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First People :: Words of Wisdom Index :: Tenskwatawa
 

Tenskwatawa - Shawnee

My brothers! My sisters! I have been given a great power. I have been told by Our Creator to use this power to save you.

My name is Tenskwatawa (He-Who-Opens-The-Door). I have been shown how to open the door that has shut us out from happiness.

I died and went to the World Above, and saw it. I had done every sin against my people and myself. You knew me! I was a sinner, I was a drunkard! I had another name then. That name is so smeared with the filth of my old sins that my mouth will not utter it, for my mouth is now pure! Tenskwatawa has never spoken a lie or an obscenity, and never will. I have come back cleansed. I am as we were in the Beginning! In me is a shinning power!

In the Beginning, we were full of this shinning power, strong because we were pure. We moved silently through the woods. With a silent arrow we killed the animals and ate pure meat. In silence the fish swam in pure rivers, and we caught them in silence and ate them. In silence our corn and beans and squashes grew from the earth, and those we ate. We drank only clear water, after the milk of our mother's breast.

I have heard that lost silence. You have not heard it because you have not been dead. Up under the roof of the sky, there is that pure silence!

In the beginning, our people broke that beautiful silence only to pray to the Great Good Spirit, or to speak wisely in council, or to say kind words to our children and our elders, or to give the war cry when we avenged wrongs.

Our Creator put us on this wide, rich land, and told us we were free to go where the game was, where the soil was good for planting. That was our state of true happiness. We did not have to beg for anything. Our Creator had taught us how to find and make everything we needed, from trees and plants and animals and stone. We lived in bark, and we wore only the skins of animals. Our Creator taught us how to use fire, in living, and in sacred ceremonies. She taught us how to heal with barks and roots, and how to make sweet foods with berries and fruits, with papaws and the water of the maple tree. Our Creator gave us tobacco, and said, Send your prayers up to me on its fragrant smoke. Our Creator taught us how to enjoy loving our mates, and gave us laws to live by, so that we would not bother each other, but help each other. Our Creator sang to us in the wind and the running water, in the bird songs, in children's laughter, and taught us music. And we listened, and our stomachs were never dirty and never troubled us.

Thus were we created. Thus we lived for a long time, proud and happy. We had never eaten pig meat, nor tasted the poison called whiskey, nor worn wool from sheep, nor struck fire or dug earth with steel, nor cooked in iron, nor hunted and fought with loud guns, nor ever had diseases which soured our blood or rotted our organs. We were pure, so we were strong and happy.

But, beyond the Great Sunrise Water, there lived a people who had iron, and those dirty and unnatural things, who seethed with diseases, who fought to death over the names of their gods! They had so crowded and befouled their own island that they fled from it, because excrement and carrion were up to their knees. They came to our island. Our Singers had warned us that a pale people would come across the Great Water and try to destroy us, but we forgot. We did not know they were evil, so we welcomed them and fed them. We taught them much of what Our Grandmother had taught us, how to hunt, grow corn and tobacco, find good things in the forest. They saw how much room we had, and wanted it. They brought iron and pigs and wool and rum and disease. They came farther and drove us over the mountains. Then when they had filled up and dirtied our old lands by the sea, they looked over the mountains and saw this Middle Ground, and we are old enough to remember when they started rushing into it. We remember our villages on fire every year and the crops slashed every fall and the children hungry every winter. All this you know.

For many years we traded furs to the English or the French, for wool blankets and guns and iron things, for steel awls and needles and axes, for mirrors, for pretty things made of beads and silver. And for liquor. This was foolish, but we did not know it. We shut our ears to the Great Good Spirit. We did not want to hear that we were being foolish.

But now those things of the white men have corrupted us, and made us weak and needful. Our men forgot how to hunt without noisy guns. Our women don't want to make fire without steel, or cook without iron, or sew without metal awls and needles, or fish without steel hooks. Some look in those mirrors all the time, and no longer teach their daughters to make leather or render bear oil. We learned to need the white men's goods, and so now a People who never had to beg for anything must beg for everything!

Some of our women married white men, and made half-breeds. Many of us now crave liquor. He whose filthy name I will not speak, he who was I before, was one of the worst of those drunkards. There are drunkards in almost every family. You know how bad this is.

And so you see what has happened to us. We were fools to take all these things that weakened us. We did not need them then, but we believe we need them now. We turned our backs on the old ways. Instead of thanking Weshemoneto for all we used to have, we turned to the white men and asked them for more. So now we depend upon the very people who destroy us! This is our weakness! Our corruption! Our Creator scolded me, "If you had lived the way I taught you, the white men could never have got you under their foot!"

And that is why Our Creator purified me and sent me down to you full of the shinning power, to make you what you were before! As you sit before me I will tell you the many rules Our Creator gave me for you. I will tell you how I went to the World Above. When I tell you of the punishments I saw, they will terrify you! But listen, those punishments will be upon you unless you follow me through the door that I am opening for you!

No red man must ever drink liquor, or he will go and have the hot lead poured in his mouth! You know I have been a slave to liquor since first I tasted it. But never again will I take any! If ever you saw me taste it again, you would know that what I tell you is false!

This also Our Creator told me:

No red man shall take more than one wife in the future. No red man shall run after women. If he is single, let him take a wife, and lie only with her.

