Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Angels of Light: A Mi'kmaq Myth in a New Archê

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Angels of Light: A Mi'kmaq Myth in a New Archê

Article excerpt

Abstract / Résumé

2002 marked the fortieth anniversary of the publication of Charles H. Long's Alpha: The Myths of Creation, a book that has become a standard for historians of religion. This essay results from an initial research project that sought to re-read Alpha in relation to contemporary accounts of the Mi'kmaq hero Kluskap. What resulted, however, was an exploration of the relationship between tribal knowledge, treaty rights, environmental and human illness, and arenas of dominant non-Native cultural authority (e.g. the academy and judiciary). The project shed new light on Alpha, and in turn the book offered some insight into the intricate link between contemporary Mi'kmaq life and mythic discourse.

2002 a marque le quarantieme anniversaire de la publication de Alpha: The Myths of Creation de Charles Long. Un livre que est devenu un critere pour les historiens en religion. Les resultats de cet essai initie par des recherches qui permettaient a retourner a Alpha en relation des explications contemporaines du hero Mi'kmaq Kluskap. Les resultats etaient une exploration entre les connaissances tribales, les droits de traite droits de traite, les malaises humains et de l'environement, ainsi que de arenas domines par des autorites culturels non-natifs (e.g. academie et judicaire). Le projet a etendu une nouvelle vue sur Alpha,ce qui a permi que le livre affra une appercu dans la chaine compliquee entre la vie contemporaine des Mi'kmaq et les relations mystiques.

2002 marked the fortieth anniversary of the publication of Charles H. Long's Alpha: the Myths of Creation, a small volume that has appeared in three editions since 1962 and has become a standard text for historians of religion.1 Reflecting on the book in 2002, it occurred to me that it might provide an entree into an exploration of the Mi'kmaq hero Kluskap who, in spite of substantial ethnographic attention in the late nineteenth- and early- to mid-twentieth centuries, has not received substantial scholarly consideration in his contemporary form.

Charles Long's Alpha is a book in which journeys figure noticeably. There are journeys of humanity from formless potentiality, through various non-human locations, to human existence in a human world (38). There are journeys of divine beings from primordial chaos to the natural world (65); and journeys from water, darkness, and embryonic modes to firm earth, light, and being of some form or another (146). Oddly enough, engagement with the book in preparation for the project at hand, took me on an unexpected journey too. The initial plan seemed relatively benign, involving a wedding of certain aspects of Alpha with the figure of Kluskap. It appeared simple enough: from earlier texts I had learned that this ancient and great culture hero of the Mi'kmaq taught the loon his cry, caused toad and porcupine to lose their noses, created the wind that moved the water, and made boulders and chasms simply by blowing smoke from his pipe (Leland 1884: 50, 59, 65, 106). He began his existence in his mother's womb, where he and his twin brother Malsum were said to have discussed at length how each would be born. Kluskap intended to be born in the same fashion as all people, whereas Malsum had quite different intentions. In time Kluskap was indeed born in the natural way, and he was followed by Malsum who burst through his mother's side, thereby killing her. Following a number of foiled attempts on Kluskap's life, Malsum was killed by his twin and transformed into a mountain range. Among other exploits, Kluskap traveled up a great river with his lifelong companions Marten and Grandmother Bear. The cliffs closed around them and the river began to flow downward into the earth, becoming increasingly narrow and tempestuous, the deadly current pulling the three voyagers down through rocks and ravines. Marten and Bear died from fear, and Kluskap continued to pilot the canoe through the night, singing powerful songs, until he broke through into sunlight. …

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