Indians' Book


Lore, music, narratives, dozens of drawings by Indians themselves from an authoritative and important survey of native culture among Plains, Southwestern, Lake, and Pueblo Indians. Standard work in popular ethnomusicology. Features 149 songs in full notation. Includes 23 drawings and 23 photos.
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Lore, music, narratives, dozens of drawings by Indians themselves from an authoritative and important survey of native culture among Plains, Southwestern, Lake, and Pueblo Indians. Standard work in popular ethnomusicology. Features 149 songs in full notation. Includes 23 drawings and 23 photos.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780486219394
  • Publisher: Dover Publications
  • Publication date: 6/1/1968
  • Series: Native American Series
  • Edition description: Revised
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 583
  • Product dimensions: 6.63 (w) x 9.35 (h) x 1.32 (d)

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The Indians' Book

An Offering by the American Indians of Indians Lore, Musical and Marative, to Form a Record of the Songs and Legends of Their Race

By Matalic Curtis

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1950 Paul Burlin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14859-5




Told by Bedagi (Big Thunder)

WE are the Wabanakís—" Children of the Dawn Country," "People of the East." Five tribes made up our nation —Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Micmac, Maliseet, and a tribe now gone that lived on the Kennebec River. Some of the tribes had almost the same speech, others a different one. Long have the white men been among us, yet though we have forgotten many of the old songs and stories, we have never lost our language. It is only nowadays that the children use less and less the speech of their fathers.

Long have the white men been among us. Yet some of us still remember the time when our lives were spent in hunting and fishing, and our villages were of wigwams instead of houses.

In the olden time our garments were of moose-skin and fur, our pouches were the skins of animals, our dishes were of wood and bark. Before the coming of white men, our knives and tomahawks and all our tools were of stone. With a stone knife we cut open the moose and with a tool of stone we skinned him. We fished with a bait of stone, well greased with moose-tallow, on a line of moose- sinew. Our lives were simple and glad, and our marriages were happy. Man and woman made their vow to the Great Spirit. In our old religion we believed that the Great Spirit who made all things is in everything, and that with every breath of air we drew in the life of the Great Spirit.


Unless otherwise indicated, vowels have the Continental sound and consonants the English. Where no translation appears, the song-words are meaningless vocables.


Joseph Nicolar. a Penobscot Indian, compiled and wrote the legends of his people, and published them himself in the year 1893, in a small volume entitled The Red Man. "The Story of the First Mother," is adapted from the book and is here contributed by Nicolar's wife, who is still living at Oldtown. Maine. The same story as told to the compiler by Big Thunder differs somewhat in detail, but is essentially the same.

LONG ago, when Kloskurbeh, the great teacher, lived in the land, and there were as yet no other men, there came to him one day at noon a youth; and the youth stood before Kloskurbeh and called him "mother's brother," and said: "I was born of the foam of the waters; for the wind blew, and the waves quickened into foam, and the sun shone on the foam and warmed it, and the warmth made life, and that life is I. See, I am young and swift, and I have come to abide with you and be your help in all things."

Again on a day at noon there came a maiden and stood before the two and called them "my children," and the maiden said: "I have come to abide with you, and I have brought with me love. I will give it to you, and if you will love me and grant my wish, all the world will love me well, even the very beasts. Strength is mine, and I give it to whosoever may get me; comfort also; for though I am young my strength shall be felt over all the earth. I was born of the beautiful planet of the earth; for the dew fell on the leaf, and the sun warmed the dew, and the warmth was life, and that life is I."

Then Kloskurbeh lifted up his hands towards the sun and praised the Great Spirit, and afterwards the young man and the maid were man and wife, and the became the first mother. Kloskurbeh taught their children and did great works for them, and when his works were finished he went away to live in the Northland until it should be time for him to come again. But the people increased until they were very many, and there came a famine among them; and then the first mother grew more and more sorrowful. Every day at noon she left her husband's lodge and stayed from him until the shadows were long. And her husband that dearly loved her was sad because of her sorrow, and one day he followed her trail as far as the ford of the river, and there he waited for her to return. When she came, she sang as she began to ford the river, and as long as her feet were in the water she seemed glad, and the man saw something that trailed behind her right foot, like a long green blade. But when she came out of the water she stooped and cast off the blade, and then she appeared sorrowful.

The husband followed her home as the sun was going down, and he bade her come out and look at the beautiful sun. And while they stood side by side, there came seven little children that stood in front of them and looked into the woman's face, saying, "We are hungry, and the night will soon be here. Where is the food ?" Then the woman's tears ran down, and she said, "Be quiet, little ones; in seven moons you shall be filled, and shall hunger no more."

The husband reached out his hand and wiped away her tears and said, "My wife, what can I do to make you happy ?" And she answered, "Take my life."

"I cannot take your life," said the man; "will nothing else make you happy?"

"Nothing else," she answered. "Nothing else will make me happy."