If any wife behaves badly, her husband may whip her. But then they shall look each other in the face and laugh together, and have no more ill will.

Any red woman who is living with a white man must return to her people, and must leave her children with the husband, so that all Nations will be pure in their blood.

Our Creator told me there are too many doing witchcraft, and using their medicine bags for false beliefs. All the People must gather together to destroy their personal medicine bags, in the presence of all, for all our medicine now is in the shining power I have been given!

I tell you what I was told! We cannot save ourselves from corruption by doing only little, easy things! Listen! And when you destroy your medicine bags you will make an open confession of all the bad deeds you have done, and beg forgiveness. You heard me confess all my sins, which were much worse than yours,and I did so because it is required by the Great Good Spirit! Only light will cure moldiness; only light will purify your spirits. Soon I will call us all together for this cleansing, and anyone who wants to follow me through the open door to goodness will have to do this,or else be doomed!

Now hear what I was told about dealing with white men! These things we must do, to cleanse ourselves of their corruption!

Our foods are sacred. Our Grandmother taught us how to hunt and raise these foods, to select seeds and continue the best strains. These foods are for us only. Never sell any of our food to a white person. If a white man comes to you hungry, give him a little, only to give him strength to go away!

Do not eat any food that is raised or cooked by a white person. It is not good for us. Eat not their bread made of wheat, for Our Creator gave us corn for our bread. Eat not the meat of their filthy swine, nor of their chicken fowls, nor the beef of their cattle, which are tame and thus have no spirit in them. Their foods will seem to fill your empty belly, but this deceives you for food without spirit does not nourish you.

There are two kinds of white men. There are the Americans, and there are the others. You may give your hand in friendship to the French, or the Spaniards, or the British. But the Americans are not like those. The Americans come from the slime of the sea, with mud and weeds in their claws, and they are a kind of crayfish serpent whose claws grab in our earth and take it from us.

Wear only clothing that you have made from skins and sewn with sinew. I see here wool garments and hats made by white men. Give those back to the first white person you see.

In our towns there are dogs of the white men's kind, those whose ears hang down. I saw such a dog watching me from behind a tree with white men's eyes, and I knew: these are prowling our towns with the white man's spirit in them. And there are cats that you got from the white men. These are bad animals. Often a witch takes the shape of a cat. You must kill these cats and dogs, or else take them to a white man's town and leave them there.

Yes! I told you! Some of these steps to purification will be hard!

The fire struck by white man's steel is not sacred fire. You must put out such fire in your lodges and kindle a new fire using the old way, and this will be a sacred fire. You must never let this sacred fire go out, for it is your reborn spirit, beginning now, and if it goes out, so will your life go out. When you move from place to place you must bear sacred coals with you, as we did in the ancient times, and rekindle the fire when you arrive.

And now listen:

The Great Good Spirit wants our men to hunt and kill game as in the ancient days, with the silent arrow and the lance and the snare, and no longer with guns.

If we hunt in the old ways, we will not have to depend upon white men, for new guns and powder and lead, or go to them to have broken guns repaired. Remember it is the wish of the Great Good Spirit that we have no more commerce with white men!

It will take us a while to become such hunters again. We may keep our guns,and if we need to defend ourselves against American white men, the guns will kill them because they are a white man's weapon. But arrows will kill American intruders, too! You must go to the grandfathers and have them teach you to make good bows and shape arrowheads, and you must recover the old hunting skills. That is what the Creator instructed me to tell you.

And now listen,for here is the most important message I bring you:

The Great Good Spirit will call me from time to time and teach me more to help you. Our Creator told me that all red men who refuse to obey these laws are bad people, or witches, and must be put to death. Anyone who does not wish to live in a way that pleases Weshemoneto must want instead to please Matchemoneto, and such a person must be a witch. Witches should be killed, for they divide the People and weaken their spirit.

Hear me, my People. All red men will soon know these messages I have brought. They are hungry for guidance from heaven. I will tell the people I see, and you will tell those you see. But I warn you: Our Creator thundered and said that anyone who reveals these laws to any white men will die at once, and never be shown the right road!

The Great Good Spirit will appoint a place to be our holy town, and at that place I will call all red men to come and share this shining power. For the People in all tribes are corrupt and miserable! In that holy town we will pray every morning and every night for the earth to be fruitful, and the game and fish to be plentiful again. We will no longer do the frolic dances that excite lust and make us silly. Instead, the Great Good Spirit will teach me the old dances we did before the corruption, and from these dances we will receive strength and happiness!

Now I, Tenskwatawa, He-Opens-the-Door, will go and be alone for a while, to learn more of what we must do. I have told you everything I know, but soon I will know more. You will go and tell what you have learned here, but tell it to no white man, or to anyone who would tell it to a white man. Get rid of cats and long-eared dogs! Make good bows! Put out your fires made with steel, and kindle an everlasting fire by wood on wood. Turn your backs on the whiskey sellers and the traders, and do not listen to the Jesus missIonaries! Look among yourselves for witches, and note who they are, and they will be judged soon. How will you know witches? I will tell you: They will be doing commerce with Americans, and going to their treaty councils, against the warnings of Our Creator.

And they will start whispering to you that Open Door is not a true holy man or prophet! THAT is how you will know witches.

Tenskwatawa - Shawnee

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