Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Jipijka’maq– Great Horned Serpent


Multiple Layers of Meaning in the Mi'kmaw Serpent Dance – Trudy Sable
“How far back this dance goes among the Mi'kmaq is difficult to say. Possibly it originated from the Ohio Valley where the serpent mounds of the Adena tradition are found: interchange between the Ohio Valley and the Maritimes 3,000 years ago is documented (Ruth Whitehead, personal communication, 1996).”
“First, as seen in the language, the world is experienced and expressed as fluid, in a constant flux, or as a process, not static and objectified. For instance, there are a number of words for Creator, e.g. kisu Ikw, ankwey-ulkwjikeyulkw, tekweyulk, most of which are transitive verbs describing different processes of creation that do not begin or end, but are ongoing. The word adapted by the missionaries to communicate the abstract concept of 'God' is Niskamij, which is both a kin term and an honorific term meaning 'grandfather', 'step-father', and 'father-in-law' (Francis, personal communications, 1995-96).
Second, because of the fluid nature of reality, everything in the culture seems to accommodate and adjust to a world of shifting realities. Many of the legends are filled with shape-shifting and unpredictable beings with whom one had to interact appropriately to survive. The nature of the language, stories, songs and dances, all seem to be a way to re-create and re-evaluate reality again and again, and to re-establish one's relationship within it continuously. Third, everything expresses a world of relationships, or things in association or in relation with other things, not existing as separate entities. This can be seen in the language in the extension of kinship terms to things, animals and other-than-human-beings, as well as in the social organization. Similarly, the terms for colours illustrate this relational quality. Except for the four colours red, black, white and yellow (also the colours used for the four directions), all colours are associative — or "analogized", as Francis (personal communications, 1995-96) terms it. Even these four, however, are thought to have derived from Proto-Algonquian words that associate them with blood (red), light/sunlight/dawn (yellow and white), and ash (black) (Whitehead 1982:71). Other colour terms mean Tike the sky' (blue), 'like the fir trees' (forest green), etc. Thus there is no way to describe the colour of blue and green rocks, or even a dream of blue and green rocks, without ascribing to them a connection, or relation, to the sky and fir trees. Furthermore, all colours — including black, red, yellow and white — are intransitive verbs that can be conjugated. The translation of maqtewe 'k (black) is 'in the process of being black', inferring that there is no fixed state of blackness, but rather a stage in a process that could change (Francis, personal communication, 1996). Fourth, many levels of meaning can be compressed into one word, one utterance, one step — a whole image that might take many sentences in English to write out can be expressed in one word or one movement, similar to mnemonic marks made to convey information, or wampum belts with each bead associated with some message. As well, there may be implicit meanings that are not conveyed in the literal translation of a word but simply come from being part of the culture...
...The word jujijuajik, according to Margaret Johnson, means 'acting like a snake'. She explained that the word jujij refers to things that crawl on the ground, e.g. snakes, lizards and spiders. This is in keeping with Hagar who quotes Silas T. Rand, the 19th-century Baptist minister to the Mi'kmaq, as defining jujij as a general term for 'reptile'. Hagar also mentions that, despite this definition, several Mi'kmaq assured him it designated the rattlesnake (Hagar 1895:37). John Hewson defined jujij as 'serpent' and jujijuajik as 'they do the serpent', but Francis was uncertain that this was an accurate definition. Nicholas Smith cites Jack Solaman, a Maliseet from Tobique Point, as using the word al-la-de-gee-eh in a singing of the "Snake Song" in 1915. This word was translated by Peter Paul as 'moves like a snake', though it does not actually contain the word 'snake' in it; rather, it literally means "it has the motion of a snake" (Smith n.d.). In the Mi'kmaw language, this would be alatejiey, which is translated as 'crawling around, or the movement that the snake makes' (Francis, personal communication, 1996). This translation seems similar to Margaret Johnson's definition of jujijuajik. The actual word for 'snake' in Mi'kmaq is mteskm (Hewson, personal communication, 1996)...
...The jipijka 'm is a powerful symbol in Mi'kmaw legends. It lives and travels beneath the earth or water, and its horns, one red and one yellow, were used for personal power particularly by puoinaq, or what are referred to as shamans today. It can also take on human form and live as a human in the underwater world. The red and yellow horns of the jipijka 'm are power objects, and stories about the use of jipijka 'm horns are known all the way across northern North America and across the centuries, back to northern Asia (Whitehead, personal communication, 1996)...
   Hagar describes it as "a horned dragon, sometimes no larger than a worm, sometimes larger than the largest serpent... He inhabits lakes, and is still sometimes seen" (Hagar 1896:170)...
In summary, the Serpent Dance involves many layers of meaning and embodies a richness of information and profundity. First, this one dance brings together a web or system of relationships that occur simultaneously — the changing of seasons, most probably linked to the appearance or position of a constellation in the sky, connected in turn to the time of the moulting of snakes, which were indicators for the ripening and picking of medicine. On another level, the jipijka 'm was the essence or protector of medicine, which was the spirit ally of the puoin, who was the most powerful shaman. Ultimately, the dance protected the well-being of the people themselves. Second, the mirroring of one thing in another is evident — the micro-cosm reflecting the macrocosm. The dance itself mirrored the sound of the plant, the coiling and uncoiling of both the literal snake awakening from hibernation and shedding its skin, and the essence of the medicine in the form of the jipijka'm, and possibly the constellation in the sky and the changing or "turning over" of seasons. The plant, meteteskewey, may have mirrored the jipijka 'm in its appearance and sound, if the identification of the plant is correct. 
Possibly, as well, the constellation in the sky mirrored the cycle of the snake on earth, like the constellation Ursa Major mirroring the hibernation, birth, and hunt of the bear as it moves through the sky in the winter and spring (see Hoffman 1954:253). Furthermore the male and female dancers were possibly a reflection of male and fevna\e jipijka 'maq, as well as the male and female plants. Finally, the dance illustrates the Mi'kmaw relationship to the world as being part of universal processes and cycles, of "tuning in" to the funda-mental energy and rhythms and reflecting and expressing those processes and rhythms in the dance. The dance was a means to help effect the changing or turning over of seasons, and channel the energy appropriately so that the medicine would be powerful and effective, just as other aspects of nature — temperature, soil composition, weather patterns, etc. -contribute to the process. Dance was a way to reflect and come to know the world, embody and communicate its rhythms and its stories, and re-establish one's relationship to and within a shifting reality again and again.”






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