Then the husband went away to the Northland to take counsel with Kloskurbeh, and with the rising of the seventh sun he came again and said, "O wife, Kloskurbeh has told me to do the thing you wish." Then the woman was glad and said: "When you have slain me, let two men lay hold of my hair and draw my body all around a field, and when they have come to the middle of the field, there let them bury my bones. Then they must come away; but when seven moons have passed let them go again to the field and gather all that they find, and eat; it is my flesh; but you must save a part of it to put in the ground again. My bones you cannot eat, but you may burn them, and the smoke will bring peace to you and to your children."

On the morrow when the sun was rising the man slew his wife; and. as she had bidden, men drew her body all about an open field, until the flesh was worn away, and in the middle of the field they buried her bones. But when seven moons had gone by, and the husband came again to that place, he saw it all filled with beautiful tall plants; and he tasted the fruit of the plants and found it sweet, and he called it "Skar-mu-nal," corn. And on the place where her bones were buried he saw a plant with broad leaves, bitter to the taste, and he called it "Utar-Mur-wa-yeh," tobacco.

Then the people were glad in their hearts, and they came to his harvest; but when it was all gathered in, the man did not know how they should divide it, and he sent to Kloskurbeh for counsel. When Kloskurbeh came and saw the great harvest, he gave thanks to the Great Spirit and said, "Now have the first words of the first mother come to pass, for she said she was born of the leaf of the beautiful plant, and that her power should be felt over the whole world, and that all men should love her. And now that she is gone into this substance, take care that this, the second seed of the first mother, be always with you, for it is her flesh. Her bones also have been given for your good; burn them, and the smoke will bring freshness to the mind. And since these things came from the goodness of a woman's heart, see that you hold her always in memory; remember her when you eat, remember her when the smoke of her bones rises before you. And because you are all brothers, divide among you her flesh and her bones—let all shares be alike — for so will the love of the first mother have been fulfilled."


Songs of Greeting

Sung and told by Biamswe-Zozep Tene (Francis Joseph Dana), Lincoln, Maine, and Asawhis (John Salis), Eastport, Maine

WHENEVER we saw a canoe rounding the point, flying a white flag, we knew that strangers were coming to visit us. Then we gathered on the shore, men, women, and children, like a great procession, waiting to welcome them. In those days the Wabanaki tribes had each their chief (sagam), lieutenant - chief (mehchichiket, or leptahnit). and five or six head warriors or captains (s'moganis). The stranger (s'mo-ganis) first sprang to land and sang the N'Skawewintuagunul (song of greeting), stepping slowly towards our chief, in time to the song, while all the people sang "hega, hega." At the end of the song the stranger had drawn close to the chief, and holding out his hand said, "I greet you, chief of the Passamaquoddy." Then the people gave a great shout and fired off their guns. In the same way the stranger greeted the lieutenant-chief and the captains. Then we in our turn performed the same ceremony, singing the song of welcome, and shaking hands with the visiting chief and his men.

Then the visitors and all the people went up together to the village, and there the guests were feasted.

These are the songs of greeting of the olden days.


Sang and told by Bedagi (Big Thunder)

WINTER is the season for story-telling and games. One of our amusements in the old days was the game of barter. Two companies would gather in separate wigwams and each dress one of their men in comic dress as a nolmihigon, or clown. The first nolmihigon and his company would go to the second wigwam with some article to be offered for exchange. Then the nolmihigon would dance and sing so comically and praise the article with so much wit that often he would receive in exchange for it something of far greater value. For instance, he would take an old wooden spoon, and stroking it would say how fair it was, how useful, singing. "If you will keep him well, he will serve you your life long."

The people of the opposite company then would offer him their things in exchange, and if the nolmihigon were clever he might obtain a good canoe for his old spoon. Snow-shoes, moose-skin garments, axes, all things were bartered in this merry way. When the exchange had been made, the first nolmihigon and his company would go back to their own wigwam, and then the nolmihigon and people of the second wigwam would visit them with their wares. But great was the fun if the people of the second wigwam ran very fast and arrived at the first wigwam before their hosts had returned. Of course, the party with the wittiest nolmihigon were winners in the end. So we joked and played on long winter evenings in the olden days.


Ko na wa ya ti ge
Ko na wa ya ti ge
Ko cha ba la chich a
Ni ta ge si za

(Meaning of words unknown)


Kwa ha hi-a
Kwa nu kwa nu de he no
Kwa nu de kwa nu de
He no

These are no real words, but the meaning of the song as given by Big Thunder might be, "I wish that you were dancing, too."


LIKE most Indian dance-songs, this song may be repeated an indefinite number of times, sometimes varying the form by repeating certain parts instead of singing the song straight through. The beat of the rattle, also, varies. Sometimes the long rattle-shake or the short rattle-beats occur in one place, sometimes in another.

The rattle used is of horn, beautifully carved, and filled with pebbles or shot. The mouth of the horn is stopped with wood.

With the Maliseet Indians, "Kwe-híu-wha-ní-ho" is a greeting, like "how are you?" It is not used in speech, but only in singing.


