Sunday, May 15, 2022

Walam Olum and other stories

A book on Ojibwe culture and history confidently cites the Walam Olum as part of their history, testifying to their antiquity in the land. There are reasons to believe the document is a hoax, among which is something I hadn't thought of: "The typical Native American mythology assumes that 'the people' have always lived here, or emerged from one or more worlds underneath the earth. For this reason, many traditionalist Native Americans regard the Asian land bridge migration theory in the same way that fundamentalist Christians feel about Darwinism."

Fake? On one hand an Ojibwe chief's son endorsed it and Schoolcraft said it matched "transcripts I have obtained from bark scrolls." On the other, modern Lenape speakers found it puzzling, and that it used English idioms translated into Lenape--and Rafinesque's original manuscript shows evidence that the translation was really English to Lenape. I'm not persuaded that modern scholars automatically have better insights than earlier ones, but the manuscript evidence seems damning.

And the description of the journey to the midwest from the east doesn't mention plagues.

The actual Ojibwe book says the tribal stories are of three kinds, for amusement, for history, and for morals--and that they want the student to infer the message rather than have it Aesop-explicit. So when you're trying to use a legend in your own novel, you should figure out which category it is. I think we're OK with a slight variation...

One of the searches this evening turned up wendigo psychosis.

According to Algonquian reports, the following symptoms were signals of a potential witiko condition: stupor; catatonia; depression; paranoia; anorexia or the inability to hold down food; nausea and vomiting; emaciation; awry or glazed-looking eyes; swelling of the face, trunk, or limbs; and violence and shouting—in some cases with unusual vocal sounds.


others—particularly children or relatives—appear as animals that were normally hunted for food (such as beavers, moose, or game birds). The most diagnostic indications of witiko, however, were cannibal impulses and the subjective perception of a freezing heart or formation of ice in the chest or viscera, as reported by the victim or perceived by eyewitnesses.

Liquid animal fat might be a cure, but in practice the majority of victims (of 70 reported cases) were killed to keep them from attacking others.

It's interesting how culture can so strongly shape mental illness.

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