Thanks to Simon Bird for permission to share his thoughts about the Northern Lights, first posted on Facebook in April 2018.
wâwâhtêwak. Literally, ‘those that go in circles’. This is how I see this word as I translate]
Growing up I would ask nôhkom who wâwâhtêwak were, she would say those were spirits dancing. This is why I say “those that go in circles,” because wâkôtêw means to walk in a curve, not straight. Ever since then I always believed these were spirits dancing.
I heard this same explanation, how they were spirits, from many people as I grew older. People would also say “If you didn’t respect them they could easily come and take you.” Kids would say how you shouldn’t whistle at them and of course some would do just that, they would whistle and all of a sudden wâwâhtêwak seemed to be dancing even closer, harder and brighter. Yes, I remember I whistled too but feeling guilty as I remembered what nôhkom had said, I stopped. I just couldn’t help but remember that word: manâcihik ‘respect them.’
They were dancing with happiness, nôhkom would say. ê-nîmihitocik. I heard someone say they were celebrating and welcoming loved ones into the spirit world. Some elders would say these were loved ones visiting us on this side. Some people weren’t sure if they were loved ones, but they still agreed they were spirits and should be respected.
From the online itwêwina online dictionary, we find these words related to the aurora borealis:
- cîpayak kâ-nîmihitocik (Northern Lights, aurora borealis; literally: the ghosts are dancing; when the ghosts are dancing)
- kâ-nîmihitocik (Northern Lights, aurora borealis; [literally: they who are dancing])
- wâwâhtêwa (Northern Lights, aurora borealis)
From the Brousseau Dictionary of Moose Cree (2015):
wâsteskwan ᐙᔅᑌᔅᑾᓐ ‘there are Northern Lights’; also:
From the East (sent by Bill Jancewicz in Labrador):
Over in Quebec/Labrador we say:
ᐛᔅᑐᐅᔅᒄ waastuuskw (Naskapi)
ᐧᐋᔅᑑᔅᑯᓐ waastuuskun (East Cree Southern)
ᐧᐋᔅᑐᐧᐃᔅᑯᓐ waastuwiskun (East Cree Northern) and
Over in Quebec/Labrador we say ᐛᔅᑐᐅᔅᒄ waastuuskw (Naskapi) ᐧᐋᔅᑑᔅᑯᓐ waastuuskun (East Cree Southern) ᐧᐋᔅᑐᐧᐃᔅᑯᓐ waastuwiskun (East Cree Northern) and uashtuashkuan (Innu). Thanks for posting!
Ki yah pwahn!
My late mentor, R. D. Lawrence, naturalist and author, told me what sounded to me like
“chep-o-yuk-ni-may-hing-towuk” was the Cree expression for: the Northern lights are dancing. It sounds and looks a lot like: ‘ka – nimihitocik’.
Can you please tell me anything that would help in verifying what I was told by Mr. Lawrence? Thank you very much for your help.
Converting your phonetic spelling into SRO (standard spelling),the “chep-o-yuk” part seems to correspond with cîpayak, meaning “ghosts”; your “ni-may-hing-towuk” might correspond with nîmihitowak, meaning “they dance”. (The “ng” sound does not occur in Cree.)