BLAMSWE-ZOZEP TENE used to hear his grandfather sing this song, and in those old days the song had words. But it has not been sung by the people for forty or fifty years, and now Blamswe knows only the vocables used in the refrain. The song is thought to be an old medicine-song of the Penobscots, but some of the Wabanakis say it is a social song.


Now used at Weddings

Told by Maliseet Indians

WHEN a youth wishes to marry, he sends wampum to the father of the maid by the hand of one of the old men of the tribe. The old man delivers the wampum and speaks in praise of the youth; then he goes away. If the father send the wampum back to the youth, it is a sign that the suit is rejected, but if the wampum be kept, the youth knows that he is accepted. When the wedding-day comes, the maid and her lover each prepare a great feast in the open air, and then a messenger goes through the village, calling. "Your dishes!" This is the signal that the feast is ready, and all the people gather to it, men, women, and children, bringing bowls and platters; every one is bidden.

These are all that are still kept of the ancient marriage customs, and it is only at weddings that we still dance the old Indian dances. We dance half the evening in the French or American manner and then the other half in the old Indian way. To keep time in our dances, we use a rattle made of horn, filled with pebbles or shot, and stopped with wood. At the end of the song we call out quickly, twa, twa, twa, twa, like a summons to others to come and dance with us. Sometimes the whole song is sung with only "twa, twa" for words. The old people still love the Indian dance, and for the wedding merry-making wear all their ancient Indian ornaments of silver, shell, or fur.


Hey, ho, dance away!
Ya hi ye
Dance away!
Hey, ho, dance away,
Ya hi ye
Dance away!
Ya hi ye
Dance away!
Kshí-te-ka-mo-tífc 'lo
Harder, faster let us go.
Ya hi ye
Dance away!
Ya hi ye
Dance away!
Pilsh-kwe-sis-tok 'lo
Youths and maidens, be gay.
Ya hi ye
Dance away!
Ski-no-sis-tok 'lo
Youths and maidens, be gay.
Ya hi ye
Dance away!
Kshi-te-ka-mo-tik 'lo
Fast and faster let us go.
Ya hi ye
Dance away!
Twa, twa, twa, twa! (etc.) Come, come, come, come!


He is coming, our grandfather.
N'Musums sanow
Great Blamswe-Zozep,
Kchi Blamswe-Zozep With a string of fish!
We ho (etc.)
We ho (etc.)


Told by Bedagi (Big Thunder)

THE Great Spirit made all things; all men are his children. He made the Indians last of all, and so, since they are his youngest children, they are not as wise as the white men. But the Great Spirit said. "In time you shall know me." And he placed in the hands of the Indian the bow and said. "This shall find for you both food and clothing."

The Great Spirit is in all things; he is in the air we breathe. The Great Spirit is our father, but the earth is our mother. She nourishes us; that which we put into the ground she returns to us, and healing plants she gives us likewise. If we are wounded, we go to our mother and seek to lay the wounded part against her, to be healed. Animals, too, do thus, they lay their wounds to the earth. When we go hunting, it is not our arrow that kills the moose, however powerful be the bow; it is nature that kills him. The arrow sticks in his hide; and, like all living things, the moose goes. to our mother to be healed. He seeks to lay his wound against the earth, and thus he drives the arrow farther in. Meanwhile I follow. He is out of sight, but I put my ear to a tree in the forest, and that brings me the sound, and I hear when the moose makes his next leap, and I follow. The moose stops again for the pain of the arrow, and he rubs his side upon the earth and drives the arrow farther in. I follow always, listening now and then with my ear against a tree. Every time he stops to rub his side he drives the arrow farther in, till at last when he is nearly exhausted and I come up with him, the arrow may be driven clean through his body. Then I can kill him easily with my knife.

The moose comes when he is called. We call him with a horn made of bark; or we stand in the water and scoop it up and then let it slowly drip as if a moose were drinking. The moose comes to the sound because he thinks to find his mate.

Now follows the story of the moose:


In olden days the moose was so large that he used to browse on the tops of trees; also he destroyed the people. So the Great Spirit sent Ksiwhambeh to the people, and when he had come he called us all together and said, "I have come to change that animal, the moose, so that you can take comfort in him."

Then Ksiwhambeh called for a strip of birch-bark, three hands long, and when it was brought him he set one hand upon an end of it, and two fingers upon the other end, and he roiled the bark into a horn and began to call the moose. The first time he called, the people could only faintly hear the sound of the answer far in the distance; then he called again, and the answer was nearer and nearer till at last a moose appeared. And Ksiwhambeh spoke to the moose and said: "I have come to make you smaller so that my children can take comfort in you. Come here to me."

The moose came and held down his head, and Ksiwhambeh took him between the horns and pushed him down to the size that he now has. Then Ksiwhambeh said to him, "Henceforth look that you never come till you are called."


Excerpted from The Indians' Book by Matalic Curtis. Copyright © 1950 Paul Burlin. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Organizations of the Plains Indians,
The Holy Han or "Medicine Man",
The Pueblo Indians,
San Juan,

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