Storytelling to Educate
January 18, 2011
"It was a great audio book."
Nicole O’Bomsawin, Waban-Aki
In Indigenous cultures, legends aren’t used to put children to sleep, but to awaken them. They’re an integral part of education and are told from an early age and repeated many times. They provide knowledge about the territory and its wealth. Legends often include animals and give small life lessons by feeding the imagination. They warn fearless minds, teach obedience and instill respect for others. As a heritage of oral tradition, they now provide a platform for speaking out and shed light on current issues with their wisdom. Their goal remains the same, "to promote values", as Nicole O'Bomsawin nicely puts it.
An interview with Donald Caplan
There’s a mountain out here called in proper English “Mount Carleton”. To us Mi’gmaq, that’s always been the Garaladjigetchk. There is a song about the little people that used to live up there, long time before the sailing vessels were coming in throughout the canal. The little people like to chew tobacco, oh they love it… They would spot on top of the mountain where they could see far away. And when they would see a vessel coming in, they would start singing, communicate with their families, saying that there’s a ship coming in.
It’s a song. The little people had a silly grin. And the first couple of words explain how silly grin they had on their faces. And then they see the vessels coming, and they know that they would try to get chewing tobacco from the captain. Anyway, the song looks like this, “We need some chewing tobacco, even the one in the spittoon”.
I heard that song when I was a little boy, my parents used to sing it all the time, it’s a very old song. All the Mi’gmaq know that song, it is very popular.
You can go to British Columbia, you talk to any elder, and you ask, “Is there some little people around?” If they feel good about it, they will tell you about the little people. There’s no difference all the way from here and the British Columbia. Even in all North America, you can go to Arizona and you can talk about little people and they’re gonna put a little smile on their face and say, “Yeah, yeah, I’m interested, I’ll talk about it.” Everybody knows somebody who sees them.
Suppose you’re scared or traumatized and you see a ghost right in front of you... How do you feel? How would you present yourself? Shocked, surprised and scared.
The little people, they select people. They know that you’re not gonna be mesmerized, shocked or panicked. Some people do when they see stuff like that. I’m cool, calm and collected because I heard them since I was five or six years old. My dad made stories about them. My grandfather had a farm with horses and cows. And every night, the horse would be kicking the walls and going wild in there. My dad would light up a kerosene lantern, go in there and every night, every night, every night, never miss, they braided the horse’s hairs, small little braids.
My oldest brother would say, “Jeez, these damn little people, I get so sick and tired of them. They braid the horses, I have to unbraid the horse’s hairs every morning, I get sick of it.” I didn’t find out until a long time, fifty years later, the elder tells me, “If the little people braided the horse’s hairs and tail, leave it there. It makes the horses stronger in the woods.” That was the reason.
We’ve had little people out here. I can honestly say I’ve seen hundreds. Hundreds of little people. I’ve seen some at my old house. One, that tall. The other one, that tall... They were holding hands with must have been their son or something. And I said, “Oh!” I said, “I know what you want!”
I’ve speak with a medicine man from the north, a Cree elder and he says, “You know, they are getting ready to give you some gifts. You better honour them. So they need tobacco, they need some candies, and they need some matches.” I said, “Why the matches?” He said, “They might want to light up, you know!” It’s like the old way, with tobacco and candy… Anyway, the elder told me, “Better get a red cloth like this, three by three or whatever, that’s what they are requesting.” So I put some matches there, and some tobacco and candies and I left it there. They are getting ready to give some gifts, I still don’t know what the gifts are… I have many, but one more is ok.
One day, my granddaughter birthday. It was about, I don’t know, maybe seven o’clock. They went to town to buy some balloons, and they came back, and they start blowing up the balloons, and they tied them up and put them on the ceiling. So, I’m sitting at this set and just watching them. Behind the chair, there was a little one, with a tiny little white balloon, and there was three or four of them, running back and forth in the living room. So I said, “Ha, thank you!” I didn’t tell my kids, the little people were celebrating by granddaughter’s birthday, very, very special. I was honored, I didn’t tell them anything until the next day. I’m not used to say stuff like that, by the way…
Another time, I was doing a sweat in Maria. Hot rocks come in the sweat lodge, and I sit western side facing the east. I had the rocks coming in, people all set to come in. I looked down, right in front of me, a little person sitting with gray spandex shorts, tiny little white towel, and he’s looking at the rocks too. I said, “Wow, I’m honored!” I was honored to have little people in the sweat lodge. I didn’t tell nobody then, and I said to myself, “What’s next? Gray spandex shorts!”
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