Wisahkecahk and the Birch Trees: Solomon Ratt 2016, 2019, 2021 (th-dialect)

The Cree word for “sacred story” or “myth” is âtayôhkêwin (in y-dialect), âcathôhkîwin (in th-dialect). This story of Wisahkecahk and the Birch Trees explains how the birch trees got their markings. Variations from one telling to the next give us the opportunity to reflect on the storyteller’s art, that always requires a degree of adjustment to suit circumstances and the current audience.

This post assembles three of Solomon Ratt’s renditions of the Birch Tree story:

  • a PowerPoint video including text and audio from 2016;
  • a complete bilingual transcript from 2019; and (if you scroll way, way down),
  • a video of Sol’s 1 February 2021 telling via Zoom, recorded before an online audience of about 30.

February 2016:

wîsahkîcâhk ikwa kâ-masinâsocik waskwayakWisahkecahk and the Marking of Birch Trees (2019 transcription)
nâkatîthihta kîkwây kâ-pakosîthimoyan.Watch what you ask for.
sâsay mîna wîsahkîcâhk papimohtîw. kîtahtawîw otihtawîw maskwa î-môminîthit wîsakîmîna. kâsôpathihow sakâsihk wîsahkîcâhk î-mâmitonîthihtahk tânisi ôma takî-isi-nipahât ôho wîtha mâka-mîna î-nohtîkatît. kiskîthihtam tânisi kita-itôtahk!Once again Wisahkecahk is walking along. All of a sudden he came upon a bear eating cranberries. Wisahkecahk quickly hid behind a small bush thinking about how to kill the bear because as usual he was hungry. He knew what to do.
otinam âtiht wîsakîmina ikwa ati-pimohtîw itî isi kâ-ayâthit anihi maskwa. pâh-pâskicînam wîsakîmina oskîsikohk. tahtwâw kâ-pâskicînahk wîsakîmina oskîsikohk mâh-misi-tîpwî-pâhpiw! pîthisk pisiskâpamik maska.He takes some cranberries and walks toward where the bear was at. He would break open the cranberries in his eyes. Every time he broke a cranberry in his eyes he would holler in laughter. Eventually the bear notices him.
“tânisi ôma î-itahkamikisiyan nistîsî?” isi-kakwîcimik maskwa. “What are you doing older brother?” asks the bear.
“âh, nisîmî! cîst! kihci-kîkway ôma. kîspin pâskicînamani ôho wîsakîmina kiskîsikohk kika-kakwâtaki-cihkîthihtîn. mitoni î-takahkiskâkoyân iyak-ohci kâ-misi-pâhpiyân tahtwâw kâ-pâskicînamân ôho niskîsikohk. cikôci, kocihtâ!”“Oh younger sibling! Look! This is a great thing. If you break a cranberry over your eyes you will become very happy. This affects me so well that is why I end up laughing with great delight every time I break them open in my eyes. Here, try it!”
maskwa otinam wîsakîmina, nîso ocihciya î-âpacihtât. pâskicînam oskîsikohk. wahwâ! wîsakiskâkow. misiwîta ispahtâw î-mâh-mawimot! namôtha kî-wâpiw.The bear takes up some cranberries using two paws. He breaks them open in his eyes. Wah! They cause him pain. He runs all over the place yelping in pain. He was unable to see!
“ayayâ! ayayâ!”“Ouch! Ouch!”
“hâ nisîm! osâm mistahi kikî-âpacihtân! îh, nisîmis, ôta mistikohk astâ kistikwân. kika-nanâtawihitin!” itwîw wîsahkîcâhk.“Ho, younger sibling! You used too many! Here, younger sibling, put your head on this log and I will heal you,” says Wisahkecahk.
ikwâni mistikohk astâw ostikwân awa maskwa. wîsahkîcâhk otinîw asiniya ikwa pakamistikwânîhîw maskwa, î-nipahât.So the bear puts his head on the log. Wisahkecahk picks up a stone and hits him on the head, killing him.
ati-kotawîw, î-wî-piminawasot, î-wî-mowât anihi maskwa. mitoni misi-pônam, î-misiwîskaswât maskwa. ispî kâ-kîsitîpot namôtha îsa osâm kî-nohtîkatîw. nohtî-kitamwîw anihi maskwa mâka nîkân kita-nohtîkatît mwayî-môwâci iyakoni.He starts a fire as he is going to cook to eat the bear. He built a huge fire, cooking the bear whole. When he had finished cooking he wasn’t that hungry just yet. He wants to eat all of the bear but first he has to be very hungry before he can eat that one.
wâpamîw waskwaya î-nîsokâpawithit. tâwâyihk ikota nitawi-pimisin.He sees birch trees standing together. He goes and lays down in between them.
“âstamik nisîmitik! nawac kisiwâk pî-isikâpawik. pî-miciminik,” itîw anihi waskwaya. “kâwitha pakitinihkan. pâtimâ kakwâti-nohtîkatîyâni ikospî poko pakitinihkan.”“Come younger siblings! Stand closer! Come hold me,” he says to the birch trees. “Don’t let me go until much later. Let me go only when I am very hungry.”
tâpwî mâni-mâka kisiwâk nawac wîci-kâpawîstâtowak ôko waskwayak. micimoskawîwak wîsahkîcâhkwa. kîtahtwî kâ-twîhot wîskacânis, watihkwanihk î-ay-apit. kâ-pisiskâpamât wîsahkîcâhk.For sure the birch stood closer to each other. They hold Wisahkecahk tight. All of a sudden a Whiskey-Jack lands and sits on a branch. Wisahkecahk notices him.
“kakîpâtis pithîsîs!” itwîw wîsahkîcâhk. “kâwitha wîhtamowik pisisikiwak î-kîsitîpoyân ôta.”“Silly bird!” says Wisahkecahk. “Don’t tell the other animals that I finished cooking here.”
namôtha ahpô ikosi kî-ohci-itîthihtam ta-itôtahk awa wîskacânis. tâpwî-pokâni ikota ohci ohpahow î-nitawi-wîhtamowat wîci-pisiskiwa kita-pî-mîcisothit. mihcît pisiskiwak pî-mîcisowak. pîthisk kitamwîwak anihi maskwa, oskana poko î-iskwastahkwâw.The Whiskey-Jack hadn’t even thought of doing that. He immediately flies off telling the other animals to come eat. Many animals came to eat. Eventually they ate all of the bear and left only the bones.
ikwa awa wîsahkîcâhk mitoni nîstosiw osâm mistahi î-kî-kakwî-tahcipathihot mâka namwâc kî-ohci-kaskihtâw. kwayask sôhki kî-miciminik anihi waskwaya. pîthisk ati-nipâw ithikohk î-kî-nîstosit. mitoni îtokî kinwîsk kî-nipâw.Wisahkecahk was very tired after unsuccessfully trying hard to get loose. The birch held on to him very tightly. Eventually he went to sleep because he was so tired. He slept for a long time.
ispî kâ-koskopathit kî-tahcipathihow ikota ohci. kî-kisowâhikow anihi waskwaya. nâtam nîpisiya î-wî-pasastîhwât waskwaya.When he woke up he broke free from there. The birch trees had made him angry. He goes to get some willows to whip the birch.
kinwîsk kî-pasastîhwîw anihi waskwaya. pîthisk î-ati-mâh-masinâsothit. piyakwan ikosi isi-masinâsowak waskwayak anohc.He whipped the birch for a long time. Eventually they started to have stripes. Those same stripes are on the birch trees to this day.

1 February, 2021:

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