Excerpt: Ojibwe Stories from the Upper Berens River

The following is an excerpt from Ojibwe Stories from the Upper Berens River: A. Irving Hallowell and Adam Bigmouth in Conversation (January 2018), edited and with an introduction by Jennifer S. H. Brown. This is the newest book in the New Visions in Native American and Indigenous Studies series.


Adam Declines to Conjure, 1932

The following text, titled “Conjuring” (gosaabanjuge—as a verb), comprises two handwritten pages in Hallowell’s field research notes on conjuring. Although undated, it pertains to Hallowell’s first trip up the Berens River in 1932 and tells of his first meeting with Adam Bigmouth. He arrived at Little Grand Rapids on July 9, planning to stay only a couple of days before heading to Poplar Hill and Pikangikum. However, on July 10 he decided “to stay over and see a Wabano dance and conjuring—either Adam or John Duck” (field diary 1932). No conjuring performance (gosaabanjigewin) materialized on that occasion, and Hallowell and his party went on up the river to their other destinations. On their return trip they reached Little Grand Rapids at 5:00 p.m. on July 19; this entry is the last one in the 1932 diary. The diary accordingly makes no mention of the event related next, which probably happened the following day.

The conjuring text is most interesting, both as a vignette of how Hallowell conducted himself in the field, and as an introduction to Adam—a reflective person who declined to perform a ceremony at which he might fail and refused gifts that might have tempted him to engage in subterfuge, to “fool the white man.”

Adam Big-mouth has been known to shake a tent many times. William Berens at first spoke to another Berens River man who was to ask Adam [to do it]. He was to let us know. In the afternoon we heard that the tent was up from John Keeper. We waited until dusk (and procured tobacco) but received no word. Finally I suggested we go over to Adam’s camp. Birchstick [Wiigwaasaatig] said he would go along so W.B., Theo [Panadis], and y.t. [yours truly] paddled over. [We] found from the Berens River man that Adam had given him no answer. So we went in. Found [he had] visitors. After they left, Birchstick took the package I had brought containing a liberal allowance of tobacco and a shirt. He laid this before Adam (who is his step-father) and told him that I had tried to get a conjurer to shake a tent up the river so I could get an answer to some questions, but that no one could do it. Said in addition he knew he [Adam] had shaken the tent. Adam looked at the package, handled the tobacco, and after a while said he could not do it. He had done it well years ago, but the last few times it seemed as if his power was leaving him. Although he was a poor man he could not take the gift and fool the white man. I suggested he wait until the next day to decide but he replied that he knew ahead he could not manage it. Like a fire—bright at first but now he was getting old, not very good. Birchstick suggested that he have a tent put up, and if he could not do it to get someone else. “No”—last year, there was a sick young man, and he thought maybe he could discover the cause of the trouble in the tent. But when he went in it would not shake—pawaganak [bawaaganag] would not come. His brother Baptiste [Baachiish] went in with no better results. Had to admit failure—did not want to risk it again. He has been studying medicine—is going in for that now.

He finally pushed the package from him—which meant a final refusal. (Illustrates a genuine belief in spiritual controllers.)

He said that John Duck [Makochens] conjures, but the last time he did it all the people who were present ran off and left him. He did not even know this but kept on shaking [the tent]. [There’s] no belief in his power—Said that he shakes it himself.

W.B.’s father [Jacob Berens] always said that as one gets older the pawaganak leave. Also that to deceive brings a penalty—a man will be driven crazy. A man at Berens River (William Goosehead) developed mental trouble—could not go 200 or 300 yards into the bush by himself—scared that something would happen to him. [He] confessed that he had used his own hands to shake a tent. His mental condition was the penalty.

Persons mentioned

William Berens, John Duck (fig. 6), and “Baptiste” (Adam’s brother Baachiish or John Baptiste, fig. 5) are introduced elsewhere in this book, as is Birchstick (Wiigwaasaatig, John Suggashie), who was chief at Pikangikum. Birchstick was connected to Adam through his marriage to Maggie Ross, a daughter of Adam’s wife Aanii by her first husband. John Keeper Sr. (Giiwichens, d. 1951), was a son of the Mide leader Pazigwigabau (Bazigwiigaabaw) and his second wife, Mahkohkwe (Butikofer 2009, pt. II.3, 355).

“Theo” is a most interesting personage. Theophile Panadis (1889–1966) was a trilingual Abenaki guide, hunter, and storyteller whom Hallowell had met at Odanak, Quebec, in the 1920s during his fieldwork there. Full of detailed cultural knowledge, he was immensely helpful to Hallowell’s research, and his own deep interest in aboriginal life, as well as his practical skills, probably encouraged Hallowell to invite Panadis on his first trip up the Berens River. Unfortunately, Hallowell’s 1932 field diary says almost nothing about Panadis, though it lists a few Ojibwe and Abenaki words that they compared and offers a couple of anecdotes. But as Alice Nash discovered in her Abenaki research, Panadis and Hallowell, both newcomers on this river journey, shared remarkable experiences, which Hallowell reported in his academic writings, and which Panadis relived through his storytelling over the next decades (Nash and Obomsawin 2003). In a photograph that Hallowell took of “Our party at first portage above Little Grand Rapids” in July 1932, Panadis stands several inches taller than the four Ojibwe guides and tripmen in the group (fig. 3).

Fig. 6. John Duck (Makochens) in front of his Waabano pavilion. APS A182. Graphics:6596.
Fig. 5. Baachiish (Batis or John Baptiste), younger brother of Adam Bigmouth. Little Grand Rapids, 1938. APS A128. Graphics:6545.
Fig. 3. “Our party at first portage above Little Grand Rapids,” July 1932. Left to right: J. J. Everett, Gordon Berens, Antoine Bittern, Theophile Panadis, and William Berens. Panadis was an benaki from Odanak who accompanied Hallowell and the others on his first trip up the Berens River. Gordon was William Berens’s son, and Antoine Bittern was his son-in- law. Note the two square-stern canoes and the “kicker,” a small outboard motor, on Gordon’s
shoulder. APS A45. Graphics:6429.

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