is a song given to him by his medicine animal. The songs are those sung by the giant animals when they hunted men ... . The dreams also reveal to a man how to assemble a medicine bundle of objects symbolizing {containing} the powers of the mythic animals".

p. 61

"The hunter’s dreams come from the sunrise, the place where the new day is created, and come to him through his medicine bundle".

pp. 61-2 return, at death, to heaven (beyond the sky)

p. 61

"the shadows of animals killed in hunting return to the sky to be born again in the meat of another body. ... The hunter’s dream is as much of a shadow waiting to be born as it is of an animal preparing to die."

"the songs a man sings ... are called ahata yine, "God songs," {with /AHATA/ cf. /AHAyuTA/ (‘God’, in Zun~i)}or nachene yine, "Dreamer’s songs," because they are brought back from heaven by a

p. 62

man who has died, a Dreamer or shaman. The Dreamer (naa`chin) ... follows the inner path, led on by a song he hears in his dreams, to the point of death ..., to find that beyond ... is heaven (yage), from which Dreamers ... have sent down a nachene yine whose turns are the path of heaven. If he can follow the song’s path, "grab hold of it with his mind," {viz., memorize it during that dream while it was heard} ... he will return to the ordinary {waking} world as a Dreamer carrying a new song for the people.

Dreamers are the only men who may sleep toward the sunset. The ultimate source of the Dreamers’ songs ... are the prayers that animals sing when they have hard times. The [dead] Dreamers in heaven {world for souls of the dead} have heard the animals dancing and singing and sent the songs down into the dreams of Dreamers on earth, who then give them to the people. ... The songs bring people together to dance in prayer, and every man knows that when he dies he will follow the path of a Dreamer’s song to heaven."

p. 62 seating-arrangement for sacred dancing with "a large teepee"




hunters : these are the singers & drummers


older men


"the very old, as well as the Dreamer"

women & children

southern periphery, outside the door

p. 63 "The singers ... have drums that carry heaven songs out to the people. The dance is a hopping shuffle around the fire. They say it is walking to heaven."

pp. 69-70, 72 dreaming in hunting & mythology

p. 69

"The individual hunter was expected to dream the point of contact between his own trail and that of an animal. In order to facilitate this essential dream experience, hunters slept with their heads toward the place where the sun was expected to rise in the morning. ...

p. 70

A person with the ability to think and plan through dreaming was said to "know something."

p. 72

"In the communal hunt, special people known as Dreamers used their powers to "dream for everybody" ... . ... . ... the hunt chiefs are described as having the ability to travel in their dreams along Yagatunne, the "trail to heaven."

p. 71 two myths

The creation myth "tells how Muskrat brings a speck of dirt from beneath a primordial body of water. The creator then places it at the center of a cross he draws upon the water’s surface."

"Saya ... was a boy named Swan. Through the intervention of a guardian spirit, the master of the migratory water birds, Swan lived through a winter of isolation to become Saya, who journeys across the sky".

p. 72 "Swans are the only big animals ... that can go to heaven without dying. ... They go right through the sky. ... Most of them are up in heaven; only a few down here."

pp. 74-6 the legend of Makenunatane

p. 74

"Makenunatane ... means literally "his track earth trail" ..., "his trail circles around the edge of the world." ... Makenunatane is referred to asthe Sikanni Chief. (There is a Sikanni Chief River north of Fort St. John, British Columbia.) ... in reference to the neighboring Athapaskan Sekani, "people of the contoured rocks"."

p. 75

"Makenunatane went to sleep ... in his dream he went to heaven. ... He woke up ... and started singing. He sang that song ... about heaven."

p. 76

"killing an animal with an axe indicates that the moose allowed itself to be taken under the Dreamer’s direction."

p. 79 cross-in-circle design

"The drum was painted with two designs. Both designs center on the image of an even-armed cross and show pathways leading toward a circular horizon. The Dreamer explained them as drawings of Yagatunne, the trail to heaven."

pp. 102, 114 Naskapi & Dunne-za souls

p. 102

"In Naskapi theory, ... a person’s "active soul," which guides him through life, is called Mistapeo ("great man" ...). Mistapeo reveals itself most directly in dreams.

p. 114

"In Dunne-za theory, ... The ghost’s journey backward can only be shortened by dancing with others around a common fire to the "Dreamers’ Songs" (Ridington 1978a:24-26)."

