MI'KMAW CULTURE
- ORAL TRADITION

THE ORIGIN OF THE SWEAT LODGE

Michael William McDonald, of Sipekneíkatik First Nation, posted this legend in a Mi'kmaw language group, and was kind enough to allow me to share it here. The legend involves a petroglyph that is found near Bedford Basin, not far from Halifax. Brian Molyneaux, a Research Associate in Archaeology at the Royal Ontario Museum, determined that the petroglyph had been cut using stone tools, which would suggest it was carved long before the arrival of the Europeans. Unlike the petroglyphs at Kejimkujik, which were scribed into soft slate, this image (and another nearby) were hacked into much harder  bedrock.

I would like to share his words: "I am researching on title claim for Mi'kmaq, and it is important we reclaim specific locations that have a long standing cultural, traditional and spiritual value to us, so it is important to share the stories because many of the stories are reinforced and validated with actual historical and archaeological evidence."

The following is the legend as he heard it:

It is very important to note that the place where the petroglyph is located in Bedford Basin is called Kepe'k, which in Mi'kmaq means "the place where the water narrows." Halifax Peninsula, where Point Pleasant Park is located, was known to the Mi'kmaq as Amntu'kati, which is "a spirit place" or "the place of spirits," and Amntu'apsiíkan is "the Spirit Lodge." If you follow the Halifax Peninsula around it comes to a small cove that is protected from the rough seas, it is Wejkwe'tukwaqn which means "to come to a legend," or "where the legend comes from." It is the place where our legendary warrior Amntu' (which means "the spirit") resides at his Lodge and guards the Eastern Door to protect the Lnu'k (the people) from any dangers that come from the open sea.

The hill that over looks the Bedford Basin where the petroglyph is found is called Wejkwapeniaq, which means "the coming of the Dawn." 
It is where Amntu's brother Wa'so'qlji'j ("little heaven", or as some call him Wa'so'k-gek) would come and sit upon the hill and wait for the dawn to approach before he continued on his journey to see his brother Amntu' at Amntu'apsiíkan.

While Wa'so'qlji'j was sitting on the hill of Wejkwapeniaq admiring the rising sun and the coming of the dawn to start a new day, the great spirit Niskam came down from Wa'so'q to speak to him, and reminded him that the Lnu'k of Mi'kma'kik are the keepers of the Eastern Door, and must always remember that we came from the grandmother earth. When our time is done our bodies must go back to the mother, but our spirits will rise and sit with our ancestors, all our relations - msit no'kmaq - in Wa'soq. So to honour where we came from we must go back into the womb of the Grandmother and cleanse ourselves with the Grandmother's life-giving blood samqwan - the water.

So Wa'so'qlji'j asked Glooscap to gather all the leaders of the seven districts of Mi'kma'ki to come. The great Chiefs of all seven districts came to Wejkwapeniaq, where Wa'so'qlji'j and his brother Amntu' gave them the teachings of the Amntu'apsiíkan - the spirit lodge. They told them this is the womb of our grandmother earth, and you shall come and sit in council to cleanse yourself and honour the ancestors who have gone before you and be humble and the spirits will come and give you guidance so you may lead your people in the righteous way. You shall pray to each of the four directions, and for each direction there are seven Nu'kuntew - grandfather stones made of lava rock, the oldest of all stones - to represent each of the seven districts, for a total of 28 Nu'kuntew.

So the great chiefs crawled into the womb, along with their leader, the Grand Chief of all seven districts. The Grand Chief did as he was instructed and poured the water on the grandfathers, and they cleansed themselves so their minds could be empty of all things that are bad and harmful. Then the ones that are gone before them came to them and gave them the teachings and instructions of our ancestors, all our relations. Msit No'kmaq!

As instructed, the district chiefs took these teachings back to their districts, and then sent four of their most spiritual elders to go in all four directions to pass the teaching on to others.

This is why you see the eight X marks in the petroglyph: they represent the seven district chiefs and the Grand Chief who is the greatest Chief of them all. And the lodge door is always an Eastern Door, to honour Wejkwapeniaq - the coming of the dawn! 

 


Photo of the petroglyph at Bedford. Tobacco has been used to highlight the image. The image is oriented so east is at the top.
(Photo by Joe Wade)

 

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Updated: 25 Mar 2016 Print Page