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bdNM
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Registered: ‎11-22-2006

Song of Hiawatha, Sections XIII-XV

Section XIII -- "Blessing the Cornfields" involves Hiawatha taking steps to continued growth of the corn for the people.  This consists of Minnehaha circling the cornfields at night naked and blessing them. 

I noticed that the women were the ones who planted and harvested the corn, following what Hiawatha taught them.  There are blessings against various form of insect.  I especially liked the phrase: "nor the mighty caterpillar,/Way-muk-kwana, with the bear-skin,/King of all the caterpillars!"  It's a juxtaposition I'd never expected to see, but now I have.

It's also interesting how he keeps the ravens at bay, by holding King Raven as hostage for their good behavior.

I also found the response of the old men to the women's calling out when they found an ear of maize that was red in color -- "ugh!"  And they repeat that "ugh!" when they hear King Raven "screamed and quivered in his anger."

 

Section XIV: "Picture Writing" -- this tells of how Hiawatha creates a primitive writing system, because he realizes that the spoken word will not last. 

I wonder about this scene -- oral societies are very good at holding on to all sorts of information and passing it on through the generations.  But something must happen that leads them to realize that even such a system lacks a certain permanence that writing affords.  In the case of the Anglo-Saxons, they had a model in Latin texts.  Where would Hiawatha's model be?  Does this refer to some real event where the Ojibwe learned to write?  Apparently by Longfellow's day, the wife of Schoolcraft, who was part Ojibwe, could read and write that language.  The most likely source of a writing that would spark such feelings would be European explorers, but we have not yet seen them in the story. 

Though we know where the Greeks got their alphabet (they based it on the Phoenician syllabary), the Greeks had stories of Hermes bringing literacy to the Greeks, Hermes the trickster in chief among Greek gods.  Hiawatha, or Manabozho, was apparently a trickster figure, even though Longfellow chooses to leave that aspect of his character out.

 

Section XV:"Hiawatha's Lamentation," in which Hiawatha loses his friend Chibiabos, who dies while out hunting on the ice.  This loss of a close friend which has a devastating effect on the hero is a lot like Gilgamesh losing Enkidu.  And there too, there are forces that envy that close relationship and are determined to sever it.

Dignity, always dignity.