Ridington 1978a = Swan People : a Study of the Dunne-za Prophet Dance. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF MAN MERCURY SERIES, CANADIAN ETHNOLOGY SERVICE PAPER No. 38. Ottawa.


3. (pp. 119-81) "Politics of Experience".

p. 130 myth of creation of the world

"There was just water and God made a big cross that he floated up on the water . ... .

{cf. the cross comprised of "floating logs" (IB&ThM, p. 77) in the Nightway Chant of the Navaho.}

{Gun, in the guise of "a black fish ... lay crosswise in the waves." (HChM, p. 128, s.v. "Gun")}

.. then he called all the animals that stay in the water ... to get the dirt, but they ... couldn’t get it. Too far down.

{The "divine swallow and turtle" located "some black mud called Xirang." (HChM, p. 129, s.v. "Gun")}

The last one was rats {muskrat} ... sent ... down to get the dirt ... . ...

{It was obtained from "the Grand Cold Palace" during C^an-e’s dance (loc. cit.)}

He put that little piece of dirt on the cross and

{"Xirang ... overloaded the turtle’s shell" (HChM, p. 130, s.v. "Gun").}

told it, "You are going to grow." From there it started growing and growing ... . ...

{"The mud quickly started to grow" (loc. cit.)}

He made those giant animals from the stars that he sent down to this earth. ...

{The Xi-ran itself had originated in the galaxy, leaving a "gap" (HChM, p. 129, s.v. "Gun"). cf. Norse mythic Ginnunga-GAP.}

Everybody ran away from those giant animals that ate people, but ... this one man just went after them and killed them. ... Some of the animals he didn’t kill. He just chased them under the ground."

{"Zhurong ... had many renowned descendants ... the twelve months of the year." (HChM, p. 248, s.v. "Zhurong") [These 12 are the well-known 12 Chinese calendar-animals.] "Zhurong killed Gun".}

IB&ThM = Indian Blankets and Their Makers.

HChM = Lihui Yang & Deming An : Handbook of Chinese Mythology. Oxford U Pr, 2005.

pp. 167-8, 170-3 how to become a cannibal of mythic times

p. 167

"Older people are generally acknowledged to have more power than younger people, ... medicine powers ... . ... One must learn the proper respect for ... such a person so as not to violate one of the taboos that go with his power. Those taboos are actions relating to the action of the giant animals who hunted people in mythic times."


[an instance of this phainomenon :] "To have been exposed to the flash would have made him "too strong." It would have risked

p. 168

bringing down to earth the power of Giant Eagle, whose flashing eyes still penetrate from heaven to earth in time of storm. The power would have compelled the man to become the person-eating monster ... by virtue of his encounter with it during the experience of visionary transformation as a child."


[another instance of this phainomenon:] "giant Spider Man who lured people to a mountain top by swinging a sort of bull roarer around his head. The sound made by this stretched spider thread attracted the passing curiosity of passing humans, and when they approached they were killed by Spider Man, who sucked their body fluids. To make a similar sound in a similar way [as if of a bull-roarer] would bring the mythic monster back from then and there to here and now. The Spider Man within the human would become too strong, and all the people would be in danger."

p. 170

[still another instance of this phainomenon :]


"The little old man had climbed up onto his bed and begun jumping up and down like a frog, singing his medicine song. ... .

{A bed (one of multiple mattresses) is also mentioned in the Danish folktale "The Princess and the Pea" : /piso-/ ‘peas’ may be the basis of the name /Pision/ of the father of (CDCM, s.v. "Ixion") Ixion.}


... those frogs? Even now you can hear them making lots of noise ... . ... Old man ... said, "I’ve been staying with those people on the bottom of

p. 171

the lake. You can’t beat me gambling." To the people in camp, the little old man ... was becoming the Giant Frog, a warrior and gambler of superhuman power. ... Unless the Giant Frog could be sent back to its home beneath the lake, the people would be in mortal danger. ... To attempt to cure him, ... the medicine bundle containing ... tiny images of frogs ... was opened. ... this action had the desired effect ...

p. 172

to entice the power of the giant frog to leave his body and return to its place [beneath the lake]. ... . ... to eat ... flies, the food of frogs, would intensify his medicine power and effect his transformation into Giant Frog, whose flies were people." {This potential acquisition of superhuman power through the eating of flies is praecisely identifical with the acquisition of spiritual power by Christians through the eating of the body (eucharist) of Christ, for it was the power of Beelzebub (divine ‘Owner of Flies’) resident in Christ that enabled him to perform miracles (Euaggelion of Matthaios 12:24). Christians are manifestations (spirit-possessed spirit-media) aequivalent to the Maya god "P", the Toad-god (they are toadies to St. Constantine, their founding emperor-saint – the Christians’ forgiving of Constantine for his multiple murders of his own relatives is reminiscent of the forgiving – GM 63.b – of Ixion for murder). The very Christian-charity practice of dueling-combats via challenge as per the gauntlet is a manifestation of the removable gloves of god "P" – from his habit of slipping off this gauntlet, Frog’s (HNAM, p. 84) "hands were too slippery."}


[yet another instance of this phainomenon :] "he had taken the medicine bundle of the lame widower from where it hung above where he slept and hidden it somewhere in the bush. ... The lame man began to grow "too strong" ... . ... .

p. 173

... he was carefully filing a long nail to a sharp point. The children knew well the story of Giant Wolf whose teeth are like bright metal and who, when sent out to measure the extent of the world by the creator, came back with a human arm in his mouth. ... At this, the lame man seized him and drove the sharpened nail into his hand." {cf. the myth (in the Edda) of the biting of the hand of Ty`r by the wolf Fenrir}

CDCM = Pierre Grimal : A Concise Dictionary of Classical Mythology. 1990.

p. 174 taboo-violations of another person’s personal taboos which will render that other person’s power "too strong", transmuting that other person into a Wec^uge


power which is violated

"The sound of a stretched string"


"eating fly ... or contact with drums"


"cooking food in an electrical storm, eating red berries, or seeing a flash camera"

Giant eagle

"having daughters"


pp. 171, 179 devouring one’s own body

p. 171

"Unless the power growing stronger within him was returned to its proper place, he would begin to eat his own lips. ... Once the flesh of his lips had lodged within his body, he would be the all-powerful invincible Wechuge monster of mythic time and space. When he had consumed his own lips, he would no longer be able to speak to them ... . Once he had eaten his lips, his internal organs would turn to ice and he would be beyond them in power and cunning."

p. 179

The Dunne-za wec^uge have in common with the Algonkin tribes "specific elements of the windigo complex (eating of lips, ice in the gut, burning of the body)."

p. 212 Wolverine medicine

"Wolverine is said to escape from a snare by lifting it over his head (Ridington 1980c). Wolverine medicine represents ... the ability to detect dangerous situations that might trap people."

Ridington 1980c = "Monsters and the Anthropologist’s Reality". In :- M. Halpin & A. Ames (edd.) : Manlike Monsters on Trial. Vancouver : U of BC Pr.

pp. 227-30 public performance of Dreamers’ songs

p. 227

"Doig River is the name of a community northeast of Fort St. John."

p. 228

"In traditional Beaver Indian culture, songs were "brought down from heaven" by shamans known as Dreamers. ... During their large summer dances, singers sang the Dreamers’ songs and played hand drums. ... Dreamers presided over these gatherings. They told of the journeys they took in their dreams to the place beyond the sky. ... They sang new songs they had learned during the course of their journeys. ...

p. 229

Dreamers’ songs were ... for the soul’s journey ... to the spirit world of dreaming. ... Singers held their drums close to their mouths so that others could not see inside their mouths. ...

p. 230

Dreamers’ songs were known as signs of the "trail to heaven." ... The Dreamers were people who had gone through the experience of {aequivalent to} dying and following a trail of song to heaven. They were able to tell people about the trail because they knew it from personal experience. ... Dreamers were people adept at following these spirit trails and returning to the body’s earthly sanctuary. Their songs were trails of connections between body and mind, spirit and substance."

p. 232 evocation of the dead

"he cupped his hands to his mouth and called out to his long-dead relatives. He called them by kin terms. He called them to the world he once held in common with them. He ... trusted an evocation of its soundspace to connect him to his relatives in heaven."


Robin Ridington : Little Bit Know Something. U of IA Pr, Iowa City, 1990.

[The process of metamorphosis into a mythic gigantic-animal would be an unusual variety of spirit-possession / spirit-mediumship. The entailment of flashing, music, or the like, is a mode of inducing the spirit-possession, which elsewhere is commonly ascribed to the flashing / music being an entertainment provide for the benefit of the invited possessing-spirit – for it to be taken as an offense by the spirit (instead of an agreeable entertainment) is now-a-days quite unusual in spirit-mediumship performance, but may be a highly archaic (Neanderthal era?) trait.]